It’s sunday morning, I’ve made us breakfast in bed and the smell of coffee fills our compact room in Lanzhou. Sounds from the alley come in through the window, I’ve heard drums and cymbals this morning and I imagined a huge dragon dancing to the rhythms, sellers shout their wares with sunday lethargy and try as i do to ignore it, the sound of hacking and spitting never fails to catch in my ears.
We’ve been here since Wednesday afternoon and I am enjoying the rest time after the long stretch all the way from Bishkek. However the term ‘rest day’ is a bit of a fallacy as we seem to spend these breaks with bikes to fix and shopping to sort. We realised we had only taken 2 rest days since leaving Kyrgyzstan, thank heavens it was my birthday or else we may not have stopped at all! My legs are confused as they keep cramping up and wondering why I’m not pushing the peddles like a mad cyclist. And I felt a bit like a mad cyclist too this past month, a mad cyclist with an obsession to race across the desert, mad with a competetiveness to beat the previous days mileage, mad with a keen eye on the setting sun and an alertness to find the perfect highway camp for the night. I quite surprised myself as I can’t remember when I last rode with that particular attitude. Perhaps it had simply been so long since we had had such smooth roads before us, perhaps it’s because it’s the first time in months that Pete and I have been riding just the two of us and we quickly re-established a good daily routine and were both focused, I don’t know, as in all honesty I had initially felt panic when I looked at the map and traced how far we had to ride in such a short time, which involved turning the huge map over to see the full distance to Lanzhou, but as we got into our new rhythm we flew across the map and our black marker pen line grew longer my confidence grew likewise. I felt great, I feel great now, I feel fit and healthy and proud of our latest push East, and I’m excited about the next part of the trip heading south towards Chengdu then back west a little into the high altitude grasslands where Tibetan culture survives before making our way into South East Asia. Again it is against the clock with our chinese visa, but let’s just go for it and enjoy!
I had been expecting a monotony for the first leg of our ride through China as everyone had said skip the desert and take a train, but in actuality the scenery was varied, witnessing firsthand some of the epic scale feats of chinese construction as we went. Pete and I had glided onto the G30, past the road signs stating no entry for bicycles at the Korgas border and spent 5 days riding to Urumqi, I hadn’t expected cold rain and stormy weather either but we got it! Even this was a delight to us in some ways as it meant our new tent got put though its first wet weather test. It has been fun trying out all the different ways of setting up the tent too, ‘which door shall we use tonight Pete…?’ Shall we dine in the porch or out on the veranda?
At each stop we made along the highway we were always greeted with intrigue and fascination from the petrol assistants, the other car passengers and the restaurant staff. As my chinese hasn’t progressed beyond hello and thank you yet, maps and a big smile are my two tools of the trade to please the gathering crowds. After lots of looking at the chinese map I would normally flip over the case to show, with its little red line wiggling further and further across it, the map of the world. It’s at this point that the ladies hug and pat me and make lots of ‘AAhhhh’ sounds and the men take a long draws on their cigarettes, exhale slowly whilst looking me up and down and eventually allowing their eyes to stare at my thighs, ‘That’s right’ I say, ‘all the way from Guernsey using these legs of mine!’. Boy do the chinese LOVE to stare!
We’d travelled just shy of 2,000 kms on the G30 highway before we finally got stopped by two traffic police who were in no mood to allow us any further on it. No smiles, just the motion that we were to follow them off at the next junction and they would lead us to the national road. This was incredibly frustrating as the national road in comparison to the highway was little more than a crumbling, potholed road fit for farm vehicles and mopeds. There was little we could do, and after venting we concluded to make the most of the new situation and as it was the end of the day we stopped to make camp up in the hills with the G30 far off in the distance, and a wonderful quiet camp it was too. The stars were astonishingly bright when we climbed out for our midnight ‘stroll’, it was beautiful. Next morning we peddled into a small village where we encountered an incredibly fun bunch of locals, stocked up on fresh veggies and other goodies (campsite ‘sniffders’!) and shortly after that we had snuck back onto the G30. We had no other misfortunes with traffic police until our penultimate day to Lanzhou, but Pete flashed his own smile and charmed the ladies at the barrier, they called him beautiful, took his photo and waved us on our way.
Pete and I were euphoric as we freewheeled over the Yellow River into Lanzhou, even more happy to know that our old friends Ramon and Hanne would also be there ready to share in some celebratory beers with us. Joy and Happiness.