Nowmansland is a free for all across the very top or the pass. Lorries 2 and 3 abreast crawling up and over with the bikes in close attendance, like little pilot fish running the channels. Get to the gate and wait for the guide to meet us from the other side. China is obviously a bureaucratic minefield where personal vehicles are involved but this has all been checked and organised well in advance. The guide appears and shakes hands through the bars. Part one complete. One o’clock, opening time. Ride up to the gate. If your name isn’t down, you’re not coming in. He looks at his list.. his finger goes down… down… nearly at the bottom… and stops. Looks up, and points…into China. I’m in! UK to China is done and I’m in. Weird feeling. On trips likes these you bump into all sorts of people on really epic journeys. I met an Aussie the other night in a yurt. He was from Alice Springs of all places. He’s trying to travel back to Aus purely by public transport and he has been all over. All the stans except Afghanistan which he says is possible. He’s even grown a huge beard for it! So… getting to China isn’t such a massive achievement but we all do what we can I guess. I’m very happy to have got here anyway and it’s not on most people’s biking route.
Down out the mountains and towards Kashkar. Get the bikes disinfected and through customs then on into the city. I thought the Chinese would be totally rules based. If it’s not in the rules, it’s just not happening. Bikes aren’t allowed on their new motorways. All the signs say so but out here in the west they’re not so strict apparently. We take the motorway and at the toll booths just ride around the barriers. The attendants don’t give a toss. Police checks just wave you through too, keen to move you on to be someone else’s problem. Get to the hotel and there are quite a few other bikes here from all over the place. Brazil, USA, France. I think this is the Chinese guide’s favourite hotel. Get up to the room, fine. Sit on the bed…what’s this? It looks like a bed. It’s got pillows and covers and stuff but I think the mattress is made by Blue Circle. There is absolutely no give in it at all. Mr and Mrs Creosote having an energetic shagathon wouldn’t make the slightest impression in it. I always carry a few explosives on thee trips to scientifically test things like this. I get the biggest one I have, put in the bed, tuck it in all nice and tight then go down through the lobby and out into the square. The room is on the 11th floor and as I remotely detonate my bed bomb all the windows blow out. Car alarms are going off all around me and the police are running round like a Benny Hill sketch. Go back up to the room to inspect the bed. Not a scratch on it.
Oh God. It’s always bound to happen on a trip like this. Last night’s meal has disagreed with me. I said yes, It has definitely said no. Wake up feeling like there is Harley Davidson running in my stomach. Someone blips the throttle and I accelerate towards the toilet to evacuate. No better though. We’ve got to ride about 30-40 miles out to some regional vehicle registration place and get some paperwork done. There’s no choice, I have to ride. Out for fuel first. They won’t fill bikes up at the pump round here, you have to park away from the pump and use a 7 litre kettle. Repeat until full. Turn up mob handed like we do and a lot of the garages are just refusing entry to the forecourt even, running out and pulling a piece of tape across the entrance. It’s getting really hot and my healthometer is well into the red and still falling. We finally find a station well out of town that will let us in. I stagger off the bike into the nearest shadow and get horizontal asap. I think I fall asleep. Someone kindly fills my bike for me and we’re ready to go. Someone comes and knocks me and I stand up. Is there an earthquake? Has someone turned the temperature up to 120 degrees? My balance has gone completely and I’m just dripping with sweat. Here it comes. I hate being sick, I panic. Not this time though, I just let my body get on with it and throw up all over my boots to mix with the sweat dripping off my nose and ears. Five minutes to recover, then back on the bike and out to the vehicle centre. I’m laid in the shade again and flat out asleep in 2 seconds. Someone does something to the bike – whatever – who cares – Ride back to the hotel alone in some sort of magical mystery haze through the mental Chinese traffic. I’m speaking to the Chinese guide. He asks me if I ate the little red things round the edge of the dinner plate last night. I thought they were cherry tomatoes. “No, you shouldn’t eat those. They’re just for decoration”. Thanks for telling me last night you stupid cock! So I get some spoons, heat them red hot and scoop out his testicles. “They’re only for decoration” I tell him. Spend the next 18 hours asleep on the bed/slab.
Is it morning already? The Harley has gone. Replaced with a 250. I can cope with that I think. Out to get some Chinese sims and wait for the ok from the vehicle people. Get on the road about 3 with 250 miles to go to Kaplin.
Shit and boring ride as long as the sun is up. Get near to Kaplin and we’re stopped by a big police check. They’re all smiles, handinground fags and chatting as another group shoot hoops. They’ve closed Kaplin completely – no traffic either in or out – no explanation. Lots of tension and trouble in this area. It often kicks off, people get killed, and nothing is reported. We’ve got to reroute to the next town about 75 miles down the road. Night comes down and chaos reigns. Night riding is a game of chance out here. You simply cannot predict what situations you’ll come across. You think you’ve seen everything then a big lorry with no lights will just back out into fast traffic. It’s mental. ‘Health and safety’ has been sacrificed for ‘wealth and crazy’. People work in and on the road with no signs and no protection other than their ability to jump out of the way. I’m coming into a town and I’m overtaking traffic when there is a suddenly something directly in front of me that I recognize. It’s grey and dusty. It’s a bloody great lane separator – fuck! Over to the emergency pilot who wakes up and takes over, glints to the right and misses it by inches before I process what’s happening. The others ask me about it later – it’s never nice to see what you think is going to be an accident. Luck, pure blind luck. Whatever. Get to the hotel about midnight as a huge thunder and lightening storm breaks. Get in the lift – it stops at 3. Doors open – looks like the entrance to a gay bar with 2 camp policeman on the entrance, a hostess at a bar, loads of youths staggering about and deep bass pumping through the air like controlled explosions. Doors close. Stops at 4. Doors open – looks like the entrance to a gay bar with 2 camp policeman on the entrance, a hostess at a bar, loads of youths staggering about and deep bass pumping through the air like controlled explosions. Where the fuck are we? What’s it going to be like on the 10th floor? Relatively normal is the answer, except for the fact that your feet leave the floor every second as the base rocks the building. The storm is doing it’s best to impress outside and the thunder is trying to outdo the music. Looking out the windows at the blurry neon signs it looks like we’ve landed in Blade Runner. We brave the weather and go out to eat amongst the replicants. On the way back the roads are flooded. China absolutely stinks. Piss, shit and everything in between. If Venice was in China you wouldn’t be able to visit it unless you were capable of holding your breath continuously for 3 days. Anyway, the rain has made the stink worse. I feel like a sewer rat as I paddle through the poo and piss back to the hotel and a few hours horizontal.
Breakfast. Seaweed? String beans? Unrelated non? Not out here in China. We’re in hotels that are designated for tourists but that’s it. I think the tourist ratio is maybe 1 in 100000 residents so they only cater for locals. A breakfast of Turtle toes and dumplings doesn’t do it for me. I think the Chinese visa application form explicitly says “fussy eaters need not apply”. The do some lovely flavored yogurt in the shops though.
Bring the bikes to the front up to load up and go and the place is instantly mobbed. It’s nice that people are friendly and interested but being so tall its like trying to walk through a nursery without stepping on a child. Loads of people want to sign the bike. Some crazy looking girl wearing glasses frames without lenses signs a pannier. She wants pictures too. She looks properly mad and is jumping about like it’s christmas morning. She can speak a little English and insists on getting really close but her breath stinks … real bad. I don’t know what she has had for breakfast but it smells like it was a turd toastie. Time to leave before my boots get sluced with sick again. The city is guarded by a big ridge of mountains and it looks like a huge breaking wave with it’s sparkling crest of snow. Beauty in the face of the shit hole we’re leaving. Just chewing the miles so expressway all the way to another chaotic chinatown. China isn’t showing it’s best side so far. At least I hope it isn’t.
Breakfast is the worst so far and I avoid it completely. The Xinjiang province we’re in is the largest in China I think. It has been trying to separate itself from the east for a long time and it means that some things just don’t work as expected. Like time. China has dictated that the whole country uses a single time zone throughout even though its 1000’s of mile wide. The Xinjiang region uses a mix of Beijing time and local time which is 2 hours behind. I don’t think it’s anything official but some of the shops etc use it which means I can’t find anything for breakfast in my case, unless I want some diesel. It’s raining and cold and the countryside is bare save for the odd development/brick factory/power station. Run into a petrol station in the middle of nowhere and the young bloke in the shop speaks perfect English. He graduated in design, got a job in the east but he said they work too hard and he likes to sleep so he left and works pumping fuel. Lazy little bastard. They live at the petrol station and do 14 days on, 5 off when they go back 80 miles to the nearest town. This boy certainly has ambition, NOT. Anyone who has been out here will know that the shops normally have a lot more staff than customers. They’re all ready for a rush that’s never going to come. Christ they must have some boredom threshold. A sign of the tension in this area is that all the petrol stations, and lots of other shops and restaurants have riots shields, batons and helmets just inside the doors just in case bad men come in and they have to deal with them. They’re just unattended by the doors so far as I can see, the bad men can just walk in, pick up the shield and baton then just twat the life out the staff before they know whats happening. Makes no sense at all.
Get to Korla and it’s another mound of new concrete seemingly growing in front of your eyes. Oil money here though so there are lots of western vehicles and the usual (or unusual out here) fast food outlets too. I’ve not really eaten for a couple of days so I go hunting in a big supermarket. At least, I thought it was a supermarket. On closer inspection I think it is a westerner assignation store. Absolutely everything looks like it’s designed to kill me. Packets and potions and things I’ve only ever seen in science fiction films. Things that can be bought back to life inside you to perform origami on your intestines. Everything looks like a threat to my very existence. The Chinese really are an alien race and this is proof. Humans aren’t designed to eat dried monkey snot and elephant earwax but there are packets of it here. There are also tiny tubs of off white fluid for sale that look like they have been stolen from a fertility clinic. Ummmm. As sad as I am to say it, I go to Pizza Hut for a salad and lasagne. Won’t get the chance for a while I’m sure and I might as well give my bowel some ammunition in case it decides it needs to fire.
Riding alone today as I’ve got a working Chinese phone for a comfort blanket. Take some pictures in the city and head out for Turpan on the edge of the Gobi desert. There’s only really one option and that’s the expressway again. Personally, from what I’ve seen of this region, I wouldn’t recommend it. Barren and dust coloured apart from the few mountains popping up here and there. Little fauna, flora or wildlife either. It’s probably all been dissected, freeze dried and and put on sale somewhere. Go through a real moonscape for an hour then hit a big plateau where it’s blowing like a bastard. Judging by the 2 million wind turbines here that’s a regular thing here.
The hotels that foreigners can stay at are pretty limited in some towns and tonight’s looks like it’s been dropped in from somewhere in Arabia. Totally out of place and weird. The desert dust covers everything round here – even the trees. Take a walk around the night market after dark where the smells draws you in and the sights push you away. The only safe way looks to be extracting nutrients from the air like a whale scavenges krill from the see. Wander up and down taking in lungfuls, catch calories on the tongue and breath 99.9% back out. Some of the food looks good but it’s all wrapped up with mystery poisons and body parts that would rush for the exits the minute I put it in my system.
Leave the city and its another dull day of desert and expressway. This should be over pretty soon and we’ll begin to see something new. I did manage to convince a lorry driver to let me climb up on his trailer today though and look at his load (oh er). They have HUGE car transporter trailers with double width upper decks so cars can be put side by side. The trailers must be 50m long too. Christ knows how much they weigh. Get to the brothel/hotel before dark. It’s opposite the train station and is marketed as a ‘business’ hotel. I think that should be ‘funny business’ hotel. The mini bar is 50% condoms, a ‘magic towel’ and some potion that probably means you can’t do your flies up. The shower drain is blocked, I don’t even want to think about what with. I manage to flood the bathroom, the toilet, the bedroom and out under the door into the corridor.
My roomie is bad again. He has been on a mission to put as many different items in his stomach as he can and it seems he has finally managed to discover the elusive recipe that results in 90% of your body being ejected from your arse in as little as an hour. His bowel/hydrant is turning him inside out and he says he’s counted his shit stops since last night at 60. A new world record. His ring is stinging like he’s been gang raped with red hot pokers and the toilet has had to be serviced after he wore out the cistern and burnt off all the enamel. Poor bugger. I think they’re going to have to stand him on his head and poor his insides back up his bum later.
Out across the bottom of the Gobi desert today. I’m pretty bored of
this now. A very boring day. Mile and miles of featureless flat land. Like watching sandy coloured paint dry. The only relief is the monumental wind farms with turbines as far as the eye can see in every direction.
Get to Jiayuguan where the western end of the Great Wall is. Most of the local restaurants carry at least a level 4* (definite danger of death) health warning so we opt for China’s attempt at western fast food. Dicos. Chicken mostly & wet warm fries. I get a chicken and pineapple burger thing where the meat is so greasy that every squeeze of the bun threatens to shoot the contents out across the room. Seriously disgusting but only a 2* (likely to cause serious digestive disruption) warning. To be fair, we’ve had found some really nice local food in a some of places but the stomach is taking time to be trained and tamed on it. I’m currently up to level 3* (high likelihood of anal weeping) and I think the scale runs up to 10* (have a senior member of your faith present before eating)
‘Breakfast’ is by far the worst yet. Quite impressive really just how they can offer so many unappetizing things. The Chinese gobble it down relentlessly by their stomachs are in a different place to mine. Out for a yoghurt drink. That’ll have to do.
Ride out to see the wall. First stop is a ‘Hanging Wall’ section that zig zags up a mountain. Lots of these bits are restored but it’s not what I expected at all. This section is all covered with what I’m guessing is some kind of sand/manure/straw rendering. All light brown and smooth. Pretty impressive though as it snakes up the mountain. Climb up to the top tower – the steps are incredibly steep and the access holes into the tops of the towers are tiny. Fit little buggers that made this for sure. We take a little track and ride alongside it in the sand – what a weird feeling that is. It’s fecking big from down here too. They must have fed the cows whatever my roomie is easting in order to make enough shit to cover this. Maybe they just put the cows on carts and just rode along side with the cows shooting jets of warm wet poo at it. This section is the very end of the wall and there is a massive fort marking it. The place is full of groups with mics bibbling and babbling and the camera clicks sounding like crickets on a warm summer’s evening. Too Disney for me though. You can imagine being inside here with the mongols screaming at the door must have been a
totally different experience.