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Another tough stint to Hami full of long days (five 80 milers in a row) with a bunch of mountains thrown in. On top of that some broken equipment and high temperatures (47C) have added to the challenge.

We had planned to spend one day off back in Urumqi but the fatigue of our overzealous 400 miles in 4 days caught up with us and forced us to take another. We had awoken on the day we planned to leave and immediately knew we weren’t going anywhere. We’d certainly done our best to refuel by becoming the locals KFC’s top customers…

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We spent one of the days checking out some of the sights of Urumqi such as a buddhist temple in one of the parks as well as a 300 year old pagoda…

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Urumqi was a much more developed city then we had both anticipated and we spotted a bunch of other curiosities such as this Iron Man BMW…

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One of the features of bicycle touring is spending a lot of time in supermarkets trying to find decent supplies to take on the road. As you browse the shelves sometimes an interesting product will leap out such as this Jackie Chan endorsed anti-balding shampoo…

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… as well as seeing that Yao Ming (Chinas most famous basketball player who played in the NBA before retiring) also has a solid career in endorsements (Stephen is 6ft for scale)…

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Another of the cities parks, which required us to pass through a metal detector to enter, was also very popular for kite flying. Excuse my terrible montage of three of the more interesting kites…

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The kites were flying extremely high up and I caught a shot of the rigs these guys use to carry the string…

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The following morning we actually did make it onto the road and boy was it a big one. The expressway was very busy for about 80km and there were many coal power plants that left a black coating on our faces (and from the taste of the air a coating of our lungs as well)…

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The road did offer some good views of the high mountains to our south that tower up to nearly 6,000m…

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We’d chosen to take the northern road from Urumqi to Hami instead of the more common route on the south road (the G30) via Turpan. The main reason for this being that Turpan sits in the Turpan basin, one of the hottest places in China, where temperatures can reach 50c. On top of this the basin is known for very high winds which we really cannot afford to get caught up in with our tight schedule.

After 130km, our daily goal for this leg, we found a town with a surprisingly good hotel that only cost us £4 each. We were desperate to wash the black coal dust off of our arms, legs and faces.

The next morning greeted us with a strong headwind and the only way we were going to make the 130km in any sort of decent condition was to really get to grips with drafting. If you’re not a cyclist drafting basically involves taking turns being the person to take the force of the wind in front allowing the other riders to cycle with ease from close behind. This is a great tool when riding into the wind but it does mean you spend half your time staring at the person in fronts tyre to ensure you don’t crash into them (we are moving at about 25kmph in this shot, also note Stephen’s new China flag on his bike)…

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As the day wore on we were shattered despite the drafting and set our sights on another small town where we might hope to find cheap accommodation, Mori. Along the way we spotted some odd signs suggesting that carrying camels in the back of your pickup was not allowed on this road…

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We finally reached the turn off and were surprised to see a huge lamp lined boulevard running for about 2km into the city. There is a massive amount of development going on everywhere in Xinxiang province…

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The hotel we rolled into was a pretty good deal at £7 each and gave us a lovely view of the back of the local restaurant were the chefs were going about the nights butchering…

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We bought some slightly dodgy eggs for breakfast which we boiled up and were shocked to find them smelling quite grim after we boiled them in the hotel room kettle (which pretty much wrote the kettle off in the process). When we peeled them open this is what greeted us…

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Are black eggs a thing or is this just what happens with gone off eggs? Either way we set off from Mori with a smaller breakfast than we’d liked (and after a ten minute argument where the hotel tried to bill us for two rooms) for what looked to be a slightly more remote section of this stint. The expressway soon stopped in a sand bank and we headed off down a small road which lead into what Google Earth imagery suggested was a big desert section…

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At one point we passed two Chinese cycle tourists, a man and his young son who must’ve been about 8 years old (remember these guys for later). The road pressed on and after passing a few camels we hit a big section that was being renovated. Road blocks forced traffic off onto a little dirt trail but being nimble on our bikes we squeezed through and enjoyed the traffic free ride along the foundations. One thing I will say about Chinese road planning is it has a lot in common with Turkey, it is very aggressive. The old road gently flows around the hills whilst the new one ploughs straight over them looking more like a roller-coaster than a road…

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Note the weird arrows hanging over the road in the above picture, they were everywhere on this stretch. We climbed up roads like this for a couple of hours before the road flattened out onto a plateau at about 1800m. The lunar scenery made the climb worth it…

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Despite me complaining a paragraph ago about the road planning it sure is great when you get a descent that looks like going over the top of a log flume (with more hanging arrows)…

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After 130km, the days goal, we rolled into a town that we hoped would have somewhere to stay. Sometimes there are rules in China about where foreigners can stay so we walked straight into the police station only to find out there was nowhere. Never mind, a pipe under the road it is. Since we would not be paying for somewhere to sleep we went for some cooked dinner only to get savaged on the bill for this plate of potatoes and beef…

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Albeit delicious we really need to get into the habit of asking for prices of food first rather than assuming it is all cheap, we’ve been having great success in hotels regularly halving the price initially offered. We also needed to get some water, as there’d been no stream to filter water out of, and we caused much confusion when we bought 16 half-litre bottles of water from a small shop and everyone came out to helps us decant them into our larger containers. Two kilometres outside the town we found a lovely pipe with a nice view…

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More climbing the following morning, fuelled by a breakfast of instant noodles and processed sausage (the common staple for any long distance adventure in China), and we got another dose of good scenery as well as some shots of some old houses up in the valleys…

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At one point we overtook two more cycle tourists, a Mother and Son who was about 12 years old, and initially we thought it was the same people as yesterday when we saw them in the distance. This seems to be a popular route for domestic tourism as we’ve seen quite a few Chinese cyclists and motorcycle tourists going Hami-Urumqi via Mori. You can see why when the scenery is as good as it is and the alternative route further south is the aforementioned boiling hot Turpan basin.

We took a break and when we hit the road again we ran into the mother and son only to find them riding with the father and son from yesterday. Hang on a minute? Have these kids (8 and 12 or so) been riding 130km days? On cheap mountain bikes? Bluddy hell!

After much waving and “Ni Hao”‘s (Hello in Mandarin) we pressed on towards Barkol as we were looking forward to a cheap hotel after two sweaty days in the desert and on the climbs (not to mention the pipe). On the way we passed yet more camels (I was surprised to see them at 2,000m altitude). As much as I love camels they can be particularly un-photogenic animals…

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Another nice feature of this road is the regular old beacons that run along side it, you can just about make out Lake Barkol off in the distance to the left as well as the next beacon where the road disappears…

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We pulled into a petrol station for a little break just after this and after posing for photos with everyone (a very common event here in China) a police man rolled up on a motorbike and sternly told us not to take photos of him. I’m not sure what was going on but the staff gave him a wedge of money which he pocketed and he didn’t even fill up his bike. I thought anti-corruption was a huge thing in China these days?

Another 20km and we were in our destination of Barkol and walked into a cheap hotel and for the first were given directions to another hotel in town that was allowed to host foreigners. Unable to understand the directions someone directed us in their car and familiar experience of a hotel looking like it is going to be expensive reared its head…

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After a quick bit of haggling we were in our room for about £7 each! Result. We headed out for some food and were keen not to accidentally order something expensive, which has become a common occurrence for us, finally settling on noodles and broth after confirming the price about 3 times.

Despite having a day off to look forward too is was still tough to drag ourselves up the next morning, the fatigue was back. After an hour of hitting the snooze button we were finally up and on the road around 8am. We’d hoped for a nice 150km on this last day but the road works soon put an end to that…

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No more than 5km down the road we spotted our old friends the Chinese kids still riding! By this point Stephen is convinced they are doping.

Thankfully it was a bit overcast meaning that later in the day, when we would climb over the Tian Shan range, we wouldn’t be sweating like mad men. The Tian Shan to our south…

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Just as we rolled to the bottom of a hill where we were about to take our 60km break I spotted a horse riding place and thought “Why not?”. Unfortunately, despite all the local customers being allowed to ride off on their own, I was walked around on a lead for a while before finally managing to get the rope to myself. Having no way to convey that I can ride a horse the handlers were freaking out every time I tried to pick up the pace a bit. Still, it was a bit of fun…

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Shortly after resuming the ride we hit a 5km section where the tarmac had not been laid and all the other vehicles covered us in a layer of dust…

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We thought we were going to be climbing up to 2,800m and we chuffed when the road dropped back down at 2,200m. The descent was beautiful Alpine scenery…

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… but it was covered in the lumpiest bumpiest tarmac I’ve ever seen. In a stretch of one kilometre both Stephen and I had an Ortlieb pannier break…

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The mounting screws on mine ripped out of the bag. Across my 4 bags (with a total of 16 mounting screws) I’ve now had seven work themselves loose. Another problem is that due to the design of these Ortlieb Panniers is that when this happens the screw falls away onto the road and is lost (I now put tape over the screws to stop this).

To top it off these screws use a weird hex head instead of something standard. This makes re doing them up tight enough, with the tools that a touring cyclist would normally carry, very difficult. I’ll stop ranting now but for £50 a bag I was expecting these not to fail in the way they have.

Fortunately mine could be repaired but Stephens failed in a more fatal way meaning he will now have to totally change the way he packs his bike…

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Halfway down the descent we had a short climb which felt like hell due to an extremely high temperate of 47C. Grinding up a hill in my lowest gear in that heat is not something I want to repeat. The scenery helped make up for the suffering…

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Finally reaching the end of the mountains, all that was left was a perfect 30km descent. We were heartbroken to see the road closed for refurbishment with a detour sending us off down a dirt track, the proper road was immaculate untouched tarmac. A couple of workers were taking a siesta under this tarp, and thinking the old adage nothing ventured nothing gained, we asked if we could take this road and they waved us through…

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20km of private tarmac that had never seen a vehicle before. We were flying down at 50kmph zooming past the crews who were in the middle of painting the markings on the road. As we zig zagged through some steam rollers we completely didn’t register what we were doing and had soon left an imprint in the fresh tarmac. Thankfully that were about to press out the damage we had done so we did our best awkward waves and cycled off down into Hami.

Sweating like demons in the heat of the desert we stumbled into a hotel here that we knew had internet and AC and did a feeble attempt at haggling, it was obvious we weren’t going anywhere. A lovely day off to rest and repair the bags here in Hami before we embark on a 700km 5-day stint across the desert into Gansu province, if it wasn’t tough it wouldn’t be worth it!

The end of this trip is approaching fast and there is still a long way to go on my fundraising. If you’ve enjoyed reading my posts and have been thinking about donating then now is the time to do it! Think of me riding my 100 mile sweaty days in the Chinese deserts and how much your donation will cheer me up and motivate me! Follow this link for more info.

If you’ve enjoyed reading this then checkout my site 121degrees for more info and subscribe to this blog for more entries along the way!

I also want to divert the interest this trip generates towards helping out a charity that made a big differance to some friends of mine. Samuels Children Charity are a Lewes based charity providing support to families throughout the UK who are currently affected by childhood cancer. I hope to raise the sum of £5,000 from people who hear about this trip to help them continue their work, and to also keep me motivated throughout the challenges this trip will provide! If you’d like to see how the fundraising is going (or even better would like too donate!) then click here.

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