We made it to China by bicycle… what the?!?

China by bicycle

We made it to China by bicycle!!!

We cycled over 8,000km, from France to China by bicycle!!! WTF?!? It’s been over a week now, and I’m still in shock. It was a rather surreal, but extremely rewarding feeling when we crossed the border into China. We had finally made it. It just didn’t feel real. We had been working towards this goal for over 6 months. The longest marathon of my life, and we finally crossed the finish line.

I’d be lying if I said it was easy, or that I enjoyed the cycle tour the entire time. But, if I was to go back in time, I would make the same decision again (only maybe with better panniers).

We crossed at the Khorgas border crossing.

This is apparently the busiest border crossing between the 2 countries. For once we got lucky, and crossed both borders within 2 hours. We were even allowed to cycle the 5km of no-man’s land, which is not always possible.

The Chinese border town was extremely modern with skyscrapers, shopping centers, wide and flat roads. There were even bicycle lanes. We checked into a hotel, washed then headed to the shop to get some celebration beers!

After spending a couple of nights recovering at the border town, we headed off on the bikes to discover China by bicycle. Our aim was to make it to Urumqi (about 750km from the border), then catch the train to Beijing.

China by bicycle
Loving life! We made it!

The roads in China are amazing.

The first couple of days on our route through China by bicycle, took us through a valley with beautiful scenery, and the occasional yurt. Despite this we just didn’t have the motivation to cycle. We made it to China, why are we still cycling? Our bodies were also objecting to cycling, or so we thought. It actually turned out we were gradually ascending up a mountain pass for the entire day, only we didn’t realize – possibly due to the smooth road that we weren’t used to?

We were making rather slow progress, which was slowed down even more when the road was closed for about an hour due to a rock fall. It was starting to get dark, and we were nowhere near the lake that we had planned to camp at. This is where we discovered we had been ascending the entire day (over a 1300m ascended and still climbing). We were surrounded by snow and couldn’t find anywhere suitable to set up camp. Lost for what to do, we came across an emergency outpost. Luckily the outpost was manned and we were welcomed to stay in one of the spare rooms, and even given tea and breakfast the following morning.

There was a mixture of different people living at the outpost, (Han) Chinese, Uhguir (the Turkic, nomad people that lived in the province), Kazakhs and Mongols. Though we couldn’t speak any Chinese, it turned out we could communicate (with everyone except the Chinese people) using some Turkish. Who would have guessed that Turkish would come in handy this far East? In fact, Michael had managed to communicate (somewhat) with Turkish, in every country we had been in, since we left Turkey – crazy ay!

The following morning the weather was terrible

It was freezing, foggy and rainy. We discovered we still had another 40km ascent, to reach the top of the pass at about 2200m, which meant a long, horrible day of cycling, and most likely, an icy night sleep. Already feeling fluey, we decided to do what most sane people would do. We hitchhiked over the pass! After 10 minutes, a truck stopped, we tied the bikes to the top of a truck. Michael lost his helmet, my pannier strap broke, but at least we didn’t have to suffer the cold.

We got off the truck after the pass, had lunch and set off on the bikes again. After the pass, the scenery became very bland. It almost looked like we were back in Uzbekistan again, only this time with good roads. The wind picked up, so we made very poor progress. Cycling in wind is like cycling up an invisible hill. What little motivation we had left, quickly disappeared. We just wanted to be in Urumqi. We didn’t want to be exploring China by bicycle!

After weighing up the pros and cons we decided to not cycle the whole way to Urumqi.

The scenery was boring (grey desert, cotton fields, rubbish, power plants), the air was polluted (yes, even this far out in the middle of nowhere) and we weren’t enjoying it anymore. We had reached our goal and now it just felt like we were wasting time – and for what? Just to say we cycled to Urumqi? It made no sense to us to continue when we could use that extra time to actually see some sights in China. So the following day we ended up hitchhiking the rest of the way to Urumqi.

Arriving in China with the bikes
Arriving in China with the bikes

We arrived in Urumqi feeling accomplished!

8,500km cycled, through 14 countries, and in only 6.5 months. To celebrate we checked into a 5 star hotel. This turned out to be a great idea, as Urumqi was too polluted to explore by foot or bike, and we ended up spending a lot of time in the hotel room.

Our next mission was to get rid of the bikes, sort through our gear, try and fit everything into one backpack, then decide what we are going to do for the next 3 weeks.

Saying “goodbye” to the bikes. No more China by bicycle!

I had spent the past 3 weeks trying to contact charities and orphanages in China to see if they wanted a donation of 2 bicycles, without any success. Who would have guessed it would be so difficult to try and give away a couple of bikes for free? Apparently there is a lot of corruption in government charities, and other NGO’s have lots of red tape, including red tape on receiving donations – so maybe this is the reason I had no responses.

We decided we would try and sell the bikes, not thinking we would have much luck, and would end up having to leave them in the hotel lobby. Surprisingly, we actually sold them, one to a hotel guest and the other to the hotel security guard. We only got $80 for them, but hey, we were going to give them away for free anyway, and if we were try and take them on the train with us, it would have cost us $50-100 each.

Suddenly we were bikeless!

It was a very strange feeling. The bicycles had been with us for so long, they were an extension of ourselves, a friend, a family member. They had been with us through thick and thin and now they were gone. Just like that, we were normal backpackers again.

We threw away my panniers, bags, ground sheets, extra tubes. Items that had seemed so important to us throughout the trip, we discarded as rubbish. It felt so wrong. One of Michael’s bike bags was actually a backpack, so we had to cram most of our remaining gear into the one bag, which was a bit like a puzzle.

Though we didn’t particularly enjoy exploring China by bicycle, I believe there are some really nice places in China to cycle. Just not where we were. It’s easy to forget how big China is, and that discovering China by bicycle takes A LOT of time and some planning!

Looking back, when I suggested the cycle trip to Michael, I didn’t think we would actually make it this far.

No experience. Shit equipment. Extremely tight budget. Buggered knee. People were questioning our sanity, and putting doubts in our heads. It’s true the odds were probably against us, yet we still made it! What did that prove? It proves that you can do anything you set your mind to. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. If someone doubts your ability to succeed, prove him or her wrong! You’re the only person preventing yourself from achieving your goals and dreams. We need to accept that there will always be someone questioning our life decisions: ‘The haters’ or ‘The worriers.’ Use that negative energy to fuel your determination to succeed, instead of doubting your decisions.

As I mentioned earlier, the odds were against us, and there were many ‘excuses’ not to attempt the cycle trip, but there will always be ‘excuses’ not to do something! I learnt this a few years ago, when I was living and working in the UK. I was constantly making excuses not to leave my job and go traveling, though I knew if I didn’t go, then later in life I would regret it.

Yes, it may be scary at first, but one day you will look back and wonder what you were so worried about.

Our France to China trip made us realise how awesome travelling by bicycle is. This has lead to our current trip, a world cycle tour. First starting in the Americas and then taking on the rest of the world.