Today’s distance / ???????: 59.9 miles / 96.3km
Average speed / ????: 9.1mph / 14.7km/h
Time on skateboard / ????: 6h 33m
Total skateboarding distance to date / ????????????: 6110mi plus 377mi (?) / 9834km plus 606km (?)
Ascent / ??: 405m
Descent / ??: 435m
End-of-day GPS coordinates: N35°17′54.7″, E107°36′01.4″
The following photo sums up today’s skating.
Busier than it looks in the photo, China National Highway 312 from Pingliang going east is wide, noisy, boring, and non-descript. It was very much a head down, foot-to-the pavement pushing day to get the miles covered.
Lunch however was a welcome diversion, as it got me off the main road and onto a nice side street with locals hang-drying noodles on the roadside.
Try as I might, talking to the locals was like pulling teeth. Not only were they not interested (an extreme rarity), but they seem to speak a different language here. Not that this is the first time I have encountered a dramatic regional variation in the Chinese language in China. In Japan there are extreme differences in dialect. So much so that even native Japanese people cannot understand the dialect of another province sometimes. In Japan, the words themselves are completely different in some cases.
I have found however, that in China the words themselves are the same all over. It’s the pronounciation that seems to differ between regions. And unlike Japan, locals seem unable to speak in the standard Chinese; the ‘Beijing’ Mandarin Chinese. In Japan, at least someone who usually speaks the local dialect will speak to you in the standard Japanese if you’re not from that region. Sheesh…learning Chinese is tough when no one speaks it in China.
My day ended with a stiff 400m climb. That was after 85km and a big dinner. My stomach was not happy. I considered trying to push on to the next major town (Changwu), but gave up when I was told I had another 20km to go, and it was getting dark.
Long overdue, I spent a rainy day here in Xi’an inside the hostel lobby using the free internet to write up some reviews of the gear that I have used over the last few years. If there’s anything in my kit lists that you would like to hear my opinion of that is not included in the reviews, then please let me know and I’ll sort it out.
I can’t remember the last time I was this happy…all due to a little brown box waiting for me at the hostel reception this morning.
I am using Holey Trucks, and so far I have hardly touched the original ones I began skating on over a year ago in Switzerland. They came standard on the Rollsrolls longboard that I bought, and have now held up to just over 10,000km of abuse not only over some of the roughest skating terrain in the world, but also supported me and my gear for that distance, a total weight of over 100kg at times. I am truely happy with their performance.
I emailed Holey Trucks, asking them if they could get some replacement parts to me, since the original trucks were getting understandably worn. In the photo below you can see the comparison between the pivot on new trucks, and the worn pivot on the old trucks. Over time, grit and moisture has worked like a grinding paste to wear down the pivot, which supports a lot of weight as it turns.
This pivot point is cradled in a low-friction nylon pivot cup, and this also showed signs of considerable wear. This means that after 10,000km, the pivot no longer fits snugly in its spot on the baseplate and this in turn means that the truck no longer turns smoothly. Rather, it jerks from side to side as I am trying to turn.
My original plan was just to replace the nylon pivot cups, but Holey got back to me and advised that the wear on the pivots themselves would cause issues, even if only the pivot cups were replaced. It would have been nice to keep the old trucks till the end of the journey, but when Holey offered to replace the trucks, I could not refuse.
I was truely impressed with how fast Holey Trucks got the new trucks to me. I was fully expecting it to take weeks for them to arrive. In less than a week they were here at the hostel. Ask any long distance traveller and they will tell you that getting replacement parts on the road can be a nightmare. Markus Wagner, from Germany, is cycling from Germany to China right now, and he had a horrible time trying to get replacement equipment to Turkey. Big thumbs up to Holey Trucks.
It was 10am when I got the package from the reception, and it was just as I was about to head out the door for breakfast. Breakfast would now have to wait however…first things first…gotta get the new trucks installed.
The floor in the hostel dorm room I am staying in quickly became my workshop.
Off came the old trucks and on went the new ones.
The difference in turning power was instantly obvious. Complemented by the nice wide, concave Longboard Larry deck, it is amazing how these truck turn. Very nice.
Still in the post are some harder durometer bushings, so hopefully those will arrive by the time I am back here in Xián in a week or so. I think some harder durometer bushings on the back truck will help with trailer stability, by reducing the amount that the rear truck turns.
As for the old trucks, I will be sending these to Surrey Skateboards (England’s oldest skateboard store) to be enshrined amongst all their other skateboarding history paraphernalia. Gavin, a long time resident of the Surrey Skateboards shop, is also the mastermind behind the design of Holey Trucks, and it’s only fitting that the furtherest travelled trucks in the world go that funky shop. I haven’t cleaned the old trucks properly (ever), so hopefully England customs is OK with Chinese/North American/European road grime entering the country…
Well, I was hopeful that stories of complicated visa renewal application procedures were confined to areas near Beijing. Not so. In order to apply for my 30 day visa renewal here in Xi’an in central China, I required the following:
As for the proof of funds, a print out of my online banking statement sufficed. I have no idea how you would get on if you were planning to exit China into southeast Asia via a land border. I guess they would want to see an onward visa.
Welcome to China, our foreign friends!
Phfischhhh. More like sod off, you foreign devils.
Welcome to my day off. Just how I like to spend a day off. 7 hours on a bus. I am now in Xi’an, and I did not skate here. I arrived on a bus. Let’s start from the beginning…
In the morning this morning I decided that I should try to extend my visa. I only had four days left on my original visa, so it would not only be cutting it fine to try to skate to Xi’an within that time, but I also figured that smaller cities are generally more straightforward with regards to visa extensions, so I would try to get it done in Pingliang.
Pingliang is a prefecture-level city, so anyone would safely assume that a visa extension would be able to be arranged here. As I found out, this would not be the case.
“I am sorry, but during this Olympic season, we are not able to process a visa extension for you. You must go to a big city like Lanzhou or Xi’an,” the desk assistant said.
I insisted. I pushed. I reasoned.
“For me to go to Xi’an, it will cost me not only transport costs, but hotel costs in Xi’an, and most of all it will cost me travel time. This is very inconvenient for me,” I insisted. “Surely you can call your superiors in Lanzhou and ask for permission for an exception.”
“No, it is impossible for us to do this at this time,” was the answer.
“Welcome to China! Welcome to our foreign friends! This is your motto at the moment, is it not? Well, I do not believe it. I do not feel welcomed. Because of the Olympic games, everything is not more convenient. It is very difficult. I have nothing to do with the Olympics. I don’t care about the Olympics!” I said.
This seemed to hit a nerve, and before I could say anything else, the section chief offered for the Police department to pay for my bus ticket to Xi’an to make up for the inconvenience. I was taken aback, and to be honest, rather dubious.
There seemed to be not much choice however, and I eventually gave into the fact that I would not be getting a visa extension in Pingliang.
I retrieved my gear from the inn, and returned to the police department, where they had a car waiting for me. I was driven to the bus station, and sure enough, the 75RMB bus ticket was paid for me, and I was on my way to Xi’an.
It just goes to show how ridiculous the system is at the moment here. If they had to pay for every foreigner’s ticket to a big city, then it would be more economical just to do the visa extension in Pingliang. Anything to make the foreigner feel welcome and happy with China. Forget the big picture…just make sure the here and now is OK.
I was almost hopeful that I would get my visa application in at Xi’an today. That hope was smothered with a flat tyre on the bus I was on.
Welcome to China.
I checked into the Ludao International Youth Hostel, and spent the rest of the evening, night, and early hours writhing in pain with one of my crazy headaches that occur when I am tired and dehydrated. I’ll have one of these every few months, and this is the first time I have had one, and not had painkillers on hand. Strangely, the pain is worse when I am lying down. If I take a walk, the pain fades somewhat. So I was wandering the streets of Xi’an late tonight.
Interestingly, there does not seem to be any particular ‘red light districts’ in China, or at least in the parts of cities that I have been to. There are however a proliferation of beauty palours that seem much less to do with hair and makeup, rather with luring single males in. The “halloooo’s” emanating from these beauty parlours fell on deaf ears with this single male, as I wandered around the streets in a daze, buying the odd 600ml bottle of purified water and guzzling it down.
The moral of today? Never travel without painkillers, never travel without painkillers, never travel without painkillers, never travel without painkillers, never travel without painkillers, never travel without painkillers, never travel without painkillers, never travel without painkillers, never travel without painkillers…
Oh, and China’s bureaucrazy is just that.
Today’s distance / ???????: 41.7 miles / 67km
Average speed / ????: 9.6mph / 15.5km/h
Time on skateboard / ????: 4h 19m
Total skateboarding distance to date / ????????????: 6051mi plus 377mi (?) / 9738km plus 606km (?)
Ascent / ??: 515m
Descent / ??: 1150m
End-of-day GPS coordinates: N35°32′34.7″, E106°39′50.8″
A bit of a blur today. I was feeling the effects of the last four days of skating hills since Lanzhou, and was keen just to get to Pingliang for a day or two off.
The start from Londe on China National Highway 312 was a long steep climb of about 7km up to the tunnel near the top of the pass. At the toll gate near the entrance of the tunnel, officials stopped me.
“You cannot go through the tunnel on that,” an officer told me. “You can hitch a ride in a car.”
“I’m sorry, but that will not be possible,” I explained. “I cannot go by car, I must either walk or skate.”
They told me that there was an old road going up over the pass, but it was at least 8km out of my way. “It is far too far to go that way,” the officer said apologetically.
I was almost about to turn around and go for the old road, when I tried another angle. I pulled out my bright yellow windbreaker, my head torch, and showed them my helmet. I will be OK with these, I reasoned.
I also mentioned the Guinness record, and that seemed to change their opinion on my ability to survive the horrors of the tunnel. Smiles all around, a picture taken of me with the officer in charge, and I was off.
The tunnel was hair-raising. All downhill, I had to footbrake constantly to keep my speed down. At times, lights in the tunnel would not be working, and I would be skating in complete darkness. I had my headlight pointed backwards, attached to my trailer, so I had no idea of the road surface up ahead. I just hoped that there were no massive cracks in the surface. A good sized crack would be enough to tear the trucks off my deck with all the weight I am pulling.
I survived the tunnel unscathed, however my sunglasses did not come out with me. I have no idea where I dropped them, but even after hitching a ride back through the tunnel and searching for them on foot through the tunnel, I could not find them. Gutted. They were great Smith sunglasses, provided for me by www.funboxx.cn. Just goes to show further that a relationship between a pair of sunglasses and me does not last long.
The tunnel was at 2,200m, and it was a fast descent down from the tunnel.
When I have a really steep hill, a headwind is always welcome. It makes air-braking so much easier, and saves on the soles of my shoes. With arms stretched out, into a stiff headwind, I can keep the speed down to 30km/h max. See this article I wrote on www.skatefurther.com for other considerations for skating downhill on a trip like mine.
As I was cruising through a small town on the way downhill, I spied another shoe repairer. My repair from a few days ago was getting thin, so I decided to get another chunk of rubber attached.
This repair more than lasted the distance to Pingliang. Pingliang is a medium sized city, so I decided that I would take at least one day off there.
I checked into a small 30RMB a night inn, and sure enough, within an hour of checking in, the police arrived.
“I’m sorry sir, you cannot stay at this inn…” blah blah blah.
I tried to reason with the officer. How much is the hotel that I am supposed to be in? At least 100RMB a night, he replied.
Well, that is too much, I said resolutely. I cannot afford 100RMB a night every night. I have been travelling for 2 years. Look at my passport, you’ll see the visas. Surely you understand that I cannot afford to be forking out 100RMB a night for hotels.
Thankfully, reason prevailed, and I was permitted to stay in the small inn.
Today’s distance / ???????: 25.6 miles / 41.2km
Average speed / ????: 7.3mph / 11.7km/h
Time on skateboard / ????: 3h 30m
Total skateboarding distance to date / ????????????: 6009mi plus 377mi (?) / 9671km plus 606km (?)
Ascent / ??: 570m
Descent / ??: 170m
End-of-day GPS coordinates: N35°37′18.6″, E106°07′07.0″
As I was leaving Chingning this morning, I got a spot of rain. The first in a few weeks. According to Mr. Steve, a fellow human-powered traveller, a typical August pattern for eastern China is a dryer spell of weather. This is no good for him where he is in South East Asia however, as all the wet stuff has been pushed his way, it seems!
The rain did not last long however, and I enjoyed the muck and mud as I pushed on into Ningxia Autonomous Region. Standards of living here seems to be noticeably lower than in Gansu Province, as does the standard of the roads. With the exception of the provincial roads in Qinghai Province, this part of China has had the roughest roads so far (still smooth, compared with Texas however!).
The surrounding landscape still fails to bore me however. Flowers are blooming, produce is ripening, bees are buzzing…the land is alive.
Roads long and straight, flanked by pine trees.
I had decided at the beginning of today to make this a short day. A short 50km push to Londe. I made it to Londe at about 2pm, and stopped in at a small inn along the main China National Highway 312 near the bus station.
The inn was run by a couple, whose son, Haohao (19), happens to be deaf. Haohao is on holiday from school at the moment, and so we were able to chat for most of the remainder of the afternoon. It was an awesome chance for me to practise my Chinese character writing skills…something I haven’t done in a few years since leaving Japan. We would write line by line our questions to each other, and then the answers. They were mostly the same questions I get asked all the time, but it was a thrill to communicate with Haohao. His enthusiasm was infectious. He was stoked to be talking to a foreigner.
“I have never been able to talk to a foreigner before now,” he wrote. “They cannot write Chinese or sign in Chinese, and I cannot write English or sign in English.”
Today’s distance / ???????: 49.8 miles / 80.2km
Average speed / ????: 8.1mph / 13.1km/h
Time on skateboard / ????: 6h 08m
Total skateboarding distance to date / ????????????: 5980mi plus 377mi (?) / 9625km plus 606km (?)
Ascent / ??: 645m
Descent / ??: 705m
End-of-day GPS coordinates: N35°31′21.30″, E105°44′11.90″
The day began with a repair job to the Keen Newport H2 sandals that I am using at the moment. I ditched my regular skate shoes in favour of the sandals, as my skate shoes were just too hot to wear in the heat of a Chinese summer.
The only drawback with the Keen sandals are that they are designed for watersports, so have have a very soft, super grippy sole. This sole does not handle foot braking very well, which is understandable. The cure has come by way of some old car tyre rubber, attached with contact adhesive and a few nails. The repair job cost me the equivalent of 0.20 Euros, so even if I end up going through a couple of these repairs a week, I should be OK in China!
The day, like yesterday, was either up or down. Long climbs up valleys, short and sharp, fast descents down the other side. The major pass today was over 2,000m, however I was only starting from about 1,500m.
At one point during a long uphill climb, I stopped at a small watermelon stand for my morning dose of liquids. I bought one watermelon (0.10 Euro/kg) and sat at the small table under their umbrella to eat it. A family also stopped to buy some watermelons, and after a short chat gave me one of the melons they had bought. How generous, I thought, as I contemplated the extra 2kg on my trailer to pull uphill. As I was leaving the watermelon stand however, the watermelon man at the stand gave me yet another melon! I tried to explain that this was all a bit too much weight that I would rather not be pulling, but he would not take no for an answer.
For a while I resented the weight, but further up the road, when there was no one around, and nowhere to buy water, I was a happy chap with two delicious watermelons in my bags.
Like yesterday, I was feeling strong, powering up the passes. The only things that slowed me were the interesting sights along the way.
And a stretch of wet tar…not nice.
It did not feel like long before I arrived at Chingning, my stop for the night. I checked into a small travel inn there near the east end of town.
A long term resident of the inn was an artist by the name of Zhu An Bing. His ink brush works were astounding. Apparently not only I felt that way either. One of his works had a price tag on it for 20,000RMB (2,000 Euro).
After chatting with Zhu An Bing for a bit, I went into town for dinner. Upon my return to the inn, it was clear that not all was well.
“I’m sorry, Mr. Robert,” the inn owner said. “You cannot stay at our inn. The police have told us you must stay at another hotel.”
“Well, I cannot afford anything expensive,” I told them.
I ended up being taken to another hotel, and given a cheap 30RMB dorm room bed. All seemed fine, until I went to bed at 9pm and was woken at 10:30pm with three police officers knocking on my door. Before I could get up and dressed, they were in the room.
I made it clear that I was not happy with being barged in on, and shooed them out. I closed the door, got dressed, and let them in again.
They only wanted to check my passport to make sure the details on the registration form I filled out were correct. Hardly worth waking me up for, if you ask me.
Today’s distance / ???????: 59.3 miles / 95.4km
Average speed / ????: 9.6mph / 15.5km/h
Time on skateboard / ????: 6h 10m
Total skateboarding distance to date / ????????????: 5931mi plus 377mi (?) / 9545km plus 606km (?)
Ascent / ??: 620m
Descent / ??: 745m
End-of-day GPS coordinates: N35°41′26.60″, E105°03′19.70″
It is a curious thing, asking Chinese locals how far it is to the next town. They take one look at my mode of transport, and the distance suddenly becomes twice the actual distance.
“To (insert town name)? Oh, that’s about 70km, I would say,” one woman said to me.
I pointed to the map, and explained that from Lanzhou to Gantsaodian, where we were, was 60km. Assuming the map is to scale, the distance to the next town could not possibly be 70km.
“No, no, I have been there. It is a very long way. And the road is very bad. Very steep,” she said, indicating a near vertical slope with her arm.
“So it is impossible for me on my skateboard?” I asked.
“Oh yes, impossible. You should take a bus.”
I thanked her for her help, and skated away. Further down the road, a road sign told me in big, bold lettering that the town that was 70km away, was actually 26km away. I just took a deep breath and skated onwards, no longer concerned about the possibility of having to skateboard up a cliff face. I arrived at the town less than two hours later, having skated on a wonderful smooth surface all the way. Granted, I had snuck onto the expressway…
Like yesterday, trucks carrying bee hives were periodically speeding past, leaving a smattering of disoriented and annoyed honey bees. I escaped any stings, but a bee in the face as you’re screaming down a hill hurts.
The entire area I passed through today was made of clay. The hills, the cliffs, the houses.
Deep water-gouged gorges accented the scenery.
The hills were terraced, growing mainly corn and potatoes. Here and there people were ploughing the fields, all using donkey-drawn ploughs.
The day was either up or down. Two solid one hour plus hill climbs kept my mind alive. I marveled at how much stronger I am feeling now that I am eating and sleeping better (compared with Xinjiang Province).
I passed kilometer marker 2,000 on China National Highway 312 today just before the town of Huinishan here in Gansu Province. At the pace I am at at the moment, I should have no problem arriving in Shanghai in time for my flight home to New Zealand on the 7th of October.
Today’s distance / ???????: 37.3 miles / 60km
Average speed / ????: 8.6mph / 13.9km/h
Time on skateboard / ????: 4h 19m
Total skateboarding distance to date / ????????????: 5871mi plus 377mi (?) / 9449km plus 606km (?)
Ascent / ??: 700m
Descent / ??: 360m
End-of-day GPS coordinates: N35° 47′ 49.00″, E104° 17′ 16.80″
10,000km on a skateboard. Done.
I remember sending an email to Matt Windsor, an old friend from high school who is also galavanting around the globe these days, and telling him that if I made it to 10,000km on my longboard, I would be happy. This was in Shanshan, a town in Xinjaing Province in China, in the middle of the desert, where I spent 3 weeks recouperating from travellers burnout. That was about three months ago. At that stage, I was not confident that I would make it.
And here I am in this little internet cafe in a town whose name I’m not sure I am spelling correctly, and I have recorded 10,055km on my skateboard. As much as this journey is not about distances, but the things I learn along the way, it is pretty darn cool.
I left Lanzhou late at 11am this morning after spending some time updating the blog. It didn’t take long to get out of the city, and the first thing on my horizon was hills. Marija Kozin, a cyclist from Slovenia, has cycled this route through Gansu Province before. In an email to me, she said “it will be interesting to see how you handle the hills in Gansu…”. I now know what she means.
The hills are not Qinghai material however, and the most I climbed non-stop today was about an hour. Long uphills interspersed with short exhilarating downhills. And the ever preent uber-smooth roads of China. Luverly.
Lunch was stir-fry noodles with beef, prepared fresh on the street for me. This reminded me of the fast food I had last night at the Dicos fast-food joint in Lanzhou. Whereas you have no idea where the ingredients come from in the fast food, here on the street, you can be sure that it’s all local, and all fresh.
I continued to enjoy the fresh seasonal local fruit all along the roadside today also. Rock melons, peaches, massive fat plums, grapes…no wonder I am feeling 200% stronger than I was in Xinjiang Province. I am eating so much better here. I am amazed at how incredibly easy it is to travel here in eastern China. Distances between towns is minimal, and great cheap food is in abundance. Covering distance has never been easier…ever.
After 10,000km, you’d think that certain bits on my skateboard have worn a little. The only thing that I have never touched in those 10,000km are the trucks (the axles), save from adjusting the tightness of them.
The trucks are Holey Trucks, and they are a fantastic piece of kit. They have been so reliable. Support from Holey is second to none, also. Emails have been responded to promptly, which is a massive bonus when you are on the road.
The trucks, understandably, have now worn to the point of being a little unpredictable on fast (25km/h plus) downhills. Due to wear on the pivot points, the trucks will ‘twitch’ when I am trying to keep them running straight. A bit unnerving at speed.
The top left photo shows the wear on the pivot on the hanger of the truck (for an explaination of truck terminology, see this link). The hanger should transition smoothly to the pivot, with no edge. In the photo, you can see a prominent ridge. That is the wear that is causing the twitching.
For now, I have wrapped a couple of layers of tape around the pivot point to reduce play, and this has stopped the twitching. They are now very stable, as they once were.
Holey Trucks has offered to send me some new trucks, so hopefully I will have some new trucks waiting for me in Xian when I get there in a couple of weeks. Another reason to use Holey Trucks. I never imagined that I would be able to get some replacement trucks in China!
I am now feeling a welcome feeling of pressure. I have just under 2 months to skate 2,100km to Shanghai to make it on time for my flight to New Zealand. Nothing like a deadline to get you moving!