Brian's Blog
Friday, 12 September 2008
Visa Tales

I'm in Wuhan, still about 2 1/2 - 3 weeks ride from Hong Kong, but came close to having to toss in the towel. My 60 day visa expired today 9/12. Had been told all along that I could get a visa extension at any decent size police station. About the time I figured on trying to extend I got hit with a flu bug that slammed me for 2 days, not to mention thunderstorms that I couldn't ride in anyway. Tried the local station and they said no way. Had to head off to the next town, Jingman, where I was told I'll get the extension no problem. 3 days to go.

Made Jingman concerned about the lag time between applying and receiving the 30 days extra. The "Public Security Bureau" didn't open until 3 in the afternoon! When I got in the guy refused to even talk about an extension. Said I must go to Wuhan for an extension, a 3 day ride and I have 3 days left in country until they detain me and fine me to the tune of about $900 or so a day while a new visa is processed for a week. I asked how can the Bureau in Wuhan give me one but the same Bureau here cannot? "There is no reason, I just will not give you one" he says. So I was up at 4a.m. the next morning and managed to put the bike on a bus and headed for Wuhan.

The Bureau opens again at 3pm. for afternoon hours. I was sitting outside the station waiting for the doors to open, and a guy pulls up on a mountain bike. Jackie, an American, raised in Seattle and running a coffee shop with his girlfriend Kat about a block away. I have a great cup of real brew and back to the office. They want proof of $100 a day for my continuing stay in China, hotel registration forms, photos, and to wait a week. I have 1 day to go on the visa. I'm balancing hotel cost for a week, the fact I want to go home so bad, coming up with the documents etc.

Back to Jackies. Great guy. Talk it over, I take a walk, wanted to go home more than fight the Chinese for permission to stay in their country for another 3 wks. With weighing out the right thing to do, and Jackie cluing me in on a cheap hostel, plus a buddy of his in the police dept. that might possibly be able to make things happen a little faster I decided to press on. Went on a mad treasure hunt for all the documents they wanted, hitting banks for a fund print out, hotels, photo shops and having a blast ripping around Wuhan at night on Jackie's mountain bike. His police buddy Tony and I turned in all the paperwork this morning with hours left on the visa, receiving a "stay out of jail" receipt.

So I have a week to relax, but when I receive the visa it'll only have 23 days left on it so I'll have to put my head down to make Hong Kong in time, but I know I can do it barring any problems. Might see if I can get a bus out to the 3 gorges dam that I figured I was going to miss. It's all good. Meeting Jackie was a great uplift and helped me decide to stay and fight. The light always shines on me when I need it, must be the good coffee! later Brian

Posted by briansride at 11:44 AM PDT
Updated: Friday, 12 September 2008 11:48 AM PDT
Saturday, 6 September 2008
Deep in Central China
Mood:  a-ok

Well since the last update I've been climbing thru the mountains and hills of central China. It's rural but at the same time there are people everywhere. Not a plot of land or hillside that isn't covered in corn crops, vegetable or fruit farms. People have been farming here for a LONG time so they're kind of dug in. Beside the 5000 yr old dynastys that have written history, I passed thru one place just south of Xi'an where back in the 60's they found an old boy dating back 500,000 yrs. So I may not be the first one here, but I swear I'm one of the first westerners in many places I go. People stop and stare at me wide mouthed and even after I say hello (neeha) still they just look dumbfounded at me.

Got off the beaten path taking a direct route down to visit the 3 gorges dam and after a day and a half of climbing and rolling over a big mountain got to a point where the people were indicating to me I was approaching a militarized zone. There was only one road beside backtracking but they assured me I would be cuffed and fined by the friendly Chinese army. Tried to get them to pinpoint the exact area of the zone but couldn't get a good answer, just the general area I was approaching. Not wanting to repeat the Russian incident, I had to turn back.

Flagged down a truck to take me back over the mountain and back here to Shiyan. It may screw up my plans for the 3 gorges since this new route takes me further east. I'll see in a few days. At least I'm out of the hills for awhile. Been very lucky with the weather. Nice days and uncomparable scenery. High mountains, streams and quiet villages. Rapidly approaching Hong Kong, but not rapidly enough. Will have to renew my visa in a few days to give me enough time to make it. I'm hanging in there and I'll talk to again soon.   Brian

Posted by briansride at 12:41 AM PDT
Thursday, 28 August 2008
In Xian
Mood:  a-ok

I've now made it to Xian. Many may have not of heard of it, but it's the home of the terra cotta warriors, a very well known archiology discovery some years back. I'm going out to visit them tomorrow, staying here for a few days. It's also the center of many chinese dynastys stretching back more than 3000 years. The home of chairman Mao to boot. The smog here is incredible. There's only about a half mile visibility. Local guy told me that's just the way it is.

It's a significant waypoint of my journey since I knew I was always going to stop here and see the warriors, but also where I begin turning directly southeast heading for Hong Kong. Still about 1000 miles to go, but I feel it's like the last leg. Been passing thru some very scenic country of late, all terraced farmland, miles of willow lined roads, fruit stands everywhere and passing thru some of the craziest tunnels I've ever seen. Dark dust filled no lights 1k long. Signs outside saying no bicycles but hey this is the only road. Hope they're behind me.

So many people everywhere in contrast to the Gobi, villages every couple of k's so it's been hard to stealth camp. Lucky I find these 20 yuan ($3.50) hotels in the small towns. The bigger towns and cities have cheap hotels too, but several times now I've been kicked out of them after I've settled in for the evening once the keepers report my presence to the police. Only the expensive hotels it seems are certified to host foreigners. I'm staying here in a youth hostel that is reasonably priced and they have a great coffee/pizza cafe. Haven't had a decent cup of coffee since leaving Germany.

This is a walled city, the former fortress of kings so I'll get out tomorrow and take a few pics. I'm finally adjusting to China, been here 5 weeks now and am learning to order some different food, or rather different types of noodles. I'm getting used to people being amazed and tugging at my arm hair, being gawked at and beginning to think that if the drivers didn't honk their horns at everyone they'd be running people over constantly. Seen so many people, bicycles, cars, and farm equipment just mosey out in front of traffic, relying only on the horn blaring to tell them to take a look.

As I slowly approach the population centers of the East I can feel the humanity getting more and more dense. Still it's just another part of this grand journey. I'm feeling good and it's just getting better by the day as I approach the end. Hope everyone is well and talk to again soon.     Brian

Posted by briansride at 4:15 PM PDT
Saturday, 16 August 2008
Whoowee in Wuwie!
Mood:  a-ok

Hi everyone. I know the maps you may access don't have alot of the little and not so little towns I mention in my blogs; google and yahoo maps are worthless in this country. Anyways, I'm on the very southern edge of the Gobi, been out of the true desert for several days, and out of the winds from hell for almost a week. Here in Wuwie, as in Whoowee, I'm out of the desert! Have seen some sections of the Great Wall and tomorrow about 16k south of here will catch my best view and perhaps last. I'll load those pics in another few days.

After that I start climbing into what looks on the relief map an endless terrain of hills and small mountains for the rest of the trip. Met a Vancouver Canada couple heading the other way about 2 days ago. Damian and Jill are cycling from the Shanghai area and are heading for London. Nice people who gave me the news that after Langzhou, about a 3/4 days from here the winds end so the hills won't be so bad. This morning riding in I met Neil, cyclist who started in New Zealand and is heading home to Tipperary, Ireland. Such an encouragement to meet other westerners, lets me know I'm rolling closer to home.

The police here in China are nice people, I should know, been "interviewed" by them half a dozen times, 3 or 4 times they show up at the hotel room in the late evening wanting to look at the passport and visa. Pleasant manners but still a unique experience for it to occur so frequently. From the other cyclist reports it just gets worse as I head east, terror plot worries for the Olympics have jacked up security in a very secure place. It's all part of the journey and I have come to expect it. Hell I've taken to rolling into a town and speaking to the first officer I see and ask for a pingqua (hotel), might as well make it easy for them and get it out of the way.

Serini, by the time you read this I hear that you attended Ken's block party, hope everyone had a good time and got in a little trouble at least!

I'm writing this on a computer in a computer sales store, they were kind enough to give me a little time and everyone is sitting around watching me type, although no one can read what I'm saying! I have come accustom to eating, drinking, typing and doing small repairs with an audiance! Now I know how film stars and hot chicks must feel! So keep the faith everyone, I'm coming home on time and (hopefully) on budget. China is as close as I'll ever get to visiting another planet and I'm getting better everyday with the chopsticks!   Be cool, talk to you again soon.   Brian

Posted by briansride at 9:56 AM PDT
Thursday, 7 August 2008
The Gobi almost behind me
Mood:  a-ok
Hello everyone, I'm in the small town of Yumechen, on the south eastern edge of the Gobi, about a 2 day ride ahead of me to Jayaguan, the unofficial end of the desert. This has been quite an effort, ranging from not too bad to "oh my god". I thought I had it whipped when all it was throwing at me was the heat, hell I live in the central valley! Then the cross and head winds kicked in. Coming from a different direction everyday, guessing in the 40-50mph range with gusts that would send me right off the road. Ran out of energy and water a couple of days, aimed to relax a day in a very small place, Anxi, but the wind changed again and they were going my way! I jumped on and was blown east for about 80k's.
Been camping out alot since there are long distances between towns and even the gas stations are scarce out there. Many times obtained water from truckers or road crews. Here in Yumenchen, it looks like a good connection so I'm putting up a few pics. Viewed the August 1 eclipse in Hami, I think the first time I'd seen almost a complete moon cover, for about a minute the stars came out, and the eeiry twilight just before and after was also quite a sight.
Met a cool young American English teacher from Tennesee, Justin Scott and his buddy Lian Wan in Hami and we hung out for a day, went out to Lian's folks place and had a great lunch. Watched the eclipse together and later I gave a "lecture" to their group of teen Chinese English students. Hami had a KFC, say what you want, it was tasting good to me. The food here is still an issue for me but hey I've lost 33lbs. so far so I can't complain.  Thanks all, talk to you later.  Brian

Posted by briansride at 10:31 AM PDT
Thursday, 31 July 2008
Quick Update from the Desert
Mood:  a-ok

Just a quick note: I've made it to Hami, the other big town here in the Gobi. Turns out I need to look at my map more and look at the Chinese road signs less, it was a 320k jaunt to Hami.Lucked out leaving Shanshan the other day, overcast! Put on 100+k on a cool day, camped out under a culvert overpass in absolute nowhere. Woke up the next morning and RAIN! Light to moderate all day, put on the gear and went another 100k, another night in the desert.

Today was a mix and less climbing so I made Hami in good time. Might stay here a day, not sure as I write this.  Calling for thunderstorms early. So far the brutal heat I experienced past Urumqi has given me a break. Supposed to return in about 3 days, still I'm playing a winning hand weather wise on the whole.That's it for now, talk to you soon.  Brian

Posted by briansride at 2:23 PM PDT
Monday, 28 July 2008
Relaxin' in Shanshan
Mood:  a-ok

It's only been a few days since the last blog but I found a hotel in Shanshan with internet in the room. Was turned away from a couple of hotels in the past few days, didn't understand why, like they didn't want an American staying there. Then I spoke with a Chinese policeman and he explained that not all hotels are allowed to accept foreigners. A shame since the small places are always the cheapest and all I want is a bed and a shower. Many times they only offer cold water!

Had a time this morning trying to get an atm machine to accept my card. A bank teller walked me down the street like 4 blocks to a bank that it would work at. Try that in San Francisco! It was getting late in the morning so I decided to stay an extra day here.Managed to upload lots of photos so it was worth it. The temps here are in the low 100's in the mid afternoon, been going thru like a gallon+ of water everyday. The landscape is Mars like, rock, dirt, and barren mountains.

Spent one day fighting a strong cross wind that kept blowing me off the road. Had to ride for miles kind of tacking the wind with a leg out to catch myself when the sudden gusts would just move you sideways without warning.Saw two trucks turned over and many truck windsheilds laying in the dirt from past accidents. Been seeing camels and all the signs are in Chinese and some Islamic writing, evidence that much of this region, population, and culture had once been part of Kazakstan and Uzbekistan before the Chinese took over.

Still trying to get used to the food, it's so different and of course I don't know one Chinese symbol so it's hard to order. Also alot of it just doesn't agree with me. The heat, pedaling, and food issues should work out well for my continuing weight loss program! If I make it home and my snoring has decreased I'm sure Sheree will feel it was all worth it! There's a major eclipse coming about August 1st and apparently I'm in one of the best parts of the world to see it, perhaps I'll be in a small village and predict it, they'll really think I'm cool!

China is a fascinating place, glad to be here but really glad it's my final country. Everything is going well and this adventure just keeps rolling along. Everyday I roll out of bed or the bag and wonder what will happen today? My luck is holding and I thank you all for following along. Until next time, take it easy. Later    Brian

Posted by briansride at 12:29 AM PDT
Wednesday, 23 July 2008
Live from Western China
Mood:  a-ok

Folks I am chillin' in Urumqi, getting ready for what I beleive to be the best challenge of the journey, crossing the Gobi. In the last several days I passed out of bleak desert into some very nice irrigated lands full of melons and vineyards. I'll skirt along a mountain range for about a week before hitting Hami, where the road turns south and plunges across the open desert. I have faith from what I've seen so far, the roads are very nice and have good space on the side and there's the national gas stations every 20-40 k's. Like most things, I'm expecting the worst and it'll probably be just fine as long as I keep thinking ahead.

Urumqi is a very large nice city but in the country it looks like a post nuclear age where everyone just decided to move back in. Everyone lives in some mud shack or broken building.They just put a shade cover up front and move in. I needn't mean to speak poorly of what I see, it's just the only way I can quickly describe it. The people are just as nice as I've run into, everytime I stop they whip out a drink, a melon and smokes and politely ask if they can have their picture taken with me and offer me a place to stay. I'm having to relay this and the rest of my messages for the journey thru Cody, my website will simply not load here in China, there's a national filter and perhaps because mine is a new site it hasn't made the grade.

I really enjoy reading everyones remarks to the blog so I am going to have Cody email me all of the comments. Again, I'll try to load some pics, but can't promise anything. I'm keeping my head into this, trying to ride it hard all the way to the finish, telling myself don't ever think you've made it until I arrive in Hong Kong. Plenty of adventure ahead and some incredible scenery. Oh and plenty of mountains. Take care everyone.    Brian

Posted by briansride at 10:59 AM PDT
Tuesday, 15 July 2008
....Once I rode my bicycle to China...
Mood:  a-ok

I strung together about a week of 100k days and crossed the border yesterday late afternoon and made it here to Tacheng. The road varied from awesome smooth new pavement to climbing gravel hills. In one 10k gravel stretch where they were building a new roadway, I said screw this and got up on the new road, had it all to myself and figured I'd keep at it until someone yelled at me! No problem.

The Kazak people couldn't have been nicer to me all the way thru. In Urzhar, the hotel wouldn't let me pay and bought me dinner! In Taskesken a family took me in for the night and I had dinner and breakfast with them, same in Makashy. Incredibly good people. You know you've traveled too much when you arrive at the Kazak/China border and think "I'm almost home!" The Chinese border control point was more of the same. Once I told the story they got all excited. Uniformed guards with big hats and guns all broke out the cameras and thru the whole process they were clicking pictures. Taken into a building where they searched thru all my things but they were being so nice and polite I didn't mind. The head of the border station gave me a couple of bottles of green tea and kept asking me (thru a translator) if I was being treated well.

Pulling into Tacheng I asked a guy for directions (everythings in Chinese!) before long others were checking me out and joining us as we rode along and by the time I hit town I had a posse surrounding me. Tacheng is a big town I hadn't expected by looking at the map. Nice hotel for about $17, tied one on last night with three Kazak truck drivers staying there. Even got a needed haircut today, try to stay cool, the heat is getting turned up. I don't officially hit the Gobi for another week or so but you'd never know it. It all looks like desert to me. I've been actually putting on some good miles in the heat. Drink lots of water and keep rolling. Feels good. Thanks for checking in.


Posted by briansride at 1:23 PM PDT
Wednesday, 9 July 2008
Zipping thru Kazakhstan
Mood:  a-ok

Well things have moved along pretty quick since leaving Chelyabinsk. After a day in Astana where they were celebrating their 10th anniversary as the country's capitol with bands playing all day and fireworks at night, I put in a few 80k days, camping out by a river one night that was apparently the trail of the evening cattle and morning goat drive. Laying in the sleeping bag hoping I got up before the cattle arrived! Turned down a few offers for a ride before finally relenting.

Caught a lift with Alike to Semipalatinsk which really put me back on track time wise. Stayed with Alike and his daughter Diana for a day, going out at night with him and his friend Nicolay as they showed me the town. Semi is the home of Russia's nuclear testing sites, very appropriate since Eastern Kazakhstan is a dead ringer for Northern Nevada.  But for the lack of moblile homes I felt a though I was back home where I grew up. Endless kilometers of scrub desert with very few towns or villages. I really enjoyed the riding here since it was mostly flat and heading south here to Ayaguz the wind was at my back enabling me to put in a few 80-100k days.

I'm here in the main administrators office at the post office in Ayaguz writing this, the only place in town they have internet today. I'll not attempt to upload any photos since they have work to do and need the computer back. From here it is a 3 maybe 4 days tops ride to the Chinese border and this place is the last shot I have at a hotel ($8!) and internet until I reach Urumqi, the largest and one of the few towns in western China.

Be a couple of days where I must carry all my food and water between stops, but on the other hand there always seem to be a gas station or cafe right when you need one. Funny how I set out a month ago to spend less time in Russia and more in Kazakhstan but it turned out the other way. As I have found all along the way, the people here are super nice and always somewhat amazed I'm pulling into their little village or town. All day I'll be flagged down by people to ask how I came to be here and many times I've gone into a store or cafe for water or chow and they refused to let me pay. Out in the middle of nowhere but never on your own.

It's hard to believe after all this I'm on the verge of entering my final country. Before the journey I just kept imagining crossing China on a bicycle, the rest of the trip a blur leading up to it. It'll be a great way to finish, hitting all the points. Entering the west in one of the most remote deserts on earth with it's Kazak and nomad culture to the lushness of the east and the Chinese people. I'm on schedule or maybe a bit ahead, I hear the roads in China are very good, good news since my front fork is showing a minor tweak.Otherwise the bike's holding up well considering its age and all it's been thru.   Folks, China, the belle of the ball, the prettiest girl in the room awaits and I'm feelin' good. Thanks for everyones well wishes and I'll see you in October.   be cool   Brian 

Posted by briansride at 11:25 PM PDT
Updated: Thursday, 10 July 2008 10:11 PM PDT

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