February 09, 2004

ah,the luxury [NOT!]

Posted at 01:23 AM Correspondence
Emma was my China cycling partner for 3,000km between Xian and the edge of Xinjiang. The desert was proving just too hot for a true Alaskan, so from there, she'd hopped a train to Hami and then a bus to Turpan. At Hami and Turpan she'd wait a couple or three days for me to catch up by bicycle.

In Turpan she had three days to wait while I knocked off some 400 kilometers of desert highway. And after a couple of days she discovered that for the first time ever the Beijing Marathon would be open to runners of all classes. So, by the time I arrived in Turpan she'd decided to discontinue the westward journey to Kashgar and instead head straight for Beijing and a date with 26+ miles of running. She even managed to get a decent berth on the train to Beijing, which is a good thing since I think it was something like 48+ hours to cross the distance.

From: "Emma Slade"
To: "Patrick Jennings"
Sent: Saturday, September 19, 1998 9:25 PM
Subject: ah,the luxury


made it with no problems. what a lovely treat after all those hours in hardseat! after i got in i picked up my bike, loaded it up, and started pedaling... however, i couldn't figure out why my legs were bouncing so much when i pushed on the pedals. then it hit me... my legs were FRESH! can't wait to hit the road again ;-)

found the hotel okay after i did circles in tienanmen square. only had to take a double for one night. can't get over how glossy this city is, it's way more cosmopolitan than seoul.

picked up a pair of shoes the first afternoon, went running, no problems. ran into one of the hutongs and was so engrossed in the scenery and taking so many zigzaggy turns that i almost didn't find my way out. absolutely fascinating. i could run in them for days and never retrace my path.

went to the john bull pub, drank my guinness. don't have to elaborate.

oh, on the train ride i saw the stretch of road from tianshui (is that right?) anyway, the rest of that valley was gorgeous, the road was absolutely beautiful, new and very little traffic. the sun went down before we passed that village where we got on the train, so i wasn't able to tell where the pavement started. [ED: this passage refers to events told in the eJournal stories, It Was a Fat Red Line on the Map! and Abandon Ship!]

that's about all for now, just riding around town getting a feel for it. hope it's not too hot and the road too bumpy!

take care, em

While Em was riding the rails, I was westbound deeper into Xinjiang, and into the most gruelling ride of the trip.

From: "patrick jennings"
To: "Emma Slade"
Sent: Monday, September 21, 1998 7:03 PM
Subject: Re: ah,the agony

Well, my legs are *anything* but fresh. Turpan to Korla was a KILLER! Headwind, headwind, headwind--ahh! downhill tailwind to Toksun!!! WEEE!!!--climb, climb, climb. Oh god. Climb. Climb. Climb. Oh dear, oh dear. CLIMB. CLIMB. CLIMB. Runnin' out of daylight! CLIMB! CLIMB!

Shit! Getting dark.

Camp. Noodles. New tent. Shiver. Pull drawstring on sleeping bag. Shiver. (I want my fleece!) Get out the woolies. Pull drawstring on sleeping bag until nearly suffocating. Shiver anyway.

Hey?! Did I sleep?!


5:00 AM. Useless. Get up. Frost on tent fly--inside and out--thick! On the bike, on bag. Hope the film's not frozen. Boil water. Walking in circles to keep warm. Ahh. The last coffee! Walking, walking. Porridge and raisins and a 761 wafer. Hmmm. Not so bad. Walking, walking. Sunrise. Still frigid. Still frost on everything.

Beautiful though.

Back on the bike. CLIMB. CLIMB. Hmmm. Road's not been so bad as described...in....the....book. Oh. Pavement ends. Ewww. Construction. At least not so steep. Climb, climb. Say, is it? Oh, DAMN! FLAT TRAILER TIRE. Oh dear, the sidewall's not looking so good. I'll duct tape the inside later. And I'm down to the last self-adhesive patch. DAMN! Two punctures! Haul out the parts box. Repair tube with chinese patch and tire with duct tape.

Finally, back on the bike. Climb some more. Blasting ahead, onto the dusty detour with everyone else. Climb, climb. Crest! A dusty one. Bouncy, bouncy, bouncy.

Ahhh! Fresh pavement. DOWN, DOWN, DOWN...hey, what's this? A valley floor? So soon? Down, down, down...breakfast/lunch on tangy tangmian. Down, flat, up, up...Uhh, Ohh. UP ahead!

Up, up, CLIMB, CLIMB, CLIMB, CLIMB. AHHH! Hey. Grab that truck! HANG ON! UP! UP! UP! CREST! PHEW! DOWN, DOWN, DOWN, DOWN. This is more like it. DOWN, Down, down, down. Back in the basin. Legs weary. Pedal, pedal, pedal. Gee. That was beautiful though. Pedal, pedal, pedal. Break. "Dou Shiao Gongli de Hoxud?" [How far to Hoxud?] Eeep! Wu Shi Gongli ma? [50 kilometers!?] Legs tight. Pedal, pedal, pedal, pedal, PEDAL. Hoxud! BINGUAN!

Wait for hot water.

10PM. BATH! Two shampoos.

Buy Jian Li Bao, chocolate fudgsicle (not bad) and instant noodles. Dine.


Sleep in. Ahh. Only 90K today. The book says "the descent into Korla goes through ugly brown and grey hills." Gotta love that word. "Descent."

First, there's the uniform yellow/grey atmosphere rising from horizon to overcast skies. Not a shadow in sight. I stop at the edge of town for a tasteless tangmian breakfast. Then, the road turns sour. Wavelets of kidney jarring bitumen. Legs shot. Ohh! Bump, jostle, Ohh! Then. HEADWIND! Trees bow their boughs in obeisance. I churn into the wind. The slower pace accentuating the uneven surface. Ugh, bounce, pitch, yaw, ouch! Draft a cotton tractor, piled high and dangerously creaking--half the nuts missing on its trailer wheels. 22K is a nice pace though, and the speed minimizes the jarring for 10K, until the tractor turns off. HEADWIND!! Then a tomato truck. A little fast. Aching quads up to the task? So far. Going 32K into a 45K headwind. Amazing. But worried about the bricks and holes scattered along the gnarly bitumen. Headlong into the wind go I.

AAAHHH! Gotta stop paying attention to that DAMN book! DESCENT MEANS DOWN??? WHY AM I CLIMBING??? Losing the truck. GRAB ON! I'm going 26K/hr hanging from the back of a truck full on into the wind. I'M NUTS!

But there's no way I'm cycling another 40K to Korla uphill into a 45K headwind!

Thankfully, only a couple K to the crest, then down for a bit. Then up for a bit more. Down a bit. Up. Down. Grab. Pedal. Grab. Duck behind the truck while oncoming traffic passes. Grab. Duck behind...no, too steep. Can't keep up. Hold on. Dare the traffic. HAH! I KNEW YOU'D PULL OVER! CHICKEN! AND STOP THAT INFERNAL BEEPING! Phew! Over the crest. Down into a village. In the dusty haze, jagged, low peaks loom. I hope not.

Hope dashed. Climbing into the headwind. Trucks too fast to grab, hill too steep to draft. Grunting, screaming. AAAARRRRGGGHHHHH! I WILL MAKE IT TO KORLA! I WILL! If it takes another three hours to finish these last 20K I WILL! Legs whimper.

Finally, a brick truck. GOT IT! Hold on. Five kilometer climb. HOLD ON! Arm aching. Pedal a bit to lighten the load. FINALLY...


The descent into Korla begins just 10 kilometers from downtown and goes through some fascinating low grey and brown hills. And, if the wind is blowing uphill at 35K/hr, you won't coast very fast into town. But you'll get there, and nearly gladly pay 300Yuan for an eleventh floor dingy hotel room where the hot water runs all day into a deep cozy bathtub occupying more than 50% of a teensy bathroom in which the door will bang against the toilet before reaching 90 degrees. But it's home.

Later, you'll go for a walk. Find coffee and Chips Ahoy cookies. Return to the hotel and see your still shell-shocked reflection in the window as night falls on Korla. A little dinner in the hotel's pleasant, friendly Muslim restaurant where the short, stout owner waves aside the english menu and all but drags you into the kitchen to select your dinner. I'll take jeiga vegetable dish, neiga vegetable dish and jeiga vegetable dish. Miefan. Koka KoLA, xie xie.

Verdict: 430K of magnificent hell, the last day being purely hell.

Possibility: another 1000K of the same.

Wish you were here!

Miss me?



PS: The relentless climb from Toksun was absolutely magnificent. My lunch on the way out of Toksun was the best chaomian of the trip. And the following day crossed some marvellous countryside as well. But, you'll read about that in the journal.

PPS: Hope you're training hard!

PPPS: Say "Howdy" to Vivi for me.

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