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10.01.10 13:11 Age: 8 yrs

Taklamakan Part I: Preparations

By: Roger and Megan

Bottomless wind, lost parcels, and how to pack ice

We'd been in Hotan for far too long.  Our daily ritual for the previous 10 days had been to visit the two post offices to enquire about our parcel that had been sent from Australia.  It contained a very important piece of equipment - our new GPS to replace the one that had been broken in the car crash.  Since our speedometers were also both broken, and we'd be soon travelling through terrain too featureless to triangulate, this was to be our sole method of telling how many kilometres we'd achieved in each day of riding (and therefore how many km's until the end of the desert, so we didn't run out of water, fuel, or food).

On December 21-22, we hit a new low.  It was probably the cheap, slightly too cool noodles we'd eaten for lunch that was making us both feel a little ill by the evening.  Megan had managed to force up a bit of puke but it didn't seem to help, whereas Roger was lying in bed trying not to move too much.  Sometime in the wee hours of the morning, Megan awoke and let out a whimpered "uh-oh" as she scrambled to the bathroom.  This call sign of impending doom was because there was urgent knocking at both the front and back doors, and she didn't know which door to head for first.  Unfortunately for Megan's longjohns, she had not enough time or presence of mind to aim anything but her face at the toilet, and not enough bowel control to withstand the downforce of the upchuck.

A cold shower (the hot water wasn't working at the time), a big clean-up, and a new pair of underpants later, Megan was back sitting on the couch in disbelief of what had happened, quietly apologising to herself, Roger, and China.  But it didn't end there.  Within twenty minutes there was another big race to the bathroom for an almost exact replica of the previous disaster.

Another cold shower and another pair of underpants later, Megan was finally feeling well enough to take an anti-emetic and a stopper and go back to bed.  Bad news for Roger, however, was that his fun was just about to begin.  Learning from Megan's mistakes, Roger worked out a good position and managed to not get too much mess over his clothes during his double spray - he just hurled all over the bathroom floor instead.

Over the next 24 hours, Megan was recovering well, whereas Roger was confined to bed and having difficulty keeping down even water.  The next day, when we finally managed to venture out more than 200 m from the toilet, a new symptom appeared.  Megan had what could be called wind trouble, whereas Roger had what could be called a typhoon.  This lasted for another day and a half, with Roger's noises waking Megan up several times throughout the night.

By December 24, we were finally feeling well enough to hit the road.  But it wasn't that simple.  For about 3 months, we had been pondering and trialling different options for the portage of our water supplies across the Taklamakan Desert.  Usually, a desert crossing requires you to carry many kilograms of water, which is what makes it difficult.  But when completed during summer it is not too bad, as you are not also required to carry bulky cold and wet weather gear as well.  On the other hand, when cycle touring in sub-zero conditions, you usually need not carry too much water, but instead just carry enough fuel to melt the snow that you collect from the fields.

As you may know from our previous updates, our mid-winter crossing of the Taklamakan Desert combined the worst of both worlds.  Seasonal averages are below zero during the daytime and down to -25 C overnight.  So not only did we have to carry all the water (well, ice) necessary for the crossing, we had to carry lots of fuel too to melt the ice into water.  And of course, the colder the conditions, the more fuel you need to burn to get the water to boil.  We had decided against filling our aluminium toolboxes with water/ice because we thought the melting rate of a black bag of ice in full sun would be approximately equal to our consumption rate.  In addition, we thought we'd try salting two of the bags (one with chicken stock, the other with juice powder) to try to slow its freezing.  The backup plan would be to rip open the bags and chip away at the iceblock as needed, should all our water freeze solid.

On top of these water supplies, we were also carrying supplies for the remaining 7 months of our journey.  Needless to say, when we finally got the quike loaded up to embark on the crossing, it was at a record 4 tiers high on the rear (as tall as us standing up!), with an extra 20 litres of water strapped to the front too.  We were carrying a total of about 75 litres of water, with only 5.5 litres of which in vacuum flasks and protected from turning into ice.  With 5 kilograms of dry noodles, 6 litres of fuel, and a guitar (which Megan had bought in Hotan to ease the cabin fever) amongst all the luggage, we were ready to spend the next 10 or so days in the sand dunes of the Taklamakan.