The police at the Chinese checkpoints along the highways never really knew what do with a bunch of foreign tourists on big foreign registered motorcycles. Often times they were conveniently busy and just waved us through. Sometimes we conveniently didn't see them waving us down and just kept on going. When we were stopped the first order of business was to collect up all the passports. There was one time when the very young policeman was so nervous he kept dropping the passports from his hands shaking so much. Once the passports were all collected the next order of business was a phone call to find out what the next order of business should be. The usual response was to take pictures of all the passports and email them on to someone else. After the immediate situation was no longer the direct responsibility for any of the police officers there at the moment the atmosphere lightened up and we were soon on our way - but not before for some more pictures were taken.
We were provided a track for every day of the trip that marked the route in our GPS that we were to follow. For the first few days through China the day's riding was done within 4 or 5 hours and a couple of times we ended up at the hotel before our rooms were ready. Along with the monotony of the 4-line divided highways where the GPS directed us prompted some of the group to start extending the day on some adhoc detours. The day we left Hami for Dunhuang was one such day for me and three others after reports of high mountain passes, Mongolian like grass lands and great roads were passed around from the day before. It was always going to be a long day and there was conflicting information regarding whether or no there were actually any roads where we wanted to go but we headed out anyway - probably later than we should have but headed out we did. The stories of the high mountain passes, Mongolian like grass lands and great roads turned from myth to truth and we had a great morning heading north and west, far away from our destination for the night. As we continued along the conflicting information regarding the roads started to resolve itself from the facts on the ground and our route slowly turned east and south back towards our hotel for the night. Around the middle of the afternoon one of us pulled off to the side of the road because the bike felt funny and he thought he might have a flat tire. The tire was indeed low in air pressure but with no obvious punctures he got the air pressure back up to where it should be and we were on our way. A short time later he pulled off but this time the tire was completely flat so we then started taking a closer look for the problem. Eventually an incredibly small puncture in the tire was found and the appropriate steps were taken to repair it. The problem with a puncture this small is that there really is no target for you to ream out and fill. Most of the time you miss and create a bigger problem than what you started with. After reinflating the tire it was obvious that the first patch had indeed missed the target and a second attempt to repair the tire was made. The problem with trying to patch a patch is that the you will just make the hole bigger and you might as well call a tow truck and go home. There are not a lot of tow trucks 30km from the Mongolian border in North West China so the fail safe method was chosen and a spare inner tube was put into the tire. All of this tire repair work took time and it was now obvious that we would not be at the hotel before dinner time... actually it was probably obvious when we left the hotel that morning. And we were still not sure that the road we were on would get us down to Dunhuang although the few people that we had stopped all nodded that this road would get us to Dunhuang - at least that's what we hoped we were asking.
With the tire repair all buttoned up we once again headed on down the road. As the sun started to set the road taking us back to the main highway we had been expecting showed up and we let the trip leaders know that not only would we be missing dinner but that we would also not make it back before dark - again this was probably and easy conclusion that could have been made earlier that day as we were leaving. At the on ramp to the main highway the bike with the repaired flat had yet another flat so we pulled off and got to work again - this time in the dark.
A couple of us were also terribly close to running out of gas so some syphoning was done to make sure everyone had enough to make the 35km to the next gas station. With the tire repaired yet again and with enough gas to make it the four of us headed out again, making it all the way to the hotel to check in at 2AM in the morning.