A few days ago, I entered my first decent stretch of desert in China and quite unexpectedly, I felt really relaxed and comfortable there. I think that after such a long time in the highly populated regions in Eastern China, where there are always people, trucks, neon lit cities and loud horns, it was a welcome break to have nothing around but a flat sandy plain. I imagine being in a desert is like being in a white room, with no distractions, your mind begins to wander quite freely. Thoughts flow in and out like rivers. You sing and shout freely at the top of your voice about absolute gibberish, knowing that your words will be carried away by the wind.
You can use your mind to pass the time quite easily. For instance, on a section of road on the way to Lanzhou there were a series of small dips in the road. I imagined back to when I was at the BMX track in Cambridge, and I pretended that each dip was a jump, and tried to feel the woosh as my body shot up the steep take off, the weightlessness experienced while being airborne, and the slight jolt upon landing. I even threw in some fast turns to make it more realistic!
I also use this technique on particularly hot days, like when we were leaving Shanghai, when I felt like I would pass out with the heat. I thought about swimming in Lough Dan in Ireland while I was home. I tried to think of every detail of getting into the fresh cold water; first the tingle on my toes, then getting the shivers down my spine as I went in deeper, and finally that wave of cold as I took the final plunge. This works even better when you time the feeling of cold with the instant you arrive in shade from clouds or trees (if there is any available).
Armed with my mind games, I’ll be cycling into the desert proper over the next couple of weeks, and hope to end up in Kazakhstan in a month or so. By then, it’ll start getting really cold, and I’ll be playing games about being lovely and hot in the Shanghai sun!