I spent the morning updating the blog, which took much longer than I expected. I had to buy a special cable to get pictures off of my card, and the store that sold it didn't open until 9:30. I transferred everything to my computer, fixed pictures, finished entries, put everything on an external hard drive, and took it to an internet café. By the time I was finished with everything it was noon, and I still had a good 300 km ahead of me. When I went back to my room, my bag had been packed for me and the room was being cleaned. I was changing clothes several minutes later when I found out why they were in such a rush. An official from the Public Security Bureau walked into the hotel, told me who he was, then said firmly, "foreigners are not allowed to stay in this hotel." He was the first English speaker I had met since I left Chengdu, but he was using his powers for evil
. "Oh, sorry, I really didn't know." I really didn't know. I handed him my passport, all the documents I had for the bike, and even my old student ID from a year ago, which was still valid for some reason. When he looked at my visa he was not amused. I had handed him a Chinese student ID but had a tourist visa. He pointed at the date of my entry stamp, as if I didn't know it was about to run out. I told him I was going to Urumqi, then leaving the country. He told me I needed to get a visa as soon as I got to Urumqi, and then leave the country (isn't that what I just said?). As I hurried into my room to pack the rest of my stuff, I heard the hotel owner pleading with the official not to write him up. I felt bad for staying so late in the morning. The official came in and handed me my passport. "Have a nice trip." "Thanks!" I said with a genuine smile, which was not returned. "Foreigners are not allowed to stay at this hotel." Okay, okay, I got it. I started tying my bag down to the bike as quickly as possible, but nothing was fast enough for the man. "Quickly!" I waved goodbye to the hotel owner and apologized for the trouble. "Go! Now!" So I did.
The roads are much nicer and more consistent now, so I can cover a lot more ground. That is, if I am going the right way. I missed another turn, because there was no real sign and when I stopped and asked for directions I was told to keep going straight
. I overshot it by 50 km before I realized I was on the wrong road. As I sped back toward the city, a huge thundercloud loomed in the distance. I saw a couple bolts of lighting. The wind was so strong it nearly blew me over once or twice. I knew I had no choice but to keep going, otherwise I wouldn't make it to another city before nightfall. I tried not to think about how nice it would be to be 100 km farther down the road. Fortunately, I was moving away from the thundercloud after I made the turn, but the sun had disappeared behind the clouds and I was shivering from head to toe. Other people on the road had leather jackets and mittens lined with fur, which would have been nice. I stopped by the side of the road and stripped to my boxers to put on long underwear. I was pleasantly surprised to find that I was wearing my pink with white elephants Thai silk boxers. The drivers passing by would have a great story to tell at dinner time.
The sun seemed to hang in the sky much longer than I expected. I realized that this was because the mountains to the west had gradually dwindled down to almost nothing. I was entering grassland and desert territory. Out of the nothingness a city appeared, and I found a room for the night. After dinner I bought a beer and went to the park across the street. I was so exhausted that I fell asleep in the park for half an hour before going back to the hotel.