Sunday, June 25, 2006

22nd To Shanghai - Back Home

0 km. relaxing morning packing up bike, swimming and flying back to shanghai. Good to be home and with the family.

21st To Sanya

60km – very nice cycle to Sanya resort area. 1 mountain and lots of little hills. Pleased to have now completed the cycling and just relaxing in Sanya.

20th To Lingshui

70km – not much to see here or to do in monkey island. Was the only guest in the hotel. Nice seafood dinner on a boat. Again reminds me of the Mekong delta with the hum of the boats.

19th To Wanning

97km – stayed in a ok-sh hot spring hotel. Not much going on here.

18th to Boao

80km - 4h

Nice quick ride after nice local breakfast. Boao is dead which makes it rather nice. Staying in another very nice hotel over looking the convergence of three rivers and the sea. Reminds me some what of the Mekong delta with the view and the sounds birds and boats. All very nice & peaceful!

Saturday, June 17, 2006


0km cycling
Taking it easy in the hotel and recovering from yesterday. Sunburned and tired.

16th – To Wenchang

80km cycling - mostly flat with some small roaling hills.

Well I thoughts this would be an easy day cycling and it turned out to be one of my hardest. Stupidly stayed up to watch England play a bad game of football so did not get much sleep. Started out around 10am and by about 12pm I was feeling in trouble. Don’t think I have gotten acclimatized at all to the humidity. It was hotter in Gangsu but did not really feel the heat like here. Had to collapse on the side of the road and stopped every half an hour thereafter. Would say a mild case of heat stroke. Drank about 20 bottles of water and did not really pee. Only 36 degrees but felt like 45 in the sun with the humidity. Luckily there are lots of roadside cafes so had places to get out of the sun. So much for more relaxing riding but at least more interesting things to look at on the way. Arrived at Wenchang at 5pm and decided to stay in Hainan for the remainder of the trip and only cycle in early mornings to keep out of the midday sun. will slowly cycle down to Sanya and then fly home.

15th - Haikou

50km cycling
Pleasant relaxing day looking around town, getting bicycle serviced and going for a 50km coastal ride in the afternoon. First time I have seen so many recreational / sports cyclists on the road. Not really surprising as good roads, nice coastal scenery and good weather year round. Don’t think I have ever sweated as much in my life during the cycle ride. Its as if I just jumped into a swimming pool fully clothed. Quite liked haikou, quite seedy and reminds me half of Canton and half of Hochiming but quite fun looking around the old town.

14th – Fly to Haikou, Hainan

No cycling.
Flight from Donghuang to Langzhou to Chongqing to Haikou.
Boring day stuck on airplanes. Interesting to see other passengers who where mostly going on their first flight and probably on their first real seaside vacation. Nice to see there where all so happy and enthusiastic. They mostly looked like they had just gotten off the farm and amazing to think that they can afford to go on holidays like this even if probably only 2000 RMB for a package trip.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

13th - Donghuang

Great sleep, great breakfast and very impressive cave gottos.

(nice change from the usual)

There are about 740 caves in the grottos, some small and some very large housing 30m high status. Unfortunate no photographs allowed but I can understand why they say this is the best and largest location of Buddhist art. Statues, frescos, manuscripts (mostly take overseas), tiles and other objects started around 340ad. A lot of the original early works have been painted over by successive generations and dynasties and everyone feels the more modern (500 years ago plus) additions and changes are worse than the originals. I think they should build a modern, artificial hill and let contemporary artists paint and build some modern fresco's and sculpture. It would be a interesting comparison and keeping with tradition.

(Behind this building is a cave housing a 30m high Buddha statue)

You have to be escorted through the caves with a guide in a group, that was not too bad as small group, and it was well worth the trip, even with so many tourists.

Went for a 50km bike ride this afternoon to get some exercise and getting ready for tomorrows departure.

(Aqueduct and power generator all in one)

(First, last and only wild camels I saw on the trip.)

(This is why I am pleased I do not have to ride any more in the desert. This is the road to Xingjiang and the great desert landscape that i will miss :) !)

12th - Arrived Donghuang

Arrived here at my rather luxurious hotel after a bumpy 6 hour car ride.

(death trap)

Very pleased I did not ride this and it saved 3 days of nightmare riding. The first two days would have been riding over unpaved roads dodging trucks and stones (as expected) and the 3rd day straight through the desert with no stop off points or places to pick up water.

(great roads)

The taxi trip was interesting enough. Through desert, oasis, villages, a wind farm, hills, oil field, salt marsh, landscape that looks like the moon, some old forts and the odd town. Would have been a nice, if somewhat remote, bike ride however there is no way I could have found my way as the roads where all off the map, a lot unpaved and going in all directions.

(Nice to see some environmentally sounds forms of energy here. Another downside to riding in the desert are the strong winds.)

Stayed in the hotel this afternoon and check out the sand dunes next door and cycled into town. Very nice relaxed cycling around the orchard next to the sands.

(largest sand dunes i have seen)

Pleased I have made it here and hope the grotto's are worthwhile.

Yesterday afternoon planned and bought air tickets for next leg of the trip. The exact opposite of here. Fly to Langzhou and then to Hainan on the 14th. Plan is to cycle North Hainan for a few days, get a overnight boat to Beihai and then cycle up to guilin (about 700km). That will mean I reach my main objective of 2500km for the trip and see another part of China I have not been to. Well I have been to Hainan (for those that don't know Hainan, its an island south of China, across from Vietnam) but only to the south. Its should be more hours riding than here in West China but a lot easier and more relaxing. Will try and camp out where possible and experience more of the local life.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

11th - In Jiayuguan

No cycling
Visited a fort and the end of the great wall (well actually not the end of the wall). Impressive.

(fort at the mouth of the hexi corridor, in the middle between a river and moutains. notice Qilian mountains in background).

The wall was built over 2000 years, is in various sections and spans 25,000km in total. Military experts say it did not help keep out invading hordes but acted more as a warning and communication path. I wonder if anything so vast will every be built again?

(one end finishes in the hills)

(the other end of the wall finishes here. 60m straight drop down into the river.)

Well half way through my trip and I have decided that I have had enough with cycling through this part of the world. Had enough of the desert, heat and general life here. Probably would have made it to Urlmuqi if it was not summer and I was riding with another person. Hats off to those adventure cyclists who do this for months by themselves.

I was planning to bike three days to Donghuang but decided for safety and insanity reasons to grab a cab there. Seeing the road (or lack of it), trucks passing every 20 seconds (the main trucking route west), little or no visibility (because of the dust brought up by the trucks on the dirt road), being pushed of the road by the trucks, stones hitting me (while is was in the taxi this morning its lights broken by flying stones brought up from a truck), combined with the desert heat and lack of things to look at make this a sensible decision. The idea of cycling this part has zero appeal so no point in doing that.

The question is what to do after Donghuang. I don't won't to go home as I would like to try and do another 1000+km cycling and complete at least one of my objectives. I could continue to urumqi but don't see the point. Nothing to see on the way and only cycling through desert. Also I don't think I have enough time as I have cycled for two weeks so far and have cycled 1200km and think I have about another 1600km to go (i was 300km out on the first half of the trip). Therefore that's out. I am thinking of the southern silk road (i have a book on it at home) which goes from Chendu to Burma. Different part of the world and different landscape :). Could do part of that. Could also bike from Beijing to Shanghai, follow part of the Yangtze, bike around Hainan (the most appealing option! Sleeping on the beach!), or something else. Need to make my mind up quickly. Off to do some research.

10th - to Jiayuguan

90km -22a - 4h

Early start as no point sticking around that dump. Did not sleep too well as everyone in my 1 pound (1.5 USD) a night hotel was playing drinking / gambling games all night and shouting at each other. Don't know how these long distance low budget travels do this day in day out for long periods of time. Well it probably helps not staying in these types of areas for too long and visiting some beaches. I have had beaches on the mind. Spent the whole morning ride thinking about how much I want to be swimming in the sea. I think the desert does that to you. Actually its bloody boring riding in the desert. Hot, rocky, dirty and no shade. Its only going to get worse from now on with basically two complete weeks of desert riding. Rocks, sand and sun. I think I will change my plans once again, bicycle to Donghuang (4 days over terrible road in the desert) stay there for two days and then fly off and do a one week ride down the coast of China. The idea of being by water / the sea is so appealing. Will think about it tomorrow after some R&R. Staying in a nice hotel and look forward to some food other than noodles.

(this has been my breakfast, lunch and sometimes dinner nearly every day. Actually the noodles here are really good and freshly hand made).

Off to see the end of the great wall tomorrow. Good to watch england win one game in the world cup (not that they where playing very well) all by myself in a bar with a walm beer being the only one there.

9th - To some county

155km - 20.8a - 7.26h

Made good progress up to lunch time and then it started to get f****** hot. 39 degrees, road melting and stuck to my shoe, no shade and after 20 minutes boring.

(a nice part of the desert. at least some green. the road mark is for national highway 312 which starts off in Shanghai, 2792km away and end i think at kashgar - 4500km from Shanghai).

First taste of mid day sun desert ridding and I have to say I don't like it and its boring. Its not the hours you put in or the heat or physical exercise but the fact there is zero change in the landscape.

(this is what i look at all day. highlight of this moment was the train that passed (in the mid ground of the pic. Starting to get hot).

Long straight roads, slowly up long small hills and slowly down, again and again and again. Its extremely boring and I think combined with the heat somewhat hallucinogenic. My mind goes into a negative trance like state and I can really understand why they say the desert makes people go mad. I have only had small stretches of it so far and I guess I was not born a bedouin!

(nice localized mini tornado dust storms which you see a lot of. they come and go quite quickly)

Physically the rides seem to be getting easier. First 100km's go with ease. Start getting tired there after and normally regain energy after 130km and pick the pace up again. Don't know if I have lost any weight due too my high carb noodle diet but certainly building some mussel.

8th - In Zhangye

No cycling

Woke up this morning with an infected eye and could not look at bright light. Same old problem due to a stupid incident a few years back where I managed to put a tooth pick into my eye. A quick visit to the local pharmacy and at least now I can see out of it without too much pain.

Then went to Mati Si, 65km from Zhangye, half hill grottos and half Tibetan village.

(rolling green hills, tibetian tents and mountains which i guess go up to 4000+ meters)

Located on the edges of the Qilian mountain range it really is an impressive natural sight.

(as usual i am unlucky and most of the grottos where closed so i could not see inside)

Had a 6 hour hike going up 1000m through pine forests, along streams and up to a waterfall. Shame I did left all my camping gear in Zhangye but it would probably have been too cold at night anyway. This is certainly a place I would like to come back to for a 10 day hike through the mountains with proper gear and a guide. Well I can wait for Alex and the other one to get bigger and take them along to.

(needing a shave, dodgy eye and hot after waling up 1000+ m. Notice the frozen ice on the waterfull which i guess was around 3000m)

Preplanning my trip once again as there is a bad stretch of road everyone is warning me about coming up in 3 days. Road is meant to be impassable for 300+ km which means I will probably be going to have to do a large detour in a taxi to get to Dunhuang. Also want to give myself a few extra days hiking in Xingjiang / Tianshan mountains which I did not budget time for.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

7th - To Zhangye

62km - 22.8a - 2.42h - Flat

Great sleep last night. Felt tired but good this morning. Did a quick sprint to Zhangye. Started off as desert and about 15km out of Zhangye things turned very green.

Turn out they have planted 48 million trees here to stop erosion from the desert. Checked into a nice 4 star hotel (not bad at all) and plan to go hiking tomorrow south of here.

Visited a interesting temple / palace built in the Xixia dynasty (Mongols killed them all and destroyed most of their culture). It houses the largest reclining Buda in China – 38 meters long. Very nice architecture.

6th - To shandan

178km - 10.28h - 17a
The longest tiring day so far. Thought it would be a relatively easy ride on flat ground. Oh dear - very wrong about that. Started off easy enough for the 1st hour and then a strong head wind started to blow which bought be to a crawl.

(first view of the wall)

The wind lasted the whole day and made things really tough. After lunch a 1000m slow climb up to 2400m. The climb combined with the head wind made it really slow going, very cold and at some points I had to get off the bike and push. Just as I was getting near the top it started to rain. This combined with the strong wind made it absolutely freezing. I could not feel my legs or arms and my teeth where chattering. Well so much for only bringing warm weather gear and no rain coat. What kept me going was the great scenery. It was absolute aweinspiring. Large mountains on either side, the great wall in bits and bobs, nobody other than the odd shepherd and his flock and some green pasture. (stupid not to stop and take some real pictures).

God was I relieved to get to the top. From then on it was easy riding down hill. About one hour later I stopped in a small town and had some wonderful instant noodles and hot coffee which perked and warmed me up considerably. I think another hour in the wind and rain I would have been close to getting hypothermia.

(the motorway which i did not want to go on)

Half way down the mountain I noticed camper van, the ones like you see in camping parks back home. On the side large letters - Paris to Tokyo. I wonder how they are getting across the water from China to Japan? Swimming. 10 minutes later I see some jeeps with foreigners driving and 5 minutes after them a loan westerner running up the hill by himself. Similes and hello's exchanged, him heading east and me west. I guess the camper / jeeps where his support vehicles and if so it would be a nice way to travel if somewhat the slowest form on transport.

(the wall goes on and on)
Arrived about 8pm. A long 14 hour day with only 20 minutes sitting down / resting. Treated myself to a huge hot pot which was great but could hardly keep awake.

5th - To Wuwei

61km - 2.40h - 22.8a
Got a taxi from Lanzhou to Goulao. Good idea as it saved me one or two days. It would have been a nice bike ride though as lovely views and a mountain pass of 2500m. Snow peaked mountains (4000m) dotted around.

Nice easy bike ride to Wuwei. Sometimes better to be on bicycle as there was a road block which looked like people had and would be stuck for hours. Sometimes worse as hit a 4km length of road which was full of bees. I have never seen so many bees in my life and every second maybe 10 would fly into me (by the way a bee can fly at 20+ km an hour). I was more worried I might have swallowed one than anything else and this made me peddle like never before.

20km out of wuwei I hit a Tibetan stupa complex. Turns out that this place is where the Tibetan religious leader handed over power of Tibet and it was made an administrative zone of China. Well this was all in the Yuan dynasty (Mongolian) buts it’s a historical key to the governments official claim that Tibet is part of China.

Wuwei's a sleepy city. A modern looking city with a long history and nice and relaxed. I am getting a real sense I am now on the silk road and its good to be out of big cities and in the hexi corridor. Visited wuwei Museum (Wen Miao), a relaxed and very pleasant museum located in a Ming temple.

From there went to Leitai Han Tomb. A first real tomb that I have been into. Impressive, cold and it housed the famous flying horse, one of China's most famous pieces of art / sculpture.

Just before I left to visit the museum and the tomb I was listening to the BBC (on the short wave I just bought in Lanzhou and a great purchase) which had a program on the current fashion in America for people to construct large, ultra expensive family mausoleums or tombs as they are known here. Well I think us Yanks need to learn a little about tomb fashion and decadence from the people here. The man buried (1800 years ago) here was obviously of wealth (they don't know who he was other than his name) but his tomb housed great works of art, 27,000 coins, pottery, sculpture etc. It is made of bricks which are twice as strong as the strongest bricks built today and has withstood earthquakes, the last of which was in the 1970 at 7.8 and flattened most of the city. I wonder in 1800 years time how the people will look on the bright marble tombs being built in America today. Will they think Las Vegas kitsch or how we look at old monuments / tombs? Off for dinner and an early night so I can get some good miles in tomorrow.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

4th - Lanzhou

Rest Day; well very nice to have a day off cycling. Last night had the best bad buffet I have every had. Felt great having gotten the calorie intake up while watching the highlights of England world cup history while listing to ohlay ohly ohlay (that great English world cup anthem). The pleasure of being on the silk road staying in a four star hotel. An extremely welcome change to eating noodles in dirty, fly infested, mutton smelling restaurants. Don’t get me wrong, I like the local food but its nice to have pigged out on stake, chips, 6 other courses and ice-cream once in a while. Actually its nice not to smell mutton. Even the money here smells of mutton. I must be becoming Han Chinese or something but the smell really stinks / kind of repulsive in an environment like this. Last meal like that probably until I get back to Shanghai. Well such is life and probably good for the diet to be back to mutton noodles, coffee and biscuits.

Its also nice to have a change from my daily schedule which has been;
5am: wake up, stretch and eat breakfast.
6am: Start bicycling
4pm: (or later and sometimes sooner) Finish bicycling, stretch and wash.
6pm: Eat dinner
8pm: Read
9pm: Sleep

While cycling I stop every half hour for water (drink about 10 liters of that and not even a really hot day yet), every hour for a fag brake and nibble (probably not the best exercise routine) and every 2 to 3 hours for a meal. The lovely meal is normally always the same, one big bowl of noodles and instant 3 in 1 coffee, more water and a warm ice tea. The meal brakes are actually extremely welcome and every time I think I am eating the best meal I have ever hard. Another pleasurable experience is drinking the local energy drink called Red Ball. They sit in my bag all day and roast in the sun. They get so hot its like drinking boiling hot maple syrup mixed with cough medicine and blackcurrant. The upside is it helps you peddle up the next hill and the downside is you get bad burps for the next hour or two.

Not much / non in terms of evening entertainment. Actually too tried after the long rides to do too much. Reading most nights and will probably buy a short wave radio to listen to the world cup and get some news.

Pleased with the last weeks progress. Average about 110km a day of 6 days non stop riding and one days rest. Decided to get a taxi 200 km tomorrow morning and bike another 100km to wuwei. Mis-planned the route a little and want to take some days off riding to actually see around the places I visit. The scenery and landscape gets more harsh and hot from tomorrow. I enter the Hexi corridor which runs for about 1000 km up to Xingjiang. There should be more to see along the way and get more interesting if somewhat or a lot more remote. Might not get to updating for another 4 days.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

3rd - Arrived Lanzhou

105km -19.5a - 6 hours. Well very pleased to have made it. Nice ride today. 65km up and down hills and then a 40km decent into town. Checked into a nice 4 star hotel and having tomorrow off. Feeling tired and sore legs.

(typical Gansu landscape. lots of brown with little green)

2nd - To Dingxi

A long 9 hour / 150km ride up and down hills. Guess i got to about 2500m altitude and then had a nice decent into Dingxi (which is another hole so no reason to visit there again).

Thursday, June 01, 2006

1st June - To Qin'An

59km - 18.5a - 3.10h

Woke up twice last night with mussel craps in mussels I did not even know I had. Got a taxi to MeijiShan, the 4th largest budest grotto complex in China. Started in 300AD and added to throughout the years its a very impressive site.

Not only how they built the grotto's / statues into the side of the mountain but the statues themselves are very some with lively graceful expressions and some very tranquil, content expressions. Hard to describe but they had a real sense of carm.

I can understand why someone living 1700 odd years ago would want to be a monk here. Great scenery, nice weather and would certain beat the extremely tough life that most people had.

Decided not to have the rest of the day off as afraid the cycling to Langzhou would take longer than originally thought. Used by brain an bicycled down the highway which is not allowed, but which a lot of people seem to do and a hell of a lot easier than dealing with shit unpaved roads. Arrived at 3pm in Qin'An a non descript town which means I should arrive on schedule in Langzhou in two nights road dependent. Now time to try and find a internet café, a new experience for me. Found one next door to the hotel. have 20 people looking at me entering this boring blog. Next update from me from Langzhou in 3 days.

31st - To Tianshui - Arrested along the way!

140km - 15a - 9.30h

Well woke up nice and early & started on the road at 6am. One and a half hours up some very nice big hills on small roads and then hit the main road to Tianshui. 10 minutes on this road and the police flag me down, saying no foreigners allowed on this road on bicycle and off limits. They then tell me I have to go back with them to the main police station in Baoji. They could not have been more friendly and drove me back to the police station in which they took down all my details, asked questions about what I was doing there and informed me this area is strictly off limits. Cigarettes handed out, chit chat and the result is they said I could not bicycle there down the road and would have to take a 400km detour through mountains. Forget that so we came to an agreement that I would get a taxi, off which they found for me and informed the driver I could not get off before my destination. 1 hour / 80 km into the drive there is a road block and cars cannot get any further. Get out my bicycle and ride the rest which ends up taking me 9 hours / 120km up and down some big hills / mountains.

The road was 70% unpaved gravel and spent a lot of the time dodging road diggers and trucks. I can hardly feel my hands as I write this as they have gone numb. Only good thing was there was great scenery along the way. I really take my hat off to the Chinese engineers and construction workers who build the railroads and electricity lines through these areas. I have got no idea how they do it and it must be years of physical labour as no way you could bring heave machinery into areas like this.

Arrived Tianshui about 9.30pm absolutely nackered. Don't think I have been so tired in my life and even no energy to eat much dinner which is a rarity for me.

30th - To Baoji

62km - 18.7a - 3 hours - flat

Arrived in Baoji after a easy 3 hour / 60km ride. Nice cycling dogging the combine harvesters and all the corn/hay laid out on the road. Splashed out 150rmb on a fine 3 star hotel.

Being a tourist this afternoon and visiting the museum and a pagoda. Need to plan for tomorrows trip which is not going to be nice.

29th - To MeiXian

136km - 7h - 19.2a - flat
Well, made by first destination. A whole of a town called Meixian - 125km from Xi'an.

(start of silk road in Xi'an)

Actually not too bad but no electricity so no hot water so no shower. Reminds me of times of old. Anyway a roof over my head so no complaints.
Nice day bike ride. Left Xi'an at 5.30am after a rubbish McDonalds for breakfast. Stopped off at zhouzhi, small town at the half way point for good lunch and made it to this place at 3pm.

Pleasant landscape along the way. Some pagodas and wheat fields and vines.

Feeling stiff in the neck and hands. Time for some stretching and some dinner and a early night.

28th - Xian

Got bicycle setup and bought some last minute things. Then went for a walk around the town, to the city walls, the Shaanxi Museum with a huge collection of engraved tablets (guess they used them for stone rubbings for books?)

(used to tie your horse up!)

Then went for lunch in the Muslim quarter and a visit to the Great Mosque (founded in 742 and said to be largest in China. Strange looking mosque as it looks more like a Chinese temple but very tranquil and nice gardens.

Off for a large farewell dinner with Qing tonight and start the first days ride tomorrow at 6am.

27th - Xi'an.

Must have been some place 1000 years ago. Staying in a nice hotel bang in the center of town. City is busy and full of tourists. Otherwise seems quite poor. The people here are certainly a lot different to those in East China and it brings home just how large this country is. I still have to reach Langzhou before I am actually in the center (east to west) of the country and then cycle to the other end.

Interesting Xi'an food. PaoMo - soup with pieces of hard thick pieta bread that you brake up into little pieces and put in beef soup. Good lamb, restaurants with lots of different dumplings and lots of other good north western dishes.

Went to the terracotta army built for the Qin emperor in something like 220bc. Great site and the trick to going is to make sure you are the 1st people through the gate at 8.30 otherwise its mobbed.

Next door is the emperor tomb. Took 700,000 people 36 years to build. Unfortunate only a 500m mound to see. Then to lunch followed by visiting Banpo a excavation Neolithic (6000 year old) village. Could be quite interesting but they had not finished building the museum.

Followed by a visit to Dayan pagoda and the Shaanxi history museum which are both really worth a visit.

Good dinner and a good sleep.

26 May - Xian

2.2 hours flight to Xi'an. Nice weather. Warm in day / cool at night. Hotel not bad at all located downtown. Nice Xi'an food of bread in little bits in soup.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Start of trip

Trip kind of starts today. Well very nice to be off all work and other things for a month. Off to Xi’an in a few hours. Will spend three nights there and then start cycling. For those that don’t know Alex has a little brother on the way, due in September and hopefully he will look a little more intelligent than his older brother.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Links for the Silk Road

Monday, May 08, 2006

Not Started Trip Yet

I will post pictures and info daily to this area once i start the trip. Looking forward to it.