Posts Tagged ‘sunset’

Wild gazelles & purple flowers

Tuesday, June 14th, 2011

After going nowhere yesterday, we were keen to make some progress and get on the road again.

zeer_332318As we rose over the top of the hill we could see a huge valley below us. In the distance we could see some animals moving across the landscape as a group. They were well camouflaged against the shrubs and sand, but we could just make them out. They look like small deer and we’d seen them before, well fleetingly, but they don’t stick around long. We weren’t too sure what they were, but we now  think that they were wild gazelle

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We managed to pick up the new road again and the road surface was quite good. I was pleased that we cycled 10km so quickly and were doing well. Then the road stopped abruptly and we were back to dirt tracks again. It was quite flat and all we could see was the horizon ahead. We knew there was a small town near here so we headed for that to get more water. Cycling side by side, it was quite quiet and we were both lost in our own thoughts. Then out of the blue I slammed on my brakes and jumped off my bike. By the side of the road was a single purple flower.

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In every country we have cycled, along the roadside we see purple flowers, mostly wild, sometimes planted. I love purple flowers, so much so that we will be having them at our wedding next April. And wherever you get flowers, you also get butterflies, which flutter along with us as we cycle. So far in the Gobi we have seen no flowers of any kind, so imagine my delight to see a purple flower, just sitting there! I took some photos and resisted the urge to pick it and take it with me – the poor thing has made it this far, last thing it needs is me plucking it from the ground.

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We arrived in Tsomog and managed to locate its only shop, buying a few snacks and water. The two school girls there both spoke some English and another lady with a young baby appeared. We chatted to them a little and the baby had a go on Chris’s bike seat. Not long after an English teacher turned up and we had a chat with her too. Funny how in the middle of nowhere you can find people speaking English so well!

Leaving this small village, we saw a sign saying 300km to Ulaanbatar. That sounded like an awfully long way still. Oh well, better get on with it then.

The new road was too patchy to cycle on so we reverted back to the bumpy side track. It was hot and the sun was fierce.  A big 4×4 stopped by us and 4 men got out of the car. One of them spoke excellent English (again!) and it turns out that they were the contractors for the new road. They insisted on giving us water and coke and a tin of meat. Then a bottle of whisky appeared and a shot was poured for Chris. Then one for me. I’m not a big whisky drinker at all but they were so keen for us to drink it that I managed to sip a little of it. After a photo we were on our way again, this time climbing up up up. As we went I could taste the whisky. It reminded me of my Grandad who always like a glass of Scotch of an evening. I cycled on thinking of my Grandad, wondering what he would make of me doing all this!

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We managed 35km that day, not as much as we’d hoped but the daylight doesn’t last forever, and I’d been having some funny stomach aches for a couple of days so wasn’t feeling 100%.

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We stopped to camp that evening up on a rocky hillside and watched an impressive sunset, from our tent.

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As I cooked dinner I could see lightning in the distance, it looked like storm was heading towards us. I cooked as fast as I could and served up the food, then we quickly did up all the tent doors and moved everything inside. Safe inside out tent we ate and then fell asleep. The storm must have missed us, either that or  we were too tired to notice it!

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Gobi – Day 4 & 5 The search for Ulaan Uud

Friday, May 20th, 2011

I woke at 8am and looked outside… yay, blue sky! It was still windy though and very cold. We got everything out of the tent and shook off all the sand and dust, it was everywhere. The wind helped get rid of it and I realised that despite my western obsession with keeping things clean and dust free, most things seemed to be ok, relatively speaking. I was so pleased that the sun was shining and we could finally leave ‘camp sandstorm’. So pleased in fact that I didn’t really register just how windy it was and Chris asked me what was flapping at one point, I realised it was the tent door – I’d gotten so used to the noise of ‘flapping tent’ that I hadn’t even noticed.

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We were ready to leave bar putting the tent away, which we left until last for shelter. 2 men pulled up on a motorbike, they were friendly and took a seat on the more sheltered side of the tent. Although we’d been about to pack up and go, I felt we should offer them a drink. Who knew how far they’d travelled? We had some hot water in our flask and quickly fished out some cups, coffee and sugar to make them a drink. Having received so much hospitality and kindness from people on the road over the last year and a half, it’s nice to have the opportunity to be the ones giving something to others. They seemed grateful and were very smiley. One man asked Chris if I kept him warm at night, well that was Chris’s interpretation, he seemed pleased to know that I did!

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Once we on the road, it was immediately clear that the wind was going to make this tough. After 7km I was off my bike and pushing. The wind was blowing me all over the place and my legs felt weak. My lower back ached, my hands ached from gripping so hard. ‘Stop being a whinging weedy Wilton’ a voice in my head said, ‘get on with it!’ No one said it would be easy. After climbing a long hill and pushing for most of it, I literally couldn’t catch my breath and my heart was beating way too fast. By the time I reached Chris I was ready to stop and rest. I was so hungry and had zero energy left. Chris cooked me some noodles and I ate a handful of biscuist with coffee while they cooked. After that I felt sooooooo much better and had lots more energy.

We were on a new road, it was tarmac, a revolution in the desert, but I couldn’t work out why all the cars and traffic were still taking the dirt road. After a km or so, we saw why, the new road wasn’t finished and kept abruptly ending. With so much more energy I managed to cycle another 14km and we stopped as the sun set having done 27km.

27km doesn’t sound much? Well imagine a windy day where umbrellas get turned inside out,  sandwich boards fall over and newspapers fly away. Then thing of a farm track or gravel road that would make you bounce in your seat as you drove across it. Finally think of a hill near you that makes you out of breath when you walk up it. Put all three together and you have a rough idea of what it’s like to be cycling through the Gobi today.

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After passing some camels and a couple of yurts we found a camp spot just off the road and watched and amazing sunset as we set up the tent.

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We’ve seen a bit of wildlife, lizards, beetles, big crow like birds, camels, sheep, horses, flies and now dogs.

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As I write a dog is sat outside the tent with Chris, he is skinny and hungry but very submissive and friendly we gave him the leftovers from our dinner and a chunk of meat. It’s late now and the temperature has dropped, the stars are out and there is no wind at the moment, hope to get to town tomorrow.


We woke to the sound of no wind, hurray. However it was short lived and we realised that the wind is closely connected to the sun, thermal currents maybe. At sunset the wind seems to drop and after sunrise it picks up again. We decided we would need to get up very early to have no wind at all. Off we went on a bumpy old track to a hill in the far corner. After 3km I was in a bad mood and hating cycling in the desert. It was bumpy sand and windy I was going so slow no more than 7km an hour and feeling very frustrated at how hard it was, how unenjoyable.

It should only be 20km to Ulaan Uud, where we hope to restock with food, fuel and water. We reach the top of a big hill after lots of climbing and pushing. I remember reading Ripley Davenport’s blog last year of him hauling ‘Molly’ through the Gobi desert. I now have some idea how hard that must have been.

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At the top of the hill near a cairn, we had a full view of the entire valley below. No town. We asked a nearby truck driver he pointed down the hill so off we went down the hill and there was no town in any direction. We carried on and followed our NW bearing on the compass, which was also the same track that all the truck and cars were taking. It was a slow gradual climb across the plain to the next ridge. The wind was relentless.

After 27km a jeep stopped and four guys got out, one was from UB and spoke some English. I asked how far to Ulaan Uud, he said about 20km, Hmmm. It was marked as 102km on our map and we had already done 110km. They gave us a 1.5 litre bottle of water, that was very kind. I was tired now and knew we wouldn’t make it to the town tonight, we agreed to get up the hill and then camp. The last of my energy was used pushing the bike up, I was listening to Toto ‘Africa’ as the sun was setting. Looking across the yellow Mongolian plains, with the big red sun setting, I could have easily believed I was in Africa again.

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Chris came back down the hill to help me and enjoyed a brief spell of cycling a much lighter bike! The top of the hill was a long plateau with tracks going in all directions. We finally stopped to camp around 8pm and ate dinner before collapsing into bed. I was shattered but pleased with 34km.

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Gobi – Day 1

Tuesday, May 17th, 2011

After a hearty breakfast and we met our friend Sukhbat and cycled out of Zamyn Uud about midday, stopping to take some photos, before Sukhbat turned back.

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Loaded up with 30 litres of water and heaps of food we were prepared to cycle and camp for the next few days. The road was gravel to start and rapidly turned to sand tracks, with corrugated section that ensured that all momentum was lost as you cycled. However with hot sun shining and very few jeeps or trucks on the track we were fine and coasted along nicely.

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After 10km we stopped for cream cheese and bread and a mars bar – the joy of being in Mongolia is that the shops stock cheese and mars bars! It was actually really quite hot and I applied sun cream to stop myself from burning. 3 days ago we were freezing in the wind and hail, today we are sweating and worried about sunburn. This certainly is a land of extremes.

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The landscape opened out and all we could see in every direction was flat grass and sand plains, with the trans-Mongolian railway to our east and the dirt track headed north west ahead of us. No people, no houses, nothing except nature and us.

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As we reached the top of a small rise we saw a group of camels in the distance. We didn’t get very close to see them but it was a nice moment, seeing camels just grazing as we cycled along.

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A few trucks passed by and we waved as they came along side. The road here isn’t really one road, there are several tracks running in parallel and stretching off in different directions. We had our compass and stopped to take a bearing every few km to make sure we were still headed in the right direction. We were on a north-west bearing towards Ulaan Uud and Sainshand (which i keep wanting to call Sainsbury’s).

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We came to a rocky outcrop and a group of horses were grazing. We passed them, rounded a corner and stopped for a break. One of the horses decided to come and check us out. He was a lovely horse with a long black mane and tail. He seemed a little agitated and didn’t come to close, but stopped and had a good look at us before turning back and cantering back up to the others. He was neighing and throwing his head around, hopefully telling the others we were friendly! Not long after a troupe of the horses wandered passed us, two with young foals, they stopped up ahead near a large puddle and drank. This may not seem particularly remarkable but it was fascinating to just come across a big group of horses, all just doing their own thing and roaming across the land. I have always liked horses and Mongolia is the home of the original horse, so it was a great experience to see them out in the wild like this (no idea if they are wild or belong to someone).

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Not long after we stopped for the day to set up camp and cook. It was lovely evening and the sun was setting as we sat in our chairs and drank coffee. 31km – not bad for our first day and very enjoyable. We’ll get an early night, the weather is forecast to be very windy on Wed, so we’ll make the most of the day tomorrow to get some miles done.

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Finally a blog post!

Monday, December 27th, 2010

If you’ve been following our blog then the last you heard was that we were in Jinghong, Yunnan in southern China! Well we’ve done quite a lot since then, so read on for an update…

In Jinghong, we, and our friends Margo and Ben, stayed with a lovely guy called Ryan and ended up staying for a week after we all got sick with food poisoning. Let’s just say that we all got to know each other rather well after 4 days of vomiting and diarrhea! Poor Chris was hit the hardest and didn’t eat for 3 days (this photo was taken before we were all ill).

Staying at Ryan's place whilst sick

Jinghong is a nice city with a university and palm tree lined roads. I managed to buy a dongle and 6 months of internet access, which a few days earlier had seemed like an impossibility. So that gave us internet access anywhere. Margo and I also bought a pair of long trousers as our journey north meant that the temperature was starting to drop. After months and months of 30 degree heat, this was welcome although a little bit of a shock to the system. Ben did some work on our bikes and managed to find a smaller cog for my bike, which means I’ll be able to grind up those hills in an even lower gear.

We finally left Jinghong on the 22nd Nov, my birthday. The night before we went out to celebrate at the French run Mekong Café, with two French cyclists Sandrine and Damian, Ryan, and Margo and Ben. I had a fantastic evening, with red wine and a surprise birthday cake organized by Sandrine. Margo and Damian poured over maps, whilst Chris and Sandrine chatted away in French with me doing my best to follow the conversation. It was a fantastic and memorable evening.

Upon leaving Jinghong (after a full English breakfast!!) we ended up getting on the highway which wasn’t our intention. The highway itself is ok, it’s nice to cycle on and wasn’t too busy but it has tunnels. Even small cars sounds like jumbo jets as they come up behind you. We were doing ok until we came to a tunnel marked as 2.5km long. We pulled over and put on our reflective jackets, lights, head torches and anything else we could find that would help the traffic see us. The tunnel has a pavement on one side so I decide that I would prefer to cycle on the pavement. The others did too, so we set off. This was fine although dark and occasionally a big hole would open up in the pavement and bit of broken rock and glass would appear. I was relieved to reach the end and we all agreed that we should get off the highway as soon as we could.

We stopped that evening after finding a lovely campsite by a river, with a campfire. Margo and I cooked up sausages over the fire that Ben built, boiled up two pans of potato, which Chris and Margo mashed with expertise of Michelin star chefs, and we also had Heinz baked beans for dinner, what a treat! It was delicious and we all enjoyed it. Chris then brought out more birthday cake and candles, and we sat around the fire so we had a fantastic evening all in all. A lovely birthday with lovely people.

We were aiming now to get to Dali by 3rd Dec, so we had some cycling to do and followed the 213 taking in Puer, Simao, Zhenyuan, Jingdong and Nanjian along the way. The following photos show our encounters and adventures en route…

Beautiful wild camping spots in the mountains. Even though the Chinese cultivate every last square inch of land it was still easy to camp and we found some great spots. One morning we woke up to mist ( or inverted cloud?) below us in the valleys of the mountains. We couldn’t resist a photo.

Ducks being marched along the road, we had to stop to watch, and couldn’t help thinking they seemed like prisoners on some kind of death march.

Groups of kids in villages when we stop for noodle soup at lunch. The children and adults we met in Yunnan were wonderful, so friendly and welcoming, whilst also being surprised and shy. All the kids we said hello or “Ni hao” to would burst with laughter and seemed to find us talking to them or them talking to us, absolutely hilarious!

Tea plantations and impressive terracing. Every inch of space is used here, we’ve seen miles of banana trees, fields of red peppers, bay leaf trees, tea, coffee, they grow so much and the terracing is spectacular and obviously involves a lot of back breaking work.

Dodgy gravely roads. The road we followed runs alongside the imposing new highway being built and as a result this smaller road is also the service road for all the trucks and diggers. With such a lot of heavy traffic the road is in a complete state and for a while we were cycling on gravel, dusty roads, through muddy potholes ad puddles. It was pretty slow going to say the least!

Gorgeous sunsets. In harmony with the morning mist we also got to see the soft sunsets at the end of the day. China may have some problems with pollution, but out here in the countryside the sky is clear and spectacular.

Amazing scenery like the gorge we followed for miles. We were following a river for a long time and in paces the rocks would carve a gorge through the valley creating the most beautiful natural scenery we’ve seen in a while. I’m not sure what we expected China to be like, but we certainly didn’t know it would be so beautiful!

A crazy runway toddler careering down a steep main road. Can’t believe I managed to get a photo of him, but he came out of nowhere, on his own, flying down the hill. Kids here have quite a free rein and health and safety concerns are not the same as the UK!

A poor starving dog. We see a lot of dogs chained up. Often we’re glad as it means they won’t chase us or bite us, however from time to time we see some who look ill, starving and neglected, with no water left for them. We stopped to see this little fella gave him a load of biscuits and then carried on our way. But I now wish we had unchained him and let him go so he could at least fend for himself and find some food.

We stayed in an English school classroom for the night and after dinner with the teachers, we did an impromptu lesson with the children. All quite bizarre after a long, tiring day of cycling up huge hills, but fun at the same time, and the kids were very cool!

We also met Jerry, a great guy who spoke perfect English and made us very welcome in Jingdong. He cycled out of the town with us the next morning before saying goodbye.

The cycling was interesting, fun and I felt my legs getting stronger everyday with all the hills we had to climb, it was never ending! We reach Nanjian on 2nd Dec, about 110km south of Dali and stayed at a hotel for night (after much negotiating and confusion with the receptionist!). The next day we got up early, our plan was to try and reach Dali that night. After yet more noodle soup  we set off and had a flat run for the first 10km. After that we followed another stunning gorge and it was much easier than I had anticipated it was going to be. We met Kathy, a lady from New Zealand cycling around China and stopped to chat with her. I’m interested to meet solo female cyclists as I’ve been working on a women section called Girls on Tour, so hopefully they might agree to be interviewed at some point!

We cycled into Weishan following a flat valley, stopped for another delicious lunch and then continued along the valley floor, with a tail wind for about 25km. After stopping to buy some sugary snacks, we continued knowing that a 17km climb lay ahead of us. We could see the mountains we had to climb and Kathy had told us that once you’re up by the wind turbines then you know it’s the top. We’d been able to see them for the last 20km and they still looked an awful long way away!

The climb began with a well appointed sign, the Chinese are good at letting you know what you are in for! The climb wasn’t too bad to start with, but it went on for a long time and the time ticked away. As we got nearer the top I looked around to admire the scenery and view from up here, and felt incredibily lucky to be able to have such an experience. I knew that I was going back to England in a few days and suddenly it made me appreciate just what an amazing adventure I have had so far and I felt very emotional.  Chris had stopped to wait for me and in the early evening sun he took this photo..

We knew that we would pass the 9000km mark whilst climbing, so near the top as the sun was setting we cycled tother to celebrate this milestone. About 400m short we admired the intense sunset happening all around us…

We hit 9000km and were near the top now after 17kms. It was almost dark and we knew we had a 10km descent to look forward to. Margo and Ben had waited for us at the top, however with the warm sun now gone, it was pretty cold and the way down would be colder. They had put all their clothes on and were preparing to go, we did the same and Chris remarked that we were lit up like Christmas Trees! Off we set. I hate cycling in the dark to be honest and it was pitch black by the time we’d got ourselves sorted, only the car lights provided any illumination. That also has the effect of destroying any night vision that you might otherwise have had. So we set off at a slow pace and tried to stay together. Half way down I had to stop to put on more clothes I was shivering from head to toe! By the time we go to the bottom, warm clothes and all, my teeth were chattering and I was really cold. Not only had we been cycling for 8 hrs, over 100km, we also hadn’t eaten for a while so I was feeling pretty shattered and ready to stop now. Whatever excitement I’d had about hitting 9000km or beautiful scenery, had evaporated and I just wanted to stop, eat and sleep.

We were now in Dali (new town) and need to continue a further 15km north to Dali, the old town, where we had a place to stay. That last few km were fairly straight forward, with lit roads and an easy route, but they passed in a blur. We arrived into Dali old town, happy, relieved and very tired. I would stay here with Chris and the others for a few days before going back to the UK for 2 months. This was my last day of cycling and  the longest day ever for me – 114km!!

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