Today’s distance / ???????: about 45km
Average speed / ????: Dunno…don’t care
Time on skateboard / ????: Dunno…don’t care
Total skateboarding distance to date / ????????????: Dunno…don’t care
Ascent / ??: Dunno…don’t care
Descent / ??: Dunno…don’t care
End-of-day GPS coordinates: Dunno…don’t care
Just let me sink into a pit or dispair right now. Oh, hang on, I have.
I have a 39 degree fever. I haven’t eaten since breakfast. At least I am in a hotel.
So I awake this morning with a sore throat. Think nothing of it, I tell myself.
I skate into a town and have a tofu soup kind of thing for breakfast. I am irritable. Dumb Chinese. Get away from me…get away from my skateboard…stop staring!
I take this photo, and a person approaches me all smiles and friendly. I couldn’t care less and tell him to sod off, and I go my way…
I get to Jinghe, and I am aching. My whole body. I can hardly push the board. I curse the trailer and longboard idea. Too heavy. Too hard. Dumb idea.
First stop, an internet cafe. I spend about 10 minutes there, and decide that I need to get rest. Rest is more important than communication, I decide.
I go to nearby hotel. The cleaning lady shows me a couple of rooms. 50RMB (US$8) for my own room with ensuite. I accept. I need rest. She goes and gets the manager. Manager says “You cannot stay here.”
Another manager, and a random stranger, let’s call him DumbGuyWhoStoleMyMoney (or DGWSMM for short) arrive at the reception and start talking to me. I am confused, tired, dirty, and just want to sleep.
I ask if there is another hotel nearby. Mr. DGWSMM volunteers to take me to another hotel down the street. I accept. Nice guy, or so I thought.
Mr. DGWSMM took me a few meters down the road to another hotel. He tells me not to speak. He will do the talking, he tells me. I sort of understand. I’m not 100% sure why I should not talk. I figure that I might not actually be allowed to stay at this hotel either, but I also figure that I need sleep. I stay quiet.
Mr. DGWSMM talks with the lady of the hotel. She looks suspiciously at me out of the corner of her eye. She begrudgingly shows Mr. DGWSMM and I a room. 30RMB a night is the rate. Done, I indicated.
The woman leaves the room and Mr. DGWSMM and I sit on the edge of the bed. He explains to me that he needs my passport and 150RMB to take to the woman at the reception. I am tired. I give him my passport and the money…oops, I don’t have enough money in my daily wallet for the payment. I reach into my luggage and pull out my main document case and dip into my envelope with my main stash of cash. I pull out a 100RMB note and hand it to Mr. DGWSMM. Mr. DGWSMM leaves with the money and my passport. I let him take care of it. He is a nice guy. He is helping me.
Mr. DGWSMM arrives back to the room 5 minutes later. I tell him I need a shower. There are no showers in this hotel. Kind and helpful Mr. DGWSMM tells me to stand up. He will take me to a public shower place. As we leave my room, I ask for a key to my room. Mr. DGWSMM says later we will get the key. I am confused, but I have been traveling long enough that sometimes you have to be OK with being confused. Go with the flow. I go with the flow. I get into a taxi with Mr. DGWSMM and we drive 3 minutes to the public shower place.
Arriving at the public shower/bathing place, Mr. DGWSMM arranges with the owner all I need to take a shower. I head for the shower. Mr. DGWSMM says he will be back at 12 noon to pick me up.
Half way though my shower, at 11:50am, Mr. DGWSMM arrives back at the shower place with my room key. He bangs on the door of the shower, I open it, he hands me the key. I think nothing of it.
When I finish my shower, Mr. DGWSMM is gone. I don’t care. I only care about sleep right now. Sleeeeeep. I wander back to my hotel. Crash on my bed. Sleep. Check temperature. 37.5 degrees. Sleep. Check temperature again 38.8 degrees. Oh crap. Literally. Diahorrea. Crap. Still 38.8 degrees. I sleep. Wake up at 6am the next morning….
Today’s distance / ???????: 64 miles / 102km
Average speed / ????: 11mph / 17.6km/h
Time on skateboard / ????: 5h 48m
Total skateboarding distance to date / ????????????: 4280mi plus 280mi (?) / 6889km plus 450km (?)
Ascent / ??: 1875m
Descent / ??: 215m
End-of-day GPS coordinates: N44° 31′ 29.00″, E082° 29′ 36.60″
There are times when the stars align, and everything is so perfect, you wonder what could possibly be better.
I woke up this morning and noticed the wind was still blowing west to east. Tailwind. I gobbled down the breakfast that was made for me, made polite conversation with the family…but my mind was on the road.
Packed up, I headed out. Already, along the short flat plateau my mind was awake and energized, snowcapped mountains towering above the frozen lake.
The same as yesterday – smooth road, tailwind, next to no traffic…awesome.
And then it began. 35km of downhill. Tailwind. The Longboard Larry board was in its element. Sooooo incredibly stable. I mean…rediculous. I was wishing I didn’t have the trailer attached; without the trailer I could have made the most of the wide expressway to carve out wide tracks in the fresh virgin blacktop. Like a fresh layer of black powder. A slowmoving truck every 15 minutes passed by. The wide stable board made foot braking an ease. Wow.
About half way down the massive downhill, the wind turned on me. The headwind was not entirely unwelcome however. Trying to stop the 20kg plus rig from 30km/h on the downhill is tough work. It is painful in the sense that it takes at least a couple of mm of shoe rubber to pull the thing to a halt.
The headwind is handy because I can tuck myself into an aerodynamic arrow, and then either stand up or spread my arms to create drag to slow me down. No foot dragging required.
Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end. Just like there is no instantly regenerating pavlova. Mmmmm. Pavlova. The downhill ground to a halt, and I had to face the reality of distance longboarding again. That is, you have to push to go anywhere.
I pushed on after lunch and a two hour nap, and was just about to leave the expressway onto a side road that had appeared, when I was stopped by the police.
“Where are you going?” the officer asked officiously in Chinese while eyeing up my mode of transport with suspicion.
All officiouness (is that a word?) faded when I told him I was headed for Shanghai.
“Shanghai?! On that?!” he asked incredulously. The boy in him took over. He promtly stepped on the board and grabbed my shoulder for support. He roared with laughter and slapped me on the back. He almost fell over. Caught himself with great style. His face saved, he congratulated me on my efforts, and urged me to take caution, before driving off, waving. There are times when I love being in China.
Towards the end of the afternoon, I noticed that some of the bearings on my skateboard and the trailer were all but seized up. The last few days of wet conditions and mud had taken their toll.
I took shelter from the sun in an abandoned mud hut and changed out the bearings for ones that I had reconditioned in advance in Los Angeles. Whenever I change bearings, I usually clean the old ones out with hot soapy water and re-lube them to re-use later. One set of bearings will last me a good 2,000km to 2,500km. Especially the Bones Swiss 6 bearings I am using. Very durable.
As I was working, I heard what I thought was someone calling to me. It turned out to be goats bleating as they were driven along by their master outside.
I continued on for another few hours. I must say, at this stage, I do much prefer the trailer to the pack. In the US, I was carrying all my gear on my back. This was such a huge physical pressure on me. Sore ankles, sore feet, having to balance with all that weight, crazy.
With the trailer, I feel free. Today I even played with jumping on the board from once stance to the other; from goofy to regular. With a trailer, so much more of your energy is directed to forward motion. With a heavy pack on your back, half your energy is going to simply moving the weight up and down as you push.
One thing that will need to improve is trailer stability. I have had no issues with this perse. If I pack the trailer right (with heavy stuff low down), then normal skating does not cause tipping. Hard, sharp carving however, especially downhill, is a bit suspect. Cruising at 30km/h, I was not keen to push the trailer to its limits, as a tipped trailer sliding to a halt on a downhill would do not great things to the drybags holding my gear.
At the end of the day, literally, less energy is required to pull a trailer. At the end of the day, I still feel like walking about. I still have energy. At the end of a 5 hour plus day on the board with a pack on my back, I had energy only for one thing; to collapse and rest. Not so with the trailer.
It is still early stages yet. So far the trailer has proved to be durable (great hitch design by Longboard Larry and Cory Poole), and had proved to be perfectly userfriendly even when I need to pull it by hand.
I am camped tonight beside the expressway behind a mound of dirt.
Today’s distance / ???????: 28 miles / 46km
Average speed / ????: 7mph / 11km/h
Time on skateboard / ????: 4h 04m
Total skateboarding distance to date / ????????????: 4217mi plus 280mi (?) / 6786km plus 450km (?)
Ascent / ??: 900m
Descent / ??: 400m
End-of-day GPS coordinates: N44° 34′ 23.00″, E081° 21′ 29.60″
Dawuli’s alarm clock went off at 7am.
Dawuli’s alarm clock went off at 7:30am.
Dawuli’s alarm clock went off at 8am.
At 8:10am, we all finally started to rouse ourselves. The house was a mud-brick house with three separate living quaters, all separated from each other.
The furtherest one from the road was where we all slept. 50mm thick cotton filled futon-like matresses were laid out for each of us by Dawuli, and we slept under thick, warm, multi-coloured duvets.
The sleeping/dining/communal area was a raised platform – no shoes allowed on this platform. The entrance and cooking area was dirt floored.
Breakfast was a typical nomad Kazakh breakfast of nan-bread and salty, milky tea. After breakfast I was sent on my way, the two boys following me for the 1km of gravel road before the concrete finally began, indicating more reliable pavement.
The pavement remained inconsistent however. Where new culverts were being installed, the road was torn up, and a gravel detour was in its place.
To make things just that extra bit exciting, it had rained during the night. The moisture suppressed the dust, but left my gear and clothes in a mess.
Like yesterday, on the gravel sections, I had to walk.
The longboard and trailer rig continued to draw interest from road construction workers as I climbed the pass.
I gobbled down a mix of powdered soy milk and oatmeal and water for lunch half way up the pass. Further up the pass, the road became more reliable. I was in my element. I love the uphills. They are slow and tedious, but every push is a push closer to the top. As Marija Kozin once mentioned to me…”The reason we do this is to feel the lungs full of breath…”
It is true. To be pushing myself near to the limit, and sometimes past it, is to feel alive. I arrived at the 2200m top of the pass at 3pm. Elated.
At last, I was rolling down. The most perfect situation ever. I cannot begin to describe the amazing perfection of the last hour of skating today. Gentle downhill, roaring tailwind, silky smooth asphalt pavement, and the road all to myself apart from the ocassional slow-moving truck every 10 minutes or so, surrounded by snowcapped mountains and a beautiful azure blue lake on my left.
The lake was half frozen. Icy slush had been blown to the eastern-most end of the lake. As I took the above panorama photo, I looked back at the longboard trailer rig. I had to shake my head. What a rediculous proposition. But so far so good.
Once again the rig got attention. And once again, the inquisitive Chinese had to have a go.
One of these days, someone is going to jump on the board, fall, and crack their head open…
The tailwind was still blowing hard at 7pm when I decided to stop for the day. In the small settlement of Santai (pop. 30) I found a guest house. For the paltry sum of US$5 I got a warm futon to sleep on, dinner and breakfast, and some interesting times with four locals who, after hearing about the crazy foreigner, had to come and meet him.
Today’s distance / ???????: 43km
Average speed / ????: 13.3km/h
Time on skateboard / ????: 3h 17m
Total skateboarding distance to date / ????????????: 6740km plus 450km (?)
Ascent / ??: 435m
Descent / ??: 150m
End-of-day GPS coordinates: N22.214.171.124, E080.57.08.8
So…the beginning of the skate across China on a longboard. See yesterday’s entry to see how the heck I got myself to the China/Kazakhstan border at Khorgos (N126.96.36.199, E080.24.14.0).
It all started perfectly OK. For the first 10 minutes that is…the pavement lasted about 1km before I hit a veritable warzone.
I slept most of the bus ride from Urumqi to Khorgos. I did however notice some bumping about towards the end of the trip. “Not to worry, Rob. These sections of road construction won’t last long,” I told myself.
Intermittent, unskateable sections of road works lasted for the whole day. I managed to skate 43km of it, which is a miracle in itself. About 20km was walked, pulling the trailer and board behind me.
I was very, very close to thumbing a ride. So close. But the gravel sections were just short enough for me to not get totally fed up with them. Towards the end of the day my forearms were burning from pulling the trailer. Imagine a rolling suitcase with the pull-up handle. Except that the handle is about the size of a toothbrush handle. And the suitcase keeps tipping over with any sort of surface imperfection…of which, on a gravel under-construction road…well…are many.
I did have a howling tailwind for the day. That made things just bearable. And the first-day-on-the-road-in-a-new-country thrill kept me going too.
There are two kind of road surface in China. Either super-smooth, or gravel/mud. This fact held true today. Where I could skate, the roads were smoother than any I skated on in the US. Where I couldn’t skate, you could drop 100 tonnes of TNT on the road and still not get them any worse.
Towards the end of the road, I saw that hope was in sight. The road leading up into the hills looked better. Not as ripped up. It was about this time, also, that the wind started to pick up even more. Dark clouds rolled in. Locals I met along the road would say “Shayue! Shayue,” and then rattle off some other thing that I didn’t understand. It didn’t take long to figure out that shayue means rain.
I pulled in under the cover of a petrol station. The kid appears out of nowhere. And his friend. Both knee-high to a grasshopper but oozing energy. Dirty trousers and hands and faces. They must have seen me coming. This longboard and trailer rig attracts kids like flies. I don’t blame them. It’s the coolest thing I’ve seen in a long time too….
“You need sleep?” the kid says in Chinese, wide eyed, tilting his head and placing his palms together against the side of his head indicating sleep.
“Come, come!” he yells. “Come sleep at my place!”
Perhaps he is the kid of a guest-house owner, I think. OK then, I’ll follow.
I unhook the longboard and trailer. Pick them both up. Kid grabs the longboard and makes a runner. Little blighter’s making off with my board! I think for an instant. The kid stops at the 100m long oasis of smooth pavement and propmtly almost kills himself trying to ride the longboard. He bounces back off the pavement however and keeps at it. He picks it up in about 10 seconds.
Remembering the issue at hand, the kid tears his attention back from the board to the tall lauai (foreigner) who has rolled into the village. He picks my board up and with his friend gestures for me to follow him.
We cross the gravel road and I am led through a gate in a packed mud wall separating the section of a humble dwelling from the road. The kid runs to the door of the mud-brick house, yelling something I do not understand.
Out comes a girl of about 16 years old. She looks surprised to see me. I know I would. Be surprise to see me. Under these circumstances.
I ask in Chinese “How much is it?” and indicate sleep with my head tilted and hands palm-together against the side of my head. Thankfully, the girl does not understand my poorly pronounced Chinese. Either that, or she is confused. Confused for good reason. This is no guest house. I realise that the kid, 14 years old, has just invited me to stay at his home. I cringe for even mentioning money, but quickly cover my blunder by laughing and introducing myself.
The rest of the evening was a blur. The kid’s name is Teliehaozi. His sister’s name is Dawuli, and his friend’s name is Haisuer. Without much adue, they all hijack the Longboard Larry board and take turns at riding it like a Longboard Larry board has never been rode before. Who’dve thought that a plank of wood on wheels could bring such simple joy…
This is a Kazakh family. There are two major minorities in Xinjiang Province. The Uighur people, and those people of Kazakh descent. When communicating with me, the family used the only common language we had between us – joy, pictures, gestures, and the little Chinese I know. Between themselves, they spoke Kazakh; a melodic language that shares a lot of words in common with Turkish, or so it appeared, from my distant memory of the little Turkish I picked up in Turkey a year ago.
Dawuli, the sister, appeared to be in charge of the household. I asked where their parents were, and they pointed up to the mountains just a few kilometers away, made sheep noises, and generally made it clear that they were tending to their flock of sheep. Asking whether they would be coming back tonight, the reply was no.
“How many sheep do they have?” I asked in Chinese.
“400 sheep and 4 cows,” Teliehaozi, the younger brother replied proudly.
“Are there any wolves up there?” I asked.
“Oh yes, many wolves,” Teliehaozi replied. “You better not camp up there, mister.”
“Ha! Wolves are my friends,” I joked.
“Your friends?! They’ll eat you!” Teliehaozi laughed.
“Wolves eat me? I eat wolves!” I replied.
Laughter all round ensued.
I did notice however that big sister Dawuli was a little tense. She was clearly in charge of her younger brother and the house while her parents are away. She cooked a wonderful meal of noodles and soup, the noodles hand made. So much reponsibility for a 16 year old, as seen from my western values.
After dinner, I gave Dawuli, Teliehaozi and his friend some stickers. Such a repulsive gesture, I thought, after all that they are doing for me. But they loved them. Teliehaozi, in keeping with the desires of all boys the world over, just had to stick them to something. My skateboard was the obvious choice.
What a mission. Two days on a train, one night on a bus. I guess it could have been worse, but I have finally made it to the China/Kazakhstan border at Khorgos, Xinjiang Province, the northwest corner of China.
I left Shanghai at 8:40pm April the 24th on the Shanghai-Urumqi express train. I bought the ticket for a hard-sleeper berth four days in advance from the English-speaking counter at the Shanghai Central Station. It was about 650RMB for the ticket.
I arrived in Urumqi at 3:30pm on the 26th of April. Much sooner than I had expected.
In Urumqi I asked at the information counter at the Urumqi train station about trains or buses to Khorgos (the information people speak English). They directed me to a bus station further in town. Asking locals along the way, I managed to get to the bus station in one piece, and booked a seat on the overnight sleeper bus leaving Urumqi at 9pm that night.
I boarded the bus at 9pm, and 12 hours later, at 9am on the 27th of April, I arrived in Khorgos. Tired from traveling, but stoked to be outside and on my way…
On a whim, I decided to do a quick internet search for skateboard related organisations and/or companies in Shanghai. I stumbled upon these legendary folk:
They are the real deal here in Shanghai. Distributors of high-end skate and outdoor goods, promotors of all manner of extreme sports, and all round great human beans.
I visited them on Tuesday to talk with them about my journey. If I had been more organised right now as I am typing this, I would have the photos of us all with me here at the internet cafe….
Long story short, I am stoked that I am going to be able to contribute some content from my journey on their www.funboxx.cn website. They hooked me up with some great gear from MSR (a great Miox Water Purifier), Smartwool (super comfy socks), a helmet from Protec, and a pair of Smith sunglasses.
I never expected to be able to find any support here in China for my journey, so to come across the Funboxx team was a real blessing. They will be keeping up with my progress, and helping out along the way if I need it. Thanks guys!
In other news, on Wednesday, I got to tag along with Marija to www.chinesepod.com. Marija met Amber, the podcast host, at the GECKO Reuse.bag launch in Shanghai. Amber was enthralled with Marija’s story of cycling 20,00km back and forth across the Eurasian Continent, and organised for her to come on the show.
So, this past week in Shanghai has been rather hectic. I am ready to get out of the big city and get rolling. I am booked on a train to Urumqi for tomorrow. The plan is to take a train and then a bus to the other side of China. To the China/Kazakhstan border at Khorgos, Xinjiang Province. From there, I will turn around and skate back to Shanghai.
Yes. It is madness.
The traveler travels by bicycle.
The traveler has 5,000 Euro to last two years.
The traveler sleeps outside, sans-tent.
The traveler is not fazed by the prospect of 5,000m plus high plateaus in Tibet.
The traveler is content with cycling 10 months to get from home to their destination.
The traveler is not content with returning home any other way than by bicycle – another 10 months.
The traveler travels alone.
She is 28 years old.
Marija and I have much in common, and it was a pleasure to meet her on Friday night when she arrived back from her work, teaching eco-awareness in a school in rural southern China.
We are also both in very similar stages of our respective journeys. Marija is about to finish up at GECKO where she works, and begin cycling back to Slovenia. A question we both asked each other was “What next?”. I will be back in New Zealand in August, if all goes to plan. It was a great question to be asked, because I have no idea what the answer is…
Basically, by the time August comes around, I will be more or less broke. In fact, after two years on the road I will be worse than broke. I will still have a NZ$10,000 student loan to pay back. As much as I would have liked to have thought that it would magically disappear during the duration of the journey, it is still there. Funny that.
So it will be time to go to work. Great fun, this galavanting around the globe, but unfortunately it doesn’t pay much.
But work where? I love learning languages, so overseas would be great. But what kind of work? Dunno. First it might be an idea to go back to school. Outdoor education perhaps? But all that costs money.
At the end of the day, Marija and I both agreed that at the very least, we know what is in store for the next several months. A lot of pedalling and pushing our repsective human-powered vehicles towards our respective homes. Plenty of time to mull over the details.
Before I sign off this post, I want to do a shout out to some other great inspiring human-powered travelers I have been blessed enough to come in contact with through the virtual world of the internet:
Oh and today it rained. Cold. Grey. Walked / skated around Shanghai with Marija.
I need a Lease Contract in order to get a temporary residence permit in order to apply for a visa extension. If I was staying at a hotel here in Shanghai, you get a temporary residence permit automatically. Not so if you’re staying with a friend.
So…I gave up. No visa extension in Shanghai. I’ll worry about that later.
I spent the good part of six hours today riding the subway, riding in taxis, walking, riding the subway the other way, walking some more in order to ascertain that fact.
The good news is that in smaller towns it is much more straight forward to apply for a visa extension. So I’ll do it once I get on the road in the northwest.
Marija is still away on a work trip to a rural area in southern China, so I am fending for myself here in Shanghai. I have the key to her apartment, so I can come and go as I please. Meals so far have been at local eateries and have included fresh hand stretched ramen noodles, steamed wontons, rice porrige, and rice noodles in a soup that had chopped livers in it. From what creature the livers came from, I do not know. I’m not sure I want to know.
The roads in Shanghai, by the way, are smooth. Great place for skating around.