Today’s distance / ???????: 75.3 miles / 121km
Average speed / ????: 9.5mph / 15.4km/h
Time on skateboard / ????: 7h 53m
Total skateboarding distance to date / ????????????: 5834mi plus 377mi (?) / 9390km plus 606km (?)
Ascent / ??: 380m
Descent / ??: 605m
End-of-day GPS coordinates: N36° 02′ 15.30″, E103° 50′ 58.60″
The longest distance for one day to date for me – a cool 121km. It was hard earned too; almost eight hours on the board!
As a result, there were alarmingly few photos taken today. The first five hours were skated in a groggy, tired daze, despite the good sleep last night, and the last three hours were skated through air that could be likened to the atmospheric equivalent of treacle.
My mum emailed me recently and informed me that according to New Zealand media reports, Olympic athletes are experiencing issues with the smog in Beijing. I am 2,000km away from Beijing, and it is still the worst pollution I have seen so far in China. Beijing must be horrid at the moment.
It was mostly downhill and smooth roads today, with a slight headwind. I pushed on and on, and found myself on the outskirts of Lanzhou before I had a chance to stop for the night. The original plan was to split the Minhe to Lanzhou leg into two days.
Marija Kozin had warned me that this stretch from Xining to Lanzhou would be a mess of industry. It wasn’t as bad as I had envisioned, but the pollution was terrible. Over the last few days I have developed a persistent cough, so I will be getting something to wear over my mouth for the onward 2,000km to Shanghai.
The trailer, despite the large crack in the base, survived all the way to central Lanzhou, in part helped by massive smooth cycle lanes leading into the city.
I pushed on to an inn I had stayed at a few weeks ago on my way to Hong Kong, near the train station. I had been impressed by the friendly couple running the inn, and it was new and clean, and did not smell of cigarette ash. The older places can reek of it…over the years the smoke seeps into the walls themselves…
My feet at the end of the day bore testiment to the dark dusty route today.
Today’s distance / ???????: 33.8 miles / 54.4km
Average speed / ????: 6.2mph / 10km/h
Time on skateboard / ????: 5h 26m
Total skateboarding distance to date / ????????????: 5457mi plus 377mi (?) / 8782km plus 606km (?)
Ascent / ??: 1,360m
Descent / ??: 125m
End-of-day GPS coordinates: N38° 00′ 37.60″, E100° 53′ 49.20″
Waking up with a mild head cold this morning, the start did not bode well for today’s gruelling climb. By the end of the day, I was ready to collapse.
The day was slow, all day. From Minlou, for the first 30km, I continued past fields of yellow flowers.
Farmers cheerfully pedalled their tricycles up the slope to tend to their fields.
Numerous bee keepers along the roadside braved the insects’ stings as they collected the fruit of their flying friends’ labour.
About 30 seconds after taking this photo, the inevitable happened. I was wearing my helmet, of course, but a bee found its way inside the helmet by way of one of the ventilation holes. I had had a hair cut the way before in Minlou. A nice and short number one. Bad idea.
This was sting number one. As a result, I was not able to wear my helmet. The padding would rub on the sting.
Only 30 minutes later, inevitable number two happened.
On this particular occasion, I more or less saw it happening. Bee hives are all along this stretch of Highway 227. The bees seem to have a predetermined flight path. There are trees all along the highway, and where ever there is a patch of bee hives, the bees will travel in fast moving swarms across the road between gaps in the trees. Anyone traveling along the highway must travel straight through the bees’ flight paths. The sting above happened in one such flight path.
After that I tied a small towel to my head to ward off any other stings. People travelling on bicycles and tractors would cover their heads with their jackets as they travelled. A veritable war zone.
Soon enough the bee keeper zone faded out as I climbed further up the pass. By altitude 2,800m, it was too high for the bee keepers. Green fields gave way to a narrow rocky gorge.
My legs and lungs were well and truly feeling the effects of a 20 day hiatus in skating. The altitude was playing havoc on me also. Every 100m or so I would have to stop to catch my breath. 2 months of flat skating across the low-altitude desert of Xinjiang, while mentally exhausting, does not shape one physically.
By the way, the rig got new wheels in Hong Kong. These are slightly smaller than my original wheels. They are 85mm wheels from a company called Seismic. 85mm Seismic Speed Vents, they are called. 79a is the hardness, which is slightly harder than my original wheels. My original wheels were 97mm, and 78a hardness. So far I don’t notice much difference between the wheels, except that I feel bumps more obviously with the new harder wheels.
I relegated the 97mm wheels to the trailer, and I noticed an immediate difference in the handling of the trailer. Much more stable, due to a slightly wider stance. They are also more likely to slide, rather than grip, which means that the trailer is less likely to tip on hard turns.
As I continued to climb into Qinghai Province, the Qinghai Tib*etan heritage began to appear.
Qinghai was once part of Tib*et, so the vast majority of minorities here are Tib*etan. The structure above is a Tib*etan Buddhist Temple.
The road continued upwards, passing more and more herds of yaks, with the seasonal Tib*etan residents living in their yak fur tents, looking more like some form of Dr. Who creature than a dwelling.
The roads continued to be ultra smooth up the pass.
However, despite the smooth surface, I found the going increasingly tough. I had hoped to make it to O-po by that night, however I was moving much slower than I had expected. Frequent stops were required as my lungs struggled with the altitude. I am not the strongest when it comes to acclimatisation. In Japan, I once climbed a 2,900m high mountain with Haidee Rich, and I was a mess, while she was absolutely fine. While at rest, every 30 seconds or so, I would have to take five or six deep, rapid breaths to ‘catch up’, after feeling like I was suffocating.
Today wasn’t as bad as that, but I could tell that my lungs were not getting enough oxygen to keep my body happy.
I was also running out of food. My head was still stuffed up with the head cold. As I glanced sideways, I felt dizzy. Ugh, just get me over this pass, I thought, as I pushed on.
At about 3,600m, I stopped to film myself slowly inching up the pass. As I was setting up my camera, three children from a tent not far off the road ran over. They were naturally enthralled with the foreigner on the skateboard, and apparently along with their parents, had seen me from far away struggling up the pass.
After the normal questions, the inevitable came. “Come and stay at our place tonight! You are tired. You can sleep here tonight, and carry on tomorrow.”
Many of you are no doubt thinking that anyone would be thrilled to be invited to stay with a traditional Tib*etan family in their tent. At that very point in time, I wasn’t I just wanted rest. I felt like I had no energy to entertain a family. An entertain it is, inevitably, when you are invited in. Energy is required to communicate. Energy is required to force down strange and unfamiliar foods. I did not feel like I had the energy.
“I’m sorry, but my friend is waiting for me in O-po,” I lied.
“Well, at least come and have some yoghurt,” the eldest child of about 15 said. She said the magic word. The last time I had yak yoghurt was in Tajikstan, and it was a magic experience. The stuff is awesome.
The youngest child, pictured below coveting the longboard, was happy. I detached the trailer from the skateboard, and he took control of the longboard and happily transported it across the grass to their tent.
Upon arrival at the tent, I was ushered in and fed a large bowl of yak yoghurt. It tasted even better than I remembered it. A good tablespoon of sugar on top. Wonderful stuff. It rejuvenated me to no end.
Later on I gave my camera to the kids to take photo of things with. Below are some of the pics they took of their environment.
The little gopher/hamster/rodent creature was one of thousands on the fertile grassy steppe up there. They are literally everywhere, and will run in and out of the tent.
In the family’s stock, they had yaks and sheep. “How much do you sell a sheep for?” I asked.
“A lamb will sell for 300RMB (30 Euro), while a full grown sheep will sell for 500 RMB (50 Euro),” the father replied. “We would sell a fully grown yak for 6,000RMB (600 Euro).”
Later in the evening, three men arrived on motorcycles and talked to the father. I overheard the father say “forty thousand”. After they had left, I asked what was fourty thousand.
“The youngest sheep dog there,” he said pointing. “40,000RMB for him. He is from an excellent line.”
That’s 4,000 Euro for a sheep dog. In China. That’s a lot of money in China.
After some gentle persuasion, I was convinced to stay the night. It was getting late, and I no longer had any desire to continue over the pass.
As per my expectations however, dinner was a struggle. Despite the fact that many may consider me a hardened international traveller, I am still soft as anything when it comes to spicy food. Tonight’s dinner was noodles in an impossibly spicy soup. The whole family had downed two bowls of the stuff before I had even finished one bowl.
Of course, to refuse a refill would be impolite, and I was still hungry, so I nibbled away at the second bowl until I had finally finished that one too. A big bowl of yak yoghurt would be great right now, I thought, but unfortunately none appeared, my mouth and lips burning.
As if on cue, at 9pm, a light rain began. My gear was still outside, so we rushed to take it over to the sleeping tent. This was the cue for everyone to hit the hay. I was glad…as much as I enjoyed talking with the family, the fatigue of skating all day was still a reality. I was out to it as soon as my head hit the pillow.
Today’s distance / ???????: 43.2 miles / 69.5km
Average speed / ????: 8.1mph / 13km/h
Time on skateboard / ????: 5h 20m
Total skateboarding distance to date / ????????????: 5423mi plus 377mi (?) / 8728km plus 606km (?)
Ascent / ??: 820m
Descent / ??: 45m
End-of-day GPS coordinates: N38° 26′ 05.00″, E100° 48′ 47.40″
“Just get out. Get out on the road.”
My mind was telling me that I was well rested after 20 days of no skating. My mind likes to tell me lies like that when it’s keen to get moving.
The reality was that I was unfit after 20 days of no skating. I was knackered after getting to Minlou.
My mind pushed me on however. Past the numerous watermelon stands lining China National Highway 227. Constantly uphill.
I knew that in the distance somewhere there was a 3,800m high pass that would take me to the capital of Qinghai Province, Xining. I was tired of the flat lands that I had endured across Xinjiang, and I wanted to add a decent high pass to my journey by skateboard. Every good long distance tour has a decent 3,000m plus high pass in there somewhere. I’ll be darned if I finish this trip without a decent pass under my belt.
Compared with a month ago in Gansu, wheat fields here are ready to be harvested.
Harvesting here is done by machine, with the left overs stacked high.
It was hot today, despite the altitude. By the end of the day I was at over 2,000m. Despite this, I was in shorts and t-shirt.
A welcome diversion to the heat and uphill was a solar-cooker production yard. These simple but very effective devices are used to boil water.
The workers told me that they sell for between 150RMB and 200RMB (about 20 Euro) each. It takes five days to complete one, and they can produce 100 per month. With the abundance of strong sunlight here, these devices are in popular demand. No wonder, considering the cheap price. What a great alternative energy source.
One of the workers took me inside a compound where they kept the completed solar devices. I rummaged inside my pocket for a piece of paper to test the heat output.
“Hang on a minute,” the worker said.
He went behind a building and came back a moment later with a large piece of cardboard. He laid it atop the protruding ring in the middle of one of the mirrors, and adjusted the angle of the mirror.
Within a few seconds, the intensely directed light on the cardboard was causing the cardboard to smoke. Within a minute, a dark black hole had been burned in the center of the cardboard. It was impossible to keep one’s hand in the focal point of the light for more than a second. Such intense heat.
“Have some watermelon with us!” the worker said.
The other two workers had come to watch, and we all went inside their kitchen and quickly devoured a sweet watermelon. As usual, I was forced to each much more than I could handle…but when it comes to watermelon, I’m not complaining. And yes, I am sunburnt.
After the refreshing watermelon, I made my way on again towards Minlou. Ever gradual uphill.
In Hong Kong I bought some new shoes. Concerned that the summer heat would be unbearable in my thick padded skate shoes, I have changed to sandal-like shoes by shoe company Keen.
I much prefer these to the skateshoes. They are more comfortable, and the breeze across my feet is a welcome change!
I arrived in the small town of Minlou at around 7pm. I checked into a cheap hotel (4 Euro) and enjoyed the cool air through my open window. The altitude here is about 2,300m, so the night air is much cooler than in Zhangye.