This will be a departure from the normal travelog posts for the bike trip from London to Shanghai. All was going well this week for my tough deadline of crossing China from the Kazakh border to Shanghai within the 60 day visa deadline until two days ago when, completely out of my hands, the dream of making it across in 60 days was shattered…

We left Zhangye, where my previous post left off, after visiting the cities incredible 35m long reclining buddha (see above picture) and things were going swimmingly. I completed my fifth century of the trip (a 100 mile day , 160km) and for the first time cycled along parallel to an old compacted mud section of the western end of the great wall…



After this long day, and one more short day, Stephen and I rolled into the city of Wuwei where we planned to extend our Chinese visas. Just for background a Chinese visa is normally valid for 30 days but can be extended by another 30 days once the initial month has nearly been used up.

Due to our tight schedule of getting across the country we had planned roughly where we would be in China when our first visa was close to expiring and selected a range of candidate cities as to where we could extend our visa. Just to emphasise what is involved in making the most of the first visa we had actually timed the day we entered China factoring in what day of the week our visas would expire giving us more flexibility.

To cut a long story short (I just typed out the whole thing in long-form before realising how dull it was to read)…

  • Wuwei Police took our passports for two days to extend them before telling us they couldn’t
  • This left no time to cycle to a city we could extend in before our visas expired
  • So we took a bus to Lanzhou to do it
  • Turns out there was an update to the visa system which has crippled it
  • The extension in Lanzhou normally takes 2 days but now they have no idea due to the glitch

The time eaten up by this makes it impossible to reach Shanghai before the extension expires. Ok, not impossible, but it would involve cycling a vast distance every day without stopping to take anything away from the far away lands that I have cycled to and through. That is not why I did this. A perfect quote sums up the riding I was doing which I recently read in Alistair Humphries book about walking across India

“You’re banging your ahead against a wall just to enjoy stopping…”

When I had initially discovered I would only have 60 days in China, instead of the anticipated 90, I had resigned myself to this and relished the challenge of the speed at which I would have to race across the country. I worked extra hard to make it over halfway in half the time (riding long days through hot deserts sleeping in tunnels under the rode next to piles of human faeces)  leaving me a bit of leeway to visit some of the fantastic sights the East of China has to offer but this had now been taken away from me as well. I had given up the opportunity to see some of the things I had always wanted to see in China purely for the arbitrary goal of riding across the country quickly. What a waste that is…

Now I’m not giving up, believe me I will reach Shanghai cycling every inch of the way, it is a task that has been ingrained in my mind for 10 months now as I’ve crawled my way across Eurasia. But how to do it? The beaurecracy has thrown up this huge road block…. fear not I have a plan!…

Once I receive my extension (how ever long that takes) I will hop back on a bus to the city of Zhangye, which is the previous city I was in before reaching Wuwei where the initial extension went wrong. Why back track further than necessary I hear you ask? To give myself one last big physical challenge. This trip has thrown more than enough challenges at me already. I’ve cycled across boiling deserts, through snow storms, through illness and mechanical problems, lived very cheaply for nearly a year, camped wild, dealt with wild animals, dealt with complicated visa processes, the list goes on… but there is one challenge I always wanted but hadn’t got… altitude…

From Zhangye I will not head East, following the road I took before to Wuwei, but instead head south straight up into the Qilian mountains which mark the northern escarpment of the Tibetan plateau. I will tackle 4 passes above 3,500m, one of which will be a crowning moment of the trip where I will reach an altitude of 4,100m, higher than many peaks in the Alps and with 40% less Oxygen available than at Sea Level.

If the reward of having dragged my oxygen deprived myself, and all of my worldly possessions, up to the buddhist prayer flagged pass wasn’t enough I will then ride across the plateau to the Tibetan town of Xiahe to visit the Labrang monastery before descending down to the ancient Chinese capital of Xian and it’s terracotta army.

That all sounds lovely James but won’t your visa still be running out? Yes it will and that is why I will be hopping on a train in Xian, with my bike, to the city of Hong Kong. Hong Kong is and isn’t a part of China, and thanks to it’s British protectorate past, I am free to stay there visa free. I will apply for a fresh Chinese visa in Hong Kong and then hop on a train back to Xian and ride on to Shanghai with ample time to spare. There is a remote chance I may not get this second visa but I’ll worry about that if it happens

A huge logistical detour, adding time and expense, that will put an even bigger hole in my budget but I will make it! I’ll have to give up some luxuries as well as treats I’d planned for myself (A night in the Famous Peace Pigeon Hotel on the Bund in Shanghai, the victory lap home from Paris to London…) but I will reach the end of this trip with a total feeling of accomplishment having smashed every obstacle that was in front of me.

Now not everyone is as lucky as I and they may face a whole world of other challenges in their lives which brings me to the other reason I set myself this task. Samuels Children’s Charity. A small charity based on the south coast of England bringing a little light into the lives of many children battling serious childhood illnesses. Many of you have been super generous in the last few weeks as the donations roll in but there is still a long way to go to hit my fundraising target. If you’ve enjoyed this post, and the others like it, please consider donating by clicking here 🙂

This change of plans also means I will no longer be riding with Stephen Cunningham (Cycling Dublin to Beijing), we’ve had a great run to Lanzhou from Kyrgyzstan and it is a shame that our ride together has had to end on a bit of a low note . Stephen, due to commitments outside of his cycle, has been forced into riding the final leg to Beijing at marathon speeds and I wish him all the best!

To round off I realised recently I don’t put up many photos of my bike, I never thought I’d make it this far on it!…



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.