Note: I first wrote this post in 2002, while recovering from rheumatic fever, and then tried to publish it in 2005 on my blog, while I was putting up lots of updates from the 2002 and 2004 legs of the Silk Road Ride. I somehow never got around to getting it properly posted back in 2005, and just found it in my folder of drafts, so I am publishing it now, with a few more pictures, a mere 15 years after the events in question. Since I am trying to write a book about the trip at the moment, it's good for me to go through the post again to remember some of what I was experiencing and feeling during the toughest section of the entire Silk Road Ride.
It took a few seconds for my mind to register what I had just seen. I was being blown at tremendous speed across the Gobi desert on my bicycle, zipping up hills at 20 km/h with my legs resting on my crossbar, letting the wind battle gravity for me. The landscape was unbearably desolate, with not a blade of vegetation to break the monotonous parched earth that stretched to the horizon. It was a sunny day, and the ferocious heat combined with the wind to make me feel as though I was riding through a convection oven. I had 8 litres of water with me, and I had drunk my way through more than half, but my mouth was still as dry as the desert around me. As I was pushed up another small incline, I happened to look down into the ditch beside the road, where I saw what I took to be yet more garbage strewn along the roadside, the latest installment in a 2000-km trail of broken glass, plastic bottles, lone shoes, old clothes, shredded tires, plastic bags and leftovers of innumerable roadside picnics. It looked like a pile of abandoned clothes, and it wasn’t until I had passed it that my mind registered that the clothes seemed neatly arranged, almost as though they were on a mannequin. Then I realized that the mannequin had an arm protruding from a sleeve, and the arm seemed black and leathery. I stopped, wheeled the bike around and went back to take another look.
|Old Qing or Ming-era border watchtowers in the Gobi|
|Out in the rotisserie oven of the Gashun Gobi desert|
|Ancient and modern: watchtower and windmills in the Gobi|
|Sekhmet and Mehmettin, the Uighur speedsters|
|Local transport in Xinjiang|
|Local family near Turfan|
|View of Bezeklik|
|Eroded old Buddha statues at Bezeklik|
|Gaochang ruins near Turfan|
|Emin Minaret in Turfan|
|Grape-drying houses, Turfan|
Riding Day No.
from Xian airport (km)
|5/28||2628.1||92.9||6:26||14.4||40 km short of Liuyuan|
|5/30||2893.5||138.6||7:22||18.8||65 km before Hami town|
|5/31||3008.4||114.9||7:06||16.2||50 km past Hami|
|6/7||3483.5||75.2||8:02||9.3||75 km past Turfan|
|6/8||3579.6||96.1||8:28||11.3||28 km before Urumqi|