Website updating day today in the lovely city of Gaotai. I arrived back to my hotel after a five hour session at the internet cafe (five hours cost me 10RMB; that’s 1 Euro), and the place was seething with lycra-clad western cyclists. None of them could speak English. Makes sense that they were mostly French…
Today’s distance / ???????: 51.8 miles / 83.4km
Average speed / ????: 9.1mph / 14.6km/h
Time on skateboard / ????: 5h 43m
Total skateboarding distance to date / ????????????: 5327mi plus 377mi (?) / 8573km plus 606km (?)
Ascent / ??: 300
Descent / ??: 475
End-of-day GPS coordinates: N39° 22′ 29.20″, E099° 48′ 55.70″
Mmmmm…delicious looking mountains tempted me with their snowy peaks for the day today as National Highway G312 made it’s way along the foot of these monsters, some as high at 5,000m or more.
On the other side of those mountains is Qinghai Province. Another province similar to Xinjiang. Lots of nothing, except at a higher altitude. A prelude to Ti ** bet, one might say. Indeed much of it was part of Ti ** bet until relatively recently (asterisks added to prevent censoring – you can’t be too careful).
An hour before lunch, I came across a herd of camels grazing by the roadside. Such wierd cretures. They were none too stoked by my presence, and wouldn’t let me get too near.
Signs on the roadside…all very aesthetic.
I had a run-in with miscommunication at lunch today. I pointed to the mushroom and vegetable stirfry on the menu. “I’ll have one of these,” I said.
“OK,” the waiter said.
“And a bowl of white rice to go with it,” I added.
“I’m sorry, we don’t have rice ready at the moment,” the waiter informed me.
“Oh, OK, well I’ll have the beef noodles instead,” I told him.
10 minutes later I had a plate of stir-fry and a plate of beef noodles. This was not what I ordered. I orderd only the beef noodles. At least, that’s what I thought was understood that I wanted. I thought that they understood that since they did not have rice, I did not want the stir-fry, since you usually eat stir-fried things along with rice. In reality, they thought that I still wanted the stir-fry, in addition to the noodles, since I did not expressly say that I no longer wanted the stir-fry.
It was no big deal, and the staff ended up eating the stirfry, as it was lunch time for them also, and I had my noodles. I felt dumb though for not making myself clearer.
After lunch the desolate skating continued. Nothing for miles around.
The road was smooth enough, although in its smoothness, it posed a particular kind of challenge. The road surface was tar, and it was getting upwards of 40 degrees celcius. The tar was going soft. As smooth and comfortable as the surface was, it sucked the rolling energy out of the wheels, and made progress slower.
Nearer to Gaotai however, new residential development meant smooth hard concrete cycle-ways.
I arrived in Gaotai, a city 8km north of National Highway G312, late afternoon. Entering the city, the outskirts are intensively farmed, with many hot houses.
The time for heading to Hong Kong to get myself a new visa is drawing nearer, and I am thinking I will start in that direction in a couple of days. The next big town from here is Zhangye, so I think I will skate to there, take a bus to Lanzhou, and then train from there to Hong Kong. Just hoping like mad that I will be able to get a new visa…I have had conflicting reports that suggest that getting a tourist visa is getting harder by the day.
Today’s distance / ???????: 42.6 miles / 68.5km
Average speed / ????: 8.9mph / 14.3km/h
Time on skateboard / ????: 4h 46m
Total skateboarding distance to date / ????????????: 5275mi plus 377mi (?) / 8490km plus 606km (?)
Ascent / ??: n/a
Descent / ??: n/a
End-of-day GPS coordinates: N39° 21′ 32.70″, E099° 03′ 18.00″
I am definitely liking this better routine of skating. Getting on the road at around 8am and finishing up at late afternoon creates a much better rythym, and allows for a better night’s sleep and much more preferrable eating times. Much better than on the road at 6am, skating till 11am, trying to rest till 6pm, then skating till 9pm, as was the case across the desert in Xinjiang.
There were pockets of green oasis in between large areas of arid land today. The regular green spots broke the monotony up nicely.
In the green islands, I would find small stalls selling everything from watermelon, apricots, nectarines (these three are local) to lychees and bananas (imported from other regions of China). I steered clear of the delicious looking apricots (not being able to wash them or peel them makes them a prime suspect for stomach woes), and focussed on the watermelons, bananas, and lychees. Lychees were a favourite as they don’t squash like bananas, and are lighter than watermelons.
Interestingly I met two people who could speak English today. One was a man who used to work as a professor of agriculture, and another was a young guy who works at a hops producing company in Xiaheqing, the town I had lunch in today. He is a data entry drone in an office in the company. “I do not like my job,” he told me. “It is very tiring.”
I have noticed interesting looking decives that I can only assume are for boiling water, here in Gansu. It was overcast today, so none were in use, but there were many of these in the towns I skated through. Mirrors are angled towards the pot stand, assumably directing the sun towards whatever needs to b heated.
I pushed on to the small town of Qingshui, and arrived there around 3pm. The only inn in town was at a noisy intersection, with long distance busses leaning on their ear piercing air-horns for up to 10 seconds in duration as they sped through the town.
My room in the inn was on the second floor, and looked towards the mountains south of here. The mountains I have been skating towards for the last week or so, forever getting closer. I know from the map that I will not cross these mountains for a good 300km or so yet, but I look forward to it!
Today’s distance / ???????: 51.3 miles / 82.6km
Average speed / ????: 9mph / 14.5km/h
Time on skateboard / ????: 5h 41m
Total skateboarding distance to date / ????????????: 5233mi plus 377mi (?) / 8422km plus 606km (?)
Ascent / ??: 225m
Descent / ??: 520m
End-of-day GPS coordinates: N39° 44′ 19.50″, E098° 30′ 37.60″
My appetite is well and truely back on track. Beef noodles for breaky again today. But, my diary tells me:
NO ENERGY this morning.
True indeed. My legs felt like floury globs. Muscles of tissue paper. No oompf. I attribute this to a Rob-hangover. I consumed the equivalent of about 400ml of beer last night with some friendly gentlemen at the restaurant I had dinner at last night. I am a lightweight. Big time.
Even the 500ml bottle of sports drink that I consumed didn’t seem to help. I did have reservations about the drink’s ‘sports’ aspect. Check out the amazing accuracy of the nutritional information. So what does it have? 65kj or 130kj of energy? 5mg or 20mg of potassium. Surely the discrepancies can’t be due to differences in batches. Nutritional facts? More like rough guesses!
Anyway, the lack of energy only lasted for as long as the desolate landscape did. Like, until mid afternoon. An interesting pagoda was a welcome diversion.
The pagoda reminded me of the stark difference between Gansu and Xinjiang Provinces. In Xinjiang, for one, I could understand people, and they could understand me. I guess Xinjiang is kind of like Hokkaido in Japan. In all other parts of Japan, especially the further you go from Tokyo, people speak a local dialect. Since Hokkaido was only relatively recently populated by the Japanese, a local dialect has not developed. Similarly in Xinjiang, I presume that a local dialect has not developed, as it has not had all that many Chinese people living there in recent history, compared with the rest of China. In Xinjiang, the Chinese speak fairly standard Mandarin. In Gansu, which is much more ‘Chinese’ culturally, they speak another language! Also, there seems to be less ethinic diversity, although I have noticed some, such as this temple, but they are a different type to that of Xinjiang. Read all abou it here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gansu#Demographics
Furthermore, although I have not seen any mention about it in Wikipedia, it seems that people in Gansu have only recently aquired the ability to see. In fact, perhaps they only got eyes yesterday. They stare. Oh how they stare. When I am on my skateboard, I can understand it. When I am walking the streets, it is like Have you never seen a foreigner before?! The answer to that is most likely no. Not in the flesh, perhaps. Or at least not many. But I do seem to be much more of an anomoly here in Gansu than in Xinjiang. Perhaps it is because of the more diverse ethinicities in Xinjiang; the Chinese are more accustomed to seeing non-Asian faces. Indeed I have been asked a couple of times here in Gansu whether I am from Xinjiang.
So…I passed under the great wall of China today. Or not-so-great wall of China as was the case. A crumbling mass of dirt.
To avoid cutting a path straight through the relic, the expressway dipped under the wall, and the wall was preserved on a bridge. How they pulled that off, I would like to know.
In keeping with the towers theme, passing a new looking industrial city west of Jiuquan, I spotted this interesting looking structure.
The thing is collossal. In a place where the nearest ocean coastline is more than 3,000km away I guess it would be natural to have a massive structre resembling a dolphin. Go figure. I presume the point of it is the great big white pimple there on its forehead.
Arrival in Jiuquan (meaning ‘alcohol fountain’) was a relief. The city was typical Chinese city; tree lined streets, big wide cycle lanes separated from the main street. I checked into a cheap inn and set out on a mission to find food. I had not counted on their being nothing for 60km today, so had only had some small white bread buns for lunch.
I found a place with my current favourite, stir-fried pork and cabbage. It is served as a small dish, and you eat rice with it. Tastes great, despite me feeling a little sorry for the oinker. I have seen pigs in cages on the back of trucks here in China on the scorching hot roadside. The poor pigs are sunburnt a bright pink and look none too healthy. I assume that the attitude is that so long as they are breathing by the time they get to the butcher then who cares. A tad rough if you ask me.
I had my meal and was on my way home when I saw a massive croud of people looking intently at something. Naturally I was curious (which makes it difficult for me to condone my getting annoyed at Chinese people who stare at me), and I wandered over to have a look. It turns out it is a man who is walking around China, carting a min-caravan with him. Legend.
On the side of his caravan he had photos of him at the top of 5,000m plus high passes in Tibet. Nice.
It was Friday night tonight, and many people were out and about playing. Pool, inline skating…
Today’s distance / ???????: 42.3 miles / 48.1km
Average speed / ????: 10mph / 16km/h
Time on skateboard / ????: 4h 15m
Total skateboarding distance to date / ????????????: 5179mi plus 377mi (?) / 8335km plus 606km (?)
Ascent / ??: 365m
Descent / ??: 85m
End-of-day GPS coordinates: N39° 57′ 43.60″, E097° 39′ 00.50″
Well the day off in Rumen seemed to help a little, and I was happy to be on the road again. I was once again on the expressway for the whole day, but stopped just outside of Rumen City to snap these wonderful tiles on a wall.
Augmented by green fields, it was a very pleasant start to the day.
The green continued for only a few kms past the city. Arid land ensued all the way to Qingquan.
Heather Burge, a cyclist who had cycled this route warned me that on the expressway there were the occassional sign promising services such as restaurants and cafes, but she found that none of the promised services were yet in existance. That was just under a year ago, and now, I found lots of shiny new service areas with stores, restaurants, and even accommodation. Looks like things move fast in China!
I stopped at Qingquan and checked into a cheap 10RMB inn for the night. Once again I was missing my earplugs, with a noisy market street behind the inn creating a racket until 11pm.
There will be some changes. No more early mornings. After looking at how I have been travelling over the last month, I realise that I have been pushing myself to amazing extremes. Effectively I have only been getting four to five hours sleep a night. Despite the long breaks in the middle of the day, this is not enough. This has been essential, for me to skate across the desert in the heat, but it has taken it’s toll.
The cheap inns that I have been staying at are noisy. Realistically, they are only quiet between the hours of 12 midnight and 7am. Trying to get to sleep at 10pm is tough work. I will now allow myself to sleep in till 7am, to make the most of this quiet time. Unfortunately I have lost my earplugs, which would make things much more bearable. Perhaps I can get some more in Hong Kong when I am there. I have had no luck in finding any here in China so far.
More sleep and better food. It is the way of the future. And I think that the places I am heading towards now will allow that. For the moment, at least, I am at a higher altitude now, and I can travel through the heat of the day without expiring.
We’ll see how this goes over the next week or so.
Today’s distance / ???????: 26.8 miles / 43.2km
Average speed / ????: 9mph / 14.4km/h
Time on skateboard / ????: 2h 59m
Total skateboarding distance to date / ????????????: 5137mi plus 377mi (?) / 8267km plus 606km (?)
Ascent / ??: 190m
Descent / ??: 45m
End-of-day GPS coordinates: N40° 17′ 03.20″, E097° 01′ 55.30″
The 43km into Rumen today was a struggle. Good thing I had a slight tailwind. Good thing that Rumen is an oasis of wondorous green.
I thought of home a lot as I skated. In fact, it was what kept me going this morning. I was hungry, tired, and just wanted to rest. I had not slept well last night in the culvert under the road, as the wind was strong. Smelling the fresh cool air of the fields and hearing the trickle of water in the irrigation channels, this is what I daydreamed about:
I am sitting in the cool shade of a lake-front cafe. In front of me I have an apricot danish. No wait…a big slice of gourmet pizza with feta cheese and olives on it. And an apricot danish. And a bowl of hokey pokey ice-cream. Around the table sit my brothers and cousins and parents and relatives. Just another end of year family gathering. It might be Lake Te Anau, it might be Lake Wakatipu. It is early morning. 9am. Tourists wander the streets, but it is quiet. The stillness of the morning calm swallows the sounds of muffled footsteps. Out on the lake there is a tourist boat putting along, cutting through the glass-calm water. The engine sound is far off in the distance. The sounds make their way to the distance hills first, then slowly float back in my direction. The sky is clear, the air is crisp. It will be a glorious February day. Children are already on the pier jumping off into the clear water. A group of students wander along the lake front, sleepily, walking off last night’s hard drinking, now drinking in the cool calm of the morning. They are barefoot. Enjoying the cool soft green grass beneath their feet.
In that moment I was home. Home in New Zealand. I relived this day dream for at least an hour as I skated. It took away the agonising slow pace of my sick body as I pushed towards Rumen. Time to go home, I thought.
I have thought about many more possibilities for my journey, including doing siome skating in Australia, and thought very seriously about skating to Tibet. But they will not be happening this time round. They will still be there in a year’s time. Or two, or five.
I finally made it to Rumen. It was 11:30am. I checked into a hotel and decided to stay the rest of the day and tomorrow. I need to get rid of this bug in my tum.
Today’s distance / ???????: 56 miles / 91km
Average speed / ????: 8.6mph / 13.8km/h
Time on skateboard / ????: 6h 37m
Total skateboarding distance to date / ????????????: 5110mi plus 377mi (?) / 8224km plus 606km (?)
Ascent / ??: 225m
Descent / ??: 85m
End-of-day GPS coordinates: N40° 34′ 29.30″, E096° 48′ 13.10″
Well I ended up staying the weekend at Guazhou, and saw no more of the city than the inside of an internet cafe, as is often the case on rest days. I did get out and search out a fix for the rattling trailer hitch on my skateboard. Some hard rubber washers did the trick, and now the trailer is as quiet as a mouse.
About 10km west of Guazhou, National Highway 312 turns into a new expressway, the GZ45 expressway. It is a beautiful smooth 4 lane highway (two lanes each side, separated) with a massive shoulder. Entering the highway through the toll gate was no issue, and in fact I was encouraged not to take the side access road. “That small road is too rough for you,” the toll gate people told me. “Also, too narrow, and too many trucks.”
Indeed, the access road was rough chipseal and only one lane wide, with old trucks barreling down it, dodging each other with one set of wheels on the pavement, and the other holding on with dear life to the gravel on the side.
I was happy to be on my expressway.
The scenery was again bleak and uninspiring, similar to Xinjiang, except more so. I kept my head down and found as best a rythym as I could, thankful for the smooth flat surface, as it required none of the subconcious balancing that can be tiring on a less than perfect surface.
There were some welcome diversions however, in the form of road signs. I’m sure the one on the left is a departure from the intended message.
I did feel tired all day, and as the day wore on I began to feel a hint of nausea. Towards evening I stopped at least three times and bent over waiting to throw up. It never came, and although I was convinced that a good chuck would clear the nausea, I was not game to stick my fingers down my throat (although I certainly considered it). I’m at a loss as to why I felt this way, and my distance for the day belies the way I felt. 91km in a day is a good day. I guess it was something I ate.
The nausea killed my apetite, and I could only stomach dry noodles for dinner.
I wrote in my diary these words at the end of today:
I want to go home. Kind of.
I am tired of being tired and sick. I am tired of the uninspiring scenery. I am tired of the mental effort of communicating in a language I only know such a small portion of.
I am tired.
But, believe it or not, it’s this skating palava that’s keeping me going. I’m sure that this form of transport is not to blame, and I’m still committed to seeing it through till Shanghai.
On a side note, I must get myself some nylock nuts for my truck attachments. I had to replace some bolts a while back, and couldn’t find any nylock nuts in the small town in Xinjiang that I was in. The nuts I have at the moment can vibrate loose, causing bolts to disappear. Goodness knows when I lost this one today.
Today’s distance / ???????: 43 miles / 69km
Average speed / ????: 9.8mph / 15.8km/h
Time on skateboard / ????: 4h 22m
Total skateboarding distance to date / ????????????: 5053mi plus 377mi (?) / 8132km plus 606km (?)
Ascent / ??: 105m
Descent / ??: 585m
End-of-day GPS coordinates: N40° 30′ 58.90″, E095° 46′ 38.70″
At last some decent downhill. Dead straight for about 50km too.
A quick peek out the window of the truck stop this morning, where I was sharing a room with Valentinas, and I saw that the wind was blowing towards the east. Perfect. When I know the wind is blowing my way, or there is no wind (a rarity in this part of China) it is very easy to get up and going.
Valentinas prefers a later start, so I sneaked out of the room, trying not to wake him. I ate my usual breakfast of Nestle Cereal Drink (kind of like Weetbix, except in a powder form) with some soy bean milk powder and figs, and as I was about to leave, Valentinas wanders out to see me off. Valentinas is heading in the same direction as me, but is heading to Dunhuang, south of here. Dunhuang is famous for being a cultural haven. I don’t care. Get me to Shanghai. If it is out of the way, I don’t want to know about it.
Once again the first hour of skating is great. The sun rising across the hilly land scape is wonderful.
I skate for two hours with gloves and a woolly hat on. It is chilly, but I feel alive. The tailwind pushes me along between the hills, heading downhill all the time.
At last I am spat out of the hills, and once again each push is swallowed up in the immense vastness of the plain that stretches ahead of me. When skating through narrow gorges, the sense of speed and progress is amplified. The mind is stimulated. Forward energy is concentrated into a feeling of wonderful forward motion.
Out in the plains, it is as if the energy is displaced. Dissipated. All I can do is hunker down and push onwards. Endless forward motion with no visual result once again.
A roadside scrounger, looking for anything worth anything; bits of coal, plastic bottles, clothing etc, is a welcome diversion from the monotony.
He was a friendly chap, and we spent a few minutes admiring each other’s modes of transport. “There are many cyclists from other countries that travel this road,” he said. “But you’re the first I’ve seen on a skateboard!”
He confirms that it is about 10km to town. “I take my time, and from here it takes me about two hours, stopping to pick things up” he says.
It looks to be more than 10km, but the road is as straight as an arrow, and distances are deceiving in the desert. A headwind starts to blow, and the last 10km into town feel like 100km, despite the gradual downhill. As trucks pass on the opposite side of the road, heading in my direction, I have to tuck down in an aerodynamic pose to lessen the massive rush of air as they pass. It is like surfing. As the truck approaches, it pushes a massive bow-wave of air towards me. I duck down, diving under the wave, waiting for it to pass, and then pop back up again.
I was happy to arrive in green Guazhou. Treelined streets and friendly, inquisitive locals greeted me.
First impressions of the city:
From the main National Highway 312, it is a solid 4km south into town, as is the case with many other cities I have visited on the way on highway 312 (Hami and Turpan and Shanshan are also that way). At the t-intersection that leads into town, there are many very new-looking truck stops and truck repair joints.
I need a place to stay for a few nights, and an internet cafe, so head into town. I’ll be staying in Guazhou for three nights and heading out again on Monday.
I checked into the Bus Center Inn (for a reasonable 20RMB a night – 2 Euro) in the center of town.
Today’s distance / ???????: 54 miles / 87km
Average speed / ????: 8.6mph / 13.8km/h
Time on skateboard / ????: 6h 20m
Total skateboarding distance to date / ????????????: 5010mi plus 377mi (?) / 8063km plus 606km (?)
Ascent / ??: 315m
Descent / ??: 385m
End-of-day GPS coordinates: N41° 04′ 24.80″, E095° 27′ 59.40″
Again I got away early today. 6:15am I was on the road. This morning I had a headwind. It was tiring. Headwinds are always tiring. But it was a beautiful overcast/sunny morning.
A wonderfully welcome diversion from the once again flat, endless roads, was a watermelon stand in the middle of nowhere. As if it had been plonked there by chance. I stopped to buy a watermelon, but the friendly family manning the stand would have nothing of it. They fed me a big bowl of noodles and fed me rock melon till I thought I would pop. And denied any payment. “You are our guest!” they said. Stoked. Thanks guys.
Once I got out of the watermelon stand full as a tick, the wind had died down considerably. I am now in Gansu Province. The change in the landscape is quite noticeable. There is less stones and more small shrubs. The land is alive with birds and lizards and insects. Very refreshing.
Also refreshing, although not entirely welcome, was a short spell of rain today. The first proper rain shower in a good two months of being in western China.
Further along the road, these mysterious round rocks caught my attention:
They were only in one concentrated spot on the side of the road, so I can only imagine that a truck carrying the special rocks dropped them there. What are they for? I have no idea. Is this what they use to ‘stone wash’ jeans?
I removed the mudguards off my skateboard last night. For no other reason than because the board looks better without them. I have set the board up however in such a way that I can attach them easily should I need to.
Passed kilometer marker 3333 today too. Nice.
At 4pm, I arrived at Xonliuyuan, the only place to get water or food (apart from the watermelon stand) for over 85km today. It was long day, but I had been able to push on throughout the day without my usual siesta. The clouds and rain and altitude kept the temperatures down.
I was considering carrying on, but decided against it, and called it a day in Xonliuyuan. Lucky I did, because an hour after I arrived in Xonliuyuan, a cyclist arrived at the very same restaurant I was eating at. Valentinas is from Lithuania and is cycling from Greece to Beijing, hoping to be in Beijing in time for the Olympics. I had the honour of translating for him in Xonliuyuan, as he needed a new SIM card for his telephone. Which makes it sound like I speak really good Chinese. Which I do not. Do not be fooled.