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Another week and another big chunk of mileage! Tough headwinds, crossing into our second Chinese province (Gansu), a plague outbreak as well as hitting the 8,000 mile marker have been the key features this week.

After our day of vegging in the hotel room in Hami (it was brutally hot outside and we only ventured out for food) we rolled on down the road into the Hami desert. Desert stints are by far the least fun of any of the terrains I’ve covered in this trip. The novelty of the scenery and the bleakness of the surroundings passes quickly into boredom meaning long, long days in the saddle which are taxing on the mind as well as the body.

I had some flu like symptoms on our first day out of Hami, mostly aching joints, but a paracetamol did a lot to help. We had a good 80km before being slapped in the face by a huge headwind which led to us crawling along at about 10kmh (7 mph). We struggled on until we were shattered and crawled into a tunnel under the road. Little did we know that this headwind was going to last for 48 hours…

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The above tunnel was particularly grim. Truck drivers use these tunnels as impromptu toilets meaning our standards have got to the point of finding tunnels with a “tolerable amount of human waste” in them. Why don’t we camp away from the road you might ask? For some reason there is a barbed wire fence that has been running next to the road ever since the Kazakh border. We think it is there to prevent animals wandering onto the highway but unfortunately it prevents us from wandering away from it too.

The wind shifted 90 degrees in the night meaning it was now funnelling down through the tunnel and blasting over us making it tough to sleep. The following morning we spotted some animal tracks running through our tyre tracks in the tunnel…

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The wind was still a ferocious crosswind and we were now riding at an average of 9kmh. Progressing this slow is extremely taxing. You put in 4 times the effort you would normally be doing, struggling to keep the bike straight and moving, but get less than half the distance covered in the same time. The bleak flat scenery makes progress feel even slower…

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Something I learnt crossing the Karakum desert of Turkmenistan is that the wind dries out your nose and mouth making you think you need water when you don’t. Many problems can be caused by getting through your water too fast such as bloating and, more dangerously, running out of it in the vast gaps between places we can re-supply. To stop the wind drying out my nose, mouth and eyes I rigged up my new head gear using a couple of buffs…

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We spent four hours grinding along at 9kmph before taking a siesta in a tunnel to avoid the heat. This plan didn’t work too well as the phenomenon sometimes called “The Devil’s Breath” reared it’s ugly head. As the winds race along the desert floor they are heated up by the scorching hot sand and as a result you get an experience similar to that of opening an over door when the hot air hits you, the key differance being this lasts for hours.

I might sound a bit miserable so far in this post and I did have a lot of time to think on that slow day “is this enjoyable?”. Many cycle tourists choose to take a bus and skip this 600km section of desert and I thought about whether cycling every inch is worth it? For me I think it is. The tough parts are what make this a challenge rather than a holiday and they are what will make my arrival at the Bund in Shanghai all the more sweeter. Another huge motivator is seeing all the donations for my fundraising roll in whenever I get internet, if you have been thinking about donating then please consider doing so now 🙂 It will help me drag myself across China within the visa deadline! (Click here to donate)

After our siesta we managed another two hours into the wind and found ourselves a tunnel to sleep in. Stats for the day… 61km in… 6 hours and 21 minutes of cycling. Grim…

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First thing the next morning, after we crawled out of the tunnel, we spotted a convoy of trucks carrying wind turbine parts. This part of China must be the largest wind farm on earth…

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Just a few km later (still with the wind) we ran into a Chinese cycle tourist called Howsa (I’m guessing the latin spelling) and we agreed to ride together for a bit. Stephen with Howsa…

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The scenery didn’t change much but the we did start to climb a few hundred metres up to a little pass…

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Once we reached the top I spotted the old forts that defended the pass…

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And soon we were out of Xinjiang and into Gansu, our second Chinese province!

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The second language on the road signs now switched for Uygher (which uses the arabic alphabet) to English, albeit with some errors…

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Despite the new province we were promptly back to desert…

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We rode on and after 130km we started looking for a pipe to sleep in. After no luck finding one, and much to Howsa’s relief, we headed off to find a hotel where the three of us got into a triple room for about £5 each. A tight squeeze with the bikes…

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I asked Howsa where he was going to next and he explained he was taking a bus for the next section. Initially I thought the translation software had gone awry when he said he wanted to skip the city of Yumen due to plague. I did a google search and nope, the software was correct there is a plague outbreak in Yumen. A very unusual spanner to be thrown into the works. After texting the details of the outbreak to Stephen’s girlfriend (who’s a doctor) our worries were calmed, we’d have to be in physical contact with someone infected or be bitten by the local Marmots (a squirrel like animal) to be in trouble.

The next day we finally got payback for the brutal headwinds. New scenery, a tailwind and a slight descent took us all the way to Guazhou at a record average of 27kmph…

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I had only had one puncture on this trip all the way from London to the Chinese border but I’ve now had about 4 or 5 in China alone. The main culprit’s are these little wires that reinforce truck tyres that litter the hard shoulder but sometimes you pickup something bigger…

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As I mentioned before Gansu is home to more wind turbines than I have ever seen before in my life, they extended to the horizon in both directions for the best part of 400km, there must be thousands of them…

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As we rode into Guazhou, one of the cities where many of the people earn a living maintaing the wind farm industry, there are many cool features such as these streetlights styled as wind turbines that straddle the boulevard into town…

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Thanks to the lovely tailwind we had for once arrived in a town early and far less tired than we would’ve normally been. This was a godsend as it meant we could go out and indulge in some proper food (we had calculated that the last 10 meals in a row had been instant noodles and processed sausage… sorry Mum!). After a shower he headed down to the Guazhou market…

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And the feasting began with, grilled pulled pork sandwiches (70p)…

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Followed by bubble tea, £1 (hot sweet milky tea with balls of jelly at the bottom that you suck up through the large straw)…

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And then on to some bargain steamed dumplings (about 50p per basket)…

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As we stumbled back to our room with full stomachs we saw a big group of people doing choreographed dancing in the main square. I’ve seen this a few times now and it seems to be a way to get people to do some gentle exercise before and after work (based on the times we’ve seen people doing it)…

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On the road again and back into another 130km of desert…

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Although things started to lookup as we begun passing big fields of sunflowers, the end of the desert is near!…

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By the time we reached Yumen we had actually forgotten about the whole plague thing and checked into a hotel. We went off in search of food and to our delight walked into a hot pot restaurant where you cook your own food in a big boiling vat of broth recessed into your table…

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It was for the best that we could ensure everything was cooked well considering the plague! We later saw reports in the news that there were police road blocks closing off the town but we saw nothing like that.

Down the road the next day we begun to get our first views of the two mountain ranges that form the edges of the Haxi corridor…

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Initially the Chinese empire stopped at the east end of this corridor in the city of Wuwei. Eventually there was a push along the corridor building a fort and some more of the great wall to close the western end at Jiayuguan and we took a rest day to see this.

Unfortunately many sights in China (including some huge sections of the great wall) have been “overly renovated” feeling a bit more like theme parks than historical sights. This ended up making the place feel a bit depressing (especially when you factor in the £12 entrance fee, more than a days budget).

Within the fort there were people selling various little crafts, strangely including these little clay heads that resemble Osama Bin Laden…

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Thankfully the most significant part of the fort was still impressive, the Western Gate. This little door was the entrance to the Chinese empire and marked the end of Eastern civilisation. Outside this gate (where I am standing to take the photo) was the beginning of the deserts of Central Asia with it’s various nomadic warlords. It was quite a daunting thought to think that exile from China meant to be kicked out of this gate and the door locked behind you, certain death with the 1000km of desert that lies before you…

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We headed back into town surprised about how much of a toll walking takes on our bodies. Cycling, and doing not much else, for 8 months does weird things to the body. I can cycle 100 miles but walking one will leave me with stiff calves and tight muscles in my back.

To treat myself after the desert stint I picked up an amazing Garfield cake…

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After the sickly sweet cake, which was almost entirely made of whipped cream, I waddled back to the hotel passing a cool little self service library…

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Another 100 miler the next day with some lovely scenery to the south…

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We’d originally planned to go up into this mountain range to tackle a 4,100m high pass but ended up foregoing this side challenge. The reality is we are suffering with the distances we are putting down, which when combined with the lack of time off have led to various ailments such as twinges in joints and saddle sores. It would be lovely to hit some scenic mountain roads but the reality is I need to focus on making it to Shanghai within the visa deadline which is tough enough as it is!

As we rolled into Guotai we spotted many people using solar water boilers…

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And I managed to cheekily slipstream behind this guys little scooter that was flying along at 30kmh…

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We checked into a hotel are after about an hour were informed we had to leave as they couldn’t host foreigners! We were given directions to the international hotel but just went round the corner and checked into the cheapest hotel so far in China at £3.50 each for a lovely room with AC and Wifi.

Feeling pretty energetic after cycling 100 miles (160km) we headed out for some street food. A popular thing here in Gansu is these little carts which loads of food on skewers that you choose from and the then deep fry and spice them…

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A huge pile of meat, fried bread, potatoes and broccoli came to a cheap £3…

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The next day should’ve been a simple 80km to the city of Zhangye where we we have another day off but the heat got the better of me and dehydration kicked in which wasn’t aided  by several punctures. Still we made it and are looking forward to checking out the cities Big Buddha temple which should prove as good fuel for the next post!

I’m now about halfway through China, the end of this trip is approaching scarily fast! I’m planning to fly to Paris from Shanghai and cycle home to London from there as a little treat, the thought of pleasant bicycle touring is something I dream about a lot when grinding through the desert…

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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