From Xinjiang to the Arctic: Chinese kayaker rows closer to his dream

Source: Xinhua| 2018-11-23 21:13:50|Editor: Shi Yinglun
Video PlayerClose

URUMQI, Nov. 23 (Xinhua) -- After rowing over 2,000 kilometers in 54 days through the coldness of Siberia, Hou Zhili of China finally reached the confluence point of the Irtysh River and the Ob River.

Starting from Cherlak in Russia on August 1, Hou kayaked all by himself along the Irtysh River and arrived at Khanty-Mansiysk -- a city near the end of the river -- on September 23.

This is the third leg of Hou's kayaking tour along the Irtysh River from its source in northwest China's Xinjiang to the Arctic. After this year's journey, there are only the last 1,200 kilometers lying between him and his final destination in the Arctic ocean.

Growing up near the source of the Irtysh, Hou got the aspiration of kayaking from Xinjiang to the Arctic via the Irtysh River when he drifted on self-made rafts with his friends as a child.

The 4,248-kilometer Irtysh River is the only river in China that flows into the Arctic Ocean. It derives from the Altay Mountain in Xinjiang, meanders northwest through Kazakhstan and Russia, and merges with the Ob River in Tyumenskaya.

Hou started preparing for this year's adventure more than a year ago, assessing his travel route and coordinating with local tourism authorities. But the extensive preliminary work didn't make his tour easier.

"Despite the thorough mental preparation, I almost gave up, especially when I was rowing across the cold West Siberian Plain," said Hou, a graphic designer in his forties.

Hou still quivered when talking about the coldness he experienced in Siberia although it's been more than a month since he returned from his kayaking journey.

It rained almost every day since Hou entered Tyumenskaya, Russia, in September. He had to row forward or he would have been blown backward by the strong north wind.

The wave caused by the strong wind once nearly overturned Hou's kayak, with water flooding into the kayak. However, the atrocious weather made it even harder for him to pull in to the river bank.

Left with no choice, Hou forced himself to keep rowing until he finally found a suitable place to pull over.

Hou's mood was as bad as the weather since he had to camp on the wet ground day in and day out. Sometimes he had to sail in undried clothes and socks.

With the help from local authorities and people, Hou finally went through the difficult journey.

Local authorities paid close attention to his journey, helping him get warm baths in hotels or giving him food and beverage for free. Sometimes, he could get vegetables, fruits, and fish from those he met along his journey.

He communicated with local people, using a piece of laminated card, on which his name and destination were written in Russian.

Before this tour in Russia, Hou has kayaked on the China section and Kazakhstan section of the Irtysh River in 2014 and in 2016. In the past four years, he has rowed more than 4,000 kilometers along the river.

"The Irtysh River is not only a river that flows through the three countries, but it is also a bond among them," said Hou, recalling his journey along the river.

"The friendship not only exists in the three countries but also among people from the countries."

Inspired by the success of his kayaking tour, Hou decided to build a museum of the Irtysh, displaying the landscape and cultures in China, Kazakhstan and Russia along the river with the footage shot by Hou throughout his journey.

"I've left my kayak in Russia because I'll resume my journey there to travel from the confluence of the Irtysh River and the Ob River to the Arctic," Hou said.