Two weeks ago we rolled down into Urumqi with the snow capped Bogda Shan overlooking our descent into the city. Six hundred kilometres had brought us from Hami through the Turpan depression and finally over the mountains to the capital of the Xinjiang autonomous region. Fairly standard desert riding with plenty of sand and wind thrown into the mix. Towns tend towards the extremes here and either you find yourself in a Chinese looking town or else feel like we're already further on central Asia with Uighur dominated settlements. Turpan itself was a mixture of both worlds and on our last night rather than having an early night like good little cyclists we were taken out by a couple of off-duty (but still camoflaged) police guys and we ended up attending a fascinating Uighur wedding before the night was out.
Having read the experience that my friend's Daren and Tati had with the wind after Turpan a couple of years back, I figured we had lucked out as a gentle tailwind followed us out of Urumqi. However, a few hours later we were also pushing our bikes along the shoulder as a dangerous crosswind kept blowing us into the traffic. We found a dip in the ground amid the wind turbines to pitch the tent and wait for the morning calm which never came. Our tent got battered mercilessly throughout the night and tore our flysheet slightly. After another hour in the wind the following morning we reached the hills again and began the climb up to Dabangcheng and down to Urumqi.
We knew we'd be a few days, probably a week, waiting on our Kazakhstan visa in Urumqi and while that was in the works we set about getting the Gobi out of all our gear and some TLC for our bikes. However, I discovered that two out of five bolts that hold an axle plate in place on my Rohloff gear hub had sheared off and another went as I took the plate off to have a closer look. This wasn't good. Some emails to the very helpful people at Rohloff and they offered to send me out a new unit under their 'moon and back' warranty. Wonderful. However, the three day service that Fed Ex promises from Germany to Urumqi didn't reckon on the intervention of Chinese customs, so now we're waiting for it to clear customs where it has been sitting for the past week in Beijing. Hopefully it'll make it in the next day or two before we continue west towards Kazakhstan - just under 700 km east.
Meanwhile we're settled into a hostel in Urumqi, which is the main transport hub for the region and we've made a few friends including a great group of other cyclists who have all been and gone. Urumqi, with its ethic mix, is an interesting city to explore although much of the time has been spent researching the route ahead across central Asia and applying for letter of invitation that we'll use with our visa applications once we reach Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, in a couple of weeks time.
Today, thanks to Ellie, we had cake for breakfast. You're allowed do that when you're an old man.
Urumqi, Xinjiang, P.R.C.
Pedaled: 71,486 km