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.
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.