After two weeks on the taper, I was chomping at the bit to get out of Nashville and into the wild. I knew the travel would be brutal, almost 4 days en route to China, so I expected the worst when I arrived at the first terminal and the beginning of the pipeline to the Gobi. A very long and frustrating story short, I smooth talked my way onto the last flight to Atlanta for a connection to Amsterdam after my original flight to JFK was delayed...delayed...cancelled. I was fortunate to reach my first stop with just enough time to make my Dutch connection. Unfortunately, as I would later learn, my baggage was not so lucky.
Two days after departing the States, I found myself at 4:30 in the morning (sans luggage) thumping along in the backseat of a car that was en route to a short hotel stay in Almaty, Kazakhstan. The massive streets were empty in the wee hours and the remnants of the old Soviet Union easily detectable against a contrast of the blaring sound of techno music, which could be heard emanating from the local discos that were still going strong.
Following a failed attempt at sleep, we linked-up with George, our local would-be host for the day. With no idea where we were off to, we jumped into George's SUV for our tour of Almaty, the former Kazakh capital. After a relaxing morning at the Shymbulak Ski Resort in the Tian Shan range, a whirlwind visit to the Kazakhstani National Museum, and some surprisingly fresh sushi in the world's largest landlocked country, we were rumbling back to the airport for our next leg, and into China.
From Kazakhstan, my route took me by air to Urumqi, a short 1.5 hour flight from Almaty, and on to Yining, another hour flight. From Yining, we traveled by car the remaining 4 hours to Bole (pronounced bowl-ah). Our drive was shortly interrupted by a failed attempt on the part of the local Xinjiang police to shake me and my companions down for "catch mooney." Thankfully, our friend Dan was with us. His Canadian passport seemed to be our 'get out of jail free' card. As we neared Bole, we entered the more alpine landscape of the Xinjiang. Amazing views of the surrounding snow-capped peaks of the Tian Shan and the sparkling Lake Sayram greeted us as we barreled down the immense highway system and into the host city.
With two days before the official race check-in, I settled down for some much needed rest before shoving off into camp living and the long stages that lay ahead. In Part 2, I'll cover the Pre-Race through Stage 3 and the halfway point of the Gobi March. Thanks for reading!