China Part 2

In the rule books of Chinese officialdom, cycling across China was illegal. Early on, I secured a travel permit to visit Karakul Lake, a destination the Chinese were anxious to open up to tourism. I then had a Tajik traveler I met change the destination characters to read "Shanghai" rather than "Karakul Lake." As the permit now read, I had permission to travel overland all the way to Shanghai!
I stopped in the oasis town of Turpan, where I promptly contracted hepatitis. Actually, I probably contracted the disease three or four weeks earlier, but only started showing sympoms when I reached the oasis.

I won't go into details -- I don't have any photos of myself with lemon yellow skin anyway. And, you tend not to take photos when you're flat on your back.
I convalesed for two weeks in Turpan. When my strength started to return, I began searching for a very ellusive part. I had been cycling with a homemade gear shifter since the Karakoram. The design meant I had to get off the bike every time I shifted gears, which was extremely irritating.
Finally, the homeade shifter came off, and a real one went on. It cost me a hefty bribe, but I felt like I had won the lottery. (I appologize to readers of the book, who will realize I've meshed Kashgar and Turpan together here for the sake of brevity.)
I left Tupan behind as August arrived. Lanzhou marked the beginning of the expansive central grasslands where nomads wandered free unbounded by roads.
I felt at home on the grasslands, pedaling along the dirt tracks and tent-dotted fields. I was a free-roaming rider, self-contained and not bound by the itineraries of a mechanized world.
I cycled into the monastery town of Xiahe, nestled in the foothills outside Tibet. I think this is the only time I have a photo that exactly matches the book!
From the book: "The single mud road was flanked by a dozen wooden buildings. I entered a bar similar to those in the American Old West, made of adobe-style brick with a dozen horses tied to a post out front."
Xiahe was an odd combination of a remote Tibetan village and backpacker-style tourists. This was another spot that the Chinese were trying to make into a tourist destination, and as a result, travelers were free to visit by special permit.

Unfortunately for the Chinese tourist industry, the only ones who seemed to be attracted to Xiahe were an odd hodgepodge of motley backpackers.
Readers will know Stephie and Karlos, who bought a donkey while in Xiahe and planned to trek across the grasslands with the poor animal carrying their supplies.
Sharon was another transient resident of Xiahe, seen here stirring a stew next to my bike and a few Gelug monks. You can't really see it in the photo, but she tried valiantly to dress like a sixties rock star.
From the book: "The last glimpse I caught of the little caravan was Karlos struggling with one of the huge white sacks that had fallen off the donkey, while Sharon, clad in her Tibetan coat and John Lennon glasses, was trying to shoo away a curious crowd of locals."
But I still had one more desert to cross -- the Gobi.
After 24,000 miles, four continents, and countless repairs, my bike was nothing but a conglomeration of spare parts held together by spit and glue. The end of the journey, Hong Kong, was drawing near.
I cycled ever southeast through central China. Traveling became easier when I grew nearer to the population of more urban provinces. The deserts of the north and west became more distant, food was more abundant, and water was no longer an overriding concern. The ever-increasing presence of the burgeoning Chinese population made the privations of the desert seem a distant dream.


On to the Epilogue