With the autumn equinox now past, nights are longer than twelve hours. Usually I’d spend much of this time reading. Since my batteries were dead, I was bored and decided to set off a couple of hours before it got light.
There was almost no traffic so I wasn’t too concerned about riding in the dark. The slightly bigger problem was that the road network here was a bit different to my map, due to recently built roads. I was riding on the old highway (G315), adjacent to a newly built motorway (G3012, not on my map).
After a certain point, the new motorway took the place of the G315. The road I was on took a bridge over the G3012 and connected to a smaller road – going in the wrong direction.
I realised this when the smooth tarmac I’d been riding on suddenly had lots of potholes and patches of sand. I made my way back over the bridge and rode along the motorway for a while. Barbed wire fences prevented access but eventually I found an unlocked gate and let myself in. It was just starting to get light as I pedalled along the motorway.
I wanted to get some food, so after a while I decided to leave the motorway and detour through a town. There was a police checkpoint, however, and they would not let me through. I was told that if I waited a while they would call in more officers who would escort me to a shop. I couldn’t be bothered with that, so I returned to the motorway.
Before too long I got a puncture in my rear tyre. After removing the offending thorn, I put in a spare tube. I was trying to preserve my patches – I only had half a patch left after repairing about ten punctures the day before.
The puncture occured during a brief gap in the desert. There were a few towns nearby and the motorway passes by some farmland. I could see lots of people picking cotton in a nearby field.
Later on there was a rest area next to the motorway, with a small shop. I picked up some food, which was good as it meant I wouldn’t need to leave the motorway. There are few exits, with police checkpoints at each.
I continued cycling onwards, returning to desert terrain after a while. I got a second puncture in my rear tyre, which I replaced with my last spare tube.
The barbed wire fence next to the road was quite effective. There were no gaps, and the gates tended to be locked. Where there were storm drains, the fence came right up to the road so that one couldn’t access the storm drain. Occasionally, though, the storm drains were unfenced in the section between the two halves of the motorway. In the evening I managed to get off the road via one such gap, and set up camp.
I made another pre-dawn start the next morning. It was just getting light when I reached another rest area. Everything was closed but a security guard on the other side of the road have me the WiFi password. Checking my emails, I saw that I had received my Pakistan visa! Greatly relieved, I continued cycling. The sky was clearer today than it had been for the last few days, so I could see the mountains to the south.
I reached a large police checkpoint where I had to wait quite a while as my passport was checked. The officer doing so repeatedly told me that cycling on the motorway was very dangerous. Finally it seemed that he was going to let me go, but then an armed policeman shouted for me to wait.
He had decided I couldn’t continue cycling on the motorway. A police van was arranged and I was told to put the bicycle in the back, and get in. After some more back and forth I was put on the phone to a man who could speak English – possibly their boss? The connection wasn’t great (nor was his English) – but I got the gist: cycling here is dangerous and illegal. Get in the van.
I said I was willing to accept that risk (I don’t believe it is a significant risk) but he insisted that I get in the van. “OK, thanks,” I said, and handed the phone back to the police. Before they had a chance to confer I jumped on the bike and rode off. I didn’t hear anyone shouting after me, and I wasn’t followed. Success!
A few kilometres later there was an exit and I decided to try leaving the motorway to avoid any more trouble. Of course there was another police checkpoint, and they told me I wasn’t allowed to leave, and had to continue cycling on the motorway! Of course this didn’t mean I was free to go; I had to wait around while they go through all the ridiculous formalities with my passport.
When I was allowed to leave, I found that my front tyre was flat. I patched it up, with the “help” of the police. A puncture is quite a unifying thing and everybody offered to help. It’s not really a five-person job though and more hands mostly just get in the way.
The police had become more friendly during the puncture repair, and asked for some selfies before I departed. This was getting to be quite old hat by this point – so I decided I needed a new hat. I grabbed one off the head of the policeman posing for a photo with me, and put it on my head. He took it back pretty quickly! Looking back this probably wasn’t the wisest move but the officers seemed to find it amusing. I asked if I could take some photos myself, but they refused (as expected). They did seem apologetic and pointed to security cameras by way of explanation.
Finally I reached the main exit from the motorway towards the city of Kashgar. There were a couple more checkpoints to get through on the way into the city, before I made my way to the Old Town and checked into a hostel. It had been two weeks and over 2000km since my last rest day so I decided to take one here.
I got a few things done, including a trip to a bike shop where I got some new inner tubes, more patches, and a reasonably sized pump that will work for both Schrader and Presta valves.
October 8: 210 km
October 9: 117 km