I introduced Jiao in my last post as our much needed morale booster after a a rough week slogging it out in the Gobi desert. Now let me tell you a story about our new friend.
Jiao models his bike and makeshift stand
It was the 2nd day after meeting Jiao in the town of Anxi and we had just spent the night camping in the Gobi with plans of doing the same again but stopping earlier than 10pm so we could actually enjoy each others company and maybe have a well deserved meal and a small party in the desert.
With this in mind we knocked out 150km ending up in the the middle of nowhere. There wasn’t even a hint of a small town in sight. Fortunately we had thought ahead and ordered a double serving of noodles from the truck stop that we had stopped for lunch 5 hours earlier, but no one had wanted to carry liquid other than the 10 liters (each) of water needed.
As we unpacked our bikes around 7pm in the 40 degree desert heat 500 or so meters off the road behind a small sandy mount just big enough to avoid nosy/noisy truck drivers as they passed by, Jiao announced that he would be right back as he wanted to find a surprise.
Took this photo at 9pm at night
Before we had time to question what he was doing or where he was going he had dropped all his bags and jumped back on his trusty giant mountain bike and was heading back to the road.
Looking at each other we wondered where he would go and when he would be back, but we had work to do putting up tents and preparing dinner.
Jump forward 2 hours and picture 4 hungry cyclists sitting around watching a desert sunset , but starting to wonder “where is Jiao.” He had been gone a long time now. Should we wait a little longer to eat? An hour later and it was 10pm. There was no waiting anymore. I put my rear light on flash and placed it at the top of the sandy mount we were behind thinking maybe he would see it from the road and we sat down to a meal of noodles on macaronis and cheese that I had been carrying since leaving Korea.
Waiting for Jiao
By now theories were cropping up as to what had happened to our Chinese friend. He had been gone for over 3 hours and here we were in the middle of the Gobi desert with all of his bags and gear.
Had he been injured?
Did he get lost?
Did he find a place to stay and get too drunk to ride back?
And my favorite. Was he getting a gang of bandits to attack us? Ludicrous as this sounds the mind wanders when you are in the middle of nowhere.
It’s 11pm now and the little light that dusk had provided had faded into a moonlight night. Tom and I decided to venture out to the road for a quick look around before we all called it a night. There would be no search party in the dark as we would all end up lost. Tonight everyone would be going to sleep wondering what had happened to Jiao.
Alarms went off at 5.30 am. Time to get up and start the day. Still no Jiao.
The question now was what do we do? We have his gear and no clue where he went. Do we take it to the nearest police station?
Just as we were about ready to leave there he was, cycling slowly along the road looking for our campsite.
In he rolled still with a smile on his face and 9 bottles of beer strapped to the back of his bike.
“Jiao, where did you go? We were all very worried.”
This is his story, a story that still makes me smile as I sit here with him and the team on a train bound for Hami (a week later).
[in his words]
“I wanted to get beer to have a big party in the desert with my friends so I biked to a radio tower that was 7km away, but there was no one there. So I asked a road worker where I could get beer. He told me that there was a road workers campsite another 8km down the road so I biked there. At first the road workers said “May-oh” (none here in Chinese) but I asked and asked until they lead me to the camps leader. Then I told him that I had 4 friends from all over the world and they were really tired and didn’t have much water so beer for them would be great. At first he said no, but I kept asking and said I would pay more. He finally offered me 5 beers but I wanted a bigger party so I told him to give me 9 which he eventually did.
I then started to ride back but the road was uphill and I had a headwind so it was very hard and the night was getting dark. I biked and I biked but I could not find where we had stopped to camp and I did not have my headlamp so I finally gave up and found a small bridge and crawled under it for the night. That is where I stayed. It was very cold and I had no food except some peanuts, but I knew that in the morning it would be light and I could find everyone.”
We looked at him stunned. “You slept under a bridge?”
As we looked at his bike there were 9 bottles of beer still stacked on his bike.
“Why didn’t you drink some of the beer?”
Still with a smile on his face he said “I wanted to have a big party with my new friends in the desert. I was cold but I am happy to find you, so lets ride to Hami.”
Here was a man that had biked an extra 30km after an already long day in the desert heat just to get us a beer so we could enjoy our trip just that little bit more. I said at the start of this story that he has been our teams morale booster. Personally I think that that is an understatement. He is more like a traveling angel who has been with us now for just under a week making our lives here in China easier, happier and definitely more interesting.