Considering the strong headwinds for the coming two days and sitting at the breakfast in the hotel in Ruoqian, fully prepared for leaving, I made a spontaneous decision and extended my stay for two more days. I used this time for filling up my energy storage, reading emails, writing diary and this blog, relaxing and watching CGTN, the English-speaking Chinese news channel in TV. Furthermore I needed to sort out some technical issues like installing a VPN on my iPad to reach Google powered services like the search engine, maps, translator and this blog, which are all blocked by the great Chinese fire-wall.
When seeing the poplar trees in the hotel yard heavily bending in the wind I was sure that it was the right decision to hide away from the wind in the hotel.
On June 1st I met the two Norwegian cyclist Truls and Jostein and Swiss cyclist Hans at the breakfast table. All three I already knew from the hostel in Kashgar. They had left 2 days later and arrived the afternoon before at the same hotel in Ruoqian. We decided to travel together for the next few days
as we were all heading in the same direction.
The two young Norwegians started in Oslo and are aiming for Beijing, Hans started on the Crimea peninsula and is heading for Bangkok.
Right when we wanted to depart Truls realised that one of the spokes of his rear wheel was broken and the sprocket needed to be removed for replacing it. Broken spokes are a known problem if heavy load, bumpy roads and a normal rear wheel come together. The countermeasures on travel bike are thicker spokes, special sturdy rims, 36 instead of 32 spokes per wheel and 26' instead of 28' wheel size. When trying to remove the sprocket with a special tool in addition the rear gear hanger broke and we looked for a bicycle shop to assist. But the only one we found was so poorly equipped that it couldn't help. Finally Truls managed to squeeze the new spoke through the spaces between the sprocket, something I never thought would be possible, and fixed it. But I am not sure if this emergency repair method would work with my thicker spokes. Let's hope that they don't break, as it is the case currently and also on my previous two tours with this bike.
One of the disadvantages of travelling in a group is that technical problems slow down the whole group, but of course there are several advantages:
Riding against the wind becomes easier if the leading person changes frequently.
Most important thing was that I could talk to someone in German and English. People here speak only Chinese or their local language (e.g. Uighur) but it is almost impossible to find someone who can speak a little English. Even at the reception of international hotels intended for foreigners nobody speaks English. Normally they use a translation app on their smartphones.
With my 5 words in Chinese I don't get far. Usually all communications is with fingers, gestures or pointing. When ordering something to eat I either point to a meal that someone is just eating and that looks appealing or I go to the kitchen and point to some ingredients.
But these 3 guys had another big advantage, because Jostein has been studying Chinese for 4-5 years and is quite fluent in understanding and speaking Chinese. He could talk to the people here and get valuable information. Also his ability to read the menu in a restaurant opened up new worlds of tastes.
The first day after Ruoqian we had some rain and finally slept in our tents under one of the many bridges that cross dry river beds. Unfortunately the wind was concentrated under the bridge like in a funnel. The big 2-3 person tent of the Norwegians stood firmly whereas Hans' and my little one person tents were shaking like hell and had to be fixed with big stones. We stayed dry but it was very unquiet due to the wind. The next day we left the Tarim basin and the road was climbing from 1200 m up to a pass with 3600 m in order to reach the Tibetan plateau. For the next 10 days I was at an altitude between 2800 m and 3400 m.
From the 3600m pass we descended in a stony plateau, just empty desert without shelter. Fortunately after rolling down for about 20 km to 3100 m we saw the pillars of a big bridge and a nearby camp of the construction workers consisting of a couple of containers and tents. Jostein went asking if we could stay there for the night and came quickly back with the good news, that we get spots in the container and tent and also a dinner.
Containers and tents contain little (coal driven) ovens which was a really cosy place after several hours of cycling in the cold wind above 3000 m.
During the next morning we crossed the province border into Qinghai province. There most of the security measures mentioned in the previous article are abandoned.