It's raining at the end of the world - Peter Quaife

This is the first in an occasional (I promise) series of e-postcards from the road. All sorts of people seemed to be interested in and/or worried about my trip, so I thought this was a good idea.

In case you don't know I'm cycling across Xinjiang and Western Tibet which is one of the highest, least populated and least explored places on the planet. A few cyclists do it every year so it's possible, but it's really tough. Bad roads, not much food and very high altitudes. I reckon it'll be the toughest ride I've ever done. I'll be leaving Kashgar in western China tomorrow morning and I'll probably get to Lhasa in around 45 days.

So far all I've done is struggled with getting myself and my bike here. I had to go via Hong Kong because it's the only place I can get a long enough visa. After that I had to take a train across the border into China proper (Guangzhou), then a plane to Urumqi and another one here. I met an Aussie in Hong Kong who's ridden in Tibet before and is heading that way again, so we travelled as far as Urumqi together. Arriving in sundry Chinese cities with no map, guidebook or knowledge of Chinese wasn't easy so it was good to have someone with me. None of it can be booked from outside China so it was all a bit disorganised!

It's been a good trip so far but I'm really looking forward to getting on my bike tomorrow. I'll be riding across the Taklamakan desert for 2 or 3 days before the mountains start - within 150km or so I'll be almost up to 5000m. I was hoping to find other cyclists here, but there aren't any so I'll be riding alone, at least to start with. Apparently there's quite a good road grapevine, so if there's anyone in front or behind me I'll soon hear about it. It's almost inevitable I'll come across people along the way.

It's very weird being in Kashgar. I was here 11 years ago after riding the Karakoram highway and since then it's changed completely and I recognise nothing apart from the huge Mao statue in the town square. It's changed from a sleepy backwater with dirt roads full of donkey carts and an amazing mix of people to a Chinese mega city complete with acres of concrete and cars. Not really my thing but the Kashgar of old is still here if you look hard enough and the cultural melting pot is as amazing as ever.

If anyone feels like dropping me a line, it'd be great to hear from home. I might have internet access for the next few days but after that it could be a couple of weeks or more before I can get online again - so don't worry if you don't hear anything for a while.

Oh and I'm carrying on with my weird weather tradition. Kashgar is a desert oasis town and it's pouring with rain. Hmmm.

All the best,

Pete followed the previous message with another.....

Peter Quaife in Western China-email number 2

Pete replied to let me know that he'll have no internet access for two or three weeks. I asked him if we would ever see him again, this is what he said:

' Well of all the daft things I've done on a bike, this is without doubt the daftest. As usual I've done my homework so it should be fine. The main hurdle will be the first pass - it goes from 1500m to 5000m almost in one go, and given my acclimatisation difficulties it should be interesting.'