Across Continents

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Sheltering from the storm

"There is nothing the body suffers the soul may not profit by" – George Meredith, English Victorian novelist and poet

I woke to find rivulets of rainwater running across the plain wooden table beneath the window. Driven in around the ill-fitting frame, gusts strong enough to make it visibly vibrate. The storm had taken out the power before I’d retired to bed, exhausted. Now the only illumination was the frequent violent lightening flashes.

I’d left the town of Shanshan earlier in the day, the start of a three day, two hundred mile crossing through the mountains that separate the Turpan and Hami Basins. About five thousand feet of climb. Precious few truck stops or settlements until the latter part of the second day.

By mid-afternoon I’d passed the last of the irrigated green strips, returning to the dull, grey, loose rock of the desert. The wind grew steadily, at first quite pleasant. A cooling tailwind. Then, gathering strength, it shifted ever more towards the side, riding becoming increasingly difficult. A landscape devoid of features, I’d no option but to press on towards where I thought there might be a truck stop.

Passing lorries provided all too brief respite from the wind. And then, slowly, a convoy of three trucks began to draw past, the ageing vehicle at the front struggling with the climb. Suddenly free of the cross wind, I found myself able to keep up, much to the surprise of the driver who’s truck I’d paired up with. His passenger hung out of his window to pass down bottled water. Even offered me a cigarette. Sometimes they’d be a brief spurt of speed, but we’d soon resume a more sustainable pace.

I’d the sense of a storm gathering astern, catching up rapidly. Soon heavy droplets of rain. Then thunder, at first distant, but closing quickly. Passed the point where I’d expected to find a truck stop. Nothing. Exposed ground making camping an unenviable choice, the rain deterring seeking shelter in a culvert. Onwards.

Suddenly, on the far side of the road, a small building, single lorry parked up, a few old vehicles abandoned in front. I waved goodbye to my unexpected hosts for the last ten miles or so and broke away to seek shelter. It wasn’t a case of if I was stopping here. Not in the desert. And no need to show my magic card, explaining my endeavour in Simplified Chinese. I could have a bed for the night.

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