The Great Escape

The policeman was polite but firm: ‘You have violated the law of the People’s Republic of China and must pay a penal. You cannot ride your bicycle on that road, it is forbidden to foreigners. You must take a bus back to Urumqi.’

Yes, I got hassled by the authorities again. But this time, I got the better of them.

I was in the town of Nalati, relaxing in my hotel room around 9:00 pm when the police came. After a half hour of questioning and checking documents I was told I was again in a forbidden area. The fine was $45. I pleaded ignorance and offered to leave immediately. They said I could stay the night and eventually reduced the fine to $15. But I had to leave town back the way I came tomorrow on the 7:00 am bus.

To understand how I felt about this, you need know what I went through to get there. I had left Urumqi nine days earlier, headed southwest. After some bad traffic I left the main road and spent four tough days in the mountains on very bumpy rocky roads, damaging my head tube bearing in the process. I finally abandoned the dirt road and went 50 km out of my way to a main road. Then I again tried to head south but I was stopped by a police roadblock; the road was closed because of a landslide. With no other options I had to take a series of buses over three days to go around the mountains, a cramped and uncomfortable journey of several hundred kilometers. I finally found myself near the junction of the road that would take me to the city of Kuqa, where I was told I would once again be legal.

So the thought of sitting in a noisy crowded bus for 24-30 hours back to the place I had been ten days earlier was just unacceptable. There had to be another option. There was: leave town, tonight.

After the police left I found a taxi who was willing to transport me 20 km out of town. From there I could camp and ride away first thing in the am. It was dark by the time we got 20 km, and at that point a friend of his appeared and offered to take me 60 km further, up into the mountains. This was expensive and I was somewhat apprehensive getting into the car with two strangers in the dead of night, but I had to put as much distance between myself and the cops before 7:00 am the next day, when they would realize I had fled.

So off we went. Almost immediately we encountered a police checkpoint. I held my breath for several seconds as the driver spoke to the police. Finally he let us through. Whew. The road got increasingly worse as we ascended. It also started raining. Finally, at 2500 m, he got stuck in the mud. He could go no further. So I unloaded my gear and he left.

So I stood there on the mountain, not a clue where I was, 2:00 am, raining, pitch dark, a fugitive from the police, thinking, ‘well, this is a first.’ I could see I was on a grassy plateau, however, and with my flashlight managed to walk away from the road and find a flat spot to camp for the night. I set up my tent in the rain and managed to get comfortable. Before I dozed off I checked my watch: 3:00 am. I had escaped.

It took a few more days in the very scenic mountains but I managed to make my way to Kuqa (koo-cha), where I am out of the forbidden zone. I love outwitting the police.

This is a great topic of debate. Is it wrong to violate a law you consider immoral, unethical, or just stupid? Was I wrong to skip town? What would you have done? I know I have a problem with authority but I just can’t sit back and mindlessly obey laws that I don’t agree with. Laws are made by people, and so are fallible. Think about all the immoral laws that have existed. From Apartheid in South Africa, to Nazi Germany. People who violated these laws were criminals in their time (think of Nelson Mandela). Yet most of us would say they were right to violate those laws.

Look at US history. George Washington was considered a criminal by England. Strictly speaking, he was. He violated the laws of England. But to us he was a hero.

So don’t blindly obey the authorities. Each of us needs to consider if laws are, to us, ethical and moral. If we don’t agree with them we should ignore them.

Anyone care to debate that topic? My cousin Ben Kilpela has been quiet lately but he usually has a point of view on ethical matters. Hopefully we can get his thoughts.

On to the photos.

Here is the muddy mountain road that trapped my driver. In this shot a truck transporting sheep got stuck.

This grassy trail was an easier ride than the main road which was under construction.

The area was inhabited by Mongols, who lived in these yurts.

The road was pretty bad most of the time, and overrun by yaks.

A local guy who chatted with me a bit.

People live in these isolated yurts in the valleys. They raise yaks and sheep.

A view of the mountain road. See the truck in the lower part of the photo?

At the pass, the Chinese were kind enough to drill a tunnel so I did not have to ride over the top. Peru and Bolivia, take note! It was a dark dangerous kilometer or two, however. No lights.

The road on the way down.

Some Uyghur kids in a remote mountain village.

Finally, the genius bike mechanic in Kuqa who managed to fix my head tube bearing (at least temporarily). I thought I was dead in the water. The bearing threads as well as the locking nut threads were stripped so the front part of my bike was wobbling all over the place. After a couple hours with some parts and a hacksaw, this guy got me riding again. His ‘shop’ was some spare parts and tools on a street corner. Here he is with his kids.