Today’s distance / ???????: 65 miles / 104km
Average speed / ????: 11mph / 17.7km/h
Time on skateboard / ????: 5h 53m
Total skateboarding distance to date / ????????????: 4648mi plus 280mi (?) / 7480km plus 450km (?)
Ascent / ??: 170m
Descent / ??: 420m
End-of-day GPS coordinates: N43° 03′ 54.00″, E088° 40′ 27.60″
Amazing start to this amazing day.
We woke early. Just as the sun was starting to peek above the horizon. The wind was still at our backs.
Marija is also using these three days of traveling from Urumqi to Turpan as a test to see how her knee handles the cycling. Previously, she cycled over 25,000km across and around the Eurasian Contient before having some issues with a problematic knee. She returned to her home country of Slovenia for surgery, and now, 5 months since the surgery on her left knee, she is preparing to give a go at cycling back to Slovenia from Kazakhstan. I am natually slower than the bike, so my slow pace is perfect for Marija for getting back into the swing of things.
Approaching the small city of Dabancheng, somewhat of an oasis in the desert, we crossed paths with three older cyclists heading towards Urumqi. True adventurers, they inspired me with their positivity, sans all the brands and ‘must-have’ equipment that so many of us western travelers seem to require.
The suprise of the day however, was awaiting us as we began dropping from the Tian Shan mountains through a narrow rocky gorge. Lo and behold, around a corner, we meet the infamous Norwegian cyclist extraordinaire Asmund (aka Pink Gloves).
Asmund gained fame by way of his frequent and poignant comments on English cyclist Edward Genochio‘s cycling blog in early 2006. I was also a regular reader and commenter on Edward’s blog, so I knew of Asmund. Among other controversial statements on Edward’s blog, Asmund predicted Edward’s certain death as Edward made his way across the Tibetan plateau. Read this blog post from Edward that quite nicely summarises the dialogue…
Asmund is also a sort of purist when it comes to traveling by bicycle. While on his tours, there is no cheating. No cheating at all. No other transport other than the bicycle. He was not very approving of my taking a train to the other side of China to begin this current leg of the skateboard journey.
I did not recognise Asmund as he came cylcing towards us on the quiet side road. All I saw was the first western cyclist I had seen since arriving in China. I was elated of course, and all three of us stopped to introduce ourselves.
“Hi, I’m Rob,” I said, shaking the man’s hand.
“Rob? Rob? Rob from Invercargill?” the man said. The man then turned to Marija and began talking to her.
I was naturally taken aback at this comment from a seemingly random, unknown cyclist in the middle of nowhere in the remote Chinese province of Xinjiang.
Asmund was still talking to Marija when I tried in vain to interrupt him. “Now, how exactly did you know where I was from?” I asked.
The man smiled at me and ignored the question.
It was then that I started to wonder…could this possibly be Asmund? I had only seen obscure photos of him on Edward’s blog, so I couldn’t be sure.
I’m not sure how it finally clicked, but I do remember uttering the words “You’re not…you’re not…um…no…you’re not Norwegian, perhaps, are you?”
The man was, and the man was indeed Asmund. To make things more amazing, he had only three minutes before cycled down out of the desert to the north of the road to connect with the paved G312 in order to go to a store to buy beer. A matter of minutes later, and we would have missed him.
I still can’t believe it. Asmund was equally surprised, thinking that I was still skating my way across the US. He hadn’t caught up on the fact that I was now in China.
For postertity’s sake, I had him sign my Guinness World Record log book.
So, Asmund, if you’re reading this, it was a pleasure to meet you. Very suitably random indeed.
Marija and I left Asmund to go to buy his beer and return to the desert, and continued to enjoy the downhill and tailwind. I had some issues with the uneven surface of the old G312 highway at speed; the trailer almost tipping. However with some fine adjustments, I had it tracking correctly again.
Asmund had told us that the weather forecast for tomorrow was for 37 degrees in the daytime, so Marija and I decided take advantage of the howling tailwind and push on for as far as we could today, to avoid the heat tomorrow as we dropped down to Turpan (150m below sea level).
As we left the narrow gorge, the land opened out into true desert surroundings. Great fields of gravel stretched miles into the distance before thrusting upwards into dry, arid mountains.
Just before dark, we were forced to stop again as Marija’s front tyre once again got a puncture. The wind was still blowing at about 30 to 40km/h. All around there were no trees, nowhere to pitch a tent. We moved off the highway and sought shelter in a small natural ditch in the gravel. Out of most of the wind, we setup our sleeping pads, scoffed down noodles and oatmeal for dinner, and tried to get some sleep, me still shaking my head at the inconceivability of meeting Asmund in the middle of nowhere in China….