Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Day 11+12: Around Qinghai Lake

Day 11
So things are starting to get interesting now. I left the hostel in Xining in the morning and planned to travel to Qinghai lake, skirt around the north of it joining up with the legendary RT315. I figured I'd end the day on the far side of the lake in a small town or in the mountains.

I put on my rain layers but decided not to wear my thermal layer. This turned out to be a bit of a mistake. Shortly into my ride the rain started and didn't stop all day. As I got closer to the lake the temperature fell as well. I'm not sure how cold it got exactly but it was enough to discover a major weakness in my gear choice. My gloves were not at all warm. I kinda knew this before I left but thought that cold would not be a issue that I would have to deal with on this trip.

The roads were long straight and boring. I cruised along at 90KHM through the rain just determined to end the day where I had planned. The road stretched straight in parts on to the horizon through treeless grassy mountains on either side. Sheep and yaks occasionally crossed the road in herds and yurts were set up throughout the endless grass fields. The Tibetan buddhists had also set up tons of prayer flags in the shape of tepees atop mountains. Occasionally, I ran across big yellow fields with people selling honey near them. The first time I passed one I felt something hit my helmet hard. I thought it was a rock or something and continued on. Soon I passed another yellow field and I saw little black things flying 5 or 10 at a time straight at me They freaked me out and I hid behind my wind screen. When I stopped I found bits of bee covering my helmet and jacket. I had slaughtered about five from that field. At every yellow field from then on it became a sad but slightly entertaining routine and dozens of bees lost their lives on my face shield and jacket by the end of the day


I covered 650km racing along the straight roads but forward progress was probably only about 400km. After a particularly long straight section I arrived at my destination of Tianjun on the far side of the lake. I was soaked and was in no mood to camp that night so I looked for a hotel. The receptionists apparently didn't know what to do with a foreigner or they were warned about us and called the police. Soon an english speaking policeman arrived and explained to me that i was not allowed in the area or anywhere west of Tianjun. This was a disaster as I hadn't explored any other options for getting to Urumqi. He told me to go back to another county to sleep and drove me to the edge of town.

The whole two hours of backtracking to the place where I had a late lunch that day I thought about my options. I could either go north and figure out a new plan or ignore the police officer and continue west anyway along the more desolate-looking southern route 109. I checked into a great cheap hotel in Gangca and through over my options.

Day 12
I woke up and decided to go west over a breakfast of sheep intestine soup. It was raining more heavily than the day before and it seemed a bit colder.

I didn't get on the road until 10:00am and by 12:00 I had only gone about 100km to the south west corner of Qinghai lake. I stopped for lunch and the warm my hands what had become nearly useless from the cold. At the restaurant I met a group from Sichuan provence and after a lengthy photo session, they invited me to join them for lunch. The food was amazing and I stuffed myself at their insistence.

Then with warm hands it was back on the road. I passed over a mountain, rain still falling steadily along with the temperature which by now had reached 5 degrees celsius. On a motorcycle going 80kmh, it's much colder. I was definitely not prepared for this and after pushing through another mountain range complete with short muddy sections of construction and a long flat barren landscape where if it weren't for the other cars would have felt like I was in a dream, I pulled over at a derelict gas station, lit my stove and warmed my now completely useless white hands over a cup of ginger tea. After about 45 minutes of recovery spent sheltered from the now frigid wind, I slipped on my waterlogged boots and soaked gloves and pressed on with renewed spirit.

The next section was again barren and lifeless followed by another mountain pass. Actually, I don't really remember exactly how many long straight roads through barren mud land I passed through or how many mountain ranges I crossed that day. Mostly I was focused on how cold and wet I was and how I was going to to fix that. A couple times I pulled over and warmed my hands on the engine but the second time for some reason it made my hands less resistant to the cold so I stopped doing that. While I was wondering why this had happened, I arrived at yet another section of road work. I waited a bit for the cars ahead of me to slowly crawl through before I started. On a motorcycle a steady speed is more important when passing through mud. I slowly plotted my way through the first section which wasn't so bad but the section of torn up road ended up being much longer than the earlier ones. I soon found a nice relatively smooth section, sped up and shifted to 2nd gear. Big mistake. There was a small mound covered in mud about 5 inches deep. Suddenly distracted by the obstacle and slowed by the line of cars ahead of me, I forgot to down shift and went in too slow in 2nd. I got stuck. I waited there in the middle of the road like an idiot unable even to get my rear wheel to spin while cars drove around me. Finally, a nice man in a Santana stopped and pulled me out with my tow rope (lucky purchase that i intended just to be a luggage strap)

Covered in mud but now nice and warm from the physical activity I soldiered on. The rain slowed and stopped and I arrived at farmland surrounded by what looked like yellow arid desert hills. Finally, Desert! Warmth! I entered town and cautiously found a hotel. I was not going to camp in the mud mountains or mud fields.

After getting stuck all the fields and mountains looked like big piles of mud.


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