In April 2010, Eleanor Moseman left Shanghai on a journey of more than 10,000 miles, across 3 countries, on one bicycle. This is where she updates from the road.
  1. Tea and Bull

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  2. Arrival to Kashgar

    Last 50km into Kashgar was fantastic, hundreds of donkey carts, horses, and of course, the few camels. You can see these majestic beasts a half a kilometer away, their hair swaying back and forth.

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  3. Paper Airplane

    Honestly, I feel as if I haven’t been taking enough photos. Today I went to the market and didn’t even make it across the street before chatting with a 32 Uyghur man in English. Our conversation was about politics and religion and lasted for about an hour. We are meeting for lunch tomorrow.

    While we were talking, a Uyghur woman approached who could speak Chinese. She’s a modern woman with no head scarf and I even noticed a small tattoo on her hand. She took me eat somsas (spelling?) and then we walked around teaching each other language. She must be in her 50′s or so, but it was lovely. She bought me a little bag of popcorn.

    Not successful with photos today, or too many in the past 5 days. I’m reminding myself that without fixers, I need to dedicate time to making my local contacts. It’s part of the work that HAS to be done. My phone book now has 3 local numbers, along with a friend in Xi’An that is helping arrange his friends to meet with me.

    Last night, I was walking around, and I saw a side of young and hip Kashgar. Young boys with slick hair riding on scooters and young ladies squeezed into skinny jeans, face made up, and no head scarves. The night life here must be interesting…I need to make some modern friends.

    Speaking of “modern”. Alim’s mother wants to show me how to “cover” and pray. Wow…how deep do I want to go down this road. He asked me how I could believe in Evolution? I even noticed him getting a smidge angry about it. Between the language barrier and the religion, this really is a topic that should not be discussed. I believe what I do and religion will never sway me from scientific facts. Sorry Alim, I can’t change my convictions, as you can’t yours…but I will respect them.

    Spending time with the family I’m beginning to see deeper in. There is a wealthy uncle, that married into the family, and I’ve seen him twice. Every time he slugs Alim in the chest…and hard! There is no warning. I hear the thud, and turn away, only to peek at Alim’s face and he struggles to hold back the face of pain. I can hear him make noises while holding it back.

    I believe Alim’s brother is autistic. Watching him fumble around on my computer and watching interactions, that’s my opinion. Uncle will do it to him too, but not so hard.

    Macho macho macho…Alim’s father is not like this at all.

    When Uncle arrived to the house, I watched Older Sister whisper to a woman that had come to visit. As a woman, and someone that has to rely on body language, I understood that she isn’t too fond of him. If it were American women, there would of probably been eye rolling.

    Uncle speaks very loudly, he’s the only man there, and I can tell it’s expected to listen. Before he arrived, I also noticed Alim can at times, be a bit aggressive and bossy towards women.

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  4. Is that you, Death, sleeping at my side? (or The Last Day of Freedom in Tibet)

    Place: U-Tsang, Tibet Autonomous Region
    Time: September 2011
    Approaching 20th day since illegal entry

    The days on the plateau were calm and peaceful. Spending my days alone, on the saddle or pushing up over ridges, headed towards the horizon. The view of my route leading right up to the heavens. Lifting my arm up in the air knowing that if I were to stretch my skinny, frail and knotted body just a little further…I could pluck a cloud right out of the blue sea I’ve been swimming in.

    The past couple of nights, sitting in my tent and looking up at the sky, questioning how much longer I could endure this. I was starving, my drive for food had nearly vanished. The ringing in my ears being the only sound that kept me constant company. Hunting for water by climbing to the top of hills and finding the fresh, bubbling source…while avoiding the run off that interweaves around yak and elk tracks (maybe wolves). Fingers and toes taking on a purplish hue and a constant lethargy, my daily desire to find somewhere to sleep away the days.

    Death…what will you feel like? Perhaps I have an idea.

    As I zipped myself into my green down coffin, inside my green tomb, I envisioned myself not waking up from this life but continue to live on in this glorious dream. I was in the most magical and beautiful place in the world. Alone and free…and I have never felt such a rush of true happiness in my life.

    Awaking that day with a rain shower, camping next to a lake, as I unzip my tomb, I am overtaken by a bright and transparent azul lake with a range of shimmering glaciers.

    To the West, I can see thick storm clouds touching the horizon with the winds prickling against my face as I question my agenda for the day.

    Exhausted, I zip up and fall in and out of sleep with the sound of the rain and wind against this green tomb, my home.

    Moments, the storms would subside and silence and brightness would enter the tomb. Some time would pass and it would become dark again and I would fall into a dream, the sound of the rolling water down the nylon.

    It wouldn’t be so bad to spend the day here, I could set off tomorrow for Nima, as I was only a day ride away. Having a little water and some snacks for survival, yet my belly is getting smaller and smaller and more difficult to force something down. What is happening to me?

    Late afternoon, after the storm has cleared, I stick my head out in the sunshine and see the Tibetan family approaching. Nothing to worry about. My concern is on the massive storm clouds coming closer and closer from the West.

    A few men, a child, and a woman come over to me. The younger man can speak a smidgen of Mandarin and I’m directed I need to get going, that I can’t stay. This is the ONLY time this has ever happened to me. All other times I would have been invited into their home for tea.

    My conscience tells me that these folks may not be like all the other souls I’ve met along this path so without an argument or pointing at the storm clouds I crawl out in my pjs and begin to pack up. I’ll go a few kilometers up and set up camp for the day.

    I’m moving so slow, slower than I’ve ever moved before. The family sits about 2 meters from me and watches my life in slow motion. They have brief discussions when I shove my bag into a tight bag or break down the tomb poles. Just a sentence or two…nothing more.

    Slipping some clothes over my pjs with my intent to go back to dreaming in just a couple of hours. What’s happening, all I want to do is zip up into my green lit tomb and dream…….

    The storm clouds are black and they are nearly hovering over me.

    The winds are whipping everything around and I have to move fast to prevent my possessions from being blown over the plateau.

    We are engulfed in darkness and the air temperature drops fast. The Tibetans and I say goodbye and they watch me walk fast towards the West and they begin to run home to duck out of the storm.

    I’m hit with cold ice from all sides. It’s painful. It’s cold. Battered…it’s a hail storm.

    There is a bridge going over a stream of glacier melt behind me.

    I push my legs as fast I can, and backtrack, past the Tibetans to hide under the bridge. They watch me pass without an offer of help or shelter. Being pummeled by ice, I jump off my bike and duck under the bridge.

    Trying to stay dry, I press my body against the cold and damp concrete of the standing structure. It’s this or be misted from the sides and ice dropping down between the wooden slats above.

    I watch cardboard boxes and other miscellany fly by with a great speed, tumbling over what ever stands in it’s way. When I stick my head out from under the bridge, my hair is whipped around and my face stings as if I’m being attacked by an angry swarm bees.

    Early evening, the sky opens up and the plateau has returned to its near blinding light. The dark clouds are to the South East of me and perhaps if I move fast enough I can stay out of this storm.

    The remainder of light is spent going up and down over the plateau, avoiding glacier melt, ditches, and trenches. I may have had a Tibetan or two pass me on his motorcycle, that part of this memory is not so clear. My soul was elsewhere, a place that’s not on this earth.

    Nightfall arrives late on the plateau, after 9:30.

    There is a brilliant full moon. She lights up the sky and earth for me. Never have I experienced an evening like this. I am Moon bathing and her energy is lighting up everything for me to continue on. Never have I seen such a clarity.

    I recall having a feeling of “the end”. It had been visiting me for the past couple of days but that night, under the stars, I remember thinking, “this is my last day”. It wasn’t some starved, crazy woman thought…it was very clear, as clear as the night sky that had engulfed me…womb like. It was calm, I was not scared or anxious. This was the end.

    Pushing through the moonlight, I hear this “huff…huff…huff…huff…huff”. What is this deep breath I continue to hear. I stop, I listen…it has stopped. I start pedaling again and I hear “huff…huff…huff…huff”. Am I delusional or am I hearing this…can someone tell me if I really heard this? “huff…huff…huff…huff”…

    It must be the Tibetan deer or elk. What else could it be? I had seen them in the fields for 100′s of kms. All alone, with no soul around, there is not even an instant of fear. “Huff…huff…huff…huff…huff…”, this breathing continues as soon as my feet make their revolutions. Stopping when I stop.

    Perhaps it was my “Animal Guide”, the Moose, did I finally slow down enough for him to catch up with me. Our first encounter under the silver flecked night sky.

    The plateau is a very tricky place to estimate how much road is ahead.

    I had seen motorcycle lights weaving along the horizon, like shooting stars. Further ahead I could see spotlights dancing in the sky, they must be coming from Nima.

    Repeatedly telling myself, “just a little further, just a little further”.

    Close to midnight, I gave in to the calling of sleep.

    There is a Tibetan village. No lights but I hear a couple of dogs and watch the single light drive off the road and up to the ridge. The moonlight exposing the little concrete buildings to me, with a grey smoke slowly rising above.

    I never feel comfortable entering a village at dark, especially around midnight.

    The village is about 1km South of the road…I set up camp about 2 meters North of this road. In the morning, we will be able to clearly see each other.

    One reason I camp close to people is because if something were to happen, I can find help. I’ve had practice with my “War Cry” so I know the glass shattering sound will pierce their ears.

    As I set up camp, for the final time in Tibet, a single light approaches me. I squat behind the tent, to avoid any interaction and hopes they will just leave. It works. They pull up about 1 meter away to look at the tent and move on without a word.

    I stand there and I look up into the sky. Trying to photograph this moment doesn’t work…it shows “nothing”. What I see and feel can not be described in a photograph, it barely can be scribbled down on paper, let alone, being pecked into a blog entry.

    Curling up in my tent after gazing into the heavens for nearly an hour, I fall asleep…questioning, “is this all a dream” and knowing…it’s over.

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  5. December 7 2011 – Fukang to Nowhere (10hrs of riding for 20km West)

    Highpoint: Not falling in the icy river as I bash my triple outer ring against rocks and upon moving it off seeing remainders of the aluminum glittering on the rock (will file 2 teeth upon arrival to Urumqi).

    Lowpoint: Pushing the bike up a 10km iced/snow pass to a dead end – oops! Wrong way! Then another 10 back (slipping) down.

    Tomorrow’s Banana: Arriving in Urumqi (Although I should of arrived today.)

    The weather is mild in the beginning and I decide to take a small back road to Urumqi…heading South and over some mountains. There is a disconnect on the map, but come on…I’m sure there is some way to get there. Right?

    It’s a steady uphill ride along closed mountain vacation spots. If you saw the video I posted a few weeks back of the “Xinjiang Traffic Jam” of the shepherd and his flock – this was the day.

    Weather begins to turn as I climb and around 3ish I’ve lost all blue skies and everything is freezing.

    That was the last town I pass and the road ends at a drying up river. Well, it’s a river bed with about 2 dozen different water flow paths. I can see the road on the other side so I try to pass by jumping from rock to rock. If I fall in, I’m F*&ked…SERIOUSLY.

    WHAM!!! The outer crank wheel collides onto a stone. As I’m balancing on stones, trying to get the bike…shit, I don’t even know what I was doing…just not trying to fall over into the freezing water. I made it out about 5 meters before I just realized this was completely stupid.

    I back track…there has got to be a road. Earlier I had seen a cowboy cross the river on his horse and a motorcycle. Going back to there I find a little path to get me across.

    Riding Kham and U-Tsang trained me really well at crossing streams, rivers and glacier melt. The first time I tried crossing water, those frozen feet taught me never to just STOP ever again. If the weather is nice and I’m concerned about the photo gear…I’ll take the shoes and socks off to cross.

    After crossing and looking back.

    This is the point where I’m starting to question where I am. Maps and compass and I’m still having some doubts. I should of asked the people in the town BEFORE crossing the water. Whatever, I’ll keep going on.

    The ridge on the other side is speckled with homes and there is a part of me that thinks I should of not crossed the river bed. I’m not sure why I do this but I’m pretty sure I convinced myself that this way would get me to where I’m going.

    Ok. Very little tracks in the road. Some villages and homes. Some shepherds. This bike is getting pushed through this range. All 10km or so of it!

    I keep looking to right and see the villages on the other side on the ridge. I’m going deeper and deeper and pass another village.

    Ending up on the side of a mountain with not a lot of hope ahead, I walk 3km without the bike and just a compass to figure out what the hell is going on. This newly dug up road is not taking me SW.

    Try the other road 1 km back. I end up in a little valley and I know for sure this is wrong, there is no way to continue on. I go back to the last village.

    I see two men and I remove my glasses and hat and let them know I’m a foreigner. They show me where I am. I have to return to the village on the other side of the water. I’m on the wrong side! (Ha! Ironic when I just wrote a post about never doubt a babe’s navigation/map reading skills. Well, this time I goofed!)

    Down the mountain I’m slipping all over the place and nearly land flat on my butt a couple of times.

    Damn you water…I have to cross AGAIN!

    It’s near 5:30 and I only have about 2 hours MAX of daylight. There is no where to stay here and it’s freezing. I would freeze to death up here…I have to get somewhere so as soon as I get back across the water it’s a race to somewhere.

    I talk to a Kazakh man at the village about where I’m going and where I’m coming from. Explaining I want that small road to Urumqi. He tells me the road is too difficult and long and that I need to return to Fukang. He points to the ridge when talking about the small road I’m looking for. Sure…okay…I’m NOT returning to Fukang and ride back up the hill to look for the small road.

    With my luck…I see an empty coal truck come along and he takes these tire tracks that I would of NEVER seen if he hadn’t came along. There comes another truck and he takes the same route.

    WHEN ALL ELSE FAILS…FOLLOW THE COAL TRUCKS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    I am racing light now…as I follow the tracks behind the empty coal trucks.

    After a few km I’m on a “road”? Let me just say, imagine what a road would be like in the mountains that only coal trucks take…there, that’s the description.

    It’s getting cold and dark…and colder. I’m starting to worry and look for somewhere to set up camp. Not just out, but abandoned buildings or hideaways under the road.

    It’s all coal mining out here and I begin to go down the pass at sunset. I pass a coal mine with little concrete, abandoned, building across the road. Shit! Someone sees me and is watching. I want to set up camp in that building but it’s not going to work. The empty coal trucks go to the west, I see loaded trucks coming towards me. Continue to follow the loaded coal trucks.

    It’s dark and I’m going down a nasty road. Bouncing everywhere, skidding in loose stones, avoiding the ditches and trenches. Hands are frozen and feet are freezing.

    This goes on for a couple of hours, it’s pitch black.

    Around 9:30, after about 2 hours in the dark…I hit tarmac. Relief. I have no idea where I am or what way to go. I’m at a fork. Which way shall I go. There is traffic coming from the North…okay…I guess this is the way I go.

    EVERYTHING is frozen on my bike. I have to take extra care…she whines every time I touch the brakes and luckily my chosen route is down down down. Smooth tarmac and shading my eyes every time a car passes to keep my shitty night vision.

    Around 10:30 I arrive to a little side of the highway stop…thank god. I ask a shop keeper about zhusu and she directs me. Find a nice quaint and warm place on the second floor. We lock my bike up on the first floor that has a massive pot-belly coal burning stove. My poor bike is so frozen and is crying to me for a cleaning.

    I really really thought I was going to freeze tonight. Honestly. It goes down as one of the top 10 worst rides. 1-Cold 2-Lost 3-Dark 4-Frozen Bike 5-Anticipated hitting Urumqi to only take a long way around to get a very short distance from Fukang. I only got 20km West of my morning starting point…after riding in the mountains for over 10 hours! Idiot!!!!!! Masochist!!!!!!!!!!!

    Scarf down noodles downstairs while the little boy practices his English along with a video on the tv.

    Yeah, I was kind of worried about losing my fingers tonight. I still have all 10…because, well, if I lose one or two…how will I transmit my stories!!!!!

    Waking up in the middle night soaking in sweat, wiping it from the back of my neck than I get down to my undies. Which, obviously I wasn’t thinking straight because that is a big no no in these types of places. Gross. Someone send me a home TB test!

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