On the Edge of the Gobi Desert

After the police booted me off the Qinghai plateau I dropped down into what is known as the Gansu Corridor. This is a thin strip of land 1000 km long wedged between the Qilian mountains to the south and the Gobi desert to the north. It contains several oases around which towns have developed. But most of it is desert. Hot and dusty, parts of it are a barren wasteland, reminiscent of the Gran Chaco of northern Paraguay. (If you want to read more about this see my Sept. 2007 archives).

The Gansu Corridor was part of the Northern Silk Road and used to be the most important passage from China to Xinjiang and Central Asia for traders and the military. It was an area where mountain and desert limited caravan traffic to a narrow trackway where fortification could control who passed.

The ride was nice for the most part. Some days were scorching hot: up to 49 deg C (120 deg F). Here is my route and current position.

I was finally able to escape the hordes of Chinese and find a spot to camp. I camped out several times in the past two weeks. Here is a typical spot.

The Qilian mountains from the Gansu Corridor

You can see a long way on some roads. Here is a typical view.

My trusty bike. It has been pretty reliable lately. Just a few flat tires.

I met these three Chinese cyclists going the opposite direction. They were on a three week tour so traveling light. They were making 200 km/day as opposed to my paltry 100.

One of the critters you see the desert.

I met this guy, Valentinas, from Lithuania who had cycled from Greece and was going to Beijing. He was the first foreign bike tourist I saw in China.

I think I met the single most annoying Chinese person in the country. I had ridden into a strong headwind all day and had not eaten much. So I was exhausted and starving. As I was checking into a hotel at the end of the day this guy sees me and wants to talk to me. Turns out he sells Amway, of all things. He follows me to my room and shows me his brochure, babbling the whole time in Chinese. So I finally buy some toothpaste from the guy, figuring he will leave me alone. But no, now we are best buddies. He wants to have dinner with me. I say OK, I just want to eat.

So after a quick shower I meet him in the lobby and we head out into the street. We pass several restaurants but he takes me inside an apartment building. As we climb up three flights of stairs I begin to get a little suspicious. No restaurants are on the third floor. Just then he opens a door to a room of about 15 people sitting who, as I am ushered in, all get up and applaud. I am led to a seat in the front. There is a guy cooking and everyone else is watching. I realize I am in the middle of an Amway sales demonstration!

The guy is demonstrating the stackable Amway cookware. Sure there is food, but not enough for everyone, and it certainly won’t be ready for another hour or so. Stunned but bemused I sit there marveling at the surreal situation in which I found myself. I decided to ride it out for a few minutes to see what happens. Plus I did not want my new acquaintance to lose face.

I sat there for about 20 minutes while they demonstrated the drinkable Amway dish soap, but then I had to excuse my self and leave, apologizing to everyone. I ran out and devoured some noodles. A very weird encounter.

Here I am with my Amway toothpaste.

Dried mud in the Gobi Desert

I ran across this huge group of mostly French cyclists, about 150 of them, who had biked from Paris. They were semi-supported by several big trucks.

Camping is nice because you can get away from the hordes and noise, but eating is pretty basic. Here I am with my usual Ramen noodle dinner.

Managing water becomes very important in the desert. With 100 km between towns I really had to plan carefully. Here is a typical scenario: I am in a town where I can get water at 3:00 pm. Questioning the locals, I am told the next town with water is 90 km away. At a conservative 10 km/hour, that means I need water for 9 hours. I usually go around 15 km/hour but here, due to headwinds, hills, heat or rain, and bad roads, I plan on less. In addition, I need water for camping, since I will not get to this next town until the following day.

From experience I know I use about 0.75 liters per hour when riding on a hot day. I also use about 2.0 liters when camping. So for nine hours I need 6.75 liters. Add 2.0 for camping and that means when I roll out of that town at 3:00 I better make sure I have at least 8.75 liters, or 9.0 to be safe. One time I needed to stock 12 liters. If you are wondering if 12 liters weighs a lot, it does.

Here I am at my campsite with a typical supply of water, tea and nutritional liquids.

One more campsite shot. This was a Mars-like landscape. Very desolate.

10 thoughts on “On the Edge of the Gobi Desert

  1. Kevin Koski July 2, 2008 / 5:02 am

    Reply from Katrina:

    That is hilarious!!!! Amway in the middle of China! Do you remember, Kev, the big Amway building in Shibuya, right next to the Nepalese place we had lunch at with Dave/Kirsten? Remember years ago when mom and dad got sucked into Amway for like 3 weeks? And we had the residual amway products in our house for the next 15 years. I bet you somewhere in the gravel plains of Namibia, there is a cleaning demo going on right now! You have a lot more patience than me…I would have found some excuse to ditch the freak when invited to dinner. But it sounds entertaining anyway. Great post! On my way to a tall drink of water after viewing those parched landscapes! Miss ya!

  2. Capt. Don Kilpela Sr. July 2, 2008 / 7:38 pm

    You should send to your bike manufacturer your testimony and/or criticism of the bike. What an amazing journey. Over and above the physical difficulties you encounter, I suppose ease of language is the thing you miss the most. Maybe it will get better as you enter the Middle East.

    Can you give some estimate of the size of these “small” towns you are going through?

    If nothing else, the air in your present location looks pretty clean. And, finally, how about the length of the day’s daylight. Looks to me that your tent is pretty light and filmy. If they are anything like the days in Copper Harbor, there’s not much darkness. On the other hand, after riding for a day in the scorching heat, I guess you don’t have trouble sleeping.

    You are at the approximate latitude of Gaylord, Michigan. Do you have a GPS?

    You are an amazing guy on an amazing journey…!

  3. Kevin July 5, 2008 / 12:46 pm

    Yes language is the most difficult barrier. I wish I could communicate more with the locals. But sometimes it is helpful: when I am exhausted and don’t feel like talking I can always say “wo bu dong”, I don’t understand.

    The small towns I have been through recently are nothing more than glorified trucks stops: a gas station,a couple shops and a few hole in the wall restaurants. Not more than 100 people I would guess.

    The days are long. Sunrise is at 6:00 am and sunset at 9:30 pm. When camping I rarely get to sleep before midnight due the the light. It is a bit of a problem. I have some eyeshades but have yet to use them.

    I don’t have GPS. Just a compass, altimeter and odometer. I thought about GPS but decided I would not be that remote to justify it.

    Thanks for the questions.

  4. DAD July 6, 2008 / 2:19 am

    Kev I sympathize with you and the Amway bunch. Regardless Mom and I had an unforgetable exerience just as you have had. Those roads look endless and seem to go nowhere. Desolate and almost worrisome.. I didnt
    know there were so many bikers out there. Love DAD

  5. Michael Brady July 10, 2008 / 6:47 pm

    Hi Kev

    I use to live next door on Learner Way, Kim Belasco was my stepsister and was friends with Katrina. Just a note for your next Amway distributor: My Stepmother’s uncle is Rich DeVos, the president of Amway. He and his brother started Amway and asked my grandfather to be the sales manager. Since it was “some goofy way of selling” as he puts it, he regrettably did not take the offer. However, to this day not one member of the family is an Amway distributor. No one could make any money.

  6. Georgina July 11, 2008 / 12:40 am

    Hi Kev,

    Your entry made me laugh. Trust you to find Amway in the middle of nowhere and just follow a stranger into an apartment block.

    I hope you will be more careful in the future.


  7. BP September 5, 2008 / 12:17 pm

    HEY KK,

    U shld hv been purchasing those amway products from me!!!!!

    Whats goin on???????? lol

    Love u loads

  8. JoJo November 9, 2008 / 4:52 pm

    encounter any weird animals sniffing around your tent?

    I remember my one and only amway experience (we almost all have 1 don’t we? or of some other product that’s mass sold. Have my Dad tell you about his Kirby Vacuum experience, when a guy talked Grandma into buying one) anyway, I think it was when I was living in Illinois, young bride, so innocent , in my early 20’s. I can’t remember where it was exactly but it was at some place I worked and this customer I was waiting on told me he had an opportunity for me and that I would be so great for it. That I had the best personality and all that. I’m thinking, this guys a director and he’s going to put me in a movie! I can’t remember where we met or how it went down but it turned out to be Amway and I was like…Oh Yuk! And I felt really dumb. Oh well, I didn’t fall for it. Movie indeed….
    First snowfall of the season in the U.P. Kev. about 4 inches or so. brrrr

  9. sandrar September 10, 2009 / 3:03 pm

    Hi! I was surfing and found your blog post… nice! I love your blog. 🙂 Cheers! Sandra. R.

  10. Andy Moore January 12, 2013 / 3:37 pm

    Now you know what to expect if you ever ride your bike through China. People sell stuff and everyone is a potential customer.

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