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Xinjang province, China
A long drive bring us to Kashgar, old and central point on the ancient silk road. We pay Caravan Cafe for transportation from the border on arrival in town, before we split up. I search for an hour at Seman hotel, the old Russian consul, for my two bicycle companions, Erik and Stephane . It turns out they are becoming fat and drunk at John's Cafe. Stephane has bicycled all the way from Switzerland and met American Erik on the Karakoram Highway in Pakistan. They have been in town for some four days, waiting me to arrive and are quite impatient to get out of town because of their short two months Chinese visas. We agree that I unpack my gear, send my emails, buy my supplies and prepare my bike the next day, making it possible to leave the day after.
A late breakfast at Oasis Cafe marks the beginning of the West Tibet trip. We start out in the cruel hot sun, and to my horror it seems as though my trip is over before we start. My handlebars are shaking uncontrollably and nothing seems to stop it. Even Erik, who used to work at GT bikes, doesn't know how to stop it; somehow the front suspension and the heavy front bicycle panniers are creating the problem. We cannot solve it and I have to continue in shaky style until the road becomes gravel and the problem stops.
Erik is American by heart and the two of us start a silly little competition of who is the fastest biker, while Stephane has a more relaxed attitude toward our competition. My lack of training in Denmark quickly makes me tired like a dog, and I also begin to have problems with the brand-new saddle I am using. A long day ride along the edge of the Taklamakan desert bring us to a big salt lake where we camp for the night. The next day is a 120 km long journey taking us through oasis towns till we end up in Yarkand, which turns up to be the perfect place for stocking up with delicious supplies. We celebrate our catch of one week of supplies with long hot showers next to our hotel, before eating at thelocal restaurant. We leave late next day on overloaded bikes, and are punished with plenty of rain, making it necessary to cover up in rainwear for a long stretch. Later, we become quite scared because a police landcruiser from time to time stops without reason a few hundreds meters in front of us, but they don't try to stop us. We caught Yeching phobia not only because of this, but by the knowledge that some cyclists had big troubles at this place last year. We choose to rush through the place without even stopping for a restaurant or photographing the beginning of the hell road we are about to cycle on for 1½ months, route 219.
A middle-aged character from Ireland (or Scotland?) told us in a restaurant in the central Kashgar market that he wanted to bike this road and did so for one day after Yeching, before he realized he wouldn't have time enough to make it to Nepal and abandoned the trip! Strange guy. More interestingly, he also told us that he met a mobile checkpoint some 30 km after Yeching, but the police didn't stop him for some reason. Suddenly this checkpoint shows up in front of us and we start biking very fast trying not to look too guilty, and we are lucky as the policemen just keep sitting in their land cruiser even though they have seen us for sure. The landscape becomes very dry as we move our way up the gradually steepening road and finding a campsite out of sight takes quite a while. Stephane and Erik start up their kitchen work, which is ever more complex, time-consuming and gives better results than my fast "instant noodles with meat taste" cooking. This day is really hard even though I try to take it easy during the day, and it is pretty clear that the coming days will be hell, moving up into real altitude.
I am awake one hour before the gang of two and use some time mounting mudguards on my bike - one day in Kashgar for assembling the bike wasn't enough. Passing alongside a distant oil field, we soon leave the asphalt road and after only ½ km on gravel road, I am thrown into a state of shock, when my aluminum front rack falls apart on the left side. This is probably because of the "shake it baby" cycling style during the last 311 km, which stops on the gravel road, when my front suspension fork starts jumping up and down. How on earth is this rack going to last all the way through Tibet?? We make a fast repair with metal wire before eating in a very basic restaurant in a Uigur village, for sure not a bulletproof solution, but nothing else can be done.
After cycling several hours we suddenly run into a Japanese cyclist, Mura, who Stephane met in Pakistan on the Karakoram Highway. His wheel has just blown out and the repair leaves him without a spare tire. He tells that he had been joining up with another Japanese, but his partner chose, due to the widespread police-paranoia among Tibet cyclists, to try out another road into Tibet near Hotan. The problem is that I attempted that road two years ago and it could not be done, because of sand (dunes) and flooding(!). Mura tells us that he prefers to cycle alone, and after some chitchat we leave. I begin to have problems with altitude here around no more than 2500 meters, gasping for air and to make things worse, Stephane and I begin to have some serious stomach problems, which turn out to be giardia. Erik on the contrary is going really strong and seems quite irritated by the frequent breaks I take, but I cannot help it. We camp seven kilometers short of the real steep part of the first major road pass which is 3300 meters high. I have a complete lack of appetite - cannot eat anything even though I know I need energy for tomorrow's ascent- and just go to sleep right away. It rains throughout the night, making my frequent runs for the toilet even less pleasant.
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