I knew we would have some hot days and here they are: passing the Gobi desert from Langzhou to Turpan. Our first desert camp is next to the Great wall with several other ‘types’ of camps to follow. After a couple of days in camp we would spend a night in a hotel, then camp again. The landscape is mostly flat-ish, some hils and each day we cycle approximately 140 km with now and then some strong head winds (due to the Gobi desert heating up). And with high temperatures each day! Cycling through desert land is great. Although you don’t expect to see much, there is much to see along the road, small and big.
Looking around when cycling through a desert is somehow different. The landscape is often flat, there are no shops, people or houses nor are there trees or farmland. Instead there are dry rivers, long empty roads, lots of winds, lots of sun as well, telegraph lines, GSM towers (I know this sounds weird, but they are located along the road), road signs, trucks, empty beer bottle, road workers or a mosque in a small village. And sometimes there are some animals like camels or corn crickets. Most gas stations are used to buy an iced tea. There was this one gas station with air conditioning and a chair right under it! Really really nice!
Cycling through a desert is also different because there are no ‘natural’ stops; not even a gas station. So it happens that I’m cycling 60 or 70 km before making a stop. And in this heat, that’s a long ride. There is no shade, no places to relax, so the best thing to do is to keep pedaling. Thanks to Nate or Ingrid we have a lunch somewhere around 75 km. Lunches are great and with a canopy there is shade! Fresh fruit and we’re able to make our own sandwiches. My favorite is still tuna salad with tomato, cucumber and a little bit of ketchup. Egg salad is great as well! Lunch at 09:30 AM usually takes 20 minutes before I’m off again. I try to reach camp before it’s too hot to cycle and when leaving at 06:30 AM I arrive usually before 14:00 PM in camp. There is soup and after setting up my tent I usually hang out a bit or listen to music.
After dinner I usually go for a walk. On our second desert camp there was this impressive mountain close by. The thing with mountains is that I usually wanna see what’s there to see from the top, and because I knew that it might be a bit dangerous, I notified Paul that I was climbing that mountain. It was easier than I thought it would be, but then again, there was a ‘mountain-behind-the-mountain-and-one-on-the-other-side’. So it turned out to be quite a walk ;-). Between the first and second mountain I met Chris who also went for a walk. With the hard wind it was great to walk through this area! The views were magnificent! From the top I could see that there were approximately 25 wild (?) camels walking close to camp. And since I was planning to sleep in the open, for the first time without a tent, which was actually a bit exciting.
In my view there are different kinds of deserts with a mix of sand, rocks, hills, with or without small bushes. The environment changes not that often and the roads are long. And all a sudden there is life in the middle of nowhere. Water can change the surroundings completely! On the road to Turpan (hottest town in China) the surroundings change and there are many and many vineyards. And then there are all these strange storage buildings. It seems that these vineyards are used to produce raisins rather than wine. And these structures are used to let the grapes dry. It’s an unexpected thing to realize since I always eat them and never thought about where they came from.
So cycling through desert land is still exciting, and hot. And the good thing is that there is much more to come! The next 11 days I’ll be traveling to Kashgar, along the Taklamakan desert. More sand, more long roads, more beautiful stars at night and more iced tea at gas stations!