Across Continents

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Descent to Turpan

September 3rd, 2010

Garage window - web

I was tired. Very tired. Hadn’t slept well the previous night. Few hours dozing, only to be woken once more by lorries rumbling into what was clearly more a truck stop than a petrol station. And the odd goods train trundling past on the main line across the road. Maybe not as over-staffed as I’d thought when I’d arrived. Just a lull.

But it did mean I’d got an early start. My notes said mountain day, the small scale map suggesting the road followed a pass through a range with quite a few peaks over the four thousand metre mark. Thus prepared for a tough ride to Turpan. Only to discover early on that, whilst my expectations were strictly correct, it was downhill. I shouldn’t have been surprised, for the town sits in a depression, over five hundred feet below sea level. Third lowest in the world. Just hadn’t expected to descend so soon.

Descent scenery - web

Through the mountains a few sandstone outcrops, but otherwise now a dark, volcanic rock, fine grit, the odd tree, dusty building but otherwise barren, empty. The wind had begun to come up, thankfully largely on my back, but soon too strong to be able to safely control the bike. Quickly found myself struggling to keep it upright as I pushed it along the hard shoulder.

Eventually reaching a petrol station and some respite from the wind, by now gale force, perhaps Force 7 or 8, I found myself contemplating how to reach Turpan safely some thirty or so miles away. If the wind remained directly on my back it’d be possible, albeit very slowly and cautiously, but that seemed unlikely for such a distance.

But then the traffic police arrived, to help rather than hinder. They’d spotted me passing through one of the toll points along the dual carriageway. Vehicles had been blown over ahead, they explained, the wind strength was expected to increase further, but would diminish overnight. I should not continue, they advised. Conditions had become unrideable. They had a point. And, they indicated, there was a hotel across on the other side of the carriageway where I could stop for the night.

Thanking them for their advice, I huddled behind the petrol station, considering my next move. Perhaps the police were just being cautious. Understandable. Maybe things were not quite as bad as they had portrayed. But I doubted they’d invented the story about vehicles getting blown over. If I continued on and things worsened, it’d be difficult, if not well nigh impossible, to retrace my steps. And little chance of shelter to pitch the tent if benighted short of Turpan.

Hotel it was to be. Frustrating but probably wise. I could quickly make up the ground in the morning. Took a while to reach it across the carriageway, crossing the wind beam on. And a similar struggle to secure a room. At first flat denials they even had accommodation. Showed them my card, explaining my venture in Simplified Chinese, gestured to indicate my dilemma, that I’d be delighted to continue on to Turpan, but it simply wasn’t possible. Nor could I retrace my steps back towards Urumqi. I was stuck.

Flea pit - web

They relented. Hard concrete floor, dubious bedding and if you wanted en suite, there was the petrol station a few hundred metres along. But it was shelter. And just two pounds for the night. I assured them I simply wanted to sleep, keep out of sight, then be on my way. Suspected they just didn’t want the hassle of having to register my presence with the Police. Ironic given who’d advised me to stop there. And I had sought to explain that to my reluctant hosts.

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Escape from Urumqi

August 30th, 2010

Garage team - web

I’d only stopped to ask for directions. Yes, explained the chorus of voices, this being the most well staffed petrol station I’d ever encountered, I was on the right road. Heading for the town of Dabanchang for the night. But they had rooms here, the collective quickly added.

 The manager appeared, a young, jovial chap, with a greater smattering of English than I had of Mandarin. Some confusion. I’d been slow to grasp what he meant by “no money” when I enquired about the room rate – he’d read my little card explaining my venture in Simplified Chinese and had decided to offer me a bed for the night for free.

Rather better luck than earlier in the day. Started well enough, picking my way across the city of Urumqi. Succeeded in finding the right road south without too much difficulty. And relatively cool, perhaps just twenty degrees, with the wind on my back. Made a change. Pleasant enough. Gentle incline, steady progress along the hard shoulder of the dual carriageway.

Then the realisation that the hissing noise wasn’t one of the many roadside sprinklers. It was my rear tyre. Puncture number six. Not a bad innings, but still a good half hour job to unload all the kit, effect a repair, and getting going once more. Busy road so I improvised a warning triangle with the bright red panniers and my rear light.

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