In the instructions for the “Tranquilizing Mind and Replenishing Brain Liquor”:
Points for attention:
1. Pugent and fatty food is forbidden, also avoid cigarette and wine.
2. Keep optimistic mood and avoid getting angry or indignant while taking this medicine.
I visited a pharmacy in downtown Shanshan today hoping to get some regular antacid medicine for the heartburn I have been suffering lately. You know, the general, run-of-the-mill Zantac or Quikease or something.
As I entered the pharmacy, the pugent scent of exoitc herbs and dried animal bits assaulted my nostrils. It was kind of like walking into cosmetics section on the ground floor of a department store, except instead of a smell of synthetic man-made substances, it was a smell of nature, concentrated 100-fold into mysterious glass viles sitting on the countertops.
From the time I stepped into the pharmacy, I had the feeling that I was not going to find any run-of-the-mill western medicines here. But I decided to give it a go anyway.
The pharmacist I spoke to was an attractive middle-aged woman who blushed and glanced nervously at her workmates as I approached her. We went through the same blundering awkward routine that I always go through when the local is not sure if they will be able to communicate. They go to say something, but then at the last minute turn away, smiling a fake smile that covers their embarrassment.
I quickly pulled out my notebook and scrawled indigestion in Japanese (Chinese characters) on the page. She smiled in relief and motioned for me to follow her. She pulled out a mysterious looking package with Arabic and Chinese lettering.
On the back of the package, under the ingredients, in the Chinese characters, I could make out lots of references to various types of trees, grass, dirt, stones (Southern Cold Water Stone, no less), claws, birds, and skin. I said I would give it a go. Three times a day, four pellets a time.
I mentioned in passing that I was very tired after doing all the strenuous traveling. The pharmacist gave me a thoughtful look and pulled out a large box. The characters on the front I recognised as “Peace Spirit Brain (something) Fluid”. I turned the box over and there was a description in English. Tranquilizing Mind and Replenishing Brain Liquor it spouted it large lettering. Sounds like fun, I thought, so I bought it too. In the ingredients I recognised the characters for mushroom, sheep, possibly testicles but I’m not sure, grass, fruit, bird, and neck. It really is a lot of fun when you can recognise many but not all of the characters. How the mind relishes in filling in the blanks…
I took the two medicines back to my hotel (60RMB later), and opened up the brain liquor.
For a split second I thought I had bought something to be administered intravenously. I expected to find a large drill and long needles to gain access directly to my cranium. However no, these fears were unfounded. Innocent straws were included. The brain juice is taken orally through the straw from the small viles.
I made sure to read the instructions before consuming my first vile, and among other things, I was instructed under no uncertain terms to abide by the rule at the beginning of this post:
2. Keep optimistic mood and avoid getting angry or indignant while taking this medicine.
Right’o. No worries. Will do.
The indigestion pellets, by the way, taste like sulfur.
If exotic species of plant begin growing out of my nostrils, I will be sure to take photos.
Well I finally dragged myself out of this nice airconditioned internet cafe yesterday and checked out the sandunes at the southern end of this small city of Shanshan.
I jumped on my longboard and skated south downhill towards the river that acts as the boundary between city and no-man’s land. It was 6pm, and it was still sweltering hot. A hot wind increased the intensity of the sun’s rays, despite it already being about three hours till sunset.
I decided that it was still too early to wander into the desert, so I stopped in the shade of a small store to wait for an hour.
I bought a small 5 Mao (0.05 Euro) icecream, and the store owner and his three friends offered me a seat in the shade.
I squatted down on the low plastic stool. It was a light baby blue with illustrations of young naked babies frolicking in a meadow. It seemed out of place; the entrance to the store was dirt, and flies buzzed constantly. The locals seemed unfazed by the flies. They were more interested in this out-of-towner who slithered up on a skateboard.
They were Uyghur, so were speaking in their Turkic tounge as they inspected my board. When addressing me, they spoke in heavily accented, halting Chinese.
“Where are you from?” a man of about 45 years asked. He seemed to be the most well-to-do of the four men squatting on stools around me.
“New Zealand,” I replied in Chinese.
They looked confused, so I tried the Turkish for New Zealand. “Yeni Zelandia,” I said.
“Ah, New Zealand. That’s close to Australia, yes?” The man knew more than most I meet on the road.
They asked many questions about how far I could travel in one day, where I slept, where I ate. I asked them how far it was to Hami, the next major city I will pass through on my way across the Gobi desert.
“320kms, so it will take you about four or five days, at your pace,” an older gentleman replied. “Yes, there are many places for getting water and food up until Hami,” he said in reply to my question about services on the way to Hami. “Every 50km at least. Usually only 30km at a stretch.”
We got onto the topic of money. When speaking to people in China, you always get onto the topic of money. I had my Picture Talk book out, and the store owner pointed to the picture of a dentist. “Do you need money for going to the dentist in New Zealand?” he asked.
“Yes,” I replied.
“What about going to the hospital?”
This was a hard one to explain. How do you explain that it depends on the situation…
The best I could do was to indicate with gestures that if you get in an accident, like if you are hit by a car, you do not have to pay. This seemed to suffice.
“How much is a salary in New Zealand?”
I answered honestly about an average middle-income salary in New Zealand, and they blew through their teeth in amazement. I was quick to tell them that the salaries may be much higher than in China, but so are house prices and food prices.
We sat and chatted for an hour, and at 7pm I excused myself, left my longboard at the store, and headed for the sand dunes. Once again I skirted around the main tourist entrance, thus avoiding the rediculous 60RMB fee, and entered via a local’s entrance through the vineyards.
The sun was now low enough that it was just bearable in the dunes. A hot wind still blew from the west.
I felt free out in the dunes. It was quiet, I was connected with nature.
And then reality hit again. I am still in China…
The tourist train came putting along the brick pathway that appeared as I crested a small dune. Inside were smiling, gawking, affluent Chinese with digital cameras poised to strike. Further on I noticed no fewer than three couples having wedding photos taken in the dunes.
I took a less-traveled ridge up to the top of the most prominent sand dune in the immediate vicinity. As I climbed I watched a worker digging at an old flight of wooden stairs that had been swallowed by the shifting sands.
The going was tough for the worker, and I felt it too. The sand on the ridge was soft, and for every step up and forwards, I would sink downwards half a step. It felt good to be exercising my legs in a different way.
I arrived at the top of the sand dune sooner than I had expected. From the bottom, it looked farther away than it actually was. Sand dunes stretched to the horizon to the south, and I could see where concious tree planting efforts were keeping the sands from inching further towards the city to the north.
The wind was not strong, but there was a stiff breeze blowing. I took shelter in the lee of the dune and lay in the quiet for half an hour, waiting for the sun to lower itself to the horizon.
It was still light when I made my way back to the store to pick up my board. The four old men were not there anymore, so I headed back to town.
For the last seven days here in Shanshan, I have kept a very regular schedule and routine. I will get up around 9am, and head to the same noodle shop every morning for breakfast. The noodle shop ladies know that I prefer no chillies in my noodle soup now, and upon ordering, they shout the order to the kitchen, adding “No chillies!”.
After breakfast, at around 10am, I go to the internet cafe. There are two internet cafes in this strip of shops, and the first one I went to suited me fine, so I have been coming here every day. I pay for four hours, which costs 8RMB (0.80 Euro). At 2pm I retun to the noodle shop for lunch.
After lunch I head back to my accommodation and read for a few hours. I have just finished River Town: Two Years on the Yangtze by Peter Hessler. A great book about life as a foreigner in rural China. Reading it is like looking in a mirror for me right now.
In the evening I might head back to the internet cafe for another two hours, before eating dinner at a Chinese-run restaurant that serves rice. The same place every day.
It is nice to have people recognise me. Plus, the places I have been going to are all run by very nice people. Not pushy, not overly careful of giving the foreigner special service. Just nice.
For the last two nights, I have not slept well. Last night, I did not sleep at all. I’m at a loss as to why. It is a weird situation…I was all hyped up to get going this morning, but with no sleep, I decided to stay here another day.
Skating with the current environmental conditions is brutal. The last day I had before arriving in Shanshan, I started skating at 6am (before sun-up) and skated until 12 noon. Trying to sleep in the shade of some trees was difficult; it was too hot. And then there was the indigestion/heart burn. The added pressure of communicating across cultures is quite a stress at times, and there’s the spicy food that is also perhaps giving me grief.
And add to that a peculiar change of mentality that I have noticed since I began skating. When I was on the bike, destinations were meerly a means to an end. I was cycling to London. But I very rarely thought about London. I was able to focus on the here an now much easier.
With the skating, it is different. In my mind, I am always just trying to get somewhere. Get to the next store to get water. Get to the next town. Get to Shanghai. I really don’t know where this change has some from. Perhaps it is because of the pain. I feel pain on the board. It’s not that I didn’t feel pain or effort on the bike, but in some unexplainable way, it’s different on the board. I end a day on the board exhausted. I wake up the next morning with stiff muscles. That was not the case on the bike…
How do I get my mind back to the here and now? I am struggling with this. I want to be able to roll and enjoy it. Welcome to a definite dry-spell in my journey.
I received an email from a guy today. He is 17 years old, and his email stated that he wishes to ‘break the world record for longboarding’. I’m not sure what record that is, but he asked about my training, and about my board, and any wisdom that I might care to share.
My email response soon became a bit of an epic. After typing it all out, I hit the send button, but the message was returned to me as undeliverable. I hope he is reading this, as I was intending to post my reply here anyway, just to share my thoughts on what I have been doing for the last two years…
Great to hear from you. I am happy to hear that you have a big dream ahead of you.
In answer to your questions:
You asked about training…I would recommend that you spend as much time as possible reading distance human powered travel blogs in order to prepare (train) your mind. On my links page on my website there is a big list of such blogs (not only skating blogs). You can access that page here: http://14degrees.org/en/?page_id=47
Within their pages you will begin to get an idea of what to expect on your own journey. The ups, the downs, the joys, the struggles, the pain, the wonder. Be especially aware that for every exciting, inspirational photo of someone screaming downhill, beaming with joy and pride, there is another photo that was never taken because the traveler was so incredibly depressed and tired that they could not even bring themselves to think about opening their camera case.
I do not travel by skateboard because of some love of skateboarding. I travel the way I do because I love human powered travel. I love the way my body feels when I am fit and strong. I love pushing up long, steep uphill stretches. I love being out in the open, swallowed up by the massiveness of the surroundings. Lungs full of breath, legs full of life. It just so happens that longboarding is an exciting new way to travel long distances, and I am keen to explore and discover this mode of transport. Therefore, read cylce touring blogs as well as distance skating blogs. There are many more of those than distance skating blogs. The cycling blogs will give you much inspiration for the mental challenges ahead.
As for physical training, I have been on the road on my skateboard for a year now. When the prospect of this length of time is ahead of you, there is no need to worry about physical training much at all. For the first month of my journey, I just took it really easy, only doing about 15 to 20 miles a day, taking very long breaks and resting often. But then again, before switching to the longboard, I had already cycled 7,500 miles across Asia and Europe. I guess you could call that my ‘training’!
In the end, for an ultra long distance journey by human power (any kind of human powered transport, not just skating) it does not come down to physical fitness. It is 90% mental, and 10% physical. Your body follows whatever your mind tells it. If your mind tells you you can do it, your body will follow. The greatest thing is that you can influence right now is your mind. Speak only positive things to yourself. This is difficult at times, and many times I fail at this. But I do notice the difference when I do keep things positive.
Furthermore, once your body adapts to the physical side of the challenge, much of your energy will be taken up by everyday things like finding a place to sleep, finding food, planning how much water you will carry, planning distances between towns, communicating with strangers that have vastly different ways of seeing the world, staying in contact with family etc etc. These everyday things should not be overlooked – they are part of the journey, and take a lot of mental energy.
A comment about rest:
One of the most important things you will do for your body when you are on a long journey, is rest. That is, lie on the ground/bed/hammock/rock and do nothing kind of rest. A friend whose opinion I value much regarding physical exercise/training told me to listen to my heart – quite literally. If my resting heart rate is faster than normal in the morning, then it is time to take a rest. Rest allows you to think clearly about what is going on, and of course gives your body and muscles a chance to rebuild themselves stronger than before.
“Every now and then go away, have a little relaxation, for when you come back to your work your judgment will be surer. Go some distance away because then the work appears smaller and more of it can be taken in at a glance and a lack of harmony and proportion is more readily seen.”
Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) Italian painter, sculptor and architect
I skated 7,500 miles on a Rollsrolls deck (through Europe and across the US) before switching to a Longboard Larry deck, custom made for me by Larry himself. Larry was excited about my proposal for skating across China with a trailer, so he gave me the board out of his faith in my desire to continue to push the boundaries of long distance skating.
The World Record:
As for the world record, I encourage you to forget about it. Or at least, do not let that be your sole motivation. I am still on the road, and apparently I am still extending the world record for the longest journey by skateboard. But really, I don’t care. It is a nice icing on the cake, but in the end, the thing that motivates me the most is discovering the unknown. Discovering how my body will react to this extremely difficult mode of transport. Discovering the ways to make long distance longboard travel a practical way to travel. Discovering the people I meet along the way on the road. Discovering the limits of my own mind and motivation. Discovering what is up the road, around the corner, beyond the crest of the hill. My main motivation does not come from a desire to break a world record. If that was my only desire, I am sure that I would have given up by now.
Furthermore, I am excited by what my journey means to the distance longboarding community, and the long distance human powered community as a whole. I view my achievements to date as a small but significant contribution to an emerging niche of human powered travel. I encourage you to connect with other people involved in this community:
These are just a few examples of what this community has to offer. I am part of this community, and it gives me massive support. Without it, I may have given up already. As an individual solo distance human powered traveler, I am nothing. With the support of others (albeit through the web) I am managing to push on.
A friend recently told me that “You deserve to keep the record for years after this effort…” I actually quite disagree with that. I fully expect someone to skate around the world one day. Indeed, I believe it is possible. Across the Eurasian continent, across the Northern American contient, and across Australia. Four contients, 16,000km (10,000 miles). It will be done some day (I hope soon), and I look forward to supporting whoever takes on that challenge.
If you really want to embark on a long distance longboard tour, ask yourself the following questions and answer them honestly:
- What is my internal intent? That is, why do I want to achieve this goal? What do I love about it? How will my life change once I achieve my goal?
- What is my esternal intent? How will achieving my goal help other people? How will it benefit those closest to me? How will is benefit the community I belong to?
(Taken from Kick Start Your Success by Romanus Wolter, ISBN-10 0-471-77346-8)
I hope this helps, and I wish you all the best in realising your dreams.
If I can help out with anything else, then let me know!
All the best,
“Whatever you do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius and power and magic in it. Begin it now!”
Johann Wolfgang von Geothe 1749-1832
So that was the email response to the guy. His email was about five lines long. I hope me response doesn’t overwhelm him too much…
Changing the topic somewhat, I would also like to take this opportunity to share something that I thought about a lot recently, and that is my faith in Jesus; you know, the guy from the New Testament in the Christian bible that supposedly has blue eyes and long blonde hair…you know the guy.
I am wary of sharing this on my blog here, as I am sure that not everyone will agree. But I am not looking for everyone to agree. I am simply doing what I always do on this blog – trying to honestly share the struggles and joys of being on the road, share the inner turmoil and the personal discovery that I exeprience on a daily basis.
Anyway, I was brought up in a Christian home, and for all my life I have tried as hard as possible to live a life according to the guildelines set out in the bible. I never found these guildelines limiting, and I always saw them as having meaning and purpose if one was to live as stable and balanced a personal and social life as possible.
However over the course of my time living in Japan, and over the course of this journey, I began wondering what all the point was. I still believed that the bible was a solid foundation for life, despite the fact that the institition that is the church often screwed up and got (gets) all high and powerful, often to the extent of causing great harm to humanity.
But I was successful, I was on an adventure, I was (and still am) content. Why bother with religion? Below are some thoughts I jotted down on the train from Shanghai to Urumqi, on the way to begninning this longboard journey across China:
Why not just forget this whole spiritual part of life? Why not live life, enjoy life, don’t complicate it with such controversial stuff.
Is it because I don’t want to disappoint my parents? That is, if I did not pursue my faith, my parents would be sad. Is that my motivation for calling myself a Christian? For a while, I think that this has been the reason.
But that is such a stupid reason. That is just being what I call a ‘cultural Christian’. A cultural Christian just goes along with what they have been taught since a child, and never question it. It’s kind of like people I met in Georgia who tell me that to be Georgian is to be Catholic. Or the Uzbeks telling me that to be Uzbek is to be Muslim. There is no questioning what they believe. It is culture and family and state and nation and religion all mixed up as one. I do not want to be like that. I want to make my own decisions on what I believe.
Do I want to call myself a Christian because when I listen to church songs on my MP3 player I feel peace and joy? No, that is not a good enough reason. Perhaps the feelings I once had when singing those happy songs return to me when I listen to them. That’s just emotions. Emotion is not a good enough reason for me.
So far here in my thoughts, I did not find a good enough reason to continue in my faith as a Christian. The next few thoughts however made me reaslise what I find so attractive in the Christian faith:
My role model, my father, is not a cultrual Christian. I remember him getting up early every day to study the bible and pray. Why? Is it because he thinks that that’s what is the ‘good’ and ‘holy’ thing to do? No. From what I understand, it is because he sees value and hope in the Christian faith, and he wants to be as knowledgeable and close to the faith as possible. He is not content with unanswered questions. How can this not drive me to at least pursue some deeper understanding of the Christian faith?
Also, I have always been aware that everything of this world fades away eventually. I need something EVERLASTING. Family, friends, health, energy, passion, life itself on this earth will not last. These are trasient. How about a hope of life, security and most of all love, that goes beyond life on this earth?
The bible tells me that Jesus offers this hope.
Is this truely the way to everlasting peace? I don’t know for sure. There is no way of knowing for sure. But it comes down to this: Do I have anything to lose? The bible verse in Matthew 10:39 is a strong one for me: Whoever seeks life will lose it. Whoever loses their life for my sake will find it. (Jesus speaking).
By following Jesus, there is nothing I will lose. This is not like Buddhism where if you are committed to the way, you lose everthing. With Jesus, we gain life in the fullest.
Is there freedom in being fit?
Freedom in biking?
Freedom in the Pamirs?
Freedom in skating?
Yes, but it is only temporary freedom. The freedom I feel in submitting my life and goals and dreams to God is everlasting and amazing, even when I am suffering. I can thank God in all things.
I am not perfect. I have my flaws. But thanks to Jesus, I find undonditional love despite these flaws.
At this stage, I’m pretty sure this is why I am a Christian, and am committed to knowing more and seeking more knowledge and closeness to my friend and saviour Jesus Christ.
The great thing about being a Christian is that there is no seeking. No searching. No ‘you must do good in order to gain God’s favour’. We are already saved. Already loved. We have already gained forgiveness and grace from God. For me, this truth gives me so much freedom and motivation to be all I can be. There is nothing I can do to make God love me more, there’s nothing I can do to make God love me less.
What does the bible say a Christian is? It is someone who has accepted Jesus as their Lord and Saviour.
I want my faith in Jesus is above all things. Over and over again I have committed myself to striving to follow Jesus in all I do. He is above family, friends, my dreams, my personal hopes. This doesn’t mean that life is going to be miserable with God always pulling me away from things I love. Rather, God makes use of the relationships I have and the dreams I have in order to extend his kingdom; to make his amazing awesomeness known, and to give life in the fullest.
This is a tough thing to write. After travelling as much as I have, I pride myself in being open minded. However this one thing I cannot give up for anything. After thinking about it on the train from Urumqi the last three days, I realise that it means too much to me.
And so on other matters, I am hoping to get a video compilation together of the footage I have taken so far in China, but I am having troubles with slow computers and/or lack of video editing software. Rob sent me a link of a good basic editor the other day (Video Edit Magic), but the computer I’m on doesn’t have the oompf to allow me to put the video together…
I installed Google Earth on this computer the other day in order to scope out any alternative roads to my friend Mr. National Highway 312, and I didn’t find any. But, I did see something amazing. Do a search for Shanshan, China in Google Earth or Google Maps (on the satellite view). Due south of the city, you’ll see endless sand. The change is abrupt. City…and then sand. Amazing. I went for a short skate to the southern end of the city the other day, and was blown away by their size.
They are very accessable. You can either pay 60RMB to get to them via the big tourist attraction official entrance to the dunes, or you can cut through some vineyards and sneak in for free. I did the latter.
I was considering climbing the tallest dune yesterday, but didn’t wake up early enough (I woke at 10am – by then it was too hot). I do look forward to having a blat up one of the ridges at some stage however. There should be some amazing views from the top.
In other news, it looks as though visa restrictions are getting even more complicated. Rob, a friend from Hong Kong (who incidentally is also finding visa issues are putting the brakes on plans for his ongoing adventure) emailed me with he latest goss from the Chinese Embassy in Hong Kong.
In order to apply for a tourist visa to China in Hong Kong, in addition to all the application forms etc, the applicant must have an official hotel booking within China, and must show a round-trip ticket of some description out of China. I checked it out, and sure enough, that is the latest state of things. The same rules apply for the Chinese Embassy and consulates in Japan.
Accordingly, I booked my one-way ticket back home to New Zealand today. Shanghai to Auckland on Air New Zealand. A cool US$750. I hope this will suffice, and will give ample enough proof that I do intend to leave the country. It is all almost enough to make you want to give up on the whole mess and go skate in some other country…but I’m here, and I may as well keep knocking my head against the wall of beaurocacy…at least then I won’t feel my sore legs as much.
I am spending much too much time in this little internet cafe these days, but here are a couple of things I stumbled upon I would like to share:
Mentally I am improving…reorganising my goals and intent for this journey. Clearly defined goals (not just skateboarding to Shanghai) are what I’m working on…
I am still greatly indebted to Funboxx in Shanghai for all their support for my journey here in China. When I visited them in Shanghai before setting out, they interviewed me. Click on the link below and then click on the second tab on the sub-menu…if that makes sense…for the interview transcript:
I spent most of the day in the internet cafe around the corner from my hotel, and by the time I was done posting some info on skating in China on www.skatefurther.com it was dark. The Chinese style restaurants had their tables outside by then (too hot to eat outside during the day).
I had eaten at a restaurant near the internet cafe earlier in the day, and was harrassed by boisterous drunk Chinese men, so I chose a different place for dinner – there was no shortage of choice.
Today’s distance / ???????: 15 miles / 24.6km
Average speed / ????: 7.4mph / 12.0km/h
Time on skateboard / ????: 2h 03m
Total skateboarding distance to date / ????????????: 4736mi plus 280mi (?) / 7623km plus 450km (?)
Ascent / ??: 175m
Descent / ??: 60m
End-of-day GPS coordinates: N42° 53′ 33.40″, E090° 13′ 28.00″
Jolly knackered. Even if I had the motivation, my legs will not carry me any further.
The morning was calm, and once again I got away before the sun rose above the Gobi desert in order to make it to the shelter of the city of Shanshan before the heat of the day once again enveloped everything that dared stay outside during the heat of the day.
Thankfully, there was a satisfyingly stiff uphill as I approached Shanshan. Pushing uphill, my mind is clear. I feel the resistance in my legs, I feel the breath in my lungs, my pushing has a clear rhythym. On the flat, each push seems to be swallowed up by the massiveness of the desert. Endless forward motion with little visible result.
I arrived in Shanshan an emotional, mental, and physical wreck. A knot in my stomach, anxiety…the not-so-early signs of burn-out. I need to re-focus, re-organise my priorities if I’m going to complete this mission I am on.
I have decided on a full week of forced rest. I can live with the visa situation. I’m going to have to go to Hong Kong at some stage to get a new one anyway, so no point in pushing because of the visa.
What will I do for a week? I don’t know. I don’t care. Something will sort itself out. Perhaps take a bus ride to Hami and check out some sights there…be like a real tourist or something…
Today¡¯s distance / ???????: 43.8 miles / 70.4km
Average speed / ????: 7.9mph / 12.8km/h
Time on skateboard / ????: 5h 31m
Total skateboarding distance to date / ????????????: 4721mi plus 280mi (?) / 7598km plus 450km (?)
Ascent / ??: 540m
Descent / ??: 235m
End-of-day GPS coordinates: N42¡ã 53¡ä 18.90¡å, E089¡ã 56¡ä 02.00¡å
My alarm woke me up at 5:30am. I woke up un-motivated. I know I need to get going. Visa ticking away blah blah. I considered spending another day in Turpan. That was not going to be an option however. I was sick of the place. Needed to get out.
I left the hotel and headed for the central fountain square area to eat a breakfast of liquid yoghurt, bread, and two bananas. Still very unmotivated, I considered heading back to the hotel and checking in for another day. After so long on the road, the unknown becomes known. You know what is up ahead. Up ahead is road. A headwind. A tailwind. A climb. A descent. This fails to excite me anymore.
The thought of being in Turpan another day did not sit very well however, so I pushed off up the hill to highway G312, which lies to the north of Turpan. It was still early, so the town was only just beginning to wake up. To catch the cool breeze of the morning, people had pulled their metal-framed beds out next to the road and were still wrapped up in their blankets. Some were beginnning to stir.
I got out of Turpan and rejoined with highway G312. Good old G312. My friend. My enemy. My constant. And so it begins again…
I had a headwind, and trucks passing on the other side of the road added to the wind by bulldozing an extra flood of air in my face.
40 minute intervals were all I could manage for the first few hours. Push at an easy pace for 40 minutes, and take a rest. Repeat.
The landscape does amazing things to your mind here. Out in the flat (or insidious, shallow grade uphills), progress feels inconceivibly slow. Every push seems to be swallowed up in the grand massiveness of it all. The road is impossibly smooth, but it is tough going.
All of a sudden, the hills in the distance draw nearer. The plains are sucked up into a narrow gorge. Impossibly dry hills on either side of a river bed carpeted in green.
The highway climbs up at a satisfyingly steep grade until the riverbed becomes too dry to support the greenery.
When I took the above photo, it was near to 12 noon. On my wrist-top watch, the temperature read 35 degrees celcius. Time to get out of the sun and rest until things cooled off again in the evening.
I pushed on, hoping to find some sort of civilisation. I had oats that I could eat for lunch, but I had a hankering for water melon. Earlier in the day I had passed stalls selling them. In the end, all I could find before stopping was more dry ground. Grape drying houses attested to the dry hot winds typical in the area.
At 12:45 I pulled off the road down a small gravel road into an oasis of greenery. Grape vines and tall barrier trees were to be my shelter for the remainder of the day.
For lunch I had a delicious blend of oatmeal and the mystery berries that I saw for the first time in Turpan. Marija had seen the berries in Iran.
The berries have a mild sweet taste. Very delicate flavour.
I spent almost 6 hours under that tree in the vineyard. I neve felt bored. I enjoyed the rest. It was still hot. In the shade, the thermometer registered 35 degrees celcius.
At 6:30pm, I decided it was time to get back on the road. Reluctantly I dragged myself back on the road. Within 15 minutes I was in my element. My first proper fair dinkum sandstorm.
I took this photo just before it got proper windy. Trucks were inching along the road with their hazard lights on. The wind and sand was being blown across the road with a fericiousness I have not experienced since that windy day high on a pass in Turkey in the middle of winter back at the beginning of 2007 when I was on my bike.
Two separate cars stopped and insisted on giving me a ride. I insisted that I was loving it. I had my arms outstretched to make the most of the side/tail wind. Great fun.
In 15 minutes the wind subsided enough for the desert sand to stay on the ground, and the road was fully operational again. I pushed on to a small town the name of which I was too tired to ask.
I ate at a road-side restaurant, and stayed at a 10RMB guesthouse for the night. Went to the public showers and for 3RMB had a relaxing shower to wash off all the sand and sweat.
Day 665 – Friday 16th May 2008
Marija and I took the 9am bus back to Urumqi. Arrived Urumqi 12:30pm. Checked in to the same hotel, and as we had hoped, Asmund was also there. All together we high-tailed it to the PSB to collect my visa extension. 10th of June was the extension date. 25 days from today. This was what I expected, but still…it just doesn’t feel like much time at all.
Day 666 and 667 – Saturday 17th and Sunday 18th May 2008
With visa days ticking, I guess I really should have got on the road. Hurry! But no. Spent the two days trying to make sense of life. Didn’t get very far, but had a great time with Marija and Asmund.
Day 668 – Monday 19th May 2008
Said my goodbyes to Marija and got on a bus back to Turpan. Arrived in Turpan dog tired. I went for a nap at 5:30pm and woke up at 10am the next morning.
Day 669 – Tuesday 20th May 2008
I needed another day off. So I took it off.
Well, as beautiful and vibrant as Turpan is, it is all rather too hot to do anything, really. Hot, hot, hot. It is going to be rather interesting trying to skate across the desert with this heat. Lots of early morning starts are on the cards, I think.
So no photos today, but I leave you with a shout out to Peter Osterversnik, a bit of a blast from the past from Slovenia when I was on the bike.
A recumbent bicycle nut, Peter has been supporting Marija logistically for a while now on her cycle journey. I nicked one of his stickers and stuck it to my board…
Today’s distance / ???????: 30 miles / 47km
Average speed / ????: 9.9mph / 16km/h
Time on skateboard / ????: 2h 58m
Total skateboarding distance to date / ????????????: 4677mi plus 280mi (?) / 7528km plus 450km (?)
Ascent / ??: 105m
Descent / ??: 405m
End-of-day GPS coordinates: N42° 56′ 29.80″, E089° 10′ 33.70″
The howling wind lasted all night. I think I may have dozed off to sleep for a couple of hours during the night. Otherwise I just rested. Wind breezing across my face.
Around 5am, I opened my eyes to check out the stars, and noticed the first faint glow of morning on the horizon. If we were to get to Turpan before the heat hit us, we would need to get going soon. I put off the inevitable decision to get up until 5:30am.
At 5:31am, I pulled myself up. Legs are sore. Must go. Must go through the motions to get on the road again. At least the wind was still howling behind us. At 0615 Marija and I were on the road again. We were both tired. Stopwatch set to 40 minutes. We are taking frequent breaks to avoid heat-stress, and to stretch.
For the first 40 minutes, I was just going through the motions. This is usually the way for me. First thing in the morning I am not into it at all. The second 40 minutes, and for the rest of the way to Turpan, I was in a zone. Fatboy Slim and Fuel pumping music into my brain via my MP3 player.
Passed MM4000. Only 4,000km to go to Shanghai.
We arrived in Turpan just as the heat of the day was beginning to hit unbearable status. The tree-lined walkways of this beautiful oasis of a desert city were a welcome escape from the direct sunlight.
We stopped in at an internet cafe to scope out a cheap place to stay. Lonely Planet’s Thorn Tree forum came up with no positive hits, so I tried searching for a cheap hotel in Japanese. Turpan is a popular destination for young solo Japanese tourists. Young solo Japanese tourists are stingier than the stingiest Scott. Sure enough, I found a possible place for us. A cheap hotel, The Transport Hotel, next to the long distance bus station on Laocheng Rd in Turpan. 25RMB a night for a bed in a shared 4-bed dorm room.
Marija and I arrived and promptly entered rest mode. Ate some lunch, slept, ate some more, and slept some more. We finally left the hotel to take in some sights of this bustling city once the day began to turn dark and cool off.