We set off from Kashgar in high spirits and full of the joys of a Chinese Thursday. But that didn’t last long at all. Our unnecessarily heavy loads,
uncomfortable saddles, absolute absence of any fitness whatsoever, our lead-in diet of beer and fried food, the unrelenting incline, headwinds, and the hot dry weather soon dampened any joy of the day. And so we turned back to Kashgar and flew out to southern France, for a year of patisseries and sunshine (at least that was a suggestion floated on Day 1).
Navigation in the first week was not as straight forward as anticipated. Even between our road map and Garmin Global GPS, the current road layout remained woefully represented. The extraordinary growth and development in China over the last 20 years has made its way to Western China and as a result, new roads, mine sites, construction projects, and towns are cropping up like daisies in springtime. Unless a bitumen road can be witnessed with your own eyes, it’s existence should be questioned.
The western fringes of China are a fairly barren and inhospitable place. It is a landscape which at no time would have been particularly welcoming, although the ribbon of new tarmac certainly makes life a little easier than it once was.
Through the stunning foothills of the Pamirs, we slowly made our way to the border and after a day layover to attend the customs checkpoint followed by a long cold wait at the Irkeshtam pass, we finally left China toward the former Soviet states. The thorough Kyrgyzstan officials would check our passports on eight separate occasions within a 2km border crossing episode under the guise of official duty, although it appeared that the process was simply to see what we looked like without the assortment of head and face wear protecting us from the elements, and to have a good laugh about the situation. We clearly entertained sufficiently, and were considered suitable for entry.