Today’s distance / ???????: 43km
Average speed / ????: 13.3km/h
Time on skateboard / ????: 3h 17m
Total skateboarding distance to date / ????????????: 6740km plus 450km (?)
Ascent / ??: 435m
Descent / ??: 150m
End-of-day GPS coordinates: N18.104.22.168, E080.57.08.8
So…the beginning of the skate across China on a longboard. See yesterday’s entry to see how the heck I got myself to the China/Kazakhstan border at Khorgos (N22.214.171.124, E080.24.14.0).
It all started perfectly OK. For the first 10 minutes that is…the pavement lasted about 1km before I hit a veritable warzone.
I slept most of the bus ride from Urumqi to Khorgos. I did however notice some bumping about towards the end of the trip. “Not to worry, Rob. These sections of road construction won’t last long,” I told myself.
Intermittent, unskateable sections of road works lasted for the whole day. I managed to skate 43km of it, which is a miracle in itself. About 20km was walked, pulling the trailer and board behind me.
I was very, very close to thumbing a ride. So close. But the gravel sections were just short enough for me to not get totally fed up with them. Towards the end of the day my forearms were burning from pulling the trailer. Imagine a rolling suitcase with the pull-up handle. Except that the handle is about the size of a toothbrush handle. And the suitcase keeps tipping over with any sort of surface imperfection…of which, on a gravel under-construction road…well…are many.
I did have a howling tailwind for the day. That made things just bearable. And the first-day-on-the-road-in-a-new-country thrill kept me going too.
There are two kind of road surface in China. Either super-smooth, or gravel/mud. This fact held true today. Where I could skate, the roads were smoother than any I skated on in the US. Where I couldn’t skate, you could drop 100 tonnes of TNT on the road and still not get them any worse.
Towards the end of the road, I saw that hope was in sight. The road leading up into the hills looked better. Not as ripped up. It was about this time, also, that the wind started to pick up even more. Dark clouds rolled in. Locals I met along the road would say “Shayue! Shayue,” and then rattle off some other thing that I didn’t understand. It didn’t take long to figure out that shayue means rain.
I pulled in under the cover of a petrol station. The kid appears out of nowhere. And his friend. Both knee-high to a grasshopper but oozing energy. Dirty trousers and hands and faces. They must have seen me coming. This longboard and trailer rig attracts kids like flies. I don’t blame them. It’s the coolest thing I’ve seen in a long time too….
“You need sleep?” the kid says in Chinese, wide eyed, tilting his head and placing his palms together against the side of his head indicating sleep.
“Come, come!” he yells. “Come sleep at my place!”
Perhaps he is the kid of a guest-house owner, I think. OK then, I’ll follow.
I unhook the longboard and trailer. Pick them both up. Kid grabs the longboard and makes a runner. Little blighter’s making off with my board! I think for an instant. The kid stops at the 100m long oasis of smooth pavement and propmtly almost kills himself trying to ride the longboard. He bounces back off the pavement however and keeps at it. He picks it up in about 10 seconds.
Remembering the issue at hand, the kid tears his attention back from the board to the tall lauai (foreigner) who has rolled into the village. He picks my board up and with his friend gestures for me to follow him.
We cross the gravel road and I am led through a gate in a packed mud wall separating the section of a humble dwelling from the road. The kid runs to the door of the mud-brick house, yelling something I do not understand.
Out comes a girl of about 16 years old. She looks surprised to see me. I know I would. Be surprise to see me. Under these circumstances.
I ask in Chinese “How much is it?” and indicate sleep with my head tilted and hands palm-together against the side of my head. Thankfully, the girl does not understand my poorly pronounced Chinese. Either that, or she is confused. Confused for good reason. This is no guest house. I realise that the kid, 14 years old, has just invited me to stay at his home. I cringe for even mentioning money, but quickly cover my blunder by laughing and introducing myself.
The rest of the evening was a blur. The kid’s name is Teliehaozi. His sister’s name is Dawuli, and his friend’s name is Haisuer. Without much adue, they all hijack the Longboard Larry board and take turns at riding it like a Longboard Larry board has never been rode before. Who’dve thought that a plank of wood on wheels could bring such simple joy…
This is a Kazakh family. There are two major minorities in Xinjiang Province. The Uighur people, and those people of Kazakh descent. When communicating with me, the family used the only common language we had between us – joy, pictures, gestures, and the little Chinese I know. Between themselves, they spoke Kazakh; a melodic language that shares a lot of words in common with Turkish, or so it appeared, from my distant memory of the little Turkish I picked up in Turkey a year ago.
Dawuli, the sister, appeared to be in charge of the household. I asked where their parents were, and they pointed up to the mountains just a few kilometers away, made sheep noises, and generally made it clear that they were tending to their flock of sheep. Asking whether they would be coming back tonight, the reply was no.
“How many sheep do they have?” I asked in Chinese.
“400 sheep and 4 cows,” Teliehaozi, the younger brother replied proudly.
“Are there any wolves up there?” I asked.
“Oh yes, many wolves,” Teliehaozi replied. “You better not camp up there, mister.”
“Ha! Wolves are my friends,” I joked.
“Your friends?! They’ll eat you!” Teliehaozi laughed.
“Wolves eat me? I eat wolves!” I replied.
Laughter all round ensued.
I did notice however that big sister Dawuli was a little tense. She was clearly in charge of her younger brother and the house while her parents are away. She cooked a wonderful meal of noodles and soup, the noodles hand made. So much reponsibility for a 16 year old, as seen from my western values.
After dinner, I gave Dawuli, Teliehaozi and his friend some stickers. Such a repulsive gesture, I thought, after all that they are doing for me. But they loved them. Teliehaozi, in keeping with the desires of all boys the world over, just had to stick them to something. My skateboard was the obvious choice.