Today’s distance / ???????: 46.7 miles / 75.3km
Average speed / ????: 8.1mph / 13.1km/h
Time on skateboard / ????: 5h 44m
Total skateboarding distance to date / ????????????: 6972mi plus 386mi (?) / 11,220km plus 622km (?)
Ascent / ??: 285m
Descent / ??: 265m
End-of-day GPS coordinates: N30°56′49.2″, E118°45′46.0″
What a nightmare of a place this is. This is on the outskirts of Wuhu. And I’m not the only one who was struggling with the air quality here today.
I watched people on their boats for a good 10 minutes, contemplating what it must be like for a person who has only known this kind of environment, to travel to a place like the South Island of New Zealand. If smog, and only being able to see at the most 1km ahead of you (if that) is the only thing you know, then what must it be like? To be able to look down off your boat and see the bottom of the ocean 10m down through crystal clear water. I can’t imagine.
The air was so thick and hot and muggy it was like breathing syrup. In the afternoon I stopped in at an internet cafe for three hours to wait out the hottest part of the day. I was wilting!
In the afternoon I pushed on with the sun at my back. For half an hour I was on bright red dirt roads – lucky it was dry and the surface was hardpacked.
The terrain then started to get more interesting. From Wuhu, which is on China National Highway 312, I am cutting south east towards China National Highway 318 which is supposed to be less industrial and more enjoyable with less traffic. Provincial Road 102 passed through wonderful tea growing areas. The locals were vibrant and alive.
I didn’t get into the city of Shicheng until after dark, and I spent some time looking for a decent-looking place to stay. I ended up staying at a spa. This turned out to be a most educational experience…
The massive LED colour screen on the outside of the building displayed what they had to offer. A large communal public bath. Sauna. Massage. “We have it all!” the images screamed in full colour. I was drawn like a fly to the flame.
“Do you have rooms?” I asked the clerk. I had never stayed at a place like this, and indeed I had no idea whether I was actually able to stay there overnight.
“Well, from 6pm till 12 midnight it is 30RMB, from 12 midnight to 3am it is 20 RMB, and from 3am till 8am it is 20RMB, so that would be 70RMB all up,” I was informed.
I must have looked confused, and the girl at the reception explained that this included bath entry, room fee and food. “Food?” I asked.
“Yes, a buffet dinner and breakfast is included.”
Wow, I thought, this is a deal! For 70RMB. Very nice.
I was hearded up to my room to drop my gear. Not before I was instructed to remove my shoes and don the standard plastic slippers. “No, not those ones!” the girl instructed. “They are too small for you. Those ones are bigger, and will fit you.”
They were still too small and caused me to trip over the floppy ends, but the reception girl seemed happy that I was being well cared for with the biggest plastic sandals.
Upstairs, I was shown around. The public bath was very Japanese style, so I would have no issues there I thought. The food in the comfortable carpeted cafeteria was passable.
In my room I changed into the baggy cotton shorts and quickly made my way to the baths. In the changing area I was instructed to take everything off. Handed a towel.
I headed straight to the stools in the shower area to have a shower before getting into the large bath in the corner of the tiled room. I scrubbed the day’s road grime and sweat off my body. An attendant quietly approached, grabbed a bottle of body soap, and before I knew it was washing my back with it. I certainly did not complain.
Wash over, I headed to the large bath. There were already four men in there soaking and sweating, eyes glued to the TV screen in the corner. I eased myself into the bath, noting that it was just a little too cool for my liking. A few moments later, three more men entered the bath room, and without washing, walked straight into the bath! At seeing this, the soaking became a less pleasant experience. It seems that it is not the custom to wash before entering the bath here…ugh…yuck. I cut my soak short.
WARNING: The description below gets graphic. I make no apologies. This is China.
As I was about to leave, I noticed a small separate section to the bath room with raised platforms. I had a thought that these might be for massages, so I entered. The large male attendant with a massive belly, clad only in the standard baggy cotton shorts stood up as I entered and motioned me to the platform. “Lie down on your stomach,” he said.
On my stomach, and I realised what this was. This was the scrubbing platform. The attendant donned a rough nylon mitten, made from material only second to an industrial pot scrub in abrasive strength, and started the onslaught
I buried my face in the pillow at the end of the platform, and endured the scrubbing. He scrubbed my back, shoulders, backside, legs, feet, and last by not least, a couple of hard scrubs right in between my ‘cheeks’!
Whoa! Go easy fella! I thought…
“Turn over,” he said.
Um…what? Turn over? My perplexed look must have annoyed the attendant, and he waved his hand angrily, indicating that I should lie on my back. Acutely aware of how exposed I would be there on the platform lying completely starkers on my back, I pushed my rediculous western shyness to the back of my mind and flipped over.
More scrubbing ensued. Neck, arms, chest, stomach…at this point I was getting nervous for some reason…*whew*…from my stomach onto my legs and then feet, inbetween my toes.
My previous relief however was too soon…finished with my feet, he stepped around, grabbed my knees, spreading my legs. He then scooped the crown and the jewels out his way in his hand, and finished with a few scrubs in the nether regions!
I wasn’t quite sure what to do…run and hide perhaps?
Before I could decide, he indicated to me to turn over again. Gladly, I thought. He reached over to a bench and took two palm-sized packets from a box as I was sitting up. Showing them to me, the packets read Bath Salts. “Oh, thank you,” I said, and went to take the packets, thinking they were a gift for me to use at home.
Before I could take them however, he had the opened up. “Lie on your stomach” he ordered.
I did as he said, and I suddenly realised what might just be about to happen…and I was right. He emptied the salt packets onto my red freshly scrubbed flesh, and proceeded to rub the salt in with his hands.
The pain was strangely enjoyable however, the stinging seeming to draw the fatigue out of my muscles.
The process was repeated again on my front before I was finally released and allowed to return to the main bath room to rinse the salt off.
The whole process left me drained, and upon returning to my room, I dropped to my bed and promptly fell into dreamland.
Today’s distance / ???????: 70 miles / 113km
Average speed / ????: 8.7mph / 14km/h
Time on skateboard / ????: 7h 50m
Total skateboarding distance to date / ????????????: 6172mi plus 386mi (?) / 9932km plus 622km (?)
Ascent / ??: 590m
Descent / ??: 850m
End-of-day GPS coordinates: N34°48′53.4″, E108°05′30.4″
It’s days like this that make it all worth while. More than 100km on a recently paved, brand new six lane expressway that is still not open to public traffic. It was a wonderful break from the traffic, noise, and haste of China National Highway 312.
Today, this was my cycle lane. All to myself. OK, and a few road workers.
The road is the trans-China super expressway, the G70. I have been more or less skating in parallel to this expressway ever since I began the journey across China three months ago. At times it disappears; a mere imaginary line on a civil engineer’s plan, to be constructed in the future. At times it is in full use by hoards of fast moving vehicles, all transporting China’s future to the masses. Today, the G70 was quickly moving towards completion between Changwu in Gansu Province, and Yongshou in Shaanxi Province.
On a surface like this, void of distractions, all I have to do is skate. No cars to think about, no surface imperfections to keep an eye out for. Push, and that’s all. Everything else can blur into oblivion.
The ocassional other sneaky locals were also making use of the quiet expressway, surprised at the foreigner who had also found a way onto the ribbon of blacktop.
Tunnels and toll gates were the most active in terms of construction work. Internal walls were being tiled, lights were being wired.
At one point, the expressway cut through an area of old cave ‘houses’. Some of these caves in the area are still used as storage spaces for the locals.
In other places, the expressway spanned massive valleys, giving commanding views of the surrounding landscape. A real pity about the pollution however.
I had made the comment to a taxi driver in Xian a week earlier when I was there that I liked China a lot, but the air pollution was a little bad. “What air pollution?” she asked. “It’s just low cloud. It will rain soon, you wait and see. Pollution. Hah.”
Yeah. Low cloud. Whatever.
So I guess that’s a future low-cloud-making factory…
I only left the expressway two times today. Once to eat lunch, and once to find a place to sleep. Lunch of course was beef noodle soup. This stuff burns so good.
From mid afternoon, a strong wind started to blow from my back. It pushed me on with great ferocity, but as I had expected soon brought the rain that was following close behind. For a solid three hours I skated in heavy rain, still on the new expressway. I was happy to be off the G312 with its heavy traffic, uneven road surfaces, and road grime.
Towards the end of the day today the expressway climbed to 1,200m to a tunnel where at last I descended fast to Yongshou.
Righto, to complement the recent batch of photos and stories, here is the action from the wee Qinghai Detour in technicolour! Watch it on Youtube here
(http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JzBujRmo1Y4), or on Vimeo below.
I apologise for the dramatic start…I was watching Andromeda on the internet cafe’s internal movie server (http://www.51kkl.com/html/movie_10948.shtml) while I was editing the footage…
Compare this video with the last one from Xinjiang and Gansu. Such stark differences in environment!
Today’s distance / ???????: 18.6 miles / 29.9km
Average speed / ????: 5.2mph / 8.3km/h
Time on skateboard / ????: 3h 35m
Total skateboarding distance to date / ????????????: 5524mi plus 377mi (?) / 8891km plus 606km (?)
Ascent / ??: 1455m
Descent / ??: 500m
End-of-day GPS coordinates: N37° 56′ 31.50″, E100° 19′ 54.50″
Note that the distance for today is only skateboarding distance. I walked at least 15km in addition to that!
It was not until I was 1 hour into my ride today, when I stopped in at a road construction headquarters to warm up and have a bite to eat, that I found out that not only about 20km of the road up ahead was unpaved, but there was a lumping great 4,190m high pass to cross. Perfect. That’s the stuff a good adventure is made of, if you ask me.
On the paved section, it was tough going. Chiling is at about 2,800m, and the paved section of Provincial Road 204 heading directly south to Qinghai Lake continued until about 3,500m. Below is the demise of the pavement.
Had the weather been fine, and the road dry, the smooth parts of the dirt road may well have been skate-able. It was not fine, and the road was wet, with a fine misty rain falling, and the road was spongy. There was nothing for it but to pull my gear by hand and walk. With my skateboard strapped to my trailer, I hauled the whole setup like a suitcase…just the same…except in no way similar.
Switching pulling hands ever so often to battle the fatigue on my forearms, I made satisfactory progress up the often steep switchbacks.
It was cold. I was wearing all my clothes. Every stitch of clothing I had in my pack I was wearing. This kept me warm enough so long as I was moving. Stopping for any period of time, and I would cool down. My inner layers were wet from sweat, and my legs were drenched, due to the terrible cheap non-breathable waterproof pants I was wearing.
Walking was strangely refreshing. The slow pace made me appreciate even more the surroundings.
I was offered many rides up the hill, none of which I accepted. By hook or by crook I’ll make it to the top of this pass on my own, I stubbornly insisted.
I finally arrived at the top at 7pm. One an a half hours before dark.
Clouds enveloped the heights, shrouding the prayer flag tower eerily.
The ride down the other side of the pass included less vertical descent than I had expected. While the road up from Chiling was about 60km of pure uphill, the descent was onto somewhat of a plateau, only descending about 500m, compared with the steep 1,500m ascent from Chiling. The road was still unpaved and soggy for about 10km of the descent, however gravity kept me rolling over the rough surface. Jolly good fun.
I could have kissed the pavement when it resumed. With no town in sight however, and it getting dark, I began to formulate my strategy for camping for the night. By 9:30pm, well after dark, I realised that I would have to camp.
I was still at 3,750m, it was still drizzling slightly, and it was still cold. I was still damp from sweat. Not a good combination when the overnight low could easily drop below freezing.
I pulled off the road, and with no other choice, set my tent fly up. Remember, I sent my tent and sleeping bag ahead of me to Shanghai, thinking I would never need them in the summer heat of China.
I managed to set the tent fly up, using pocket knives, skate tools, bungee cords, and a wire fence. With the fly edges touching the ground, most of the breeze was cut off.
Despite the fact that I was wearing every stitch of clothing I owned, I still had one more trick up my sleeve. I never leave home without a foil emergency blanket, and tonight it well and truly came to the rescue. I crawled under the fly – it was no higher than 30cm off the ground – wrapped myself up in the emergency blanket, and assumed the foetal position.
I was warm enough for the first hour, but I knew in the back of my mind that I would gradually lose body heat as my metabolism slowed. In particular I could feel a chill coming from my legs. The non-breathable rain pants were not letting my thermal leggings and trousers to dry out with my body heat. My upper body, despite me wearing my water-proof jacket, dried out completely overnight, thanks to the breathable material of the jacket. This is where a breathable material comes in the most use. No breathable waterproof material will be breathable enough to keep you dry during intense activity, but when you stop, that’s when it proves its worth.
Despite my chilly legs, my core temperature remained enough that I did not shiver. I dozed on and off until 4am, when I became aware of the cooler temperature of the early morning. Sneaky cold drafts made their way through openings in the emergency blanket, stabbing me with their icy fingers.
My hips were hurting from keeping the same foetal position all night, despite the soft Thermarest mat, but I dared not turn over, with fear of disrupting the delicate equilibrium I had created with the emergency blanket wrapped tightly around me.
I waited until the sky had become light before cracking open my personal microcosm of warmth. The low clouds overnight had kept off any freezing temperatures, and all I found on the inside of the tent fly was condensation, not ice.
I packed up hastily, trying to keep moving to warm myself up….
(continued on Day 739)
Today’s distance / ???????: 44.4 miles / 71.4km
Average speed / ????: 9.5mph / 15.3km/h
Time on skateboard / ????: 4h 40m
Total skateboarding distance to date / ????????????: 5506mi plus 377mi (?) / 8861km plus 606km (?)
Ascent / ??: 400m
Descent / ??: 885m
End-of-day GPS coordinates: N38° 10′ 26.10″, E100° 14′ 53.90″
Today I had two choices. The road forks at O-po. To the direct south, Highway 227 continues directly on to Xining, 200km away. To the west, there is a longer detour of nearly twice that distance, 380km, along Qinghai Provincial Roads 304 and 204. Highway 227 to the south I know is paved all the way. I also know that there is a 3,800m high pass in there somewhere.
The longer detour however is not so certain. Most people say that it is all paved, and the highest pass is 3,400m.
In the end however, there is not much argument about which road to take. From the direction of Highway 227, there is a constant stream of jeeps and cars. From the direction of Provincial Road 304, there is nothing but the occasional motorbike with a warmly wrapped up Tib*etan in traditional clothing gripping the handlebars.
Provincial Road 304 it is.
It begins with a rough start…literally.
The dirt road is smooth however, and a slight downhill and tailwind aids progress on the slightly spongy surface.
After 5km of dirt, the pavement resumes with only occasional road works. The pavement is not as smooth as Highway 227, Provincial Road 304 being mostly moderate chipseal.
I am in my element however. How long have I put up with busy roads?! My original intent when leaving Japan was to get off the beaten track. Ever since I got onto this skateboard, I have been well and truely on the beaten track. For the first time in well over a year, I feel back in the environment I love the best. Away from it all. An environment where the road is the intruder. An environment where the environment itself holds dominance, not human influence.
Towards noon, I spied an interesting looking structure surrounded by some low-lying buildings. Upon closer inspection, it was the Arou Tib*etan Buddhist Monastery. I rolled up for a closer look, and soon became the center of attention.
The younger monks were naturally very interested in the longboard. I waited in suspense for one of them to get their robe caught in the wheels, but thankfully they escaped their test-rides unscathed.
“How old do you have to be to become a monk?” I asked one of the monks who could speak Chinese.
“Ten years old, and you can become a monk,” he replied.
As we were chatting, a few of the monks had their mobile phones out, taking photos of us talking.
I was given a tour of the fantastic monastery. Photos do much more justice than my words ever could.
The monastery’s claim to fame is the world’s largest (Guinness Record for 8 years running) yak fur tent. The whole thing is made from woven yak fur.
It was not until 2pm that I made it out of the monastery.
I continued skating west along Provincial Road 304, along the wide descending river plain.
About 10km out of Chiling, my destination for the day, it began raining. The smart thing would have been to put on my waterproof trousers. I kept skating.
The road into Chiling was gritty and covered in a fine silt that was flicked up onto my clothing. I arrived in the city a sodden dirty mess, but stoked with a great adventurous day!
Arrival in Chiling did not spell the end of adventure however. After checking out a few cheap hotels, I finally found one that gave me a room for 30RMB (3 Euro). It was a small family business, and they were delightful.
“You came from O-po today?! That is so far. Look at you, you’re all dirty and wet. You can pay once you’ve got all cleaned up. Here is your room…”
In the evening I visited the local internet cafe to upload photos. I was there two hours before two police officers arrived.
“Can we speak to you a second, please sir?” they asked in Chinese.
At this juncture, I should have just played the “I can’t speak Chinese” card. However, the day was going great, and I wanted to be friendly.
“Sure, just let me gather my things,” I replied in Chinese.
I followed them to their car just outside the internet cafe.
“Where are you from?” they began.
“Where are you staying?” they asked.
It was here that I knew I was ruined.
I told them that I was staying at a place up the road. No, I can’t remember the name.
“You can show us the way,” one of the officers said.
There was no way out, so I directed them to the small, clean family-run travel inn. We parked outside, and after just one look at the outside of the inn, they said “you cannot stay here, we will show you to another hotel.”
This was all I needed. I cracked. I got annoyed.
“This is rediculous! The place is just fine. It is clean and new, the staff are helpful! All my gear is there, I am comfortable. It is 9pm, and it will take time to go to another hotel. Plus, I have been on the road for 2 years. I cannot afford to stay at expensive hotels!” I said very firmly.
“How much can you afford?” they asked.
“20RMB, and no more,” I replied.
“OK, we will find you a good hotel for 20RMB,” they replied.
No way that would be happening I thought, but I had to go with it. We dashed into the travel inn and removed all my gear, me none too happy about it, and the owners of the travel inn also giving the police an earful about how they should not harass their guests.
The police took me to one hotel, and sure enough, it was 100RMB a night.
“100RMB?” the young officers asked incredulously. Obviously they were not expecting it to be this much.
One of the officers made a phone call on his cell phone. “Hello sir,” I overheard him say. I did not catch all of the conversation, but did hear the words “two years travel, needs cheap place to stay, New Zealand”.
It appears that their boss was understanding towards my plight, and told the younger officers to take me back to the original inn. I continued to show my displeasure at being uprooted and driven around the town, and they left me at the original inn, them apologising profusely.
What a palava.
Today’s distance / ???????: 4.6 miles / 7.5km
Average speed / ????: 6.4mph / 10.3km/h
Time on skateboard / ????: 43 minutes
Total skateboarding distance to date / ????????????: 5462mi plus 377mi (?) / 8790km plus 606km (?)
Ascent / ??: 185m
Descent / ??: 315m
End-of-day GPS coordinates: N37° 58′ 07.70″, E100° 56′ 03.30″
The day began with death.
The father of the household said last night that they would be slaughtering a sheep tomorrow morning, and that I should stay to eat some of it with them. I was surprised to wake in the morning with muffled grunts coming from outside the tent. Rousing myself, I see a still sheep on its back on the grass. Motionless. With rope tied tightly around its nose and mouth.
“In New Zealand, we would cut its throat,” I said, gesturing to the sheep’s throat.
“That is not the Buddhist way,” the father replied.
He then proceeded to cut a small hole just below the sheep’s rib cage. Putting his hand into the sheep via the hole, up to his fore-arm, he seemed to be searching for something. A few moments later he removed his hand. I’m still not sure what he was doing. Checking that the sheep was dead?
After this ‘surgery’ the butchering began. Began by skinning the animal.
Then gut the animal and carefully extract the blood for future use.
Take the carcass away to be sold, and keep all the innards for the family’s consumption.
Including the head. The head was an interesting one. You see, the mission was to break the jaw away from the cranium. This proved harder than normal, and even with two people yanking on the dismembered head, it took some serious pulling to get the jaw to part with the head.
The two girls, both around 15 years old, were not perturbed at all with all the blood and guts. They made me recall the girlstudents from the outdoor education camp that I worked at in Switzerland. The commotion that this activity would have caused amongst that lot would have been incredible.
Even cleaning out the colossal stomach was no issue.
Now, the intestines were an interesting part of the process. I knew that intestines are often used as ‘containers’ for sausages. I never considered however the fact that they come out of the animal full of poo. That is, before you use them, you’ve got to clean all the poo out.
It’s a rather labour intensive undertaking. Squeeze out most of the poo, and then flush the intestine out with water. Blow into the intestine to get the water through…
Nothing on the animal was wasted. The entire innards was minced and stuffed into sausages. The lungs, the liver, kidneys, the blood, the fat… Flavouring was salt, spring onion, and curry powder.
The sausages were all cooked together in a big pot on the stove. The stove burned dry yak poo, which is in a much larger abundance than wood in this area.
The sausages were palatable. The blood and fat sausage was far too rare for my liking, although the more well done sections were passable. The lung and meat sausage was the best of the tough menu, and unfortunately the white sausage consisting of flour and white fat just did not do it for me.
All this protein and fat was enough to energise me for the short skate to O-po. After a quick group photo, thanks, and a farewell I was off.
The push up to the summit of the pass was a short but steep one. I was still feeling under the weather, my sinuses stuffed up. My first pass over 3,500m on the board, I was happy. Pushed the entire way, no walking (plenty of stops, mind you!). Stoked.
The descent into O-po town was quick. Despite it only being 12 noon, I decided that I would take the rest of the day off. It was at least 70km to the next town, and I didn’t have it in me to push on today.
For the first time here in O-po, I noticed Tib*etan writing on signs.
Today’s distance / ???????: about 70km
Average speed / ????: very slow
Time on skateboard / ????: very long
Total skateboarding distance to date / ????????????: lots
Ascent / ??: 150m
Descent / ??: 450m
End-of-day GPS coordinates: dunno
Yesterday I ran out of juice for my GPS. All my batteries are dead. And I left my battery charger in my hotel room in Shanshan. Dumb. So no data for the last few days. I’ll have to work the distance out on a map.
I didn’t get away from the road construction HQ until 8am this morning. I wasn’t concerned; the day looked to be a cooler day. Plus, the men would not have me leave without having breakfast with them.
It would turn out to be an eventful day. One of the best of the trip, perhaps. And it was my birthday.
As I pushed away from the HQ, I had a slight tail wind, and refreshingly green scenery on either side of the road.
The wind from last night left in its wake a beautiful clear day. The clearest weather I’ve experienced in China. I resolved to enjoy it while it lasts; from reports from other travelers, skies like this don’t last for long!
With a fresh mind and fresh legs, I was actually enjoying skating. I may be getting back into a positive frame of mind. The three weeks rest in Shanshan has done wonders.
It took no time at all to get to Sandaolin. Like most cities along this National Highway 312, the city itself was about 2km south of the highway. I stayed on the highway and picked up some snacks to take with me on the road for lunch.
What greeted me just outside of Sandaolin was a birthday present I couldn’t have wished for in a hundred years. The two-laned highway (National Highway 312) I have been traveling on so far will one day be one side of a four-lane expressway stretching the breadth of China. In places so far I have seen the construction of the other two-laned side of the future expressway. Today, I spent a whole afternoon on a not-yet-open-to-vehicles three-laned (two-lanes and a lane-wide shoulder) super smooth recently completed expressway. From Sandaolin all the way to Hami, it seems, this southern side of the future expressway is not open to cars, but is perfectly paved and super smooth.
It was booodiful. A slight downhill, with a slight tailwind…wonderous. It was the same flat desert that I had seen previously, but I was feeling great. On one section, where I did not have to push because the gradient allowed it, I just sat down on my board and relaxed. I kept this up for about 5km. Luverly.
It got to about 12:30pm and I decided it was time to catch some zs and take the rest of the avo off and wait for the heat of the day to subside. I spied a nice looking culvert and set my sleeping mat up and scoffed down some of the snacks I got from the store in Sandaolin.
As I was just starting to read The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain, I could swear that I could hear water running. I thought for a moment I was going to be washed out of my culvert. I rushed out and looked towards the hills to the north. No clouds. As clear as can be. Upon further investigation, there was an irrigation water race just a few meters from the culvert I was in. The water was running clear and fresh. An opportunity not to be missed. Five days without washing; this is a God-send!
I stripped off and jumped in. I rinsed out my clothes; I knew they would dry in minutes here in the desert. Just great. I spent the rest of the afternoon dozing and reading, with a cool breeze floating through the culvert, listening to the water running in the irrigation race.
By and by 6pm came around and it was time to hit the road again. By this time the road and everything around me had absorbed the sun’s heat, and everything seemed to ooze heat from their very pores. Even these kangaroos would have been sweating if they could.
But as the day wore on, things started to cool down. It was about 8pm when I noticed a curious development ahead of me. A monstrous cloud of dust…
Cars and trucks entering the dust were enveloped and could have been plucked from the earth, and noone would ever have seen them go.
I hoped I would not suffer that fate, and just kept skating towards the mammoth cloud. About 1km before the cloud, my tailwind died down, and for a few moments, there was complete calm.
Those few moments over, the easterly gale hit with force. With 500m to go to the dust, the wind increased in force. I pulled over to the edge of the shoulder of the empty expressway and sat down behind my trailer. All I could think was…this is awesome! What a birthday!
The main front of the dust storm passed within a few minutes. It blotted out the sun completely, and not until much later in the day was the setting sun able to pierce through the dust for a last showing.
After the worst of the dust had blown over, I got up and skated another 500m to the nearest culvert for shelter from the wind. I decided to sit the wind out for an hour or so, and then carry on. I stuck my orange flag in the dirt outside the culvert as an indicator of the strength of the wind. Why get up to check the wind, when I can just glance outside, checking the wind from the comfort of my own culvert?
By and by the wind died down enough for me to carry on another 10km or so eastward. I passed by a toll gate (once again receiving the bewildered looks from the gate keepers), and stopped just at nightfall in a small shelter off the side of the road.
OK, um…uh oh…what have I gotten myself into…?! Will this really work?!
So, after a long day of chasing visas, buying travel gear, and around-city driving (thanks Donna!), the new board and trailer coupling from Longboard Larry arrived today. It arrived nicely protected in bubble wrap and a tough cardboard box.
A wonderfully made board despite the very short time span that Larry had to put it together. This custom project included some very experimental additions. The drop-through truck attachments, and some carbon fibre mudguards essential to long distance skateboard travel; you never know when you’re going to be caught out in the rain.
“The trailer coupling looks pretty good,” Kirk said as I eyed it up.
We both worked slowly, contemplating the potential and possible issues with the whole situation. I mean, a skateboard with a trailer? Who has ever heard of anyone doing that before on a long trip?
“You look concerned,” Donna observed as she came into the room and looked at my face.
“Yeah. I am. There are so, so, so many unknowns here,” was all I could reply. “So many questions.”
One thing was for sure. The coupling setup, a brainchild of Cory Poole and refined by Larry, is a wonderfully solid unit. It has definite potential. Using an industrial nylon ball joint, it can pivot side to side and up and down up to about 30 degrees in angle. It can also rotate, of course. Will it be able to hold up to up to four months of constant vibration, up to 40lbs of weight, all manner of weather conditions etc etc? Only time will tell.
Longboard Larry’s board is phenomenal. An amazingly smooth, comfortable ride. A wonderfully maneuverable board, it was a massive breath of fresh air after being on the very stiff Rollsrolls board for the last four months. It turns tight, has some very nice flex (much more than I’m used to). I noticed the slightly extra weight compared to the RollsRolls, but what the board may lack in its weight, it more than makes up for in being just so much more of a joy to ride. I noticed no difference in ride height, which was a relief, as I had really appreciated the low-to-the ground ride of the RollsRolls. This is going to be a great board.
With the trailer (the old RollsRolls board with the skateboard trailer coupling attached), I noticed the extra weight when accelerating. Once up to speed, the whole setup rolled smoothly. The trailer coupling is ingeniously designed to be quick-release by way of a retaining clip. The clevis pin and retaining clip rattle noisily, so Kirk suggested a couple of rubber washers on either side of the coupling to stop the rattling. We’ll sort that out tomorrow.
The setup was a head-turner. As I rode the setup up and down the street in front of Kirk and Donna’s apartment, people around stopped and stared. A particularly interested neighbor added his two cents to the situation.
I’m excited. Very excited. This just might work. Thank you over and over again to Longboard Larry for taking on this ambitious project. Larry’s commitment to exploring solutions and potential for longboards is impressive.
Kirk and I will work on luggage attachment solutions for the trailer tomorrow.
Before I arrived in the US, I emailed a few random people I found by on www.crazyguyonabike.com who had cycled the southern part of the US. I was wanting to get an idea of how feasible skateboarding across the US would be. Among the answers, I got the following answer:
Skateboarding across the U.S.????? I see you already traveled 1,000 miles across Europe and I am sure you faced challenges. However, there may be some unforseen challenges here.
1.) Louisiana roads are poorly maintained and extremely bumpy, I got nerve damage in my hands and would never ride that states roads again. I had 1.95″ tires and extra padding on my handlebars and still had issues. I would say these roads could not be traversed on a skateboard. No shoulders and Tractor-Trailer trucks blowing by at 80 miles per hour. I would hitch hike across to bypass altogether.
2.) The maps from Adventure Cycling leave much to be desired, I made my own route.
3.) There are some areas which require that bicyclists get on Interstate Highways. Generally, it is illegal, there are exceptions when there is no other route, but is ONLY for bicyclists. The laws vary from state to state, but I can guarantee the California Highway Patrol (CHP) will not permit your travel on some of these roads with a skateboard even if there is no other way. And if there is a way, the alternate routes have not been maintained for 50 years. I will include a picture of a road I was forced to ride by CHP in lieu of the highway.
4.) We are coming into winter, and even though you are doing the southern tier, you will have cold weather, I experience near freezing temperatures in New Mexico and it was only October. All of the roads are fenced off on both sides and it can be difficult to find shelter or even a place to camp. I don’t know how far you can acceptably travel on skateboard each day, but stops can be 50 miles or more apart.
On the positive side, you are traveling alone and people are likely to lend a hand if you are in need. I wish you the best of luck but would HIGHLY recommend you get back on a bike.
Hmmmm. He put it very well. Indeed the roads in Louisiana were not too good. Indeed the interstates proved troublesome. Indeed I experienced below freezing temperatures, even snow. But I gave it a shot, and it wasn’t all that bad…
So, some statistics from skateboarding across the US:
* On I-10 Limited Access Freeway from B10 Campground in Quartzsite (AZ) to Posten Rd in Ehrenburg (AZ) on Day 613 – March 24th 2008. Does not include non-essential local travel (errands around town etc).
† Only this one is a real record.
** No support vehicles.
‡ Seven countries (Switzerland, Germany, Belgium, Holland, England, British Virgin Islands, United States of America).
Today’s distance / ???????: 46 miles / 73.8km
Average speed / ????: 9.4mph / 15.2km/h
Time on skateboard / ????: 4h 53m
Total skateboarding distance to date / ????????????: 4084mi plus 280mi (?) / 6573km plus 450km (?)
Ascent / ??: n/a
Descent / ??: n/a
End-of-day GPS coordinates: N22.214.171.124, W126.96.36.199
Made it. Pacific Ocean. Big pond it is.
I got up early. I wanted to beat the morning rush on narrow and busy highway 76. Didn’t help getting up early. I had to walk frequent sections of the roadway due to the lack of shoulders and heavy car and truck traffic on the weaving slither of roadway. Eventually however I got to where highway 76 changes its name from Pala Rd to Mission Drive. Mission Drive had shoulders and it was all go.
I enjoyed the odd old section of road where there was no traffic.
I kept the pressure on, and thanks to some very nice cycle paths coming into Oceanside, I was at the water’s edge by 9:25am, the 2nd of April. 118 days (3 months 27 days) since I left Key West, Florida, on the 7th of December 2007.
I meandered along the beach front, enjoying the cool Pacific Coast breeze.
Houses were very “Californian”…
As stoked as I was to see the water, my day was well from over. From Oceanside, I still had (have) another 70 or so miles until I reach LA, where my flight to China leaves from. No rest for the wicked therefore. I made my way to the Camp Pendalton Marine Base.
The only way to get from Oceanside to the next town, San Clemente, is to pass through the Marine (army) base. If you’re in a car, this is easy. Take the I-5 freeway. If you’re on a bicycle, it is also easy. Go to the front gate, and they’ll take note of your ID, and let you through. If you’re on a skateboard, you may have more of a challenge.
Yesterday, I had called the front gate of the base in order to make sure that I would be able to travel through the base on my skateboard. During the phone call, the Military Police Officer I spoke to had to check with several people before he gave me the OK. “Is it just you? Or is it a group?” the officer asked.
“Just me,” I answered.
“OK, let me check.” A few minutes later, the officer returned to the phone. “So long as you are wearing a helmet, Sir, you may skate through the base following the bicycle route,” he said.
I thanked him, and carried on skating feeling confident that I would have no problems.
That was yesterday. Today:
Problem One: There was a different team of officers on the front gate.
Probelm Two: Communication between teams of officers is non-existent.
Problem Three: The main officer on the gate today was about 19 years old (no rank therefore no authority to think for himself) and made comments such as “I don’t understand why they even let bicycles through…”
I arrived at the gate, and went inside the booth. Officer Blythe, the main officer, was not sure whether I was allowed through the base on a skateboard. He did two rounds of phone calls to his superiors.
The bottom line after his phone calls? “I’m sorry Sir, but you are not allowed to skateboard through the base. You’ll have to go around the base, or take a cab.”
Not a good start to my impression of the US Army public relations bureau.
I reminded him that in order to ‘go around’ the base, one would need to take a 250 mile detour. I also reminded him that I had spoken to a front gate Officer yesterday on the phone, and had been given the OK. I told him that I was in the position to take an alternative route yesterday when I called, and had called to confirm whether I would be able to skate through the base, and being given the OK, I carried on towards the base rather than the alternative route.
“Is it illegal to skateboard on base?” I asked him.
“No Sir, it isn’t.” he replied.
“So…what is the problem?” I asked.
He wrote down a number and suggested that I call it. The Public Relations Office or something. I called it. A woman answered, and listened politely to my plight.
“Let me check and confirm this, Sir, and I will call back at the front gate,” she said once I had finished.
10 minutes later, the front gate phone rang. Officer Blythe picked up the phone. Smiled. Perhaps he was on my side after all.
“You have the OK to skate through, sir. You must be wearing elbow pads, knee pads, and a helmet though.”
“Yesterday I was told all I needed was a helmet. I’m impressed with how quickly your base updates their safety regulations.”
Officer Blythe called the PR woman back. After a short conversation, I was given the OK to skate through the base, sans knee and elbow pads. Long process which on a bicycle would have taken a few moments.
Anyway, it was interesting skating through the base. Intermittent rapid gunfire, amoured vehicles driving down the road, “TANK XING” road signs…
I got told off for taking photos, of course. “Signs and stuff are OK, Sir,” said the adolescent MP Officer, “but make sure you don’t take any photos of the facilities.”
Dunno whether the top photo there qualifies as a non-allowed shot, since it has some of the buildings in the background. Oh well. I’m leaving the country soon anyway.
Hit more beach once I had made the 25 mile trek through the army base unscathed. Very Californian beach vibes. Very Baywatch. Minus the beach babes however, since it was still a little chilly.
I was making fairly good time by the time I arrived at Dana Point. It was 4pm. Still plenty of time to keep moving. Then I chanced upon the Dana Point State Beach. There was a campground with coin-operated showers, and best of all, a few empty campsites. Since I arrived into the State Beach via a back entrance for cyclists/hikers/walkers, I had no idea what the idea was for campsite fees. I set my tent up anyway, amidst a sea of large RVs and campervans. When I went to bed, my ear plugs dulled the incessant hum from numerous generators feeding electricity to all the campers’ needs. So much for a quiet holiday away from the hubub and modern society’s trappings…