August 30th to September 2nd; 9,643km to 10,970; Rt. G216 to Kashagar
Guess This Won’t Be So Easy…
Two guys rolled up on giant BMW R1200GS’, basically really big, fully outfitted adventure motorcycles. Not far behind them a van pulled in covered in stickers and mottos all over the sides. In it they had a cameraman, translator, driver, and “fixer”. It looked like this was our competition, two other adventurers looking to break the same world record.
Just kidding! No, we’re not competing with Ewan McGregor and Charlie Boorman or the Pyle brothers for this Guinness attempt. We are not alone in the attempt however. Actually, as it turns out, our riding companions for most of the time between our 4,000m ascent south of Urumqi and Kashagar, two young guys around our age, riding on Chinese made, 250cc dual sport motorcycles, Sean and Slash, had set out nearly a month prior from Chongqing with the same goal in mind to ride the farthest distance by motorcycle within a single country.
We actually didn’t find this out until Day 44, the third day after meeting them. They weren’t sure how to break the news to us, or if they even should. But in the end of the day, we all got along quite well and they decided they’d let us in on the secret.
Waking Up At The Mountain
Rewind a couple days and we’re back at the base of the mountain pass we had climbed on Day 42. It had been a really cold night up in the mountains and we were still with our warm weather gear. Amy and I had managed to sleep alright wrapped up in all of our clothes, but Slash and Sean hadn’t come out as well as, not anticipating much camping, they hadn’t packed sleeping bags. We were woken up with the crow of a rooster that had been let out with the chickens at dawn. After warming up, we were back on the road, about 60km more to do before hitting the next town and pavement.
It took a good 3 hours before getting back to pavement at the town of Baluntai (巴轮台). After that, it was another 100km or so of weaving through the ravine in the mountains, dotted with occassional construction sites before we hit nice, open flat pavement. Actually it happened pretty suddenly: one second we were in the mountains, cool air and lots of greenery, then the next we passed through a toll station and we were in open desert again.
We had a hard time finding a place to stay that night as we drove over to a scenic lake, Bositeng Lake (博斯腾湖）, but everything was out of season and closed or just really run down. It took about 50km of riding out of our way before we found an old rundown resort with a villa we could rent out between the four of us. The accomodations, not so nice. Taking a bath in the lake at sunset however, worth it in my opinion!
Deserted Desert Highway
The next two days were pretty boring. We didn’t ride together with Slash and Sean as our 650cc motorcycle could get higher speeds on the expressways than their 250cc, while we needed more frequent breaks with our more narrow seats.
The roads were interesting though. This area of the province is quite remote and even on the expressways you don’t see too many people or even villages. Even weirder though is that the whole area for the 2 remaining days into Kashagar seemed to be covered in a thick haze. It was hard to tell whether what was reducing visibility to as low as only 50m was dust, pollution, or sand, but it definitely made for an eerie feeling while driving down the road.
Easing In The News With An Invitation
We ran into Slash and Sean again at a stretch of road with very little gas. Sean was stopped at an exit next to an abandoned gas station and it looked like we were just about empty. We had to cross over to the other side of the highway where there was some gas since it looked like we had all run out of gas at around the same time. After filling up, a dust storm started rolling in and the attendant advised we wait it out as he grabbed all his stuff and ran inside.
As we sat together in the gas station uSmile convenience store, they let us know that they were in fact setting out on a similar challenge as us, and not just product testing as they had previously explained. We chatted a bit about the situation, our goals, plans, etc. when, possibly to ease the news as much as to be friendly, Slash told us that his hometown was only about 400km away and that he wanted to invite us to stay at his mom’s place when we passed through.
A Night With The Competition
We separated again as the other team wanted to get there in a day so Slash could take a couple days off at home. On the afternoon of the 1st, we rolled into Aksu （阿克苏）, met Slash’s mom and her boyfriend before lunch (大盘鸡 was on the menu, a delicious Xinjiang dish consisting of a giant plate of potatoes and chicken soaked in sauce). That afternoon through evening we hung out at Slash’s mom’s house talking about our trip and how everything had come about. At the end of the day, we all agreed that if we had to be competing with someone at least the competition made for good company!
On to Kashagar
We pushed on the next day as the other two took another day off. It was a pretty easy 470km into Kashagar, more eerie desert highway, and even though we actually had nearly a week to wait for our Tibet tour guide to meet us in Kashagar, I needed to take a two day trip to the nearby border with Kyrgyztan as my tourist visa required me to cross an international border within 90 days of each previous entry. Apparently the journey was a pretty strenuous one, even if I wouldn’t be taking the bike. We didn’t want to leave anything to chance so on to Kashagar to start planning my mini international excursion.