Monday, 15th June: We were up, breakfasted and out of the hotel just after 9am. I was worried about my pannier carriers but, as most of the route was tarmac, I wasn’t expecting too many problems. Sadly, this turned out to be a little optimistic. We fuelled up about 250 kilometres down the road in Yencheng, and someone noticed that my right hand pannier seemed to be loose. A quick examination revealed that the quick release fastener was missing and that the rear bracket had broken. Even the diagonal that had been added was broken!
The support vehicle caught me up, so I offloaded the loose pannier and secured the broken frame with a zip tie. We then set off together towards Mazar, before which we would have a Military checkpoint on the route to Tibet. Consequently, I was keeping half an eye on Garmin, bless her, and half on Alan behind me in the support vehicle. I noticed after 15 minutes or so he had disappeared, having been only 50 yards or so behind me. I double checked Garmin, only to find it had frozen. I pulled over and restarted it, but it just went through a number of cycles of starting and stopping continuously.
This was a real problem. I knew roughly where we were going, but without Garmin I was stuffed. Eventually, Garmin settled down and I realised I had passed the turning. I doubled back and took the first turning in the correct direction that I could … but not the one that was on the map! I zoomed out and quickly saw that I was to the west of the road I wanted. Having quickly remedied my error, I just hit the gas, expecting to meet the support vehicle at some point.
What I did meet, however, were two lorries (mercifully, not at the same time) both travelling on the wrong side of the road. The first came over the brow of a hill as I was approaching. The driver looked as if he was dreaming; he wasn’t even aware of where he was, leave alone that he was on the wrong side of the road! I had to swerve on to the gravel hard shoulder to avoid becoming little more than a bug on his bumper. Scary! The second at least had the good grace to move over in sufficient time to narrowly avoid any necessity of evasive action on my part. Having just about recovered from the shock of those two, I was just about to go over a bridge and saw a white van approaching from the other side. Just as we both got on to the bridge the van driver decided that the dark patch of road in front of him could be a pot-hole and swerved on to my side of the road. I moved to my right (in theory, they drive on the right side of the road here) but I could see that if he didn’t move back to his left I would be going for a swim. Fortunately, he did, but only just in time and we must have missed each other by inches. It must be said that I was now developing paranoia, being fairly stressed out in any event, being way behind everyone. All I knew was that we had to cross the border into Tibet as one group; anyone left behind would not get in!
I hit the gas and was making up ground as fast as I could until Garmin told me to turn left. Now that just didn’t seem right. I cancelled the route and set a waypoint for the restaurant where we were due to meet up. It was straight ahead, and only 13km further on down the road. When I arrived, the support vehicle was not there. Since I had not overtaken him, I must have taken the wrong route. The significance of this was that if I had had a problem with my bike, they would not have known where I was and I could not have told them. Not a good start to the day!
We had lunch and I continued to play catch-up, as most of the group left shortly after I arrived. However, at least I had fed in the right co-ordinates for the border crossing and the subsequent night’s stop. The road had been mostly good but there were a few stretches that were challenging, with stretches of hard packed sand and stone surfaces that were frequent pot holes had been created by lorries, leaving the remainder of the surface very uneven. It wouldn’t have been so bad had I not been worried about my weakened pannier carriers.
We met up at the border crossing point and had been there for some time, when Kevin announced that we were waiting for the Tibet guide, as we had to have a local guide in addition to our Chinese guide who will be with us for the whole trip. We were then informed that our planned night’s stop in Mazar was not possible, as a part of it had been bull-dozed. We had no idea why. Fortunately, the locals came to our rescue and impromptu accommodation and food was arranged in Xadi, otherwise known as Kudi. Kevin said it was probably better than we would have had in Mazar but, trust me, it’s not saying a lot!
“Throttle John” with cake and new hat!
Despite the sudden change of plans, Kevin still managed to arrange a birthday party and a cake for “Throttle John” and, as usual, a good time was had by all.