Breakfast, lunch and dinner
Fifteen days from the Kazakh/ China border and we’re now about six hundred kilometres from Lanzhou, our first major goal in China, marking the completion of the first two thousand three hundred of the six thousand kilometres that we need to cover in order to cross this epic country. This first leg of the ride across China is one that many people decide to skip, and jump on the train from Ürümqi to Lanzhou. We seriously considered the train option, as it would have meant that we’d arrive in Southern China, specifically Sichuan Province, before the weather put’s on its winter jacket and develops an attitude. The idea of breaking our line gave me nightmares and cold-sweats for about three days. I kept thinking to myself that we might as well have just gone on a weekend mini-break to a spa resort in Devon if we were just going to start training vast chunks of our ride east. So here we are, sat in our tent, bellies half-full of a delicious petrol-station dinner: pot-noodles gastronomified with horrifically low quality hot-dog style sausages, that could easily be made out of plasticine, and pre-packaged pickled eggs. I’ve been struggling to read Duff McKagan’s (ex-bassist from the original Guns n’ Roses line-up… it was a nostalgic choice for easy bedtime, or on the toilet, reading) autobiography on the iPhone Kindle app, but I’m so knackered after todays one hundred and sixty kilometre ride, all my eyes want to do is crust over with tiredness and close the curtains for a deep sleep. I’ve decided to play the age old camping challenge of trying to convince myself that I don’t really need a wee and of course I can make it until the morning before relieving my bladder from the pressure of the countless litres of water I’ve drunk throughout the day. It goes without saying that I won’t complete the challeneg, and that I’ll have to drag myself away from the cosy cocoon of my three-season sleeping bag multiple times throughout the night… Take that bladder! Take that unbroken nights sleep!
We still haven’t quite mastered putting our new tent up perfectly. The wind’s been changing direction all day, from amazing tail-winds sending us hurtling down the G30 highway to soul-destroying, energy-zapping headwinds that make it feel like we’re cycling with flat tyres made of concrete, and an extra coating of wet bread dough. The sides of the tent are flapping just enough to cause the zips to jingle around. I would put my expensive, custom ear-plugs in, but since we woke up (I didn’t… it was our friend Tobias who woke the rest of us up) to find some young Uzbek kids riffling through our stuff a few months back, it’s probably best to be able to hear what’s going on outside the tent in the night. Some how I’ve still got the energy to let the rattling zips get on my nerves. My brain seems to suddenly have developed the ability to translate the rattling noise into English… there might something lost in translation from ‘zip-speak’ to English, but I’m pretty sure the zips are trying to remind me not to forget that my bladder’s extremely full.
We’ve set up camp about a hundred metres from the highway. The ground is hard and flat. Flat enough to be comfortable, slightly too hard to be able to sufficiently hammer the tent pegs in. We had just about managed to get everything setup before the sun went down, even though we decided to start looking for a place to camp at about six o’clock. There’s a continuous barbed wire fence that separates the highway from the surrounding landscape. It seems like a ridiculous thing to build. For the last one thousand seven hundred kilometres the fence has separated the highway from nothing but empty desert. It’s also pretty bloody inconvenient when it comes to searching for a place to camp, as we’ve got to keep riding, sometimes for an extra half hour, just to look for a hole in the fence.
Not far from our campsite are three clanky old trucks parked on the small road parallel to the highway. The truck drivers are chatting, hacking snotty spit onto the ground and tinkering around with their trucks. The G30 is one amazingly busy road. A torrent of trucks and cars pass us continuously throughout the day, the road seems is even busier throughout night. Maybe the toll price is cheaper when it’s dark? Huge trucks carrying even bigger loads; wind-farm windmill blades, large sections of factory machinery, cars upon cars upon cars, hundreds of tonnes of cotton, chillies and coal. The tangled, heavy loads of cogs, pipes and framework could be on their way to become part of a new Chinese space station or some security device to be fitted onto a watch-tower on the Great Firewall of China… although they’re more likely to become part of a Kinder Egg toy production facility or chicken foot removal processing plant.
Actually this whole post has been a bit of a lie. I’m not really sat up, all cosy, full of pre-wee-water in our torch-lit tent somewhere along the G30 in middle of the bleak, atmospheric plains of the northern Gansu Province. I’m actually sat on our slightly too firm double-bed, in our private en-suite room in the International Youth Hostel (not actually affiliated in any way with the YHA). It’s a slow, relaxing and indulgent Sunday morning, three days into our five days off the saddle here in Lanzhou. I’m washing down my porridge, made with imported Australian oats, with my third cup of Nescafé, all bought from the near-by hyper-market at ridiculous imported goods prices. It’s not that I lied to you, all of the above is a combination of factual events. During the countless hours of head-space we cycled through on our way across the desert plateau to Lanzhou, I was thinking of things I wanted to write about. I wanted to write something authentic and live from a campsite in the middle of nowhere. I wanted to write about the flotsam and jetsam of the flowing tide of traffic; the piles of smashed glass twinkling in the sunlight on the side of the road like mounds of diamonds waiting to encrust the next unsuspecting tyre, the jet-black peelings of rubber, shavings from blown-out truck tyres, and of course what would a list of roadtrip similes be without a mention of the long and winding asphalt ribbon of thousands of miles of highway, or as we’re in China, maybe it’s more of a grey mung bean starch flat pulled noodle.
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Our route across China… so far