Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Crash Boom Bang

Leaving the province of Shaanxi, I had a few bonehead moves on the bike. First was exiting Xian where I accidently reared another cyclist.  It wasn’t a hard hit but I think the elderly gentleman was kind of pissed with me.  He was cycling quite slowly in front of me and then all of a sudden abruptly stopped due to traffic coming from all directions.  As a result, I went straight into his back wheel.  Seeing that there wasn’t any harm or damage done, I apologized profusely and jetted off. 

The second incident was going through a tunnel.  I am really not a fan of tunnels.  I just want to get out of them as fast as possible as I don’t feel very safe in them with other vehicles passing by.  Plus since the lighting is usually poor I don’t always see the pavement very well and there could be cracks and potholes.  Anyway, this particular tunnel was rather long and wasn’t very well lit.  I turned on my front light but it turned off when I went over a bump too hard.  This was due to the batteries being low on energy.  Long story short I saw the light at the end of the tunnel and picked up my speed even though my front light was off.  I didn’t realize it but I was veering off to the left and was in the other lane and before you know it I collided with the curb and fell.  It wasn’t a pretty sight in the dark.  I had to walk the final kilometer or so out of the tunnel as I did a bit of damage to my bike.  Add insult to injury I also sprained my left ankle and was limping around the next few days thereafter.  My ankle still isn’t tip top but I think it is getting better.  I should have just slowed down and stayed close to Trevor whose lights were working properly.

So I was the dumbtard for a few days there until we hit Chengdu where Trevor took back the dumbtard title.  With all the idiotic driving done by the Chinese people, his nerves were once again getting to him.  Entering Chengdu he decided to pick up his speed and cycle aggressively.  I lost sight of him as a result, but then shortly after noticed a line of taxis holding up traffic.  Then I see Trevor walking out in front of the taxis with his bike smiling.  With his adrenaline pumping he asked me if I saw the show but unfortunately I did not.  He was weaving in and out of traffic at about 30km/hr when he rammed straight into the barricade that divides the bicycle lane with the other lanes.  He flew off his bike and landed in the bicycle lane while his bike landed in the vehicle lane.  No physical harm done but his fork is now bent which effectively shortened his bike.  His lower water bottle also exploded.  He will probably need to fix or replace his fork as it is now sometimes scrapes his shoes when he pedals.

Trevor wasn’t so lucky in avoiding bodily harm today as he had a nasty fall cycling over some mud.  He slipped and fell to the pavement right in front of an oncoming truck.  Luckily the truck wasn’t going fast and stopped in time.  He was hurting afterwards and was muddy all over.  His front tire is totally worn so he had no traction. 

The food situation in Sichuan was the worst yet in the provinces we have cycled through.  Just lots of crap to eat there.  I thought the province was renowned for their cuisine but I was not at all impressed from what I had seen.  Trevor really didn’t like much of anything and has rated it his worst province thus far.    
Unfortunately there were no panda sightings in the province of Sichuan but on the up side we are getting closer and closer to the end of China.  Yeah.  Can’t wait.  

Some nice scenery in Shaanxi, my favourite province thus far. 

Trevor posing for the camera.

Here I am fixing up my bike after my self-inflicting crash in the tunnel.  My front fender and right handle both bent, and some gears were jostled around.  Luckily that was it. 

The last time I had a good laugh at the names of places and things was in Newfoundland where I saw a sign for the town of Dildo.  China has brought back some laughter with this sign here.  I can confirm the river was just like its name, shitty.  It looked the part for sure.  Another bridge we cycled on was called Long Dong Bei Bridge.  That one didn’t really stack up to its name though as it wasn’t long nor was it the shape of a dong. 

With all the idiots I see on the road I am the least bit surprised at seeing this big car crash.  So many people constantly blab away on their cell phones not really paying much attention to the road and I suspect that was probably the case here.  I think this incident was a bit unfortunate though as it looked like they were all celebrating a wedding.  Trevor found that quite funny.  He is not a fan of those celebrations where people honk like mad and make noise after getting hitched.    

Here is the barricade that Trevor got up close and personal with. 

Trevor really dislikes this country with a passion.  He is one unhappy camper that is for sure.  I suggested he vent more to let off steam just like I do.  He took that advice and did just that by showing this statue of a cop how he feels. 

We saw firsthand the effects the Three Gorges Dam had on the Yangtze River shown here.  Our intended route today was submerged underwater so we had to take an alternate route.   

A muddied up Trevor after he took a tumble.  He will likely be feeling it more so tomorrow morning.  

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Silk Road Complete

We haven’t even finished cycling through China but Trevor has already declared this country his worst.  For me, it is definitely in contention for bottom spot.  The people here do not know how to drive and they can be quite obnoxious.  The spitting and snot flying out of their noses is very disgusting to watch.  Plus the staring can get annoying.  I like to think I don’t curse much but I am venting around the clock at the drivers and at times pedestrians for their idiotic moves.  No one obeys traffic signs or traffic lights.  They just do whatever they please.  Trevor commented the only thing they are good at it in this country is creating traffic jams.  They also love to cut us off.  Countless times every day we are cut off by dumbasses who do not watch what is coming their way, they just go without thinking.  The thing though that really annoys both of us is the horn.  I would love to take their horns and stick them up where the sun don’t shine because it is deafening and really unnecessary.  If you know how to drive, you don’t need to rely on that stupid horn.  They blast their horns at the sight of any moving object and some just honk just for the sake of honking.  It must be music to their ears.

Anyway, since leaving Yumen it has been tough times yet again with cold conditions.  Out of Yumen we cycled on icy roads.  The roads also have been crap as we have had quite a few punctures. 

Happy to say we are now in Xian, which means the end of the Silk Road for us.  Now we can beeline it south and hopefully toward warmer climes!

Free food on the side of the road!  Not sure how all these onions became scattered on the side of the road but I thought maybe I could find a few good onions.  Unfortunately they weren’t all that great so I decided best not to risk getting sick. 

We had a string of days where we were hassled with constant flat tires.  With the increase in flat tires, Trevor decided to put one of his China made tires he purchased in Urumqi to use.  Already it has had two flats.

An ecstatic me at about 3000m above sea level!  We had a few passes (the other just shy of 2600m) to cover which previously worried both of us due to the chance of being hit with snow.  We played it safe and stopped at towns just before the passes and checked weather reports.  Very glad it worked out and we didn’t get stuck anywhere. 

A useless sign.  Another useless thing in China is the traffic police who just stand at intersections pretending to direct traffic.  I don’t see what good they are doing.  If you have half a brain you should know green means go and red means stop.  Then again, not all understand that.

A pleased me in Lanzhou after getting the first and hopefully last visa extension.  It will be close but I am optimistic we can get to Laos in time.  If not, then it means another extension which would involve more waiting around.  We had to wait about four days in Lanzhou and didn’t do much at all but sit in a hotel room and eat fattening pastries, tasty mandarins and drink delicious red date milk.  The day we arrived in Lanzhou we thought was going to be easy given we made it there around midday but it turned out to be a long day.  The process of finding accommodation is very frustrating.  It took us forever to find the youth hostel and when we did find it we were turned away as they do not accept foreigners now.  So pissed and perturbed we set off around chaotic Lanzhou trying to find a binguan.  We went to many places only to be turned away yet again or find out the binguan is no more.  Seemed like the ones that did accept foreigners were of course the priciest.  That is always the case.  It was getting dark and we were running out of ideas and were about to give up and go to one of the expensive hotels when this lady approached us clearly wanting to practice her English on us helped us find a cheap binguan nearby. 

After Lanzhou the terrain sure changed.  Nice not being in the desert anymore that is for sure!  

We had another day of snow and it was a bit tough at times.  Really hope this is the last we have seen of snow on this trip now. 

The border region around Gansu and Shaanxi made for some nice scenery.  Unfortunately the many mountains meant many ups and downs.  There were many tunnels though which I have a love/hate relationship with.  Nice that they allow us to avoid climbing more hills but going through them can be a bit scary at times.  Some are well over a kilometer and aren’t very well lit.  As such, we really pedal hard to get through them as quickly as possible. 

The first Mao statue we have come across in China.  I am sure it won’t be the last.

Trevor said prior to the trip he doesn’t care much about the route we take but did have one request that we hit two antipodal cities, basically cities that are diametrically opposite to one another on the Earth’s surface.  So, here he is at Drum Tower in the center of the city walls of Xian.  The other antipodal city we now need to hit is Santiago, Chile.  Or at least that is what we used to think.  I just did some research and it appears they aren’t exact antipodal cities.  Trevor wants to be spot on so now it looks like we will be cycling somewhere southwest of Santiago when the time comes hopefully next year. 

Friday, November 2, 2012

A Not So Warm Welcome Into China

It has been early days in China for us but the country is sure throwing a lot of shots at us.  Not liking that one bit.  Our first day in we were excited to have entered the dragon but right off the bat we had an unforgiving mountain pass at around 2200m to climb.  We started climbing later in the day and as we ascended up the mountain it started snowing and the conditions were obviously not for cycling.  Had to be very careful as there was lots of black ice and slippery surfaces.  A few semi-trucks got stuck and there were forces out trying to get things cleared again.  It was a big mess.  I didn’t plan on it, but we ended up having to camp at around 2100m in the cold, snowy environment.  I thank my lucky stars though as we stopped atop a tunnel bridge and I ripped the fence open and we camped in the tunnel.  It was too cold and everything was freezing.  It was so cold that we both got in one tent for body warmth.  It was a very rough night but the next morning the sun came out surprisingly and the descent was way better than the ascent.  There wasn’t any snow or ice going down.  We met a few French cyclists going up as we were going down and they looked like they didn’t know what they were getting into.

We thought that was the last of the snow as the next week and a half we had clear skies in the never-ending desert with no signs of any precipitation.  Amazing how one night can change things so drastically, or actually a few hours.  Just last night we stopped and camped again in a tunnel bridge (that is the norm in the desert I think for many cyclists) and there was no indication of any precipitation whatsoever, let alone snow.  When we woke up this morning there was a blanket of snow on the ground and it was still going strong.  The conditions were horrendous.  Again, not for cycling and stupid to cycle in if you ask me.  That said, we were still a good 50km away from the next town so we needed to make a move to get there.  Once again we had to be extremely careful as the roads were icy and covered in snow and slush.  Trevor fell off his bikes numerous times and had to take it real slow.  We eventually got to Yumen in one piece thankfully, but the fun didn’t stop there.  Oh no.  That would have been too easy.  Exhausted we found a hotel early upon entering and after some looking around to see if there was anything better we settled on this particular hotel as they seemed to accept us foreigners.  We paid the money, unpacked and were settling in when the lady knocks on our door and asks me to go down.  With the help of others they all manage to explain to me that we aren’t allowed there and have to leave.  Basically they said the government and/or police wants us to stay at this particular hotel in town and only that one because it is big and safe.  The one we were at was not so.  To me, the hotel was fine, even better than what I am used to.  I actually don’t want all the stuff they have and just want the cheapest of the cheap.  After repacking all our gear we were led to this new hotel by this kind man and the lady and after some hardcore negotiating I got the same price we were paying at the first hotel.  The room looked exactly the same.  Only difference was the new hotel was on the outskirts of Yumen, so away from all the food shops.  Just great.  So I was quite pissed about the whole move and everything that went down. 

I am still very worried about the weather and road conditions ahead.  Hopeful that the sun will shine bright tomorrow and melt all the evil doing snow and ice away so we can get cycling again in a safe manner.  

The Chinese can be extremely aggressive when it comes to trying to rip me off royally.  Upon entering China I was swarmed by money changers and I asked how much to exchange Kazakh tenge.  They were quoting me over half what I should be getting so told them to piss off and let me be.  This one asshole in the dark blue fleece wouldn’t let me go and kept holding me back.  I mouthed off at him but I am sure he had no clue what I was saying.  Nice at times to be able to vent and mouth off at another even though they haven’t a clue what I am saying.  But I think they got the gist I was pissed at them.  And rightfully so. 

Getting involved in China.  Our first rest stop we ordered up some hot noodles.  Much needed for the unexpected cold weather ahead. 

Trevor almost taking a tumble going up the mountain pass on our first day in China.  

This tunnel was seriously a lifesaver.  I don’t want to even think about what could have happened if we were exposed to the elements in the night at 2100m above sea level. 

Being high up makes for nice scenery though.  Well when the weather is nice that is.  And it was the next morning.  

You can tell when Trevor has a sincere smile and here is one of those times.  He is happy here because this was the highest point we would reach latitude wise in Asia.  As such, it should get only warmer as we are heading south from there on out. 

Pollution galore China.  Definitely not a city I would want to live in with Power Plants situated in city limits.  Speaking of Chinese cities, we have passed a few what appears to be ready to live in cities that are completely empty.  Seems like China likes to build structures ready for use but then lets them sit there unused.  We have also passed grand exhibition centers that clearly haven’t been used at all.  Someone probably has a vision but it seems like they are throwing a lot of investment just for the sake of employing people even though they don’t need it at the moment.  Just a thought. 

Leaving polluted Shihezi I spotted this group of school children doing this synchronized gym routine.  Pretty neat to watch. 

When I first backpacked through China I discovered a milk I really liked in Xian.  I was told it was called Jujube milk.  I loved it so much I searched far and wide in China and the world to see if I could find it again.  I never did see it again and gave up on my worldwide search for this delicious milk.  Things changed though when we made it to Urumqi.  In Carrefour, the great French supermarket that it is, I found it again.  I was thrilled to down this red jujube milk yet again.  I think it is really just red date milk.  I need to see if I can find this back home because I really, really like it.  Just as a head’s up, there will be a few more of my food/drink findings along the way.  Discoveries like this make me happy.  I look forward to a few more treats in countries to come that I have always enjoyed. 

After spending the night at the Youth Hostel in Urumqi we scoured the city for bicycle shops as we were in need of a few spare parts and Trevor was in the market for a few spare tires as both of his look like they are on their last heels.  He found some cheap ones and here this man is telling him how to pack them on his bike.  Trevor took his advice.  In other news all things bicycle, we or maybe I should say Trevor specifically broke all our 3 bicycle pumps.  He has had many tire problems with annoying flats and as a result has worked all the bike pumps to oblivion.  So I just picked up another pump here in Yumen, albeit a very big one, hoping he doesn’t break that one.  If so, we will have some problems.  

Here I am at what probably will be our literally lowest point on the trip (about 50m below sea level).  This is around the Turpan basin which is 154m below sea level making it the second lowest point on Earth behind the Dead Sea. 

Not liking the water situation in China.  Water is much more expensive here than it was in Central Asia.  Ideally I like water to cost nothing.  And think it should be that way everywhere.  In this particular town I found an 18.9L jug and the guy gave it to me for very cheap provided I return the jug after.  Done deal.  So here I am pouring liters upon liters of water into our many water bottles. 

Lots of desert in the Xinjiang province.  And where there is desert, there are camels.  We saw many of them too. 

Our shelter most nights in the desert.  Protects us from the annoying wind and whatever else the weather gods like to throw at us in the night but the downside is there are vehicles zooming right above us so getting a good night’s rest is a bit difficult.

The start of a very crappy day cycling in the snow today.  One of those days you ask yourself what the fudge am I doing out here?  Seriously… this is stupid.  And I am stupid for being out here.  I am also quite stupid for tearing my jacket a few nights prior while bending down to get under a barbed wire.  As a result, I have a big tear in my yellow rain jacket and to be honest, it isn’t getting any smaller and I don’t know what to do about it.  I tried taping it.  That failed.  Just tried gluing it.  That failed as well. 

Passed this van en route today.  Don’t worry no one was hurt.  The cops later arrived and a few of them approached Trevor to tell him to get off the road and use the side road.  When they realized there wasn’t a way to get to the side road they told him to just stay close to the right barricade.  Easier said than done. 

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