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Deep fried Tibetan bread in Xiahe.

Tough old stint down from Tibetan plateau to Xian to make it in time for my visa run to Hong Kong. A short update as I won’t stick to my usual format of a linear run through of the last 8 days as it has been a boring enough to ride, let alone to read, but in summary there have been two 100 mile days, lots of rain, mud, infected wounds and so many car horns tooting that I have begin to lose my grip on sanity…

To get a head start on the road to Xian I chose to take advantage of the first two days overall descent from the Tibetan plateau to get some serious distance done. After the first days 100 miles I was feeling good and checked into a hotel in Guanghe looking over one of the most modern large mosques I’ve ever seen,,,

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A very modern mosque in Guanghe, Gansu, China.

In the morning things weren’t so rosey. I was feeling fatigued from the big day and was not happy when the hotel tried to add a £1 surcharge for there being some grit in the bed which had come off of my clothes. In my annoyance I demonstrated that the shower barely worked and turned the £1 surcharge into a £5 refund after a long, and weird, argument through some online translation software.

As soon as I stepped outside it was raining. It was going to be a 110 mile day and it rained for every second of it. Grit and mud from the road was everywhere, in my hair, eyes, clothes, but I pressed on as the miles would pay off. I’m convinced at this point there is a problem in the hub of my rear wheel as there seems to be a lot of friction as I ride but at this stage in the journey I do not have the time to resolve this issue so hopefully the bike remains rideable all the way to Shanghai.

At the end of the huge day I treated myself to an unusual beer apparently dedicated to the British Royal family…

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“British Royal Family dedicated beer”

Despite the heavy rain and mud my Tibetan painting is holding up well in it’s three layers of water proofing on the back of the bike…

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My Thangka painting waterproofed up on the back of the bike.

Much of this section of road has revolved around two basic types of scenery. Small Chinese rural farming towns…

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Small towns riding through Gansu and Shaanxi

And tree lined roads running through agriculture…

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Throughout this whole section I’ve been faced with a challenge that I had not anticipated. The massive popularity of beeping your horn at everything in China. Trucks beep at me, they beep at people attempting to cross the road a few hundred metres away, they beep at people they are overtaking and in turn beep at people overtaking them. After a week of this torment I feel I am near the edge. Each air horn provokes an immediate spike in my blood pressure which can only be subdued as I dream of pulling a truck driver from their vehicle and blasting them with an airhorn repeatedly.

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After reaching a hotel one evening I removed the now wet and muddy bandage from the cut I inflicted on my ankle back in Tongren after slipping on my pedal. I should have worked harder to keep it clean as it was now clearly infected. I was fairly far from a English speaking doctor so decided to rummage through my stash of medicine to find that the anti-biotics I was carrying to treat Giardia (a severe form of food poisoning) can also be used on skin infections so I decided to give it a go.

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Normally rest would be a good idea but I have a flight to catch so once again I pressed on. The fatigue I was experiencing just kept getting worse and worse, maybe just as a result of cycling alot but it was far worse than usual, maybe the infection or anti-biotics were playing a part. I re-worked my schedule to take an extra day cutting my daily distances down from 130km to 110 in the hope that would help.

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Half donut, half Onion bhaji street food in China.

The infection in my ankle began to improve through being kept clean (washing with bottled water to prevent yet more bacteria) and things became a bit easy on the road as I increased my food and water intake as well as splashing out on fruits and higher quality meals.

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Stepped terraces in Gansu.

My poor physical state began to be reflected in my mood leading to many expletive laden outburts at trucks with over zealous beeping as well as losing my patience with the constant haggling for hotels. Cunningly I devised a short cut to getting a good price.

When you check in to a hotel in China you also pay a deposit in case you damage the room. You are given a slip detailing the cost of your room and your deposit so that you can be refunded the correct amount in the morning. A carbon copy of this slip is kept on the pad at reception. I realised that by simply leaning over reception, grabbing the pad and flicking through it to see what locals had paid I could then demand the same price without being rebuffed. A slightly rude tactic but then again overcharging foreigners is fairly rude to begin with.

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Gorgeous scenery, shame about the tough riding.

An exacerbation of the hotel problem in China is that foreigners are not allowed to stay in many of them, usually only the fancier ones. This is a result of licensing, only the higher end places consider it worthwhile to go through the hassle of getting the relevant permits to host foreigners.

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Whilst I am aware that this is purely a liscencing issue and not some underlaying manifestation of xenophobia it still strikes a nerve when you cycle up to a hotel exhausted only to have the staff giggle at you for being foreign and then bluntly ask you to leave.

As a result the eastern part of China is really not geared up for cycle touring. There is precious little space to camp, agriculture covering nearly every inch of available land, and 80% of the hotels are off limits. My advice to anyone not anxious to cycle every inch would be to start getting busses once you approach Xian, the rest of the way is not going to be pleasant touring.

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First Mao statue of the trip on the way into Baoji.

As the roads become busier moving east the standard of driving appears to have deteriorated as well. The number of close shaves I have has ramped up from about one a month to several a day. A peak incident involved me looking up from my handlebars to see 4 cars attempting the first triple overtake I have ever seen, on a single lane road to boot.

Hectic traffic going through the satellite towns of Xi'an

Hectic traffic going through the satellite towns of Xi’an

I’m not proud but the 40 foot wide wall of steel carelessly flying down the entire width of the road provoked my strongest outburst yet. As the worst offender plowed down the hard shoulder, in the wrong direction, towards me making eye contact the whole time but still not considering applying his brakes, I removed an apple from my pocket and launched it against his windscreen before bailing off of the road and into a ditch.

I looked over my shoulder anticipating the screeching of brakes and aggressive advances of an angry driver but it appears even my outburst was considered business as usual and the wall of cars flew off into the distance without batting an eyelid.

Food street in the Muslim Quarter of Xi'an

Food street in the Muslim Quarter of Xi’an

After all that rotten cycling I finally reached the haven of Xi’an safely. I apologise for what has been a rather miserable post but I have to say I’ve had a pretty miserable week. I will relish the 8 days off I am taking to fly to Hong Kong to get another Chinese visa so that I have enough time to return and complete my trip.

A few more donations have rolled in which have been cheering me up as the end nears so if you have been thinking about donating please consider it now, I need all the cheering up I can get on these damn roads!

As life always is we are always reminded how our problems are trivial compared to others. Many posts ago you may remember I introduced you to a cyclist I have become friends with called Radu. He was cycling from his home in Bucharest to a 7,000m+ mountain in Kyrgyzstan which he aimed to climb and then cycle home. He made it to the top but an unfortunate case of frostbite has led to an early flight home and the loss of most of his toes. A stern reminder to all of us who embark on adventurous trips that things don’t always go to plan.

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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