Monday, 8 December 2014

Laid Back Slideshows: come and see my holiday snaps!

I'm doing a couple of public slideshows in January 2015:

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Ride stats & article for UEA

22,777 kms
4 continents
18 countries
1,320 riding hours
4,310 hours including all stops
17.3 km/h average
5.3 km/h including stops
116,269 metres climbing
6,000,000 pedal revolutions (approx)

UEA just published a brief article on their alumni site

Friday, 17 October 2014

Friday, 3 October 2014

Glorious Finish

Some photos from the final day of my ride here. Thanks to all family friends and colleagues who turned up at Bikefix to welcome me home, an occasion I will long remember.
Riding over North Downs towards London with Andy Dave and Dominic
Bikefix Wed 1st October 5pm: various family members welcome me home

Delighted to be joined by Amy & Sara from RoadPeace

Foot art courtesy Shimano sandals

Bike so comfy I don't need to get off to enjoy a glass of bubbly

Re-united with long-suffering wife Pascale...

...and Dad Michael
If you were there and have good photos please email them to me, thanks.

Still rattling the tin for RoadPeace

What's the next challenge? If I can get my notes organised...maybe a book. Watch this space!

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Return to the Motherland

Latest news, ie tweets and photos, click here

I've just arrived in New York City....which means only 1/2 a continent to go to the end! I've ridden every day since I left Vancouver on 5th August so now taking a week off to visit this place with my wife who joins me today. Then fly to Lisbon and ride home from there.

Quite a number of people following this blog and the tweets have recently been asking when I plan to get back home. Nice to know you are interested! It will be on Wednesday 1st October. Plan is to finish where I started, at Bikefix in Lambs Conduit Street London WC1. It would be nice to see some friendly faces there at 5pm. We'll probably go for a quick beer in The Lamb till around 7pm. Then I'm going off for a quiet dinner to reacquaint myself with my family.

See you soon!

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Ode to Canada's Highway 3

Displaying 2014-08-08 14.54.52-1.jpg
Latest news, ie tweets and photos, click here

Canada's Highway number 3
Yes siree it's the 3 for me
Hwy 3's the one I like
Cruisin' along on my bike
From the Pacific to the flat Prairie
Hwy 3's the place to be

At dawn every day, back on the move
Mp3 pumping, I'm back in the groove
At dusk every day it's time to stop riding
Find a safe camp and go into hiding

Vancouver to Hope, rode with Bruce
Wind behind us, fast and loose

Hwy 3, in the breeze
Up the Anarchist Pass it's a puff and a wheeze
Met crazy Paul running down - crazy way into town!

Highway 3 here we go
Up the hills I'm pretty slow
But once I'm on the other side
Hang on tight enjoy the ride

Who'd've known: Canada makes wine
Thousands of acres of grapes on the vine

Riding the Rockies, blimey it's hot!
Cycling these mountains takes all I've got

On the Paulson Pass met Chris n Andy
Missing his wife, getting quite...hungry

At 20k an hour I see a lot more
Breath-taking scenery; wide-open jaw
Summits & lakes, torrents & streams
Roadside vendors selling fruit & ice creams

Hundred miles a day it's an 8-day ride
Over high passes and down other side
20k an hour, enjoying the views
Detached from reality, missing the news

At noon if I can I jump in a stream
Rinse out my kit, get myself clean
At the end of the week I'll find a motel
Jump in the bathtub to soak out the smell

Maple syrup on my pancakes
Eggs & bacon, hashbrowns too
Sausage ham & tomato
Coffee please - and where's the loo?

Hwy 3 for he who dares
Watch out for grizzly, black & brown bears
Hwy 3, who dares wins
$2,000 for littering - use the bear-proof bins!

Half way up the mountain is the place that I stop, it's neither at the bottom nor at the top
Half way up the mountain is the place that I sit - there's no other place quite like it
[apols to AA Milne]

Hwy 3 feel the heat
Crazy suntan on my feet
Wind's been kind I'm glad to say
When it blows it goes my way

Chevys & Harleys, RVs, the odd truck
Watch out for cyclists, please give a...fig

One-armed Neil, still awheel
Cracking jokes every line
Lives in Creston, hi-vis vest on
Even in the bright sunshine

For the eyes it's a feast
Going west or going east
For the cyclist it's a test
Going east or going west

Hope to Princeton and beyond
Of hwy 3 we're getting fond
Rock Creek, Greenwood, Castlegar
Hwy 3's the best by far
Glad I'm not stuck in a car

Continental divide at the Crowsnest Pass
Downhill to New York from here?
You betcha sweet ass!
Out of the Rockies
Onto the plains
Down on the Prairie
Where it seldom rains

Gettin' my kicks
Climbs not too steep
Route 66: watch and weep!
Also known as the Crowsnest
Highway 3. It's the best!

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

Blog update from perth

G'day from Perth WA! I've been a bit rubbish at updating this blog. Last update was from London on the day before I left. Now, two months and five days later, and 8,644km on the odometer, I have arrived in Australia. I'm better at tweeting so look there for latest news. I'm not sure if I can update this blog from the mobile and have had very limited access to computers which frankly has been a great delight. And at the rare opportunities I did get offered use of a PC I always seemed to have something better to ride my bike, or wash my hair.

I'm staying a few days here with my brother Prof. Jonathan Evans and family for some quality time! Also time to rebuild and service the bike: new tyres chain sprocket brake pads. This bike has performed faultlessly since the back wheel rebuild in Berlin following two broken spokes in 4 days. It's a heavy brute to haul around at 15kg + same again with bags + 6kg of water so uphill and acceleration are accomplished at a rather stately pace. Average cruising speeds in zero/light winds are around 20kmh.

I've developed a 10/5/9 target for doing 200km/day: 10 hours riding; 5 hours eating and other brief stops; 9 hours in the sack and everything else. However it's a target that's gradually slipped since I crossed the river into Asia at Uralsk. I'd done 4,000km in 3 weeks so just short of the 200 daily plan. I could even account for that day: the wonderful pause in proceedings in Brest, Belarus, where I was met by a gaggle of local cyclists and press includingTV crew and taken on a city tour then lunch and a sauna. Thanks to Michael K who chairs the local cycling group Rucheek for organising all that, for being my host and indeed for his crucial call to the Embassy of Belarus in London to smooth the passage of my visa application. Photos here

It took five weeks to do the next 4,000km so the daily average plummeted to around 115km/day. In Kazakhstan this was due to fierce headwinds and some appalling road surfaces.  2,500km to Almaty took three weeks @120km/day average and they were hard days: headwinds every day sometimes so strong I was blown off the road; and road surfaces that varied erratically from brand new international class highways to rutted stony/dusty tracks where all evidence of any previous surface had long disappeared.

Riding those 120k/day, including stops at cafes/shops and an essential break of at least two hours at noon from the fierce dry desert heat in whatever shade available took from dawn at 0600 to well after sunset, usually stopping around 2230, utterly exhausted.  Average speeds were in the range 12-15kmh and often below 10kmh when the road or wind got really bad.

So as I crawled closer to the end of the road in Kazakhstan I began to wishfully think that things might get easier in SE Asia where the plan was to ride 4,000km Hanoi to Singapore in 4 weeks. So around 150k/day. It would be hot humid tropical monsoon. Hey that could be hard work too and I need a break! Furthermore the flight from Almaty to Hanoi involves one Bangkok which is half way down my route to Singapore. It was an agonising decision. I'd spent good time and money on the Vietnam visas (twice due to date change) and also on the malaria tabs which I won't need riding south from Bangkok. In the end those considerations were outweighed by the overwhelming attraction of an easy ride. Just 2,000km in 4 weeks! That sounded almost too easy so let's go for 3 weeks @100k/day and get to Singapore then onto Perth in time for Jonathan's birthday on June 13th. Yes!!

As soon as I hit on that idea the decision was made with no further dithering. I had till 20th May on my Kazakh visa and some days when I made almost no progress at all meeting that target looked like aiming for the moon. Eventually, with 300km of lorry and train assistance to escape the direst roads and winds, I got into Almaty on 15th May where the bike shop by prior arrangement had a box ready for me and there were seats available that night on the single daily direct flight to Bangkok.

The ride down from Bangkok to Singapore was an utterly different affair. I finally got the easier days that I had craved. Road surfaces were excellent throughout Thailand and Malaysia. Winds light to moderate, sometimes even going my way! It's hot and humid of course but easy to find shelter and rest for a few hours at noon. Daily monsoonal downpours are brief, warm and refreshing.  Best to get going at first light, ride about 70k by noon, eat and rest then another 30k by around 1600 or so. Easy life!

The vast majority of people I've met in all countries so far have been kind polite and helpful.  There have been numerous acts of extreme generosity, eg in Kazakhstan where complete strangers paid my hotel and restaurant bills, gave cash, shared meals, provided accommodation… Several times I was warned to be wary of the people in the next town/province/country where people are savages...but when I get there I meet more people of a benevolent disposition interested in where I'm from and going and usually how old I am (52).

The bike of course attracts a lot of attention which can get tedious: sometimes every other car hoots and stops to take photos and videos. I try to tolerate and remind myself that if they were coming down the Broadway in Wimbledon on a round the world ride by camel we'd probably hoot and shout and point our cameras at them.

The warmshowers network – couch-surfing for cycle tourists – has been brilliant. Great people offering free accommodation to weary touring cyclists. We have much to talk about as we share a passion. Many hosts offer far more than the bed and a warm shower, eg dinner and a family welcome which makes such a lovely change from the lonely norms that are wild solo camping and commercial budget hotels/hostels/guest houses.

The chief problem with people in every country so far, perhaps with the exception on NL, is that a sizeable minority of them turn into complete morons as soon as they get behind the wheel or onto a motorbike. Road danger is by far the greatest threat to my safety and I'm pleased to have made it this far without incident.

My body has been as reliable as the bike.  I’ve not been ill at all. Not even a headache or a dodgy tummy. Some rather tender achilles tendons in the early days were put to rest by heeding the doc's advice, thanks Helen!

Well that’s enough ramblings for now.  Next update – possibly – from NZ. That’s quit a long ride away from here. Watch the twitter in the meantime.


Thursday, 3 April 2014

Rig Ready to Roll

I have just about finished my packing and unpacking and repacking routine, and got everything to fit into two small panniers, a cylindrical dry bag and a seat bag weighing in at 16kg.

So what's in the bags?  An itemised list would be way too boring, here's a summary:
  • RH pannier: stuff I hope I won't need too often - bike tools/spares & medical kit/supplies
  • LH pannier: maps, papers, bike & civvy street clothes, washing kit, water fiilter
  • Cylindrical dry bag: bivvy bag, sleeping bag & liner, thermarest mat, all rolled into one ready for rapid deployment at the end of the day
  • Seat bag: well stocked pantry
  • Orange bag behind the seat cover providing lumbar support: waterproof jacket
  • Black bag hanging above and in front of LH pannier: drinking water
  • Lunch box just behind handlebar stem: two cache batteries which charge from hub dynamo and power the phone and the GPS
 Please no emails to say what I've forgotten, there's no more space!

And finally... this will probably be the last blog update before I hit the road.  After that, news from the roadside will be tweeted when I can find wi-fi.  Thanks for recent messages and donations to RoadPeace which are already over £1,500 before a single pedal stroke - on a day which has sadly seen yet another cyclist killed by lorry in London, they really mean a lot to me and to RoadPeace, I will try to live up to your expectations.

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Dog Stick & TBE update

Following on from yesterday's post, one of the ways I might die (very unlikely) or be attacked (highly probable) is by dogs. So I have fashioned a dog stick to bash and poke them with, mounted by thick rubber band (old inner tube) to the front fork for easy and fast draw on the move.  I have just had a practice run at this out in the street which did attract some funny looks from the neighbours.  I'm probably not yet as fast as Billy the Kid or Bob Munden so will keep practising.

There has been an amusing conclusion to the Europe-wide search for a Tick-Born Encephalitis (TBE) vaccination next week to top up my immunity to this common and widespread disease which people are most exposed to in spring and summer in the woods, ie. me.  This was the reply that had me concerned from an ideally situated clinic in Berlin:
Dear Mr. Evans, we have not the vaccination of tick-borne encephalitis, only Japanese encephalitis and FSME. Mit freundlichen Grüßen, Institut für Tropenmedizin und Internationale Gesundheit, Spandauer Damm 130, 14050 Berlin.
 I had no luck yesterday finding another clinic on to do this jab.  So I decided to enlist the help of a good friend in Germany who could ring round for me and find me a clinic.  To help him I did a google translate of TBE... in German it is FSME.  Hurrah!

Neither of the above is date-related, but my tweet this morning about changing plans and doing RTW by motorbike was an April Fool, did I get anyone with that?

Monday, 31 March 2014

Manic Monday Morning

So today I have...
  • picked up the passport from Scott's agency with the Belarus visa in it
  • bought a personal locator beacon because for the last week or two most people I've talked to have been helpfully advising how I may die on this trip but apparently a PLB might help
  • visited the Vietnam Embassy again and got the dates changed as needed
  • done a TV interview for ITV about my pothole crash two years ago and recent reluctant payout by Surrey County Council (6pm ITV this evening)
  • picked up five different currencies at Best Foreign Exchange: US dollars, Euros, Polish Zloty, Thai Baht and Malaysian Ringgit (I got Russian Rubles yesterday from a local parkrun friend who had some left over so we cut out the middle-man)
  • got an email from the clinic in Berlin where I was planning to get my second jab for tick-borne encephalitis... to say that they do not stock this vaccine
  • launched a new continental search via for tick-borne encephalitis vaccine
  • released a stressed pigeon trapped downstairs in the lounge... and closed the back door
Now I am going to have a cup of tea!

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Visas and Vaccinations

The tunnel goes on but I can see a dot of light at the end now!

I did think that visas and vaccinations were all done and dusted now... but not quite.  Flying over China because I cannot get the Chinese visa means that I will get to Vietnam a month earlier than my visa is timed for.  I've been doing so much rushing about recently that this thought only recently occurred to me, as I was riding my bike the other day.  So I visited the Vietnamese Embassy this afternoon where at first I was told to come back tomorrow because consular services are only available in the morning.  While I kicked myself at the gate in the freezing rain for not having fully grasped the opening hours on the website a few hours previously, a kindly gent of distinctly oriental facial features appeared and questioned my business.  As I described my woeful tale the oriental features softened, and a moment later he had opened the gate and invited me up to the visa office where he entered into spirited conversation (one presumes it was Vietnamese) with the visa lady behind the glass screen, who had been the one, I think, to have informed me a few moments earlier via the intercom, that her office was closed.  Their brief discussion was amicably resolved and I was handed a new visa form and advised to return with the passport, completed form and £25 fee to issue a new visa.  Result! I can do that next Monday when I get my passport back from Scott's Visa Agency with the Belarus visa in it.  What could possibly go wrong?

The Vietnam Embassy was actually very conveniently situated in Kensington on my way back home from the Masta Travel Health clinic near Oxford Circus, which I had also visited today to get a vaccination against Tick-Borne Encephalitis (TBE), one that both my practice nurse at the GP surgery and I had both overlooked.  Our focus had been on South-East Asia which is chock-full of deadly diseases like typhoid, cholera, rabies, malaria, hepatitis A&B, Japanese Encephalitis... you name it!  I'm protected against all that lot, but we forgot about TBE which is prevalent much closer to home: eastern Germany, Poland, Belarus and Russia, as well as much of Scandinavia (where I was last year, in high summer camping wild in the woods, blissfully ignorant that I was putting myself at highest possible risk of contracting a potentially fatal brain damaging disease) and Austria where it is so common and widespread that all children are routinely vaccinated like ours are for MMR and TB.  The second jab must be given at least two weeks after the first, by which time I should be in Berlin, so now I've got to find a clinic there and make an appointment.

I shall be jolly glad on 5th April when all I have to do is JBP!

Monday, 24 March 2014

New improved route for 5th April

I'm getting the sense that there could be a fair turn-out for the ride to Harwich on 5th April, so I have been tweaking the route a little, searching for small improvements, the most significant of which is we can avoid the Bow Roundabout and all of the A11 as far as Stratford, hurrah!

Here is the new improved route:

If you are planning to join the ride and have a GPS device please load the route in so that if necessary we can split into smaller groups, because it won't be easy to stay all together if we are more than ten or so.

Ride info:
  • Grand Depart at noon from BikeFix in Lambs Conduit Street
  • about 120km at gentleman's pace, circa 22km/h
  • bring a snack to eat on your bike, we probably won't stop till...
  • dinner in Samuel Pepys, then...
  • ferry to Holland at 23:15, or
  • last train back to London at 22:28, or 
  • ride home, or
  • find lodgings and ride some nice quiet Essex/Suffolk lanes on the Sunday

Friday, 21 March 2014

International Cycling Family to the Rescue!

Finally some good visa news to report: my application for a Belorussian visa has been accepted, hurrah!

Following last week's post I decided to give up on Belarus and go the long way round to Kazakhstan via Latvia and Moscow (Ukraine's out of the question now the shooting's started).  A number of kindly Belorussians had been trying to assist so I emailed them my thanks but said I would not be coming their way because their Embassy would not grant the visa.  Within hours I received emails back from three different people telling me how they wanted to help, the most promosing of which looked to be from Michael Kuz'menchuk who is the Chairman of the cycling club Rucheek from Brest:
Today I spoke with the head of the consular department of the Belarusian Embassy in London - Yuri Alexandrovich Prudnikovichem. And we discussed the issue of your visa. He promised to give you a visa during the day, if there is a formal invitation from Belarus . The invitation will be the organization which I chair - "Brook" (in Russian -- "Rucheek").
A few emails later and I understand it's in the bag!  My visa agent went back to the Embassy today with my passport, application form and a copy of Michael's letter... and it was accepted.  Visa will be issued next week.  Belarus here I come, yahey!

Thursday, 13 March 2014

The world doesn't want me, but I'm coming anyway

I wonder if the Chinese and Belorussian Embassies in London are colluding?

The other day the Belorussians also rejected my visa application - because I did not have a hotel booking.  So I booked a hotel.  Then they rejected it again, asking for a signed letter from the hotel manager to confirm the booking.  Today I provided that letter - not only signed but also officially stamped!  To no avail: now they want a letter from a travel company in Belarus accepting responsibility for me while I am in Belarus.  A sense of deja-vu creeps over, not to mention utter tedium.  At least they have provided a list of official travel agencies which I can ask for the letter, so in that respect marginally more helpful than the Chinese.  One fewer hurdle to clear.

I'm not sure I can be bothered though, in which case it's back to plan A or C: ride via Kiev if Ukraine is not exploding; or take a lengthy northerly detour to Russia via Lithuania and Latvia.

Hopefully it will all get easier once I'm on the road... in three weeks and two days!

Friday, 7 March 2014

The Failure of Sycophancy

Following my last post the other day (below) I rolled the Chinese visa dice one more desperate throw, sending this grovelling missive to my contact at the official tourist agency:
Oh no this is really terrible news!  So I am not welcome or wanted at all anywhere in China?  I am greatly saddened, many friends here who have visited China have told me about the wonderful welcome I can expect in your country.  I wonder why the authorities are so worried about a man on a bike wanting to visit your beautiful country and discover your culture and language and food and famed hospitality.  I have already invested much time and money in planning to visit your country, I have been trying to learn some basic Chinese, and I have been really looking forward to the China experience.  I am a harmless tourist wanting to visit your land by the world's most eco-friendly vehicle, ubiquitous in China, the humble bicycle, so I will cause no pollution in your country.  I will spend money and help your economy, and I never drop any litter so there will be no trace of my passage other than some happy memories left with people that I will meet along the route.  This is a very sad day for me.  Is there really nothing else that you or anyone else can do to help me realise my dream to cycle across China which I have cherished for ten years?
The reply was not long coming:
As I said before in Xinjiang we only can get the invitation letter from the tourism bureau for the normal tourists that we are going to receive. My partners in Gansu also say the same. So I am sorry again that I can do nothing for your visa in this case. Some people say maybe you can try the business visa. Good luck.
I think my chances of getting a business visa are vanishingly small, though I have asked my visa agency Scott's to look into it.  They brought further bad news yesterday: the Belarus Embassy also rejected my visa application - because I did not have a hotel booking.  So I booked a hotel.  Today they rejected it again - now they want a signed letter from the hotel manager to confirm the booking.  I've written to the manager to ask for that.  I wonder what they will want tomorrow?

Wednesday, 5 March 2014

One month to go, so much to do

I'm off on my world cruise one month today, I can scarcely believe it!  Here's what's keeping me busy at the moment:
  • Visa for China Plan A: I have come to accept that this has failed and I cannot cross the border by bike from Kazakhstan into Xinjiang, China (see earlier posts). Hugely disappointing but SFA I can do about it.
  • Visa for China Plan B: I'm trying now for a special visa to train or fly from Almaty (Kazakhstan) into Gansu, in central China.  I still need a Letter of Invitation from the official tourist bureau there, if I can get that then I will go along to their Embassy in London with it and my passport and visa application form and fees and crossed fingers... Thanks are due to my MP Stephen Hammond who found me an excellent contact in the Foreign Office to help with this.
  • Visa for China Plan C: give up and fly from Almaty to Hanoi or Bangkok.
  • Visa for Belarus: I am applying for this today so that if Ukraine still looks on the brink of WW3 I can give it a wide berth.
  • Vaccinations: the programme is well underway, I'm seeing the nurse every Friday and getting everything I need which is quite a long list and too boring to write down here. I had a sore arm last week but did not feel ill.
  • Buy more kit: it's difficult squaring this with the objective to carry less than I did last year around the Baltic.  Recent purchases have included a mossie net, sterile medical kit, dog whistle, money belt, stuff sacks, brake pads, zip ties and duck tape.
  • Get some miles in my legs: fulfilled by the daily commute and a Kingston Wheeler club run or 200k audax most weekends.
  • Read the stack of guide books that I have borrowed from libraries around London - the inter-library loan system is brilliant!
  • Handover work to colleague at LB Hammersmith& Fulham as we head towards final day on 28th March - they're planning a leaving party for me that day (even though I told them I am planning to come back...)
In any spare time  remaining I'm enjoying following the progress of the riders in this year's World Cycle Race.  I went to watch the start on Saturday 1st March and rode the prologue with them from Marble Arch to Greenwich where we waved them off at around 12:20.  It's early days but none of them yet look to be any kind of threat to Alan Bate's 127-day Guinness World Record or Mike Hall's spectacular 107-day win of the 2012 WCR which I do hope he will get ratified with Guinness one day.

Sunday, 2 March 2014

Ride to Harwich Anyone?

I'm setting off on Saturday 5th April at noon from BikeFix in Lambs Conduit Street.  If you can manage 125km - about 70 miles - at gentleman's pace then you can join me on the ride to Harwich for dinner, possibly in the Samuel Pepys (we are researching this, recommendations welcome). Thence choice of ferry to Holland at 23:15, last train back to London at 22:28, or find lodgings and ride home via some nice quiet Essex/Suffolk lanes on the Sunday.

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Special Circumstances in Xinjiang

The project has hit a rather large bump in the road: due to “special circumstances in Xinjiang” my contact in China is unable to obtain the invitation letter I need to get my visa.  I'm told that if the China Tourist Service in Xinjiang is unable to obtain the letter, it is unlikely that any other agent will be able to obtain the letter, and therefore crossing the border into Xinjiang "may prove impossible at this point in time".  This, I am told, "would have been a high level decision, which also means that it is unlikely that there will be a later change of heart."

Definitely not the best news of the day.

The maps are back out. China is now a big obstacle between Kazakhstan and Vietnam. Suggestions welcome!

Friday, 21 February 2014

Ukraine in Crisis / Chinese visa / Donations to RoadPeace

As I write, Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych and opposition leaders have just signed a deal leading to an early presidential poll before the end of the year, and hopefully putting an end to the terrible toll of recent days as the country looked on the brink of civil war.  Hopefully things will be back on a more even keel by mid-April when I am planning to pass through, and the FCO will no longer be advising against all but essential travel... but I do have a Belarus visa application form ready just in case I need to re-plan my route.

I've still not got my Chinese visa, but am making progress and now in touch with people in China who can get me the invitation letter I need, once I have answered all their questions, which seem to keep coming on an almost daily basis.  Not sure why they are apparently quite so worried about a harmless bicycle traveller, ho hum.

Donations to RoadPeace are steadily trickling in now and I have set a target of £5,000 - can you help me reach 10% of that target before I leave?  Click here to sponsor me if you can please!

Wednesday, 29 January 2014

China, please let me in!

So the days are getting longer, the 5th of April looms larger, and the red tape of visa bureaucracy grips ever tighter.  I only need five visas; on the bright side there's been no trouble at the Vietnamese, Russian or Kazakh embassies, and I should be able to pick up the visa for Laos en route at their embassy in Hanoi.  The Chinese visa however is proving more problematic.

Unlike most tourists, I'm not flying into China, nor do I have any hotels booked. So their embassy in London has asked me to obtain an authorisation letter from the China National Tourism Administration (CNTA) in the district I enter China, which is Xinjiang Province, and without this letter of approval the embassy will not accept my visa application.

Googling CNTA Xinjiang got me to this page full of contacts, which looked hopeful but most of my emails bounced back with bad addresses and none of the others have sent any reply.  Two visa agencies in London have not yet found a solution, my hopes are currently pinned on the China Travel Service on Euston Road.

Helpful suggestions welcome!