Western China

Finally the good news, we’d been waiting for, the bridge was repaired and we could collect our bikes. We piled into the bus for the four hour journey back up into the mountains. It felt great to be reunited with my bike, though doing that same journey for a third time was somewhat monotonous, enlivened by a stray camel in the road. Our first sighting of a Bactrian camel – two-humps instead of one. We wasted no time and left Kashgar the next day after some frantic repairs to a couple of the bikes, the van was also all sorted and ready to go. First we had to cross the Taklamakan Desert. Its name, when translated means “Go in and you won’t come out”, most apt I thought as what looked like haze in the distance, quickly turned out to be a sandstorm and in fact not one but several were to hit us as we struggled on.

We had a rendezvous at the final town on tarmac before turning off into the mountains and taking the trail into Tibet. It was going to be all dirt road the next thousand miles or more, we took a collective deep breath and set off out of the town, soon spreading out into smaller groups. Mark took a turn at being tail-end Charlie and promptly took the rear guys down the wrong track. Meanwhile I’d caught up with a trio of riders who were mending a puncture beside the road and gave a helping hand, setting off once more, we came across guerrilla style techniques from some of the road workers. A trench had been dug across the track by a JCB, it was four feet deep and and several feet wide, none of us were prepared to attempt a jump. Some shovels were borrowed and we dug a route up the dirt bank at the side to the flat ground above and a way around the trench. The first couple of riders walked their bikes up the ramp; the next rider (probably our most skilled off-roader) rode his up. I felt the pressure to show what I could do, but to be honest, as the bike is a bit on the high side for me; I was actually safer sitting on it rather than trying to walk alongside holding it upright. To a cheer from the crowd, I revved the engine and rode up the earth ramp.

More punctures and delays, along with some miscommunication found our group of 18 ( e had two guides and Mr Wang the driver)split into three, with some of us 50 miles away up in the mountains and resting in the shade of some road workers’ tents. Other were looking at the walls of a police cell and while the van was stuck at a checkpoint and had been there for several hours.

I was halfway up the mountain and had to make the decision that we needed to turn around and re-join the van – not a popular move as it involved going 50 miles back down the mountainous dirt track, knowing that tomorrow we’d be coming back up again. But there was nothing we could do about it. A fall along the way meant that I sent the group on ahead once we had flagged down a pick-up truck. The rider who was more stunned than injured rode in the cab of the truck while their bike was in the flat bed and I rode behind. The truck trundled along at what seemed like a snail’s pace to me. It was 11.00pm before we finally rejoined the others at the hotel my face was incredibly filthy from the dust thrown up by the truck and I was ready to fall asleep on my feet, I had been riding for 15 hours and yet had ended up just 150 miles from that morning’s start point– so much for the glamour of overland travel.