Across Continents

Ken's Blog

Road ahead

“The difference between ordeal and adventure is… attitude”

Planning tools - web

I’d slept in a petrol station, on the floor of a roadside cafe, and had a suspicion I’d shortly be adding a brothel to the list. Sometimes one has to suffer for one’s art. And I don’t mean in the house of ill-repute. No. I was thinking more about what my mother would make of it. Or me. Perhaps I’d better take the long way home.

Annotated map - web

I’d been looking at the road ahead, roughly three weeks to the city of Lanzhou, much of it across the Gobi desert. A great deal of it barren, sparsely populated. My map had its limitations, much of it down to its small scale. I’d learnt to augment it with a blog I’d found, a very useful account by a fellow English cyclist who’d come the same way. Lots of annotations.

Google Earth had good imagery of the region, useful for seeing what’s there. Or in the desert, what’s not. Like a couple of settlements shown on my map that simply don’t exist on the ground. Useful to know if you’re planning on using them as watering stops. And one helpful individual had populated much of the route with an abundance of photographs showing exactly what the terrain, and the road, looked like.

Google Earth - web

I’d also found a website where I could look up place names in Simplified Chinese. After a while I’d noticed that all the towns seemed to have remarkably similar names – actually the same. Re-reading the website, I realised I’d be meticulously copying out the expression for ’populated place’ – about ten times..

Beyond the city of Urumqi, the Turpan Basin. Described as the hottest place in China. Across the ninetieth line of longitude. One quarter of the way around the world. Next Hami, large town or small city perhaps, but then little before reaching the Silk Road watering hole of Dunhuang. Brief respite, then on towards the city of Lanzhou. Gritty road ahead.

[The author is hugely indebted to Steve Tallon for sharing his own account of cycling across the Gobi desert – see – ironically, a website that seems to be blocked in China. And who, judging from his photographs, found exactly the same branch of a well-known fast food chain in Urumqi as I did. Opposite the Sheraton.

Place names translations courtesy of]


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