CHINA, 4th February 2018
It felt good to be packing up the bikes again, and not just because I was restless to move after a whole week in the hotel, but because the temperature was so warm. It felt like spring. I could take off my gloves and adjust things on my bike with my bare hands, without my fingers freezing. It was wonderful to feel this sudden heatwave. It had got so much warmer over the week, it was simply great. Probably about minus fourteen.
Before we’d got to the end of the street, however, things started to go wrong. My bash-my-bike-with-a-wrench method of repair had, if you can believe this, done more harm than good. You see my bike has done a lot of miles, and not everything on it works that well. The little piece of plastic that the cables run through under bikes, below the bottom bracket, for example, well that broke quite a while ago. I found an ingenious solution to that though, replacing it with a piece of plastic cut from a water bottle, with grooves for the gears in it, held in place with cable ties. But my attempts at bashing off my crankset had broken these cable ties, and now my rear gear cable had slid off and jammed in the crankset, making forward progress impossible. So I had to stop and try and fix it. As I yanked the cable free and went about readjusting it, I noticed something else was amiss. See if you can see spot what it is:
Yeah, so the housing around the cable had seen better days too. There was no time for fixing it up now though, we’d only just got started, so I settled for a quick solution, fixing the rear derailleur in a middle gear. But luckily my earlier bashing hadn’t deformed the crankset as bad as I’d feared, so I could still use both the small and middle chainring at the front, meaning I had a grand total of two gears to get me through the rest of the day.
Things didn’t immediately get better after that. The road we planned to take was closed, blocked off by big boards, and we had to walk through a narrow corridor of footpaths, which featured several short flights of steps. With a bit of determination we made it up those, though, and then things really did get better after that. Almost the whole way out of Urumqi we had segregated cycle paths to follow. While these were used by other vehicles, cars, motor bikes, pedestrians and all, they nevertheless kept us away from speeding traffic and provided a pretty nice way to escape the big city.
After twenty kilometres we were out of Urumqi and stopped to take a quick break. It was turning out to be a pretty good day. We were well on course for our target of Fukang and I didn’t even have any icicles on my eyelashes. But soon after we resumed riding Dea’s knee started to hurt again. It was not good news, and before long we took a longer rest in a cafe in the hope it would help, where we ate noodles and we ate eggs, but we did not eat the copious amounts of very spicy chilli that came with it.
We carried on and had a great, wide, quiet road to enjoy for a while, up a short climb over snowy hills. Unfortunately we then turned east on a narrow road busy with trucks, which was a whole lot less fun, I can tell you. It got even worse when my chain started skipping so badly that one of my two gears was unusable. With only the one small gear left and Dea’s knee in pain, we limped our way along towards Fukang.
We’d passed a couple of police checkpoints for traffic going the other way without problems, and we hoped we might get away without being stopped, but as we closed in on Fukang, a checkpoint appeared on our side. Thankfully it wasn’t a big problem. We had to go inside and sit while a man checked our passports and asked where we were going, but there was no need for a police escort this time. Soon we were free to go on. And the road grew wide again and the trucks all disappeared, and we had a nice ride into Fukang in the end.
Our hotel here in Fukang is a great one. It’s more of a traditional building with oriental roofs, and the TV has lots of English movies. It was pretty easy for us to decide on taking another rest day, to give Dea’s knee a chance to ease gently back into cycling again. After a good night’s rest, this morning I set about trying to repair my bike once again. I went over to a corner of the big car park out the front of the hotel, and went to work. Bashing the crankset with a wrench had not worked in Urumqi, so my plan today was to bash the crankset with a wrench even harder. This didn’t work well, so I refined the technique, and took a screwdriver, and then bashed that against the crankset with a wrench. This also didn’t immediately work, so I alternated the two techniques for about half an hour. Then the crankset came off, which was pretty frigging awesome of it.
My elation at this victory was cut short by the appearance of an odd young Chinese man who had come over to talk to me. Of course I indicated that I could not understand Chinese, but showed him the best I could what I was doing. But the man had come to talk to me, and talk to me he most certainly did. He stood there chatting for about twenty minutes. I have no clue what about.
Beating my crankset wasn’t the end of my troubles, however. My cassette provided a similar challenge. Without a chain whip I had to use yet more unorthodox techniques. I put the old chain around the casette and affixed it to the rim of the wheel with cable ties to provide the necessary resistance to unscrew the casette nut. But it wasn’t into being unscrewed. For a half hour or more I battled this damn casette. At one point a puppy came over. It was ever so cute and I thought it was my friend, but then it picked up one of my cable ties and ran off with it. I was getting frustrated. Several times the cable ties broke and I had to replace them. It felt like the thing was really stuck in there. I really wanted to start bashing it with a wrench. But I knew that wouldn’t help, and with enough oil, patience, determination, and cable ties, I eventually got it free. Hurrah!
New crankset, new casette, new chain, new derailler, new gear cable, and yes, new housing. My bike was finally ready.
That was a few hours ago. Now we’re relaxing in the hotel, about to go out for dinner and watch some more movies. Dea’s knee is feeling quite alright and my bike is as good as new (sort of). Tomorrow we should be alright to continue our quest, cycling towards our next hotel in Jimsar. It is over a hundred kilometres though, so we may need to camp along the way (depending on how much interaction we have with the police, of course) tomorrow night and arrive in Jimsar on Tuesday. We’ll hopefully update you from there.
Distance to Mori: 225 kilometres.