China – Mama Natural Strikes Back…

Wow. Sandstorms are a terrible way to exfoliate. Spend the extra on a spa day…

I can say this with some authority having just experienced the worst weather of my life.

In the space of an hour we went from a perfect sunset, playing cricket in the shadow of a desert mountain to a raging wind throwing sand, rocks, tents and people around like skinny teenagers in a mosh pit.

No exaggerations here: Top of the line MSR tents blew away, another £500 mountaineering class canvas flipped 180 degrees despite having 2 lads in it. Assorted, expensive kit was scattered to the 4 winds.

Everyone had to de-camp and retreat to the truck, it wasn’t safe outside.

The occasionally fractious group pulled together for the most part and helped each other get tents and bags to the truck.

I can’t describe how being sandblasted feels. I was only wearing shorts and a footie top. If you ever find yourself in a sandstorm wear something else.

The wind was strong enough to knock people over. The pebbles and small rocks being blended in tight circles hurt like hell. Sand got in your eyes and reduced visibility to a metre or so.

Most tents collapsed under the wind so imagine my pride when I heard that mine stayed up! Well almost. The front end collapsed as per the design and the only pole damage occurred when it was crammed into the truck and disassembled by unfamiliar hands.

I would kind of liked to try and sit it out inside my canvas exo-skeleton, but that’s not an option when you are in a large group. They wouldn’t have known if I was ok and if I wasn’t then I would have been buggered. Anyway – credit to the Terra Nova. It stayed up when others didn’t. Nothing ripped. Damage was superficial as you can see from the next pic a few days later, slightly bent out of shape but otherwise ok.

It was scary. A 40 minute adrenalin rush followed by hours of excited chatter about what could have happened. One thing is for certain – we were lucky. Other than the skin peel shot blast, human damage was limited to cuts and bruises.

Some memories from our stormy night:

1. Rosie seeing my tent through a maelstrom of sand after her own had collapsed in a heap “Really?! That’s Fricking Ridiculous!”

2. Big Rich, Aston Villa season ticket holder and topless big unit. Being offered a Spurs shirt to cover up with. He hesitated and then accepted before heading back outside to help some more.

3. Once everyone was on the truck a window smashed when a stone hit it. Screams!!! One of the ladies shouted “there’s someone out there!” Yeah, the local hoodies decided to risk life and limb to stone us in the middle of the apocalypse. Shows the tension I suppose.

4. One fella in the middle of the worst of it wandering around outside looking for a sleeping bag cover. Seriously mate it’s gone, move on, or maybe help those who are still trying to get their big bags inside! Reminded me of the start of Saving Private Ryan where the soldier on the beach is seen bewilderedly looking for his arm.

5. A 20 odd tonne truck wobbling like jelly before we turned it end on to the wind.

By morning I was reunited with my wallet, passport and most importantly hat. I found my shoes when I noticed Grace was wearing them having lost her own. Grace is like a mum to the group, cooking by far the best food so I didn’t mind. She doesn’t wear size 11’s normally so it was an odd sight.

Some camping shop is about to have a very good days trading when we rock up.

Photos of the storm itself? Are you frickin’ kidding me? Here is one from the “calm” of the truck later in the night.


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