skip to Main Content
Here Comes The Sun

Here Comes The Sun

Roald Dahl
“I began to realise how important it was to be an enthusiast in life. If you are interested in something, no matter what it is, go at it at full speed ahead. Embrace it with both arms, hug it, love it and become passionate about it. Lukewarm is no good.”

Day 182 – 14,984km

And so it transpired that two hefty winter boots from Kazakhstan were enthusiastically hurled upwards into the Chinese sky. Such a small moment in such a big journey but a moment that I won’t forget.

A quick glance at Google Maps showed me everything I needed to know. From the western edges of Kazakhstan to the southern parts of Gansu Province in Central China, there is a large sandy coloured stretch.

More than 100 days had passed since I rode away from the ferry across the Caspian Sea. Four months of the Kazak Steppe, the Taklamakan Desert and the Gobi Desert. 8,000km of different shades of brown, and the occasional smattering of snowy whiteness. I think my visual sensors had been dulled having not seen the greenery of trees and floral vibrancy.

I missed sleeping with bare feet, having water that wouldn’t freeze overnight and waking up without a condensation ridden tent roof giving me a reminder of the ambient chill. I wanted to cycle without a jacket and not needing to wheel my arms around while pedalling to generate heat in my fingertips. I missed the calming smooth sound and feeling of my tyres rolling over the tarmac instead of the gritted friction from my studded winter ones.

Up and Away

Since October I have been wearing a pair of cheap Kazak boots. I purchased them from a sports shop in Aktobe and they’ve served me extremely well. Yes, the buckles broke off, the soles wore down a bit after I used my feet as brakes when the snow restricted the effectiveness of those on my bike and they developed a “unique” scent. Yes, they required a bit of massaging every morning to actually allow my feet to get in them after an overnight freeze. But they survived the fiendishly cold Kazak winter with temperatures down to -40°C. They survived some mud, sand and sleet as well. I was impressed.

I had an emotional attachment to them but, like a job you’ve enjoyed but have been looking forward to leaving, I was ready to let go. At some point you have to make a decision, commit to it and manage the consequences. I was sweating after dragging myself up a long ascent with the sun on my back and knew the time had come.

So up they went, the hurler both relieved and gleeful. Of course, they hit the ground clumsily but the moment was more than throwing my boots into the air for a few seconds. I changed my pedals over, unpacked my Shimano sandals, hopped on the bike and felt the reassuring click as my cleats found their old home and my feet were free.

I had one great concern when I left home: how do I get through winter? So many different options popped through my head in the interim period: India, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, wait the winter or fly over the worse parts. I ignored my location really, took the routes that appealed to me, and concluded that you make your own bed so I just had to keep going and it would get better eventually.

I knew I would have to stow my sandals away at some point but also knew that the moment I recovered them would signify a major milestone in the journey. It represented the end of winter; the beginning of a new phase.

Ch-Ch-Ch-Ch Changes

It is now over six months since leaving the UK, a reasonable length of time to be in the saddle and living this transitory existence. It is still probably only halfway in terms of time until Auckland but that doesn’t remotely bother me.

My mindset has shifted recently, as I knew it would. I am less concerned about the overall distance or mileage per day. I am enjoying rather than enduring; winter was about enduring. That phase was taking each day as it came as a means to enable forward momentum to then enjoy the warmth again.

I had visions of crossing the border from Xinjiang to Gansu Province and everything changing in one dramatic scene. This did not happen, of course it didn’t. Topographical, social and cultural shifts emerge slowly within a country. This is also one of the joys of cycle touring as you experience the transition in such a pure manner. The sights, smells, tastes and sounds all trickle into my conscience on a daily basis. You observe and think about anything and everything.

But the shifts did soon transpire. Instead of the vast emptiness of the desert, I began to witness farmers tilling their crops and my nostrils were filled with pastoral aromas as I made my way through little villages. Once again, I began to take pleasures in the smaller things about the trip.

Straight endless highways gave way to precarious switchback covered mountain roads demanding the maximum from my legs and lungs. I was able to stand atop looking down at roads I had ridden, and gaze enthusiastically at the scenery that lay in wait. Flowing rivers wound their way through steep valleys with a cliff edge road clinging onto the sides. Coniferous trees and fresh fruit became the norm rather than the exception. My stories on Instagram became as much about inane musings from the road rather than day-day struggles.

These were all signs of progress and momentum that I had been looking forward to. Aside from the sandals, they were small changes; gradual alterations in clothing and lifestyle that gave me a little dopamine hit and added incentive for the next day.

Across the Lines

For months I had been reeling off the cities that marked my rough route through China: Urumqi, Xining, Lanzhou, Chengdu and Chongqing. These places that had appeared so unachievably far away when I began were now suddenly behind me.

Instead of roughly drawing a line joining the big cities in mainland China, I began to plot my border crossing into Vietnam and think about how many Yuan I would need to withdraw to last me until the end of China.

I had one song that playing an embarrassing amount of times by John, Paul, George and Ringo. It seemed particularly apt.

Here Comes The Sun

Here comes the sun, here comes the sun
And I say it’s all right

Little darling, it’s been a long cold lonely winter
Little darling, it feels like years since it’s been here

Here comes the sun, here comes the sun
And I say it’s all right

Little darling, the smiles returning to the faces
Little darling, it seems like years since it’s been here

Here comes the sun, here comes the sun
And I say it’s all right

Sun, sun, sun, here it comes
Sun, sun, sun, here it comes
Sun, sun, sun, here it comes
Sun, sun, sun, here it comes
Sun, sun, sun, here it comes 

Little darling, I feel that ice is slowly melting
Little darling, it seems like years since it’s been clear

Here comes the sun, here comes the sun
And I say it’s all right
Here comes the sun, here comes the sun
It’s all right, it’s all right

And the rest of China?

There are so many aspects of this country I have not included in this post. I will write about Xinjiang when I leave China; for a few reasons, I am unable to do that now. I will write much more about the culture and social elements to China as well in another post. Pedalling my way through this country has been a blend of fascinating, bewildering, frustrating, tiresome and rewarding.

I hope those sentiments will make more sense when my other two posts are complete.

Until then…I will continue to pedal south to Kunming then into Vietnam.

I have to say thank you as well for the podcast suggestions, your Weetabix tips and brilliant stories about the Pandoras in your life all greatly amused. I think I’ll have to continue sharing some of the bizarre things that pop into my head because the feedback and support you all have given, and continue to give, is truly humbling.

Oh, and I had a shave in a river. The Instagram poll says it all, long overdue and probably necessary.