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20.01.10 13:18 Age: 8 yrs

Taklamakan Part III: Riding out

By: Roger and Megan

Makeshift dentistry in the middle of nothingness

During our ride through the Taklamakan desert in winter, the cold was not only affecting our equipment, it also dealt us some rough sleeping at night.  First was the return of Megan's chest infection, which combined with the cold air, led to half-hour long coughing fits at night.  The other thing was the freezing of the condensation within the tent.  Each night, within an hour of getting in the tent, there would already be a thin layer of ice throughout the tent inner, meaning that whenever one of us accidentaly brushed against the tent wall we'd get a covering of snow on our head/back/arms.  And then with the sub-zero temperatures in the tent, this meant that through the night, the condensation of the warm air throughout the down in the sleeping bags would freeze solid.  Each morning, we'd find our sleepping bags getting more and more solid, and more difficult to pack back into their compression sacks.  Thus, by about night no. 4 (Dec 27) we ended up finally cracking out our much dreaded vapour barrier liners in an attempt to rectify the situation.

It seemed that the Taklamakan was coldest in the middle, and the desert fringes were still bearably warm.  Thus from the midway stretch of the trip, it was nice to have the weather getting warmer bit by bit.  The stoves worked fine during the daytime.  And we figured out that the stoves had failed because the larger 5 L storage container we'd been using had a bad seal, meaning that moisture from the air would condense in the container and then freeze into mini-iceblocks in the liquid petrol.

New years' eve was fairly uneventful for us, we just followed the same routine that we'd developed over the previous 8 days.  We did, however, make a bit of an extra effort to find a nice campsite in the sand dunes.  Under the bright and eerie full moon, with just enough overcast to keep the night warm, we slept soundly through to 2010.

The new year brought with it a new problem to contend with - a horrendous toothache for Roger.  We can all agree that this is not the nicest thing to have happen in the middle of nowhere in China!  It started as just some moderate pain around the rear molars when inhaling or eating or facing a headwind.  This pain steadily increased as the day wore on until he was in unbearable pain even when just sitting still, with pain radiating back to his ear.  That night he barely slept as he would just wake up with shooting pain, as the cold air hit the exposed nerves beneath his tooth.  By the next morning, stepping out of the tent for a breath of fresh air was agonizing.  Drinking water (hot or cold) was bad enough, as was just sitting around in the cold air, let alone riding into it.

Soon it got to the stage where riding was just too unbearable, with the exposed nerve constantly being hit by the blowing icy wind (even with a balaclava on, to breath through etc).  Thus we had to stop for a while during the day for some emergency roadside dentistry.  Unable to visibly locate the actual site of the cavity, Megan had to just smear the temporary cavity-fill putty all over three of the molars to try and cap the hole.  This helped alot, and we were soon able to keep on riding (with the help of some strong pain killers), wondering how long this would last.

Later that afternoon we were pulled over by a big four-wheel drive ute, full of water and fuel in the back, that had just finished a  7 day assault on the sand dunes.  We were at first quite unsure of what company we had, but soon enough we could see their friendly faces smiling in admiration of our velomobile.  To our surpirse, one of the men started speaking English to us, showering us with praises and chocolate bars.  He and his friends were then returning to their homes in Aksu after their off-foad adventure into the desert.  While they were exploring they'd come across an old extinct volcano, and he gave us some samples of th agate he found around it.  Hearing that once out of the desert we would be making our way north, he gave us his contacts details just in case  we encountered any trouble along the way.

Our last day (day 11) was January the 3rd.  We awoke to a lovely clear sky (as usual) and a slight headwind, and proceeded to ride on into Alar (we though it was either 18 or 28 km away, but were'nt sure), passing a the carcass of a recently deceased baby camel on the way.

Arriving in Alar county we once again got ourselves lost (we still havent found the knack of reading signs in Chinese...) before finding ourselves in the centre of town.  The name "taklamakan" means "those who enter, never come out."  Evidently, we'd beaten the curse.