When you get the map of Asia spread out on the table the first thing your mind does is shrink it. Quite a lot of central east Asia and especially the Taklimakan and Gobi desert have few roads and fewer cities so you mind shrinks it still further. Xingiang is the biggest provence in China. It appears as a big brown blob on a relatively green map. In reality it is a vast hot high altitude plateau and now we are really beginning to feel the size of it. Yesterday we crossed 350 miles of the this Desert- we saw about 20 people and a few trucks. An example of our scale readjustment problems is our refuelling. Normally a tank of fuel will last about one and half days but at reasonably high altitude ,at high temperature and a forced march of nearly 400 miles. We are having to use our spare fuel supplies twice in one day. We carry an extra 100 litres in the van.The Chinese authorities do not allow motor bikes to directly refuel and so we have to take our three 22litre fuel cans out of the van , decant and refill twice a day now. In temperatures of over 40 deg C with loose petrol flowing down the saddles of the bikes we put our cigars out!
Fuel topped off in both van and bikes and the early morning temp kicking off at a pleasant 17 deg C we thought today would be a picturesque run through the hills to Turfan. It wasn’t, it was the bleakest, toughest ride we have done so far . 375 miles of sand, mountain, one city and two blades of grass and the top temperature at about 43 deg C. When I got the map out at the end of the day and had a look how far we had gone since Tour U ghat- virtually nowhere. This part of China is gi- normouse – it makes the Mojave Desert look like a sand pit on the one sunny day in June. Not only that, after lunch in the roughest service station in the world, we set off through a range of desiccated mountains and appeared to be going down hill. And down hill, and more down hill. We knew that Turfan our destination was low but it wasn’t until later that we saw that we had gone from an arid plain at 10,000 ft down through the biggest switchback I have ever ridden to a flare out at Turfan at the princely altitude of MINUS 200 metres above ( or below if you like ) Sea level. A 10,200 ft desecnt on a road like the Cresta Bob Sleigh Run and if you are driving a 40 tonne truck over laden to 60 tonne you may need some stopping assistance?? Some of the emergency run out areas are the size of Snowdon.
If I were forced at gun point to test a nuclear weapon I would probably do it around here because it is such a geological and ecological ShoneT hole that the chances are that rearranging some of the molecules could well make it better. And until recently I don’t think anyone lived here. Check your history because I may not be the first person to have thought of this.
I have had a calm scenic ride in my little van and have followed the lads down the hills to the Turfan depression. It has been a cool and pleasant day in my cab, listening to Patrick O’Brian and sucking on some nice spring water. At the bottom of the hills we stop for a rest. I open the door of the van I have jumped out into a blast furnace- air at 42 deg C. The guys have been drinking 4-6 litres per day in the saddle to keep cool . Their physiology appears to have completely adjusted to these conditions and they are enjoying it!!!!!!..
I’ll take you through a few shots to see if we can give you a feeling of what must be by far the biggest hotest dust pan in the world.
Climbing the northern rim of the Taklimakan we come upon a Spanish couple who have biked from Barcelona- we tell them to look out for Nathan. Also the police think Richard is very cuddly
In China road safety is improving and mortality has halved in ten years but their trucks are massive!!??
we start out descent
The road winds down through a completely lifeless range of brown mountains- 4000 metres
Brake failure and you looking at ski jumping a 60 tonne truck on one an olympic sized ramp!
rest day tomorrow