It has taken 5700km, 74 days, 2 visa extensions and a long time sitting on our bikes, but on the 24th of June 2009 we made it to the Chinese border town of Korgos. As I sit here early on the morning of the 25th thinking about packing and getting ready to make my first land border crossing (into Kazakhstan) I thought that I would first share the adventures we had on our last day cycling in China.
The day started off as your typical cycle touring day. Wake up and peer out your tent at the beautiful view of Sayram-Hu Lake 2000 meters above sea level in the Tian-Shan mountains.
Jiao chills at Sayram-Hu Lake
Camp was packed, a little later than usual after a leisurely breakfast of oatmeal as we had decided to sleep-in as Tom had a bad case of food poisoning the day before and we didn’t want him to rush.
Plus today would be a day of downhill!
As we started off Tom, Katie and I felt the urge to get fleeced by the locals one more time as we needed water before making the decent. Yes, I argued over 6 cents extra a bottle of water. It’s not the cost, it’s the principle.
The day before Jiao had been talking to truck drivers about the road ahead and their reply was that they hoped we had very good brakes as the road was very steep and bad. Turns out they were spot on. We were greeted with dusty dirt roads for 40 km down one of the most spectacular valleys we have been in yet and today the usual strong headwind that we have come to know and love actually helped slow our decent on the dodgy ripped up roads.
Looking at the road ahead
Our spirits were high but our stomachs were empty as we cruised another 20k or so soaking through beautiful green fields that had greeted us at the end of valley. Time for our last lunch break in China so we pulled in to a local trucking town.
Nothing says goodbye Xinjiang province like Da-Pan-Ji (Big Pan Chicken) so I took the opportunity to watch one last time as our cook chopped a whole frozen chicken into bite sized pieces and then fried it all up with vegetables.
The whole chicken
For those wondering, we feed the head and feet to Jiao as he loves them and says they are the best part.
Our last lunch in China
With 37km left to the town of Korgos and the wind actually in our favor surely we would be there in less than a couple of hours. Ah, but this is China and that would be boring.
The sky was starting to get very dark ahead but we were making good time on the nice highway, we would be there very soon and even a quick stop as a police car pulled us over to tell us to stay on the shoulder or they would kick us off the road wasn’t going to stop us.
That’s when Tom and I heard thump, thump, thump, bang, bang, bang. At first we all thought it was thunder in the distance, but the sounds continued and seemed to be in regular pattern. What could it be? No rain yet though, maybe, as with our previous desert experiences the big black clouds would simply pass over.
A few minutes later and the first few drops of rain started to fall. I was so overjoyed as it was hot and we hadn’t seen rain for over a month that I yelled out at the top of my lungs
“Is that all you’ve got China!”
Then it started. The rain came down, but it wasn’t the rain that bothered anyone. All of a sudden the rain turned into hail and when you are on a bike in shorts and a shirt that tends to hurt a little.
But it didn’t stop there. 30 seconds later the all visibility had gone and the hail had turned into marble sized pieces of ice pelting us from every direction hurting with every strike. I yelled over the roar of the storm to Tom “take cover!” and the two of us dropped our bikes and jumped into the ditch on the side of the road and curled up into the fetal position. We had no clue where Jiao and Dave (ahead) or Katie (behind) were.
I don’t know how long I stayed curled up for but the damn hail was hitting me hard and the only cover around was an over-bridge 800 meters ahead, so I jumped on my bike and decided to make a “run” for it. As I sped off down the road in search of shelter trying not to get hit in the face I passed David and Jiao who had also gotten caught and were cowering under their bikes. No one had found cover and where was Katie?
Just before the bridge I spotted an abandoned gas station and quickly veered off the road to find some Chinese also taking shelter. By now the ice storm had turned into hail again and I couldn’t help but crack up laughing and running back out in the storm (much to the dismay of the Chinese onlookers as they signaled me to take shelter).
Right behind me a soaked Tom, Jiao and Dave pulled in as well.
Katie pulled in a couple of minutes later with a story of having to get under her bike as the ice had been too painful. It didn’t help that she had been wearing a tank top, but at least a passing van saw her and stopped to give her shelter for a few minutes.
Soaked to the bone Tom made the comment
“You just had to open your mouth didn’t you Jared.”
David turned around and looked at Katie.
“What are those marks.”
Katie’s back was covered in welts from the ice.
Dave took his shirt off too and sure enough it looked as if both him and Katie had stood in front of a paintball firing squad.
Rewind a minute and remember the thump, thump, bang bang. Jiao asked the locals what it was. It turns out that in this area they were cloud seeding. They were actually intentionally making it rain on us!
You’d think that would be it for our last day but no. Now a our familiar friend the headwind had picked up again making us slog out the last 10km to the town.
Ah, the border at last and a place to stay at last. Nope.
After checking into a hostel the “foreigners can’t stay here” (after we unpack) song and dance began yet again with Jiao and I heading down to the local police station. After chatting for a while he directed us to another hostel which was kind enough to charge us the same as the one we had originally found. So with a quick pack/unpack of the gear we had finally made it!
Our last hostel in China
I have to give it to China. There has rarely been a dull moment in our 74 days across one of the biggest countries in the world.
What will Kazakhstan bring?