…and we’re back


Things are rarely as good or as bad as you think they might be. The result of the trip back to Shanghai to see the dentist resulted in the promised inlay adjustment, and some reassurance that the infection “might” not reoccur. So the thrilling news is that I’ve got a potential bacterial timebomb in my mouth which may or may not be ticking. But we did discover that it was possible to buy antibiotics in a pharmacy without a prescription, and I’ve even got a photo of the packet to show them. In fact, pharmacies in China are many, and extremely well stocked. We decided that we were far from done with China, so decided to fast forward the missed week’s worth of riding that we left at Lanzhou and fly back to the more westerly desert city of Dunhuang. Before setting out, we took a day to visit the Mogao caves, famous for 10th century paintings and clay statues.


  1. Then back on the road to cross the desert. After two day’s hard riding we reached the last outpost of the Great Wall, the border between Gansu and the Muslim state of Xinjiang and the start of some serious security checks. They were so discombobulated by our arrival that we missed our chance to ride on for the day and had to stay the night in the highway service station. We had arrived at the junction of the Gobi and Taklaman deserts with some big expanses of nothing between places to stay the night.


  1. We’ve got emergency bivvy kit with us, but had no plans to camp; we’re too old for that shit. We can ride between 100-150km a day, so for a couple of sections we needed a bus or car ride. As we went further west, the security got tighter and the towns of Hami and Shanshan both had a similar feel to NI back in the day, with checkpoints, ID checks and police patrolling in armoured cars. It isn’t a coincidence that the locals looked less Chinese and more central Asian and even in some cases, middle eastern. A bonus along the way was to cross a spectacular desert mountain pass and find that we were at Flaming Mountain where our trip sponsor, the Monkey King was held prisoner for 500 years. From here followed several long hot days in the saddle until we finally reached the end of the desert and the last major city in China before the Kazakh border, Urumqi. Heading west from there, we were stopped by the police and told that our destination for the day, the town of Hutubi, was off limits to foreigners. Having just ridden for four hours in continuous rain at 12 degrees, this was not good news. But the police couldn’t have been more helpful; they put us and our bikes into a van and took us to the next town of Shihezi (stone river). So here we are, waiting for the rain to clear before we get on our way. Kazakhstan is a mere 400km, one mountain range and one desert away…