My, my, a lot has happened and I have been uninspired to document it of late, but having rallied, I present to you the tales of our latest adventures:
We left Hami late in the day, of course. We took a side road riddled with road bumps. These are a nuisance as it is, but the locals have confounded our path still further by filling the spaces on either side of the road with random obstructions in order to waylay the perpetual and aggressive scooter traffic. While attempting to skirt one of these- in this case a large stump, roots and all- I caught my front right pannier and tore it from my bike. I thought I had managed to get away unscathed, but soon realized this collision had broken both of the hooks. I am now down to one pannier that is not permanently strapped to the bike. I have been in contact with Ortlieb about spare parts, but as ever they are not the most expedient of companies in this regard.
Even so, we had a pleasant ride out of town and were surprised by how warm it felt. On a whim, we decided to try camping again. This was a mistake. We began to cook and aborted after boiling some water, retreating into our tents to snack on a cold dinner. We listened to a podcast, which almost put me to sleep, and then stayed wide awake for the rest of the night instead. We are fairly comfortable in our tents, but despite this relative comfort there is something about the crispness in the air that our bodies do not like, and we simply rest with minds alert and perked by the intensity of the cold. I got a fair bit of reading done that night, to be fair. In the morning we agreed not to repeat the experiment and we have stuck to indoor accommodation since.
Big spaces inbetween. It feels good to write from Lanzhou, mentioned at the bottom of this sign.
After a late lay-in we rode up into some snow after a remarkably empty and uneventful ride through another vacuous, stony landscape. Martian plains gave way to little hillocks, a forest of wind turbines and a network of thousands of electrical lines spidering across the desert. Our aim was a gas station about 130k away, but as the night deepened, the cold crept into our extremities. I was exhausted and cold enough to consider trying the tent again, but Cody insisted that he could ride all night if it meant sleeping in a warm bed. This small distinction of priorities would be a source of friction in days to come.
Just as the last of my will to cycle drained away we came upon a janky little rest stop. We hoped beyond hope that we could sleep here, but decided to have dinner first in order butter up the proprietor. A kindly old man and his daughter lived there and they whipped us up some much needed noodles. I thought it was a long shot, but Cody was anxious to pop the question and before dinner was served inquired whether there was somewhere to sleep. The man nodded in the affirmative. Our moods immediately increased tenfold. When we were shown our quarters, expecting to be allotted a corner out of the way to throw down our sleeping bags, we were pleasantly surprised to be led into a proper bunkhouse with pillows and thick comforters, electrical outlets, and a roaring hot coal stove. He charged us a few dollars to sleep which we happily forked over. It was one of the best nights of sleep I have ever had- it was so hot in there we slept with the window wide open all night.
The next day we finally left Xinjiang! One last police checkpoint and we were free. We stopped to snack at the gas station we had intended to stay at the previous night and noted that our unexpected bunks had been far superior. From there we entered the “An Xi Extremely Dry Barren Desert Natural Reserve.” Oh, lovely. After 130k and a great deal of nocturnal exercise, we pedalled into a little town that our map indicated a hotel could be found. Despite the snow on the ground, I stayed pretty warm until the very tail-end of the night, in which I positively froze. No matter, it was only the last 15k.
There were in fact many hotels in this little town, which is a suspiciously consistent theme in Chinese towns: how can these places support so many? We tried no fewer than five hotels before we found one that was certified to host foreigners, to our dismay. We thought this nonsense would end when we left Xinjiang, but in all of China, apparently, tourists may only stay in certain hotels, often the most expensive ones. What’s more, every time we go in to ask if an establishment can board tourists we never get a straight answer. Instead we are told to wait while someone of higher authority arrives, who inevitably says “no,” and guides us to the hotel that does. A simple “no” would suffice. Instead we grow warm and tired while we wait and then have to ride another 5 kilometers in the cold. In this case, the proprietor of the tourist hotel sent us, somehow, to two different hotel lobbies before we ended up where we “belonged.” I am really developing a distaste for national distinction, I would love to live in a world where a passport is not necessary. Here in China ypu are sometimes treated as if you are literally an alien, your uncouthe anatomy requiring the hotel staff to be trained in special off-world first-aid or something.
We slept late and provided entertainment for the staff as we ate a large brunch in the lobby. Cody was a bit upset by the audience we had, for the night before we also had an avid onlooker at dinner. Granted, we are not particularly adept with chopsticks- we get dispirited when the waiters, after observing us, bring us spoons- and we are often unsure of which dish to use for what, and ignorant of the conventional way to mix the various dishes, but we get ourselves fed.
On the other hand, you should see Cody eat: it is a complex, visceral, vicarious affair. There are smacks and slurps, splashing and spilling, a decided lack of dexterity with chopsticks and also of social propriety. We must be forgiven certain trespasses under the circumstances of course, but when a man sits in a hotel lobby sucking the last bit of chocolate out of a squeeze tube after dousing a tupperware full of granola, dried fruit and crumbled biscuits, he can expect a few sidelong glances in any country.
Here no one needs an excuse to stare at us anyhow, there is nothing that is not unusual about us. You should have seen their faces when we rolled up to a store on our own bikes, then, after singing baudily as we filled our canteens, traded bikes and dashed out of town. (The lady there- as she rung us up- stopped, took a picture of each of us, set down her phone and continued without a pause, by the way)
Looks aside, we are unusual characters in the first place, and the liberty of anonymity- personal, cultural, and philosophical- have only loosened our inhibitions. Today, for example, we belted a Michael Jackson tune as we passed hordes of truck drivers without a second thought. (I suspect this particular habit will persist when I get home, the reactions are always well worth it.)
It was unusually warm that day, and after an easy 80k we were in Guazhou, arriving as the sun set. Riding into town we found ourselves on an abandoned six lane thoroughfare that was not on the maps and led through a very cultivated city layout that was in the process of being built- the empty shells of dozens of large buildings loomed before us, the waning light shining through their empty cores like lamps gleaming in the sockets of great skulls. This town seemed artificial, unliving. Soon, we mused, it would be full- we can imagine that people will head West as the Eastern seaboard becomes increasingly populated. We cut South towards far-off lights that suggested a living population and discovered a peculiar strip like some sort of massive resort grounds. Curated parks, walkways, lakes, rivers, bridges rich with detail sprang up on either side of the road. Lights and walking paths, large decorative stones, and numerous speakers playing cheerful music combined for a sickly sweet fairytale effect. A giant building loomed across a lake on the far side of the road, some combination of an imperial palace and a conference center. A majestic bridge arched across the water. Along this lake a suburb and lovely hotel bordered the area with classy flair.
We checked the hotel, intrigued by the wondrous designs of the landscape, and after the usual rigmarole were escorted by a man on a scooter further into town where we were sanctioned to sleep. We showered and set off in search of food. Like all other Chinese towns, this one dazzled with colorful lights. In a large square, people danced in choreographed lines to punchy, poppy music blaring from speakers. We watched this for a moment before I dragged Cody away to find some food. After passing a few blocks that seemed to consist only of phone shops, we found some excellent, incredibly cheap food, consisting of the pervasive noodles and veggies.
On our return trip we loaded up on dessert-snacks as we passed the square Cody bridged the cultural gap by dancing with the others, an incredible sight.
(We videoed this, and many, many other shenanigans and silliness, which you will be able to find on Cody’s youtube account: codysfullpowerbikeride. His phone does not work here, so these videos will not appear for another month or so, but they are well worth a watch.)
The next day we rested. What did we do? We ate food, bought food, and managed to acquire a Chinese sim card for Cody’s phone, which is useless. As we walked around, people peered at us curiously without any subtlety. We walked by a shop and two kids sprinted to the door, sliding the last few feet to get a good look at us as we passed. In another store full of plants, people stretched up on tip-toe to stare through the steamy windows. Many took videos, blatantly, and it felt a bit exciting, I’ll admit, to be such an object of intrigue. We stand out like sore thumbs, both blonde and blue-eyed, and our clothing doesn’t help, but this was in stark contrast to the reactions of Uyghurs and Central Asians, who usually observed us with friendly interest or indifference. We figured things would only get stranger as we moved East.
In the morning we cut the frigid air, our faces numb and our hides raked by the piercing chill. We passed out of town and proceeded to pass the toll booth and hop on the G30, but were stopped by two traffic police and told we were not permitted on the highway and must take the G312, a frontage road. We argued, of course, to no avail. Up to this point we experienced little of the trouble we read about in so many blogs, but here it was, manifesting at last.
We turned on to the G-312 and discovered that it was muddy, destroyed and full of lorries (semi-trucks). We promptly turned around and had an argument with the police that was decidedly more heated. The nature of what has become a perpetual argument concerns safety, which simply does not correspond with the law most of the time. The cops will claim continuously that the law is for our safety, but the Chinese are not the most critical thinking bunch and are just being squares. We were rebuffed and sent back the way we came, but not before I informed the more persistent of the two officers, repeatedly, that he did not know what he was talking about. When he was sufficiently angered, I turned my back without a word and rode off.
We rode on the 312 a couple kilometers before we found a hole in the fence and hopped back on the G-30, jubilant in our victory and happy to be back on the nice, smooth highway with a hard shoulder the width of whole car lane. We even rode on it for a few hours before we were pulled over. I wasn’t sure how serious it was that we had openly defied this little piece of regulation, and I wondered if we were going to be booked. As it turns out, very few police harbor any enmity at all, which would be substantiated many times, and these guys simply stated that we were to be escorted to the next exit. We were relieved that they let us ride, especially Cody, who is absolutely dogmatic about riding every bit of the way. They directed us back onto the 312 and left us after we passed through the toll booth. We ate some lunch and tried it out, finding it had improved significantly. Lorries still streamed steadily along the two-way road- a point of contention between us and the cops- and the shoulder was narrower, but the paving was intact.
Cody lent me his ipod while he listened to an audiobook and, thus entranced, we pedalled steadily toward the city of Xinshiku. Night fell and we still had a ways to go. The lorries streamed and we felt a bit nervous about their proximity, but all was going well. I was a fair bit behind Cody, dreamily absorbing the tunes, revelling in the novelty of riding with music, when I realized my back tire was flat.
I had long since forgotten that this was even a consideration. My last flat was in Rise, Turkey, and I had successfully navigated, oh, say, 5 or 6000 kilometers of road, through the deserts and mountains of Central Asia and their terrible condition, without an issue. Well, it was a good run. As I considered the process of repair I recalled that my road pump was broken. Ah. Cody was at least a kilometer ahead of me. In a moment of impressive resignation, I accepted the immediate reality and began, pleasantly and casually, to walk my bike up the road. We were probably 30 or 40 kilometers from town and it was cold, but I knew that the situation was out of my control and got proactive. I was not in danger of anything, afterall, aside from potential discomfort. To my surprise, I could see Cody’s backlight blinking far, far away, for the road was straight, and hoped he would wait for me…
As I walked, it seemed that his light remained stationary. I picked up my pace. The closer I got the more anxious I became that he would set off again, and I began to jog, hoping that the motion of my light would betray the fact that I was on foot. Thankfully he was patiently waiting. I was keyed up by the suspense and relieved that I had not been stranded again like the last time, in Greece. I quickly swapped the tube, finding that a tiny sliver of metal- likely from the remains of a truck tire- had deftly slipped my tire’s defensive barrier. It is always something tiny. We resumed our ride and closed in on yet another island of light, its beacon staving off the bitter cold of the night. We went through the usual song and dance, popping into a hotel, waiting for a long time to be informed that we could not stay there, and then followed an escort to the tourist hotel- the biggest, fanciest building in town. It was expensive, and we tried to haggle for a long time without success. We bit the bullet eventually and paid up, can’t win them all, and as long as we are inside we are happy. Ravenously hungry, we stashed the bikes and went straight out for dinner, but there seemed nothing in the vicinity aside from what looked to be a cake shop. Loath to wander about in the cold any longer than necessary, we popped into the cake shop and dined on pastries while the locals studied us. After this we went up to our room and found ourselves in the fanciest hotel I have ever been in, all class. This city must be a touristic location of some sort, for this part of town was lit up like an amusement park.
This exorbitantly expensive room, the nicest we have ever been in, by the way, cost us 18 dollars each, breakfast included.
Come morning we stuffed ourselves with breakfast, bid farewell to our suite and continued on the G312 to Jiayuguan. Cody did not like the traffic and elected to try to get back on the G30, which we did by running a toll booth manned by two kind- looking women who were absolutely incapable of stopping us. They yelled and ran, waving their hands as we smiled and said hello as if we did not understand. I felt bad, it was so easy to evade their meek insistences. Back on the G30 we felt good, the traffic was light and the sun was shining. We got about 30 kilometers down the road before the cops pulled us over. They hit us with the old “bicycles not allowed on the highway” bit, but Cody informed them we had permission to be here. When they asked to see proof of this, he persisted in telling them we had obtained verbal permission from Urumqi, which of course was not true and I groaned as I watched. However, we continued to argue about the merits of the G30, and in no time they agreed with us and let us ride! They just drove off and let us be. Wow. Fake permission just got us real permission to be on the road.
The sun followed its arch across the sky and, yet again, we found ourselves riding through the night. (It is hardly possible to ride 130 kilometers between the habitable morning hours and the early nights, but we have found that as long as we keep moving, the cold is manageable. Of course, hands and feet tend to be a bit numb by the time we reach our sanctuary of light and heat for the night.)
Alas, a mere 5 kilometers outside of town, I get another flat tire. In my delirium I was not at first sure whether it was really flat and rode another kilometer before my suspicions became acute. Another puncture in my back tire. Another sliver of metal. This tire was dead. The back tire always wears faster, and this one was about bald. I decided to swap it for the used one I found back in Dushanbe. Stefan actually carried this tire through the Pamirs and up into Kyrgyzstan, where he discarded it and I, after inspecting my back tire, picked it up. Since then it has been folded up and strapped on my back rack. It’s time had come.
I changed tire and tube, and we finished our ride into Jiayuguan. My back wheel felt a bit wobbly, which I attributed to the “new” tire having been folded up for so long. We decided on a whim to stay at a hostel we saw on the map after the first hotel we stopped at could not accommodate us. This was Cody’s idea. To my dismay, I was not keen to stay in the hostel. To my horror, I had become accustomed to the luxury of a private hotel room! Nooooo!!! Definitely time to hostel it again and remember my place in society: hobo on wheels.
The hostel turned out to be really nice. We had a roommate the first night, but the next night it was all ours. We decided to take a rest day in order to visit a bike shop and visit a little attraction called GREAT WALL OF CHINA. We did so. Turns out we were at the Westernmost point of the Great Wall and there was a fortress and grounds to explore that are a UNESCO approved tourist attraction. I reluctantly forked over 7 dollars to see it. It was pretty cool. I have no pictures, but it was pretty touristy. I just wanted to see the crumbling old walls, but it was worth it in the end.
We took our leave the following day, though we were slowed by waking up to yet another flat tire, this time Cody’s. He fixed it and we patched our spare tubes. My vulcanizing glue wasn’t working so well, so I wrapped electrical tape loosely around the patch to keep it on and hoped I wouldn’t need it. We left at about one o’clock, ran a toll, which was becoming an exhilarating morning routine, to get back on the G30 and, well, you know, rode our bikes some more. Despite the day of rest, I was feeling worn out, and was resigned to let the day be what it was. The road was quiet and a bit of snow covered the shoulder at first, but soon the road cleared and we enjoyed a nice tailwind across a flat bit of land. “On the Road” by Jack Kerouac was on Cody’s ipod, a book I have been assiduously avoiding for many years, and I started it. My peaceful day was shaken after 20 kilometers when Cody, who was ahead, stopped and as I pulled up, said simply, “I’m feeling good. This wind is good. I bet we can get to Zhangye, we can do 200 kilometers today!” I stared blankly at him. For me, cycle touring is about the journey, and Cody will claim the same thing, but the fellow is a compulsive planner. This was not the first time I have had issue with this whimsical goal setting, but this time I was not going to bite. We get into disagreements when I draw attention to gaping holes in his idealistic fantasies, little details like the fact that we have never ridden that far in one day- it is short by 25k for me and a good 45k further than his biggest day- or that it was 2 pm and we had only done 20 kilometers, that the wind would probably shift, that the terrain would likely change, that even if we maintained a 20k per hour average, we would not arrive in Zhangye before midnight, and that was if we rode nonstop- optimistically, we would drag into Zhangye around 2 in the morning- or that we simply had no idea what lay ahead of us and ought not plan the rest of the day based on the first hour of riding.
Certain that this would not happen, I simply smiled and said, “Yeah, sure, why not?” However, I could not keep myself from drawing attention to these deficiencies and appeased my compulsive “know-it-all” nature. I would learn, to my chagrin, that it is almost impossible to phase a young optimist.
Once Cody makes a goal, he sticks to it, so he tells me, and I wanted to ensure that this was not yet a goal. Appropriate to our late start was a town 90 kilometers from Jiayuguan, which looked as if it might have a hotel. I lagged behind Cody, as casual as before. Almost immediately the cops pulled me over and I had a heated 15 minute argument with them about safety. They were as unyielding as I was. I repeatedly told them we had permission to be on the highway, to which their reply was a dubious laugh. At last I gave in, but informed them in bad Chinese that they were wrong and didn’t know what they were talking about, did not understand. This obviously exasperated them. “Why can’t these white cyclists just obey the law?” perhaps they thought. My answer is that it is culturally accepted to question things that don’t make sense in the West so that we don’t end up with a country like China (Even if we are headed in that direction). Don’t tread on me.
They rode ahead, which surprised me, leaving me unsupervised. They had asked me if I was alone, to which I replied in the negative, but we had soon moved past the subject and now I thought perhaps they were looking for Cody. I rounded the corner and there they were, talking with my partner in crime. By the time I got there, they had packed back in the vehicle and driven off. Maybe they were too tired to argue all over again. Perhaps they believed Cody when he substantiated my claim that we had permission to be on the G30, or perhaps Cody just has this magical effect on people. Whatever it was, in ten seconds they were appeased and let us be. Well, now we have been granted permission twice! No matter- they never relay this information to the next station and we will go through this rigmarole again. Hopefully they keep the scores of photos and reports to themselves as well, because otherwise we’ll have a record that stretches all the way back to the border.
About lunch time we began to search for a rest stop to eat at. Instead, all signs of civilisation disappeared and we were back in a desert. We had seen signs for a rest stop, but it never appeared. The wind died. We got hungry and snacked. The sun began to set and we hadn’t even made 75 kilometers. I discussed this with Cody and we agreed to stop at the 90k mark, our original plan. After eating we tackled the last 20k. We flew. Must have been downhill, but we were feeling good, and by the time we reached the town we just felt like it was too early to stop. Maybe we were getting used to night riding and couldn’t accept such an early day. The sign that informed us we were still 145k from Zhangye certainly had some influence- we were still too far from our goal. We decided to continue, just to the next spot.
The next spot never came. We were hungry, and the road began to roll in a gentle climb. It got cold. My back tire developed a slow leak and I had to swap the tube. Third flat in a row, same wheel, same time of day. Why my tube pops at night, when it is dark and cold, is a mystery to me. If it has to keep popping, couldn’t it happen in mid-afternoon? I fixed the tube deftly- I am an expert by now- but a bit slower, somewhat discouraged by now, while Cody stared at the Milky Way, a swathe of worlds arching from horizon to horizon across the clear desert night.
On we ride. And ride. And ride. It is cold, and the land is empty. Finally we get to a little downhill and see a few lights in the distance. It is not Zhangye, which is still 120k away. (It was further away than we realized). As we descend we see an exit up ahead, and a police car with its sirens on. We figure they are waiting for us. We ghost our lights and plan to sneak by them, but they see us and are moving out to block our path. We have good speed going downhill, and I know we’re caught, slowing down. Cody, however, yells his signature “We have to go!” in an insistent, desperate tone, and barrels past them. Dismayed, I follow- gotta keep together. The cops are screaming and jumping wildly in the road as we pass. We just ran from the cops, and surely they know it. What did Cody think would happen?
“Weooo, weooo,” the sirens flash and blare, a police van pulls up in front of us. That was smart. Real smart. “Ni hao,” says Cody, greeting them in a friendly, innocent tone. Unbelievably, this immediately disarms them. They smile and reply “Ni hao,” (literally, “you good?” in Chinese, basically “hello”) as if nothing happened and we have our conversation about road safety. This time they insist we leave the highway, as it is the middle of the night. We decide to ask them if there is a hotel nearby and they agree to escort us there. It is another 10 kilometers from the highway, North. We are not enthused by this, but we are happy to be close to home for the night.
Eventually we arrive at a hotel and park our bikes in the lobby. We are hungry and enquire about food: they have noodles here, excellent! We wait along with our cops for the other, local cops to arrive and register our passports. Meanwhile we are served instant noodles. Not ideal, but we eat two large bowls each and are satisfied. As we eat, the cops and our hostess struggle to decipher our passports and check us in. When at last the local police arrive, we are informed that this hotel cannot host us. Oh boy. We have been here for an hour at least and after eating and lounging in the warmth, we are exhausted. Fortunately, the correct hotel is across the street. We wake up the receptionist. It is worthwhile to mention that in many hotel and motel lobbies it is not unusual to find a little bed, or even a few beds, where the employees sleep, basically resting right where they work. It is by now 1:30 am, but our receptionist comes awake ready to work and gets us checked in. At last we may rest. We traveled 170 kilometers that day, and although we were still far from Zhangye, we got closer to Cody’s goal than we expected.
We had arranged to have breakfast delivered an hour after breakfast was officially over. This, of course, was Cody’s doing. I am too meek to make such a request, and when he did, I asked him why he thought we would get special treatment. “You never know til you try,” he said. (I was embarrassed, but it is a common occurrence these days, my partner is a brazen British bulldozer and I guess I was just raised differently?)
We slept until 9:30, ate breakfast and set off for Zhangye, still 100k away.
Already 10 kilometers North of the main roads, we decided to take a rural one we saw on the map. It was a lovely tree-lined street that wound through farmland and small villages. I had forgotten how lovely and engaging it was to ride quiet roads and pass through the seldom explored little communities. This is where you experience the pulse of a country and the human nature of a people. The glamor, grandeur and power of cities is what nations advertise to each other, comparing the extravagance and commercialism of modern success along with relics of former greatness. This gives one an idea of how upper and middle class society lives, but the rural areas are the roots from which a people’s character is derived, their relationship with the land. We had a leisurely day; 100 kilometers felt like a half day for us at this point. We had a nice lunch and enjoyed the scenery. A little later in the day we saw the top of a temple jutting out of the forest not far from the road. I passed it, but after hardly a thought, turned around and saw that Cody had the same idea. It was not far, let’s check it out!
It was a stately Buddhist monastery, somewhat in disrepair. Not a soul was to be seen, but the gate was open, so we wandered inside. Quietly I crept in, hoping to avoid any fees, and eager to take a few photos, which may or may not be condoned. Thus I walked calmly, quietly and slowly through multiple courtyards filled with shrines and statues, candles, incense, and prayer mats. At the back was the spire we saw from the road. It was an interesting place. There was evidence of some half-hearted maintenance and piles of trash here and there, piles swept up but ungathered, paint cans tucked behind walls. It seemed there were not enough Buddhists to man the place. Cody lit an incense and made sure to cleanse me, I probably need it. We read some decrepit signs and peeked in some doors and windows, taking it all in. As we left, an aging monk on a bicycle caught us at the gate. I’m not sure whether he wanted company or money or what, but I think he was telling us that two Americans had recently visited. After struggling feebly to overcome the language barrier, we parted ways and resumed our respective journeys.
On we rode, through pleasant scenery. I was listening to “On the Road” again, which documents a strange journey, one properly experienced en route to somewhere. As the sun set we passed some amazing mountains, bright orange and ornately shaped. It was a magical twilight ride, and of course, come dark we were still an hour or two out. Our route took us right past two nuclear reactors, which belched ominously into the night air and I felt I was far too close to them. I have a superstitious fear of these places, as if the splitting of the atom was a violation of God’s domain and a source of woe for the children of Earth. Can’t imagine where this sentiment comes from. To enter the city we had to pass by a massive wetland, a park with boardwalks crisscrossing its inky expanses of water. It made me homesick. It also made me very cold. We watched the dazzling city lights draw slowly nearer, advertising the extravagance and warmth, symbols of sanctuary and abundance.
I feel as if I have done this a thousand times now. Out of the inky stillness of the night, dragging through the chill and the quiet, pacing steadily toward reprieve, I feel as if I were returning to the world of the living. In these moments I feel anticipation, excitement, but never hurry. Haste is a thing of desperation: desperation is only for the deepest depths of the freezing night. Once the city is in sight, I grow somber. I never feel like a creature of light though, more like a swamp thing or a vampire materializing out of the wilderness, some emissary of the impassive, elemental forces of nature, a visitor come to be nourished, not to reside. A home for a day, perhaps two, and then I will return to my own habitat; to the harsh, beautiful place from whence I came.
We stopped at the first place that had wifi to pick a hostel, of which we saw many on our map. This turned out to be a restaurant and we had some delicious skewers and watched movies in Chinese while we looked. (Our dinners are always, always delicious and interesting, we look forward to all our meals in China with enthusiasm.)
We selected the Silk Road hostel in Zhangye. We rode the three kilometers in and brought our bikes inside. What awaited us was the nicest hostel I have ever seen. Tastefully decorated, immaculately clean, riddled with every conceivable facility, and basically a hotel: we got a private twin room with a tv- which we never use- and strong wifi for less than 4 dollars a piece. The showers were hot with good pressure, the kitchen had all amenities, a western style toilet in the bathroom, and a washing machine. The walls were covered in notes written in pen, which continued along the stairs for three floors, and we made our own contributions on our way out.
To Be Continued