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Silk Road 2007 Live!Journal

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Week Six Chapter - 05 ~ 11 June 2007 - China

National Flag of Turkmenistan

"Leaders don't force people to follow - they invite them on a journey." - Charles Lauer

"I wish you sunshine on your path and storms to season your journey. I wish you peace in the world in which you live... More I cannot wish you except perhaps love to make all the rest worthwhile." - Robert A. Ward

Starting location for this week: Yining, China
Ending location for this week: Dunhuang, China
Planned mileage for this week: 1,051 miles (1,682 kilometers)

Nî hâo (The simplest form of "Hello" in official Mandarin Chinese)

As I'm sure you've noticed, I long ago gave up any pretense of trying to keep this Live!Journal "timely".  Timely in the sense of publishing the Weekly Chapters on time.  Timely in the sense of trying to order the entries for each chapter in date sequence.  Timely in the sense of attempting to sequence images and stories by the order in which they actually happened,. Ultimately, who cares?

For those of on this journey, time has pretty much lost any relevance. Ask any rider the date, or even what day of the week it is, and most will need to refer to their watch, cell phone, or GPS - many have given up wearing watches at all.  The only "times" that matter, breakfast at 7:30AM, clutch out at 8:30AM, meet in the lobby for dinner at 7:00PM; except for these, the steady march of the sun across the sky is the only "time" we're aware of.

In nowhere along this journey is this brought home more vividly than this week, as we make our way across the vast expanses of the Gobi Desert. On a narrow, solitary road, running straight as a chalk line through a featureless and parched land where little has changed in eons, it's easy to imagine that time stands still.  Except for the occasional stretch of powerlines, the road we ride is all there is. In any direction, all that can be seen is an empty horizon 17 miles away.  The Tian Shan Mountains make an appearance every now and again, but even they have been stunted and eroded by the patience work of wind and miserly rainfall.  The march of time is measured in centuries, not hours.

However, it is the time when thoughts begin to turn towards home, and The End of the Trip. We suddenly realize that this alternate reality we've been immersed in will soon come to an end, and it will be time to once again take up our "normal" lives and livelihoods. However, any journey leaves its mark.  Our lives have been enriched, new knowledge has been gained, we have a far more profound understanding of the world and the many faces of its people than we had when we embarked. The experiences will be revisited, replayed and recounted for a long time indeed. . . .

Welcome to Week Six of the Silk Road!

Mike, Your Webmeister

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The many forms of "Hello" in over 800 languages and other useful words and phrases are courtesy of Jennifer's Language Page.

To find out what time it is there (or anywhere!), visit The World Clock.

To see where they are now, visit the Navigation Technology Chapter.

For more information about China in this week's leg of the Silk Road, please visit the resources listed below:

- The World Factbook, maintained by the Central Intelligence Agency of the United States:

- The Consular Information Sheets, provided by the Department of State of the United States:

- The web-based, free-content encyclopedia entries at Wikipedia, maintained by "GlobeWriters" everywhere":

Gobi Desert - June 2007 - China
In Memory of Jim Russell

Traveling on a GlobeRiders tour can be a life-changing experience, trust me, I have seen this over and over again. We are not just together for a few days, then move on to the next journey. Our trips involve more of a commitment, and for that reason I believe it leaves more of an impression than one might realize.

To fully understand this you have to actually have participated in one of these endurance adventures. Even before the trip takes place we have a Forum on the Internet exclusively dedicated for members of the upcoming journey. This is a great space to introduce yourself and a good place to learn more about your fellow travelers. For many people the journey is the start of new friendships and more long journeys on both 2 and 3 wheels.

In 2005, Jim Russell participated in our first Silk Road Adventure, a 53 day journey. The following year, 2006, he joined us for the World Tour, a 65 day journey. Yes, we had ample time to get know each other pretty in so many ways. Jim was on a quest; he wanted to see the world on two wheels. More than anyone that I ever have met, he had already participated in dozens of organized tours with various motorcycle tour companies around the world. He had signed-up for our upcoming Africa Adventure 2007, and also had placed his name on the list for our new IndoChina Adventure. On his own time, Jim made our stickers for the tours and had just started making caps and embroidered shirts for himself and for us. The man could not sit still, always busy with new projects.

On his bike he had a sticker “Financed by the inheritance of my children”. His business, Russell Karting, had taken much of his time for many years and had done very well. He had decided to reward himself by seeing the world on two wheels and he deserved every tour he went on. Unfortunately Jim’s travels came to a tragic ending a few months ago when he was riding on a tour in Mexico.

With the sad news of Jim’s passing, we headed out on this year’s Silk Road Adventure and I thought it to be proper to honor Jim at a very special spot in the Gobi Desert. During the Silk Road Adventure in 2005, unknown to the rest of the group, Jim, John, Rick, Chris and Sterling had stopped at a special place to make a geocache. They had taken a PVC tube containing treasures and buried this on top of a small mountain, which they named “Pleasure Nipple Mountain”. Jim used his GPS to record the correct coordinates for the spot and the geocache was completed.

This year’s Silk Road group, navigating by GPS, found this place and stopped to look for the hidden treasure. It did not take long before the PVC tube was uncovered and the contents could be revealed. Inside, we found a signed GlobeRiders Silk Road 2005 T-shirt, a birthday candle and a bottle of water.

New items where placed in the PVC tube and once again it was buried on the same spot. What is in the treasure this time will only be known to the persons) that find the geocache. The whole philosophy behind a geocache is to take the contents and replace them with new treasures.

Before we left this special place in the Gobi, we mixed up a batch of cement and used that to secure a ceramic plaque in memory of Jim Russell. With a short speech, I shared some of the fond memories from the time spent riding with Jim. We took pictures and video from the event and will send this to Jim’s family, together with the T-shirt signed by Jim and other members of the 2005 Silk Road Adventure.

Continuing the ride that beautiful afternoon in the Gobi, my thoughts were preoccupied thinking of fellow riders that are no longer with us. They were sad thoughts, but I also know that they all did what they loved most of all, Riding Their Bikes to exotic places and sharing The Ride with other like-minded bikers.

Up in front of me, I could see other riders enjoying the day, and a big smile came to me as I noticed that I had just been passed by riders from several different countries. This year’s Silk Road Adventure group has people from eight different countries, all out chasing the same dream of one day seeing the whole world from the saddle of a motorcycle.

Travel safe and may we all have the fortune to live our dreams.

Helge Pedersen

Day 38 - 07 June 2007 - Turfan, China

Part of the excitement of this trip is the unusual, unplanned things that happen.

In Urumqi, Mark, Dennis, Bill, Joe and I did some exploring to understand more about how the city was irrigated and to look at an oil field. We traced a major canal up into the mountains, and finally reached a blocked road with a large dam above it. We had the guard open the gate and we drove up a very steep gravel road. We came upon a huge lake over the city with sluices running down from it into a major canal. It was a beautiful vista. At one end there were lush trees - at our end, desert with steep clay walls and a simply gorgeous concrete dam - obviously extremely expensive.

Following that we set off across the desert to some distant oil rigs perhaps five miles away. On the way, after jumping a few ditches and through some fields, we came upon an old mosque. We went inside and much to our horror, found a fresh burial ceremony in progress. It appeared that they put the corpse in the center of the mosque ruin – in the spirit of laying in state – covered with a red shroud with fresh roses as decoration. On the way out we saw a series of permanent burial sites where a carefully sculpted cone is crafted on top of the body. I would expect that they are not buried in caskets, and that having the body in the mosque ruins was in a similar spirit to keeping the body in a funeral home.

We had to turn back and take roads to the oil fields. Bill is a petroleum engineer and an expert in drilling, and is, as well, a former employee of Sohio from my home state. He explained how they were drilling and noted two interesting facts. First of all, from a safety standpoint, they were operating at the same standards as high quality operations in the U.S. - no chain was being used to twist together successive layers of pipe. He was surprised that on one of the rigs, they took time out for lunch. That does not work in the Arkansas Oil Patch!

It is these special discovery events that are often done on your own that make this expedition a particularly fulfilling one. There is a blog providing some of my other experiences and impressions from the trip that may interest some of you, to view my blog, please click here.

Dan T. Moore

Day 42 - 11 June 2007 - Dunhuang, China


Very early on in the planning stages of this big adventure, Helge sent us email stating that he was going to assign a roommate for everyone in the group. He also mentioned that if we wanted a single room we could pay extra for this luxury. Well, being the cheap guy that I am I figured that I had a plan.

I told Helge that this sounded great, "Just match me up with someone who doesn't mind bunking with an overweight, hairy guy, who is incontinent, has a flatulance problem and has a sever case of halitosis!" I thought with credentials like that, I would be assured that no one would possibly want to spend 52 days on the road with me (sounds like a scene out of the movie - Planes, Trains and Automobiles - "Were is your other hand?" "Between two pillows!" "THOSE AREN'T PILLOWS!!!!!)"

Well, I was about to find out that Helge had a plan for me and its name was. . .

. . . DENNIS!

Dennis and I are a perfect match. We both have similar builds (granted, his is stretched over a frame that is a foot taller than mine). We both have the same goofy sense of humor. He is a late night kind of guy, I am an early riser, so we don't have to fight over the shower facilities too much and yes, as the attached photo shows, we both have a bit of a flatulance problem!

Actually, after an early morning bout of relieving some of my accumulated pressure, Dennis bolted out of bed from a dead sleep and yelled "Holy crap! Was that an earthquake" (True Story)

Honestly, the photo actually shows Dennis undergoing a "Flame Massage" at the Silk Road Dunhuang Hotel in Dunhuang, China. They actually lay a towel on your back or whatever part of your body you want treated, place a flammable liquid on it, and light it on fire!

This fire burns for several minutes and then is extinguished by placing another towel on top, and then massaging the heated towel into your body. This sequence is then repeated several more times. The upside is that any unwanted body hair is removed free of charge (for that matter any hair you wanted to keep has a good likelyhood of going up in smoke as well).

The bottom line is - Dennis and I are getting along great, but we can't wait to get home to wives (they sure do put up with alot, living with the two of us!)

Well I need to run, front desk just called about my massage appointment. Now where did I put that fire extinguisher?


Day 42 - 11 June 2007 - Dunhuang, China

Battling a Deep Depression

Okay, so everyone knows that the longer you are on the road, the more homesick you become. Some people can deal with it, some can’t. Depression is an insidious villain that takes away your desire to do….. wait , wait, wait. Wrong depression! I’m talking about the Turfan Depression. A geological condition unique to China, and the third lowest point of the face of the planet Earth. Feel better now?

So there we were, in Turfan, China. One of the hottest cities in China, world renown for its grapes and raisins. Dry too, with an annual rainfall of only 20 millimeters. The city of Turfan sits on the edge of the actual geological basin, so it has a lofty elevation of around 100 feet. Knowing that we were actually within a few miles of one of the three deepest spots (on land) on the face of the planet, did we want to sit around and say we only came within a mile or two? Not this group! We wanted to find that lowest spot, and ride to it.

Enlisting the help of our local guides, Sim and Du, we asked them to find out how to get to Aydingkol lake, whose shores are 509 feet below sea level. Only the Dead Sea in Jordan (1,369 feet below sea level), and Lake Assal, in Djibouti (512 feet below sea level) are lower than Lake Aydingkol. Even Death Valley is only –282 feet below sea level! Funny thing though, even after asking for half a day, they couldn’t find anyone who could tell us how to actually get to the lake in the basin. Since the Turfan Depression covers more than 50,000 sq kilometers, we sure needed help with the directions because we’d never find it on our own.

Armed with what little local knowledge we could gain, the next morning at 6 a.m., 14 of the hardiest riders girded their loins and departed on the great quest. Oh how little did they know just how great it was to be. . . .

Dropping down off the hills that surrounded the depression, we followed a two-lane road into tiny Chinese villages that dotted the almost barren landscape of the depression. It was so early that we could see villagers still sleeping in the fields, staying outside to avoid that heat that the mud brick buildings trap during the day. After numerous false starts, we decided to follow the flow of the water in the irrigation systems, because we all know water flows downhill, right? Pretty soon we were outside of the last town and heading into the dry lake bed region. The further we went, the worse the road became, and the more the landscape began to take on the appearance of a moonscape. All color left the earth, the greenery turned brown, and soon rocks and sand dominated the horizon. The pavement had long before disappeared, but now even the gravel was thinning, and the road dissolved into dried ruts, and soft powdery sand. Every ¼ mile or so, I’d check the GPS to see our elevation change, -174ft, -243 ft, -367ft, -413 ft, we were slowly heading in the right direction.

Miles from anywhere, and with nothing to see in any direction but dirt, rugged washes, and scrub plants, the road finally petered out. I checked the GPS and it read -470 feet. We were within 39 feet of the lowest point in China, but it could have still been 20 miles away. Declaring victory, we all got off our bikes to take pictures and congratulate ourselves on this daring adventure. Then our guide Sim yells, “SANDSTORM”, and jumps back into his SUV and starts racing out of the desert.

Then it hit us - a wall of wind and sand and rocks traveling at about 60 mph. I’m talking rocks the size of pebbles, scouring your body, your face, and your bike. Those of us who had taken off their helmets immediately rushed to put them back on so we could open our eyes. Joe dropped his camera case and it took off like a rifle shot in the wind. Both he and Helge sprinted after it as hard as they could, but after 100m it was leaving them far behind. I think it is probably in Beijing by now. I asked Enda to take my picture while I held the bike to keep it from blowing over. Very soon our joyous celebration turned into a hasty retreat as we tried to get out of the storm and back to civilization.

So how hard was it blowing? Hard enough to take a 600 lb motorcycle off its side stand, lift it upright, and blow it over onto its other side. That happened to two different bikes. It was also blowing hard enough to blow a bike and rider over, while they were riding across the desert! We all fought mightily to keep the bikes upright, stay on what little there was of the road, and not wreck in the gravel, loose sand and ruts as the winds hammered us. The 30 minutes spent retreating from the Turfan Depression was an experience that will be told over and over again for years at motorcycle rallies.

Eventually be fought our way out of the basin and back into the shelter of the hills along the edges. The winds died down, but our adrenaline was pumping for hours afterwards. What an experience it was!

So we fought the Turfan Depression and won…. sort of. We didn’t actually find the lowest point in China, but we were close enough for my book, and I have the GPS reading to prove it.

Jeff Munn

Day 42 - 11 June 2007 - Dunhuang, China

Universal Truth

There’s one universal truth for me: babies are cute anywhere in the world!

I have seen so many cute babies and children in the 8 countries we’ve traveled through. In some of the countries we’ve been in, young children walk around with slit pants. When I first saw this, I thought it was a pair of pants needing to be mended. Upon closer inspection, the slit was intentional and utilitarian; how accessible, convenient and easy, plus they learn how to squat at an early age and the technique stays with them throughout their lifetime – you see people squatting everywhere for a long time instead of standing. So, for awhile I thought it was cute and made sense, but then I saw the mess that I’m not used to seeing out in public. Plus, some people back in the states clean up after their dogs with plastic gloves on their hands. I didn’t see consistent cleanup nor plastic gloves here, so I’ll still support diapers and not the slit pants.

I think of what the children’s lives might be like growing up in their countries and the lives of children I know back home. Many of the children I’ve seen work hard – alone in the fields tending to animals or working with other family members at a roadside restaurant. But kids go to school (I’ve seen a lot of school uniforms), kids like to laugh and play games – kids are kids anywhere. Watching the children, I am reminded of a song by Sting and have been singing it to myself in my helmet frequently as we ride. I don’t know what year he wrote the song (it makes reference to Russians and Reagan), but it’s applicable today as well. I’d like to share it with you.

Peace to all, Linda

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“Russians” by Sting

In Europe and America, there's a growing feeling of hysteria

Conditioned to respond to all the threats

In the rhetorical speeches of the Soviets

Mr. Krushchev said we will bury you

I don't subscribe to this point of view

It would be such an ignorant thing to do

If the Russians love their children too.

How can I save my little boy from Oppenheimer's deadly toy

There is no monopoly in common sense

On either side of the political fence

We share the same biology

Regardless of ideology

Believe me when I say to you

I hope the Russians love their children too.

There is no historical precedent

To put the words in the mouth of the President

There's no such thing as a winnable war

It's a lie that we don't believe anymore

Mr. Reagan says we will protect you

I don't subscribe to this point of view

Believe me when I say to you

I hope the Russians love their children too.

We share the same biology

Regardless of ideology

What might save us, me, and you

Is that the Russians love their children too.

Day 42 - 11 June 2007 - Dunhuang, China

That Which Doesn't Kill You Makes You Stronger

Previous stories in this Live!Journal have made mention of "The Silk Road Squirts" and various other ailments of the lower intestinal variety. Apparently, our bodies are as ineffective in repelling these foreign (microscopic) invaders as The Great Wall of China was in keeping the Mongol Horde at bay.

Personally, highlights of any trip, whether down the street or across the waters, are sampling the seemingly infinite variety of foods, spices and styles of preparation that different cultures have handed down and perfected over the generations. I eschew stuffy hotel restaurants for the street vendors, but even I draw the line at times.

Presented for your consideration are some local delicacies from the menu of the destination-class Silk Road Hotel in Dunhuang, China.  I can only assume that the Roast Hole was in fact nothing more than a heated plate, berift of any protein, and feverently pray that the Lump was benign.  One can only assume that the donkey, being a beast of work and burden, was not taken in the prime of its useful life simply to be served up in a bowl of hand-made noodles - some additional time on the boil may be in order.

Culinary thoughts to ponder for those traveling in the Middle Kingdom:

- If a menu item has the word "Special" in it, it will contain nothing but organ meat, sinew, fat, and left-overs from the previous day's breakfast buffet.

- If a menu item contains the word "Delicious", think about it, who are they trying to convince?

- The word Fungus, usually means Mushroom. At other times, it simply means . . . Fungus.

- Many menu items have a flowery or seemingly nonsensical descriptions like "Buddha Jumped Over the Wall", or "Prosperous Pilgrim Moving Forward".  These are usually best avoided to prevent any unpleasant surprises.  However, graphic descriptions such as "Chicken Embryos on a Stick", or "Conglomerated Pig's Blood Soup with Offal and Nose" can usually be taken at face value.

- There is a saying that "The Chinese will prepare and eat anything which doesn't point its spine to the sky." How fortunate for us that our distant ancestors evolved to walk upright.

Customer: "Waiter!  There's a sheep's head in my soup!"

Waiter: "Did you want a fly with that?"

Needless to say, the discovery of a local Kentucky Chicken franchise was met with joy by many.

If the title of this story has any merit, this group will return home with cast-iron dispositions.

Until we eat again,


Day 42 - 11 June 2007, Dunhuang, China

A Silk Road List

Well, we are only 8 days and 1,000 miles from reaching our destination in Xian, China on June 20th. It has been a heck of a ride with a great group of people, however, this journey has taken it's toll on both Man, Animal and Machine.

Up to this point the following items have broken, been damaged in falls/collisions or have fallen off of the motorcycles:

1- Fuel pump
4-Shock absorbers
6-Tire punctures
1-Steering head bearing failure
1-Ring antenna (part of the anti-theft device on the new BMWs that left the bike completely disabled)
11- Bent or destroyed panniers (luggage boxes)
1-Lost tool kit
6 - quarts of lost oil (containers were strapped to the back of bikes, but fell off along the way, unfortunately, the day before they were to be used for an oil change).
1-Lost inner tube
4-Rear fenders
2-Servo-brake switch failures
4-Broken mirrors
3-Headlight bulbs
2-Front beaks or fenders
5-Turn signals
2-Hand guard clips
3-Lost pannier lids
1-Turn signal switch
1-Center stand
5-Sets of rear brake pads
1-Skid plate
1-Axle bolt and cracked sub-chassis (on the sidecar)
1-Set of auxiliary lights
1-Charcoal canister
1-Coolant leak
3-Fog lights
1-Remus muffler baffle
5-Malfunctioning fuel gauges (all on the new BMWs)
1-Pannier cross bar
1-Broken GPS (yes, you guessed it - "Dan Garman"!!)
2-Damaged computers
1-Damaged camera
8-Pairs of "Evil Eyes" (these are good luck charms that we received while we were in Turkey and as you can see from the list above, they are very effective!) : )

After typing that long list, I am not sure how we found the time to ride after all of those repairs!

Then there was the human toll. At this point all but a select few in the group have gotten sick from the exotic, strange and often unrecognizable food that we have been eating (I personally have managed to eat the Chicken Feet, but no one in the group has acquired a taste for the Chicken Heads that we have been served on two separate occasions). And now some of us are getting sick for the second or third time. Since we have entered China, my guess is that most of us have lost a fair amount of weight, I mean there is only so much meat on the foot of a chicken!!!!

Last, but not least is the unfortunate Road Kill:


This number is actually quite small when you consider the number of livestock, dogs and other animals that we have had to dodge along the way.

It appears that the worst of the roads are behind us at this point, and we haven't seen any livestock or stray dogs and cats on the roadway since we have entered China (here they call them "dinner"), so we should be in good shape to finish this journey without adding to this list.

Besides, after 43 days the testosterone levels are beginning to drop a bit so we will all be home safe and sound before you know it.

Now, all of our loved ones just need to be prepared to be tortured with hours of movies and slide shows of the trip. Even worse, there will be the 4 to 5 weeks of us moping in a state of depression while we wait for our motorcycles to slowly return home over the high seas in the storage container. Well, at least we can spend the time planning for the next adventure while we are waiting!! (Just kidding, Dear, Just kidding!!!)

See you all soon,


Day 42 - 1 June 2007 - Dunhuang, China

There's One in Every Crowd (and as we have discovered, More in Some Crowds Than in Others) . . . .

Throughout these Silk Road stories, the essential "goodness" of this group has been praised time and time again. On any GlobeRiders tour, you're bound to meet fascinating participants from all walks of life, but there are usually "interpersonal" tensions that form in any group of people who have never met before, and are in such intimate and close proximity for such a long duration.  Let's face it, on any given day, we see more of each other than we do our friends and family members when at home.

Whether re-telling the antics of the money-changers, or re-counting the day's break-down, this group does take it all in stride.  Amongst us, we have people from high-tech, ship owners, presidents of companies, a veterinarian (but no doctors!), people in finance and real estate, but none are too proud to laugh at themselves, or just live in the moment.  It helps relieve the tensions, and after all, laughter is the best medicine.

Be Well,


When there's no lamp shade at hand, a true GlobeRider like Jack will simply improvise.

Our Irish rider, Enda, is has always wanted to participate in the insane sport of sidecar racing. In the highlands of Kyrgyzstan, we found the time to get in a little practice.

Predictably, Vince take longer than most to pack his bike in the morning.

Not only a motorcycle with air conditioning, but when turned 180 degrees, Mark's "turbo" adds to the bike's top end as well.

The Vikings explored far and wide, and let nothing stand in their way.  Here, perched high off the ground on the walls of an ancient Chinese outpost, Helge poses next to the only signage.  Predictably, we later found it said "No Climbing on Walls". [Photo by Enda Wright]

Fast Forwarding to Day 45 - 14 June 2007 - Jiaguyuan, China

Welcome to China!

That’s what every sign says as we travel through China – or so we think, since none of us understand Chinese.

The Chinese government requires us (and I think other foreigners) to have a guide with them. I’ve heard it’s because they want our trip to be safe, and it does make sense that if an accident were to happen, it would be better to have someone with us who speaks the language. But I really think it’s to help us leave the country – think of China as one gigantic maze – imagine driving without a GPS, take a turn here, a turn there and reading won’t help as you can’t read any of the signs – so there you are in the center of a maze with no easy way to get out.

Of course, it’s not as difficult as all that because anyone here would try to help you – it’s just that not knowing English is as difficult to them as it is to you not knowing Chinese. Plus, even if a sign is in English they are, let’s say “funny”: “Please do not deposit into toilet bowel (with an X on a toilet bowl) or “Please drink for boiled water” by the sink faucet. A good local guide is very helpful, a little Chinese goes a long way, and a book with pictures that you can point to things is an absolute must.

I’m writing this entry on Thursday, June 14 in Jiayuguan. We entered China 10 days ago on June 4, as scheduled. It was a cool ride to the Kazakhstan – China border and an easy time getting out of Kazakhstan, but a difficult goodbye to Sasha for all of us. Sasha had been our guide through 6 of our 8 countries. He lives in Uzbekistan and works for MIR Corporation, a travel company I would recommend for anyone headed to this part of the world. He integrated well into our group - played pool, drank Vodka, laughed a lot. He helped us through tiring border crossings and getting motorcycles repaired and/or in the chase vehicle. With the help of all the chase vehicle drivers, local drivers, local guides and Sasha, who pulled it all together, we had a wonderful time through those 6 countries. Hello to Sasha and hope to see you again sometime.

We experienced a long wait to get into China – we got in okay, the motorcycles had additional red tape to get through. With the help of our new guide, Sim, we succeeded (see a happy Peter, Rupert, Enda and Jason with their Chinese license plates). For me, each border crossing brings mixed emotions – sadness in leaving a country (even though it was for only a few days, it became familiar) and excitement of the unknown that a new country brings.

Once in western China, I knew we were in for a unique experience – not only because of the different language, but their rules of the roads, food, government regulations, customs and ways of living and doing things (for example, seeing babies ride with adults on scooters and bicycles with none of them wearing helmets, grandparents taking care of babies and young children, buses with beds on them, hotels charging for dirty towels, and hotel employees sweeping their parking lot with dust brooms as a group).

We arrived from the west and have been in parts of China that not many foreigners get to. As we head further east we are seeing more tourists (mostly Japanese, Koreans, and Europeans). Mike and I have thought that for some of the younger rural residents, perhaps we’ve been the only foreigners they have ever seen.

Upon arrival in China, we have stayed in Yining, Kuytun, Urumqi (the capital of China’s most western province and the most inland city in the world). Urumqi is also famous for being the first familiar fast food restaurant we’ve seen since Turkey – Kentucky Fried Chicken, which was visited by some more than once. On our way to Turfan, we entered the inhospitable Gobi Desert and the lowest spot in China (154 meters below sea level). We were fortunate to have good weather (overcast skies) and it wasn’t as blazing hot as it could have been (only 103 F). How hot is it? It’s so hot that people in Turfan sleep on their beds on top of their roofs. Turfan is indeed an oasis along the Silk Road and was a center of Buddhism before being converted to Islam in the 8th century. So the group visited the Bezeklik Thousand Buddha Caves, an ancient underground irrigation system built more than 2,000 years ago (engineers love that stuff), and Grape Valley, “where the sweetest grapes in the world are grown”. The group saw unique ways in which farmers dried grapes to make many different varieties of the best raisins I have ever tasted.

Also in the “seemingly endless” Gobi Desert, we stayed in Hami (known for its melons). After leaving Hami and before arriving in Dunhuang, we stopped to (successfully) find a geocache left by the 2005 Silk Road motorcycle group and Helge conducted a very nice memorial to Jim Russell, a former GlobeRider who died recently. Jim stood where we stood just 2 years ago, and I’m sure he loved Dunhuang, just as we did when we arrived.

It was not only an oasis, but a paradise for us. The hotel was beautiful, spacious, and serene with helpful staff, but it was the setting that wowed us - along with a rooftop lounge that had views of spectacular sand dunes, sunrises and sunsets, and where you could “sit under the stars to watch the stars.” And that’s pretty much what we did. Along with….a very interesting tour through the Mogao Grottoes containing beautiful ancient Buddhist grotto art and the third largest Buddha in the world (Liz, I’m sure you’ve heard of this place, but I hadn’t until now), and an evening ride on a two-humped camel on the Mingsha Sand Dunes. Amazing creatures, those camels – as we rode, it was easy to wonder about what it must be like to cross the desert for days with camels – just you and the camels. We see the Hollywood version, but it’s hard to imagine the “real” version.

Pinch me, I’m dreaming!


Linda and Mike

Helge Pedersen Images from the Silk Road

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