Chinese bureaucratic nightmare

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i pedaled past miles of trucks waiting to go through the border patrol.

There is little left for me to do but circle around to the western side Qinghai and hope to cross into Sichuan through the mountains. The entire southern half of Qinghai is close to foreigners. I pedaled a long 60 km into the wind to find a huge border patrol forcing me to return. I asked to speak with the superior officer and found myself in a room with several Tibetan monks sitting on the dirty floor. The superior told me the monks did not have proper identification and had been held in custody for 2 days.

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I was headed south from Golmud and planned to take side roads to Yushu. I am now headed east of Golmud and hope to cross near the yellow river.

I begged the officers to let me through as this was the only southern road to Sichuan. But was repeatedly told that the road also went to Tibet and in order for me to move forward I had to have a permit! Imagine being in California and being unable to visit San Diego because the same road that took you there continued on to Mexico!

After rejoicing the end of my hardships, I am back into the cold windy desert. I will try again to find a southern passage to Sichuan. If I fail I am not sure what to do.

Land of extremes

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Small road house dinner, my first day in Qinghai

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Home Dog Wind, from Guangxi province. He was headed north.

I am now in Qinghai province in the city of Golmud. This morning it was snowing and I looked around to see that I am surrounded snow packed mountains. It is going to be a cold ride south from here, but I hope to find shelter with locals in small villages along the way. The desert was difficult, almost everyday there was a sand storm and temperatures at night dropped below freezing. Local truck stops however carry their own special “Baijiu” (Sake) recipe, and a few sips helped warm me through the cold nights.

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I am so close to Tibet, that could easily make a brief trip over there. That is… if I wanted to book a tour with a guide, confirm with hotel dates and give up my bike. It is currently impossible for anyone without a Chinese passport to enter Tibet independently. Too many protests and riots before and following the China Olympic games. In some ways it would be a sad sight to see, considering that the Dali Lhama has lived in exile since his departure in the late 1950’s.Old potala palace

Tibet’s Potala Palace before Chinese invasion

Modern Potala palace

After

I feel strong yet confined here in China. People, pollution, traffic, noise is sometimes overwhelming and in many ways I feel that I am better of in my cold tent out in the desert. All night and day I can hear the horns from the cars outside my hotel window honking at pedestrians. Mega phones seem to be the new craze, and everywhere I go, supermarkets, side walk corners and city centers they are blasting pre-recorded loops advertising cellphones and sales. Accommodation continues to be difficult, but there is not much I can do.

It is almost June but there is still plenty of snow, cherries are in season and throughout the town there are carts selling kilos for a few cents. Flowers are blooming.  I continue on.

 

The Horizon is a Mirage

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The sky, once blue is now covered in dust. At night I faintly see the moon, a few nearby planets, and the lights of a nearby quarry. It is in these long stretches that I begin to break down. Days of pedaling into a dry mundane desert landscape, with strong gusty winds pushing me across the narrow road. My physical strength wavering brings anxiety, doubt and fear.

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My location is very near Youshashan, in the northwest of the province. I am headed south east to Golmud.

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Small roadside village, Qinghai

In the six days of Xinjiang desert I experienced a wind like no other country. Relentless, dry and full of sand. Sometimes I would stop and cover my face, for what seemed like several minutes while a blinding sand storm passed. Within a few kilometers my teeth, nose, ears and face are covered, and breast pocket begins to fill. A night my sleeping bag feels like a sand box.

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Some friendly Chinese employees working at a remote power station, they served me breakfast and gave me a few packets of tea.

My mood suddenly changed as I got within 100 km of the Xinjiang/Qinghai border. The forever flat desert gave way to steep dry mountains and I began to climb into a fresh cool atmosphere. The wind stayed strong but was no longer filled with dust. Trucks constantly passed and the roadsides were piled high with trash, and un-recycled junk. I stopped at a small roadhouse and watched the few Chinese travels toss their litter into the desert wind.
The air slowly got thin and cold as I climbed to 9,000 feet. I smelled the air for the cargo of the trucks passing; coal, oil, and sometimes hay. Other rather scentless ones carried wire, plastic pipes, and really smelly live stock. On one occasion I was passed by a truck carrying a load of large pigs, as it passed I was sprayed with water but as I looked over I noticed it was a large pig peeing off the side.

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High desert camping, temperatures dropped well below freezing and I awoke to a frosted landscape.

The few people I encounter are friendly and courteous. Being stereotypical one would expect to find weird, socially strange people operating small business in the extreme remote but in China they seem completely normal and treat me with respect and trust.

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Roadside military, my passport and visa would randomly to checked in the most remote locations.   

The remote landscape once a refuge has begun to frighten me. A few sections of my route took me through single-lane roads covered in sand. With no traffic I felt that if I stopped pedaling I may never be found. I push on, I am 450 km from the city of Golmud, if all goes well I should be there in 4 days. There are police check points everywhere and I constantly give false information as to my destination (which is extremely close to the Tibetan border and may potentially be forbidden to foreigners without a permit).