Trip Start Aug 18, 2006
149Trip End Ongoing
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What emphasised Kashgar's strategic importance to me was the number of cyclist's we met staying at the 'Seman Hotel'. Over 20 cycle tourers must have passed through while we were there, with eight of us departing on the same day. As well as being an almost inevitable intermediate stop for long-distance riders crossing Asia, Kashgar is the natural launching or finishing point for numerous 'shorter' tours- the KKH, Xinjiang - Tibet Highway, Pamir Highway and 2 Silk roads. We'd met a group doing the KKH, on our way into Kashgar; eight lycra-clad Norwegian cyclists on mountain bikes, with gear following in a jeep.
-Hey! Where are you guys heading?
-Right. OK. Erm... do you have any... erm.... other clothes?
-Oh don't worry, we understand about Pakistan. We have some long-sleeve lycras!
-Right. Good luck.
After only a month in Pakistan, we were quite taken aback by the shamelessly undisguised curves of the female members of their group; we didn't like to imagine what effect they would have on a totally unprepared Pakistani.
We spent a full week in Kashgar, but only for practical reasons. All our bikes needed servicing, which was unfortunate, since we all later discovered that the mechanics at the Giant bike shop were not quite as competent as they appeared. We needed to buy supplies, since we had no idea what kind of provisions would be available on the road. And we needed to relax, after the KKH. We drank to excess most evenings in Kashgar, and ate good quality cheap food in a variety of Chinese and Uighur restaurants.
Finally we were sufficiently prepared. Peter and I cleaned out the room we'd managed to turn into a sty within five minutes of arriving and ferried our belongings down the four floors to reception. It was a sad morning. After three months, we'd reached the end of the road, as cycling companions; I was heading east, into Tibet, and he west to the Pamir highway and the thrills of central Asia.
Peter had befriended a Japanese rider heading the same way as him, and Pavel, Magda and I had acquired our own tagalongs- a slightly crazy French woman called Sandra, heading for Nepal, and a German called Stefan, heading around the world. Neither of them appeared to have quite grasped the empty distances, poor roads, long climbs and lack of civilisation that lay ahead, since they were both carrying 'one month' China visas. This was poor planning even by my standards.
Stefan had actually been halfheartedly stalking me. He'd met a couple riding out of Kashgar as he was arriving, and he'd asked if they'd met anyone heading for Tibet. They had, and gave him my blog. When he saw me and Peter sat on a kerb drinking beer in the afternoon, he took us for cyclists, and came over for a chat. Unsurprisingly failing to recognise me from the photo on the blog, it wasn't until later that he put two and two together.
After breakfast and man-hugs with Peter, we five set off for Yecheng; Stefan chatting non-stop, without even pause for breath, to whoever was closest. Always about his favourite topic: himself. He was riding next to me about 10km out of Kashgar, which was fortunate, as without his influence I would probably not have drifted off into a daydream about beating him unconscious with a tent-pole. Had I not done that, I wouldn't have had a Moment of Clarity, slammed on my brakes and yelled "I have to go back, I'll catch you up later!". Half an hour later I was back in my room at the Seman Hotel, retrieving my tent poles from under the mattress, where they had slipped, unnoticed, a week earlier.
I caught the others in the afternoon- I'd ridden non-stop and they'd paused for occasional drinks and an extended lunch break. We camped in a semi-wild area of grassy scrub, and sat up chatting and joking until late. Sandra carried no tent, and was intending to sleep on a tarpaulin. Stefan, on the other hand, transpired to be the most overladen cyclist the world has ever seen, carrying, in addition to a shovel, two foam mattresses (because one isn't quite comfy enough) and a 1kg water filter, a tent big enough to park his bike in! We mocked, but when it rained we weren't above cooking in his porch.