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Published: July 21st 2013
I could have stayed longer in Urumuqi eating amazing sweet Uyghur pastries, devouring more meat dishes, strolling through the Uyghur area a bit more, taking more pictures of the lively streets and enjoying the comfort of Becky’s home… But Becky had to go back to work in Beijing and I had to get back on the road. And what a road! To go south, I had 2 choices: I could either take the smooth road through Turpan (expressway) or what looked like the shorter way through the mountains on a smaller road. Because we had already visited Turpan, I chose the road through the Tian Shan Mountains. Becky’s Mom had warned me it would go up and down and the riding would probably be difficult (like many people from the city, she has never taken this road). There’s about 360km from Urumuqi to Kuerle. The first 60km were pretty uneventful. I missed the turn while getting out of the city and rode an extra 20km (Getting out of Chinese cities without a GPS is a hassle! I already got lost while getting out of Lanzhou, of Zhangye and now Urumuqi). The road was slick; there were some small villages where I
Entering the Tian Shan
Shan = mountains in Mandarin
could buy lots of water and snacks. I even met some Chinese cyclists who were delighted to ride with me and to take pictures of us together. As easy as I make it sound, I was definitely gaining in altitude and the road went up at a steady incline.
In the early afternoon the 3 Chinese cyclists and I arrived in the Tian Shan Mountains. We arrived from the valley and the mountains were divided by a powerful river and a small road snaking its way in, as if we were about to enter a canyon. The fields near the river were extremely green and flowery. The higher mountains were covered by dense forests, the sky was blue. It was so beautiful after riding through barren hills for kilometers out of Urumuqi. Then we entered the mountains. My fellow cyclists had told me they would try to ride 15 more km and then they would turn around and go back to Urumuqi. As soon as we entered the gorge the road got very steep. That’s when I realized I was carrying too much (too many clothes!) but the scenery was spectacular! I am a bit disappointed at how my
photos turned out. They don’t render how massive and dizzy the cliffs were. I went up and up and up the road until night time. The 3 cyclists didn’t keep up with me very long and I turned around to say goodbye to them. A few kilometers later I got rained on for a few minutes. I saw a few tourists driving big 4-wheel trucks but most of them were going through this road as a day trip from Urumuqi. I saw a few Mongolian Yurts I could have stayed in but I had decided to camp on my own for the first time. At 5pm I saw a perfectly fine spot to camp but I thought it was a bit too early and I kept going. But the road got steeper and narrower (I forgot to say that it was also only partially paved. It was mostly gravel and dirt) and I was riding along sheer cliffs which made camping impossible with the risk of rock fall. I rode up and up and up. The view was sensational but it was difficult. I kept on reducing the gear ratio. I refused to walk but I took a few breaks
here and there to take photos. Some tourists stopped to congratulate me at this impossible climb and of course to ask me where I came from. In the evening there were very few cars left on the road. Everyone had gone back towards Urumuqi. By 7.30 I found a flat stretch next to a bridge with a river running strong 200m below. That was it! I was done for the day!
I set up my clean tent for the first time since I left from Lanzhou and I put together my little camping gas stove, peeled a carrot, cooked some noodles with it and ate a sausage (fascinating, hey?!) Great feeling! Great life! I couldn’t even remember the last time I had cooked (living in China has its perks)! I was able to wash in the cold river. I was so dusty! The water felt invigorating and relaxing on my feet. My tent felt cozy; my stomach was full, I had seen beautiful landscape; I had escaped from the crowds and gotten a great work out after a whole week off in Urumuqi. I fell asleep pretty content. I didn’t know what lied ahead of me the next day…
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