Week 29

A week of changing weather! Maybe I shouldn’t have commented about how hot the weather was at the start of the video; the incredible contrast to the end!

I haven’t been particularly good at capturing the last week on camera and feel that I’ve missed a lot out. A few keys things to mention: I can cycle on the Interstate roads, which are effectively their motorways. The rule is that you have to be outside of the city limits and you obviously have to stay on the hard shoulder. This makes sense when you start crossing some of the vast open deserts. I met a French cyclist who told me this, I saw two other cyclists on the interstate and I past a immigration checkpoint – yet I still felt weird and wrong cycling up the slip road! Unfortunately I wrongly judged this while cycling out of Tucson and accidentally got onto the Interstate before the end of the city limit and got pulled over by the police – first time for everything! They were very friendly and I got off the road for two junctions before legally being allowed back on.

Battery power has been an issue as the clouds started coming in, the solar panel was less reliable. Also, I camped for 6 days straight, so it is understandable that the power bank was coming to the end of its charge!

I have seen so many snakes – admittedly all dead and on the roads – but really big ones too! A couple of huge rattlesnakes and a fair number of tarantulas. Through the deserts in Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Mongolia, I haven’t seen this sort of wildlife. Also the variety of cati has been really interesting.

The landscape has often reminded me of Mongolia with the huge expanse of open land. I’ve come through the land of cowboys and ranches. Cowboy hats seem mandatory, even in cloudy weather and indoors eating a burger! (I was not brave enough to get my camera out!)

Cycling into El Paso and being in a city that is effectively half in a different country. International borders have always interested me and this has been no different. I do look forward to leaving the Mexican border behind me though. As you can imagine, there is a large border force presence and you’re never far from a watchful eye – however, it does bring a feeling of relative safety to the region, although I know it has had its struggles.

California, Arizona, New Mexico and now I’m in Texas. I didn’t realise that I’d crossed a time zone – found out and got excited I’d gain an hour, only to find out a short time later that the clocks had gone back the previous night for daylight saving! I was confused!

My flight home is now booked so I have a set deadline now. There is still some flex I the schedule and there is still sooooo much to see in this huge country.

Week 28

I’ve been back on the bike now for 4 days and have just crossed the border out of California into Arizona! So, a fair amount has happened in the last week.

I successfully met up with Polly (sister) in San Diego airport who handed me a bag of goodies from my family – thanks fam. We then picked up the hire car and made our way to the booked Air bnb. I only have a limited amount of free time so we crammed all our sightseeing into three days. A trip up the coast, a surf/beach trip, a few historic sights and a particular highlight for both of us, was a whale watching trip into the Pacific. We were incredibly lucky as we saw three hump back whales and a massive pod of dolphins – the guide kept telling us that this was not the norm!

On Wednesday I cycled away. Polly and I met throughout the day. We got a small insight into the American Halloween on Thursday and a few sips of the local wine! On Friday morning Polly left me in the desert to head back to San Diego to meet a friend before she flying home.

Lots more desert for me over the next couple of weeks. I’m already amazed at what scenery America has to offer; and that was just in one state.

Week 26-27

Not a whole lot of cycling in this video! I spent a couple more days exploring different sections of the wall and feel really lucky to have the time and flexibility to break out of the main tourist areas. I then cycled the short distance into Beijing city centre. As capital cities go, Beijing was the easiest to cycle in. There was always a cycle route to use.

The week in Beijing flew by and I was looked after so well my the Defence section at the British Embassy. I saw most of the main tourist sights and fully mastered the subway! The first time I visited Tiananmen Square was to watch the raising of the flag at dawn. I just made it in time and although I was warned there would be a lot of Chinese tourists there, I was shocked at the crowds that gathered at 06:30!! Crowd watching was far more interesting than the flag ceremony!! I couldn’t help but laugh at the number of tour groups in matching hats, running to join queues and trying to keep up with each other. It was worth the early start!!

I’m writing this on my second flight of the day. I flew to Vancouver and am now heading for San Diego. Fingers crossed my bike and bags made the transfer too! I am sad to leave China but also excited for this next part of the journey. With the obvious benefits of ditching the sign language that I’ve got so used to and being able to have full conversations with people I meet! Polly, sister no. 2 (I’m no. 4), is flying out to meet me for the next week which will be great, so not straight back onto the bike just yet.

A video that I put together as a short summary of the last 6 months is below. It was tricky to cut down the last 6 months into such a short time but I have enjoyed looking back. I posted this video on Facebook a couple of days ago and have had some really kind feedback. As ever, thanks for all the support.

Week 25

I made it into China (eventually) without any problems…..success! At the border I bumped into a Spanish cyclist, David, who was cycling from Ulaanbaatar to Beijing. I hadn’t realised that there was a 3km stretch between the Mongolian and Chinese Border that is forbidden to cycle or walk between, so we had to load our bikes and all our bags into the back of a van and hitch a lift. The borders were pretty quick and painless and we were into the Chinese Gobi desert within a couple of hours. After a tough day of 4 punctures (!), David cycled off on a different route to me and I made my way to the city of Datong (I haven’t had a puncture since!!!)

Famous for the Buddhist cave carvings and the huge amount of money being spent on a very impressive walled city; I had plenty to see in Datong over the couple of days I was there.

I now have spare time, which does feel odd. I’ve made my way to the region just north of Beijing to check out the Great Wall. You can tell by the video, I’ve really enjoyed being back amongst the hills and the trees and so far….I have definitely been impressed with the wall, although I have a lot more to see. Not getting into Beijing until the 18th, so a few more days pottering around.

Week 24

Having now put together this video, I can see it just seems to be a series of unfortunate events! So I apologise if it’s not the most upbeat video!!

I leave Mongolia tomorrow having spent a whole month in this country. I’m most definitely going to miss the freedom, especially when it comes to wild camping. I never had to plan ahead or worry that there wouldn’t be anywhere suitable to sleep. I had to carry a lot more supplies and remember back to how I got through the desert in Uzbekistan. But what I most enjoyed about Mongolia was the space and the endless landscapes. My camera could not capture that, but it is something I will remember. Although, I am happy to leave behind the huge number of empty vodka bottles discarded at the side of the road, and unfortunately the number of drunk people I came across. These are the minority, but something I was very aware of at times.

You’ll see in the video that I made an error getting to the Chinese border by not getting there before it closed for the Chinese holidays! I’ve had to wait three days and I’ve felt a little like being in the wrong house when there is a party happening next door! Oh well! You’ll see that I made good use of my time anyway!

Just over three weeks now before I fly from Beijing to San Diego and I’ve got a lot of exciting things happening in between. Time is flying.

Week 22-23

I’m currently having a couple of days off in Ulaanbaatar and I’ve been exploring and also sorting out my kit and my bike.

Although I’ve been in Mongolia now for nearly three weeks, I feel it’s gone really quickly. I’ve said it before, but it’s such a large country and the distance I’ve covered, since crossing over the border, is the equivalent distance between home and Vienna! 1,000miles. I’ll leave here on Tuesday and I’ll be heading Southeast, through the Gobi desert, with my eyes pealed for dinosaur fossils! I think it will take me about 6 days to get to the Chinese border and that will be only 2 days off my visa running out. So I’ve stayed in the country for as long as I could (you can actually extend the visa, but I have a plane to catch from Beijing!).

I’m really excited to go back into China and especially to see a completely different region to Xinjiang.

Week 20-21

Still plodding my way through Mongolia and enjoying the freedom of the wide open spaces. Although, as you’ll see from the video, the scale of this country really means I have to be better at planning! Food and water are not as readily available as they had been through China and even going through the desert in Uzbekistan didn’t require as much preplanning! Lessons learnt on many different aspects. Distances between hotel/guesthouse stops have doubled, which I’m happy about, as long as I have water and fuel!

I’m no bird watcher but one thing which is particularly interesting about the country so far is the huge number of large birds I’ve seen. The Birds of Prey that circle so low and rule the land! My phone doesn’t capture them unfortunately but they are very impressive, especially when I haven’t seen one and then a large shadow moves across the road in front of me and I look up to see this vast wing span!

When I was told about the number of empty vodka bottles that lined the roads in Mongolia, I put it down to exaggeration. But it really is impressive. I’ve seen hundreds, even collections of 3-4 in one drop. It was similar in SW Kazakhstan, and my only assumption is that the rural cattle herding communities are so cut off from amenities that alcohol is a past time.

I’ll put some pictures below, but there have been some incredible sunrises and sunsets; they make taking photos very easy!

I’m still behind in the videos and have another video half done. I’ve got 4 more days of cycling before I get to Ulaanbaatar, the capital of Mongolia, where I’ll be stopping for a couple of days.

(lastly, only rewatching the videos have I realised how bad my helmet tan lines have got!! Must work harder on the sun cream!)

Week 19

I cycled away from Urumqi and out of the city. It wasn’t long before I ended up in the middle of, what seemed like, nowhere! A couple of days which were fairly dull and the police checks did start to wear on me a bit (you can tell from the video!). I really thought They wouldn’t get to me, but after a couple of weeks of being watched, it was nice to cross the border and feel freedom! Interestingly, Urumqi is the farthest city away from the sea in the world. The farthest point is in Xinjiang region, but it’s a couple of hundred miles north of the city itself. Fun fact.

I don’t think I really show it in the video but I’ve found the Chinese culture really interesting and can’t wait to come back into China when I eventually leave Mongolia. The supermarkets are so interesting to walk round in comparison to the shops in Central Asia. Just a bigger variety of food – and a lot of food I don’t fancy touching!

I’m in Mongolia now and a bit behind on videos! The time between towns and cities now is growing. The country is vast and so days are turning into weeks! I will get round to editing and posting them but it just won’t be so up to date.

Week 17-18

I last left this blog in the capital city of Kyrgyzstan, Bishkek. A fair amount has happened since then. I entered back into Kazakhstan and then made my way west into China. I was always concerned that the section of this trip between finishing the Pamir Highway (in Osh) and then getting to China would be difficult. Not physically, but mentally. It seemed in my planning, just a means of getting from one interesting section to the other, yet it was still a couple of weeks and hundreds of miles. I definitely was less motivated and less focused and it probably showed in my last video and also the fact I haven’t really got a week 17 video! Anyway, I’m back in now and excited for this next section to Beijing. I’ll have to go back to Kyrgyzstan in the future to fully appreciate it and give it the credit it’s due!

So I’m now in China and in Xinjiang region. This region has created global news headlines recently and it’s been very interesting to see the way people live and the way it’s governed. So far, it’s been a pleasant experience and any fears I previously had, have disappeared. However, not to underestimate it, I still plan on getting through it as quickly as possible and the way I’ve been doing this so far is sticking to the G30 Highway. Officially not for cyclists but unofficially accepted by many police checkpoints as they wave you on. Broadly, this region has experienced a number of terrorist attacks in the past couple of years and the way the China is trying to prevent any future disturbance is rather extreme. Very much controlled by the police, they are everywhere! I’d avoided too many police checkpoints by staying on the highway and sleeping on it too!

Yesterday, 28 Aug, was an interesting day, and unfortunately one which I really didn’t document well/at all on film! Unfortunately I was told to leave the highway by a couple of policeman. That was ok as there was an alternative road that didn’t add much extra distance but this road had a number of police checkpoints on it. 4 large ones in total. At each checkpoint you have to park the bike and take your passport inside. Answer a fairly standard set of questions about where you’re going, where you’ve come from and then wait around for a bit. They are all pretty friendly people and my last checkpoint I was given some noodles and water! Win. The region is spilt into police regions and they are just keen for you to get out of their region! I had to wait around for about an hour at one of the checkpoints yesterday while they sorted out an escort for me! When the escort arrived they tried to tell me that because there was some road works they may have to give me a lift part of the way. I was pretty sure they were lying and I explained that I didn’t want that and about my trip and they backed down and were pretty kind about it. So for two hours I had a police van trail me! They kept their distance but it was slightly odd. What a waste of their time, but I didn’t want to give them an excuse to insist on a lift, so my average speed during those two hours was pretty good! I ended up doing 114miles yesterday. I knew it was going to be a long day so the police checkpoints didn’t help! I had a hotel booked so when I rolled into Urumqi at nearly 10pm, I was pleased to have a bed waiting! I’m not sure if it’s just this region but the majority of hotels here don’t accept foreigners. I think it’s mostly down to the registering process which is taken very seriously. Most people have electronic ID cards that are contactless and can just tap in to register at the hotel. I obviously don’t have that. I tried to stay at a hotel a couple of nights ago, which I had booked but they don’t tend to take foreigners. Anyway, it ended up being a big team effort to allow me to stay there! They were all very friendly and two policeman came in to translate and ask if I needed any other help. The guesthouse manager went to another hotel to ask how it’s done for foreigners! I ended up staying there, so success on my behalf. The foreigner hotels are so much more expensive! Although my en suite was definitely unique! (Photo below).

I’m having a day off the bike today which is nice but will be back to it tomorrow. I’m heading for a border crossing into Mongolia and then my next big city will be the capital of Mongolia, Ulaanbaatar, although that is still a number of weeks away yet.

Video

p.s. bar the amount of spice, Chinese food has admittedly, been pretty tasty so far!

Weeks 17-18

I last left this blog in the capital city of Kyrgyzstan, Bishkek. A fair amount has happened since then. I entered back into Kazakhstan and then made my way west into China. I was always concerned that the section of this trip between finishing the Pamir Highway (in Osh) and then getting to China would be difficult. Not physically, but mentally. It seemed in my planning, just a means of getting from one interesting section to the other, yet it was still a couple of weeks and hundreds of miles. I definitely was less motivated and less focused and it probably showed in my last video and also the fact I haven’t really got a week 17 video! Anyway, I’m back in now and excited for this next section to Beijing. I’ll have to go back to Kyrgyzstan in the future to fully appreciate it and give it the credit it’s due!

So I’m now in China and in Xinjiang region. This region has created global news headlines recently and it’s been very interesting to see the way people live and the way it’s governed. So far, it’s been a pleasant experience and any fears I previously had, have disappeared. However, not to underestimate it, I still plan on getting through it as quickly as possible and the way I’ve been doing this so far is sticking to the G30 Highway. Officially not for cyclists but unofficially accepted by many police checkpoints as they wave you on. Broadly, this region has experienced a number of terrorist attacks in the past couple of years and the way the China is trying to prevent any future disturbance is rather extreme. Very much controlled by the police, they are everywhere! I’d avoided too many police checkpoints by staying on the highway and sleeping on it too!

Yesterday, 28 Aug, was an interesting day, and unfortunately one which I really didn’t document well/at all on film! Unfortunately I was told to leave the highway by a couple of policeman. That was ok as there was an alternative road that didn’t add much extra distance but this road had a number of police checkpoints on it. 4 large ones in total. At each checkpoint you have to park the bike and take your passport inside. Answer a fairly standard set of questions about where you’re going, where you’ve come from and then wait around for a bit. They are all pretty friendly people and my last checkpoint I was given some noodles and water! Win. The region is spilt into police regions and they are just keen for you to get out of their region! I had to wait around for about an hour at one of the checkpoints yesterday while they sorted out an escort for me! When the escort arrived they tried to tell me that because there was some road works they may have to give me a lift part of the way. I was pretty sure they were lying and I explained that I didn’t want that and about my trip and they backed down and were pretty kind about it. So for two hours I had a police van trail me! They kept their distance but it was slightly odd. What a waste of their time, but I didn’t want to give them an excuse to insist on a lift, so my average speed during those two hours was pretty good! I ended up doing 114miles yesterday. I knew it was going to be a long day so the police checkpoints didn’t help! I had a hotel booked so when I rolled into Urumqi at nearly 10pm, I was pleased to have a bed waiting! I’m not sure if it’s just this region but the majority of hotels here don’t accept foreigners. I think it’s mostly down to the registering process which is taken very seriously. Most people have electronic ID cards that are contactless and can just tap in to register at the hotel. I obviously don’t have that. I tried to stay at a hotel a couple of nights ago, which I had booked but they don’t tend to take foreigners. Anyway, it ended up being a big team effort to allow me to stay there! They were all very friendly and two policeman came in to translate and ask if I needed any other help. The guesthouse manager went to another hotel to ask how it’s done for foreigners! I ended up staying there, so success on my behalf. The foreigner hotels are so much more expensive! Although my en suite was definitely unique! (Photo below).

I’m having a day off the bike today which is nice but will be back to it tomorrow. I’m heading for a border crossing into Mongolia and then my next big city will be the capital of Mongolia, Ulaanbaatar, although that is still a number of weeks away yet.

p.s. bar the amount of spice, Chinese food has admittedly, been pretty tasty so far!