Day 7- Getting to Shanghai

My goal for the day was Nanchang, in the South of Jiangsu province and just across the Yangtze river, a stone’s throw away from Shanghai. More shitty, dusty towns and lunch then rolled into Nanchang, trying to avoid massive flyovers. I was told that Nanchang does not permit motorcycles, so I decided to press on to Shanghai. I made it to the ferry port mid-afternoon after a bit of confusion with my sat nav and had a spirited conversation with the truckers waiting for the ferry.. oh yeah and a local simpleton who was way too familiar with me, playing with the throttle on my bike as he talked. Pissed me off until I realised he was harmless , he turned out to be pretty amusing, well made me laugh, the way he said “here’s the ferry, you see, that one over there, the one with the red car on it” pointing to the only moving ferry within sight, coming towards us out of the murky, grey and wide horizon. Again, I failed to film getting on and off the ferry because I’d selected the wrong setting. Only really found this when I’d gotten home and reviewed the footage… bummer

On the ferry crossing the Yangtze River.
Think I’d gotten pretty good at tying and packing up the bike by the last day.
Boarding the ferry to cross the Yanngtze River.

This day had more in store, and after losing the main road and going through the countryside north of Shanghai for some time, I came across the main road and a huge tailback. This was caused by the (re?) construction of the road and half of it being closed. Scarily tried to squeeze between the trucks and the concrete barrier and once almost got trapped by a truck that wasn’t watching for Bobs ( I remember my driving instructor years ago in Britain telling me to always check my mirrors in a car when changing lane and watch for Bobs- ‘Blokes on bikes’ 🙂

I didn’t want to get squashed by trucks

So I decided to save time and stay safe by jumping the queue, riding down the completed but closed half of the highway. The problem came when I got to the end and there was a big lip on the road in order to get from one surface up to the new one- about a foot. Now I said to myself that I can do this, but didn’t throttle it all the way up and was left with the front wheel on the upper surface and the back on the lower, legs dangling in space, so, inevitably, the bike went over. It pissed gas out of the top of the tank and I’d just felt like I’d lost energy at this point. I somehow stole myself and shouldered the bike up, twisting the left mirror lose. A farm lady helped push it up the slope!
The bike wouldn’t start after this and I asked the group of Laobaixing (老白姓) ‘old hundred names’ as the Chinese call them- the peasantry,to help push start the bike. Reminiscent of the first day in the dark in Beijing. This didn’t work and, as one of the chaps correctly diagnosed, the carburettor was flooded with fuel from the spill. I fished a screwdriver out of the toolkit and he opened up the valve at the bottom and bled the carburettor, the gas seeping out. After this, the biked started fine and I wheeled around and off down the road having shaken their hands with a grin.

Entering Shanghai

One last thing awaited me ..entering Shanghai( I had a very late dinner which later upset my stomach – first dodgy meal of the trip thank goodness) and stole myself- in these estates on the outskirts of Shanghai, I and the bike still garnered a lot of interest from the locals and this area really reminded me of the underdeveloped third tier cities in southern China (like the one I lived in Hunan for three years)- confirming my impression on this trip that China is still Chinese and development is surface only to a large extent- seriously something you can forget living in Shanghai for any length of time

Scared of the outer ring-road

I kept procrastinating on entering the outer ring road as well, anyone who rides and lives in China will know why…

It turns out that all my avoiding lead me right ONto the waihuan lu -外环路-scary in the dark on a smallish dirt bike as the outer two lanes are designated for trucks and the inner to cars, so I found myself wedged again between truck going at breakneck speeds but also tailgating each other, just this time in the pitch dark on a road I wasn’t supposed to be on. I pulled over, gathered myself and went across the two lanes then found an exit and had to go back across them. I thought I was high and dry but amazingly (stupidly) found myself on the waihuan for the second time. Home late on this day sweaty and exhausted. Adventure over. Until next time.

Day 6- Down the coast to Jiangsu. Northern Jiangsu and Lianyungang.

An early start

I set off early at sunrise and was ecstatic when I hit the road again, as I’d worried that there was something wrong with the bike’s transmission or that grass had gotten into the moving chain. Nothing was wrong and an early start sent me down a straight road, still heading south into Northern Jiangsu. I swore at some points that this area could be mistaken for England- it was very pastoral in parts, with lots of greenery. It was, however, punctuated by dusty filthy towns and a profusion of power plants with their huge stacks towering above the road. I was filming one of these entering a town when I saw that the town had a huge, ornate gate over the main road, travelling up this, I saw what looked like an ancient tower on the left and then at the end of the road, a big gate and ancient city wall. Now, this was more like China. The city of Lianyungang (连云港) in northern Jiangsu.

I had a hearty breakfast of noodles and the lady who ran the noodle shop, who seemed to have lived everywhere in China before and was Manchurian, from the Northeast of China, told me the city had 2000 years of history. Nice place and more so because, when looking for a hotel to get some shut-eye, a store owner at a market offered me a reclining seat under the shade. I slept for about an hour and a half there then pressed on. the rest of that day was just road and stayed at the rather uninspiring town on Yancheng in Jiangsu.. actually the outskirts…where I had a shower and a shave at a bathhouse with like a small heated swimming pool at 31 degrees.

LianYunGang, Jiangsu Province.

To get a full impression of Lianyungang, You can see it on my video of the trip at

Day 5- Leaving Qingdao, heading South.

Left the hotel at about ten thirty- a really late start for me. headed towards the tunnel that connects the peninsula with the southern part of Shandong. Asked directions and found that the tunnel didn’t allow motorbikes, so elected for the passenger ferry, not before a zip up the seafront to record the building, again nice leafy avenues and colonial buildings but strong heat from the sun.

Bike on the ferry leaving Qingdao.

The ferry was something like 35 yuan and after getting off. There was a lovely quiet nature reserve including mountains at 大株山 (DaZhuShan- big pearl mountain)- very
few people. Along this road, there was the smell of the sea. After this, I just headed south with a quick stop for a dumpling lunch.

Da zhu Shan

Dazhushan

When darkness came, I was filling up with a petrol and, as I’d decided to camp out that night, I looked for a natural spot to sleep.. I crossed a bridge and saw that the river had plenty of greenery and trees on the banks, so I took the path up the side of the river, past a small house and an orchard and then the path became single track and went through thick grass. The bike kinda conked out and I took this as the place to stop. I laid my ground sheet down and put the sleeping bag on top. Had a beer and boazi (steamed bun) that I’d bought earlier and tried to get some sleep. Got about four hours sleep and was up at day break. The ground sheet and sleeping bag were both pretty damp and miraculously I had no muzzy bites, although the place was swarming with them.

Rudimentary camping.

Day 4- To Qingdao… ‘Of beaches and rainstorms’

This was a nice surprise at the start of the day, the security guard had wrapped the bike up like a present.

A short day here, but, none-the-less, eventful. I rode to Qingdao and made for the nature park peninsula east of the city to check it out before going to the city itself. As it turned out, this day had a lot of go-pro cock-ups. I filmed the epic mountains rising from the right of the road, with the sea on the left, only to find that I hadn’t filmed it.. The mode was wrong.

Laoshan, Qingdao

Went to the entrance of Mount Lao (or Laoshan) and decided it was a tourist swarm, didn’t fancy trekking in my motorcycle boots anyway. Then stood on the beach and watched people in their tents having a day out. I had a great snack of fried fish and a baked sort of sweet potato afforded me a rest in the sunshine, then got back on the road, filmed the mountain and made my way to the city proper. I found myself wing up a really pretty mountain road, glad that I was filming it ( this also didn’t come out). On the way down, it started to rain. My aversion to riding in the rain came back in full effect. I thought I was filming and thought all the way down the slick, winding road that the viewers of my video would chastise me for riding at such a slow pace (no danger of that, as it happens, because –again-I’d selected the wrong mode on the go-pro and this part of the journey will remain only in my head).

Near the beach

It’s then that something divine happened. I saw a father and son on a small motorbike and pitied them riding in this rain but also felt well, they are sharing something.. as I went past, the father steered the bike to the edge of the road, pointing out to the left, showing his son the construction of a new flyover highway. A little moment.
It’s right after this that the heavens truly opened. This reminded me of the first day of riding in the driving rain, except now I was going uphill. I experienced a very strange sensation as the
water was running down the hill towards me, still beaten by the raindrops, that I was actually not moving. I had to check the lines moving next to me to prove that I actually was indeed moving. The rain became far to heavy and I felt it was unsafe, so pulled off the road, under the new fly over which was being built and pushed the bike up the hill to wait it out. Two construction workers were sat on the ground, chatting and smoking. I thought to myself, amazing, the timing of this downpour… a few minutes earlier and I’d have been on the narrow twisty mountain road and scared witless in this rain. I entertained the thought that I’m connected with all of this, then I let the thought go. After a couple of minutes, a lady on a small displacement bike also came from the rain pelted road into the shelter of the overpass and took a seat off her little bike, sitting with the construction workers. I chatted with her a bit too. After about twenty minutes, the rain eased and I went on to Qingdao.

 

Under the flyover.

I arrived and found my way to a marina with a lot of yachts and had a Starbucks in a kind of befuddled mood. Around me, commercialism was still ticking along, with young girls shopping in groups, makeup on, taking selfies. I felt at this point quite removed from city life having been alone on the road for the past four days. The trip, as I said before, was taking a physical toll.. sapping energy as it required concentration for hours on end. The first two slow days of the trip had left an indelible mark on me and I had , at that point, comforted myself with the thought that “never mind, I’ll just get to Qingdao, relax and “get the bike delivered back to Shanghai”.

The big city, Qingdao.

This thought kind of faded as I sat there tired and removed from this cosmopolitan scene. I thought “I’ll get up early tomorrow and leave Qingdao”. The thing is, as usual, I didn’t have a hotel. I actually asked several people, even ( comically) a guy that was trying to beg some money from me, where I could find a youth hostel. The first foreigners I asked were two Russian guys who said they’d lead me to a hotel near their office. They were parked in the same underground parking lot as me and said they’d wait outside the entrance. I went down, collected the bike and, coming up the ramp, saw a silver car with the Russian guys in. They led me through the rush hour traffic to the inner city. The hotel was awesome, and I was even allowed to ride the bike right into the foyer to park- always gives me peace of mind knowing the bike is really safe.

BTW, I’ll go back to Qingdao, as it seemed nice and relaxed with cool bars and leafy avenues.

Day 3 -Shandong and my mentor

I’d been keeping to 70-80 km/h for the trip so far, especially given that the first day was spent in heavy rain. I’m a fairly new rider, so I was hanging back in traffic and assumed that the cars were faster than me. It was coming up to midday when I approached Binzhou (awesome name) in Shandong. I entered a gas station and the attendants were shouting at me to push my bike away from the pumps before starting it up and then again to not use my phone.. fair
enough but they made a big show of it. I decided to fill up and the attendant poured most of it over the outside of my tank- she was quite a nervous sort.

And then it rained

She mentioned “it’s started raining” just before I pulled out. I thought nothing of it and pulled out, but on the way, a Chinese biker rolled up alongside and exchanged pleasantries a few minutes later, I found myself in driving rain I thought “oh no, rain again”. I dread rain and wet roads. The biker from a few minutes before came up from behind and motioned for me to pull over, he said he’d guide me in the direction of Qingdao, as I had intended to take a long loop north of the town…

My Mentor 

I followed him as he zipped through traffic, initially thinking my bike could way outdo his until he started regularly hitting 100+km/ ph. I actually had problems keeping up, given my previous granny pace. I smiled to myself thinking I’d thought my bike would be faster. He had a 250 Suzuki with road tires and metal side cases. This guy was my mentor, showing me how to ride above my comfort speed and how to act in Chinese traffic. Probably have picked up some bad habits from him, but certainly works in China. I wish I’d filmed this because this was an awesome part of the trip- having company and tutelage ( he was clearly a more experienced rider) When he said goodbye, he said I should “follow the road over something something river”. It turns out this was the Yellow river, some say the border between North and South China.. again wish I’d filmed this, as it was a handsome steel bridge.

Bridge across the Yellow River.

After this , I managed to make real ground with my new found speed.
My body was getting a bit worn out after three days on the road with bags under my eyes- this much riding kinda keys you up. The drill was to wake up early every day with the sun and ride to around sunset. Last night I couldn’t use chopsticks and had to employ the other hand to help scoop stuff into my mouth. Kind of a good thing, the food in this town Jiaozhou) was terrible. Really strange all grip, power and articulation in my fingers has gone from riding (keeping the throttle pulled open for hours on end)
The skin on my the legs started sort of bubbling up -itchy and inflamed like mass sweat rash. Also, the left boot was further wearing into my shin (started the first wet day out of Beijing).. painful shifting gears at times.

Trucks

It’s been hell, but the memories in retrospect are pretty intense. Kinda wish I’d filmed more.
The tree-lined roads are really nice up here- two straight rows for miles to a vanishing point.

Again, I really wish ish I’d recorded meeting my “mentor”. Racing to catch up with him and then crossing the wide Yellow river on an old steel frame bridge.

I could have filmed the after-effects of a car crash today but thought it maudlin.. didn’t even feel like taking a picture. I tried to get through the debris between the two wrecked and mangled cars but decided against it in the end as there was a lot of broken glass on the road.
I thought of the trip so far that the little towns are ace. It also reminded me that China still really has a long way to go on the development ladder before it’s at western levels regarding comfort and cleanliness. The development is kinda surface.
Written on the morning of the fourth day of riding waking up in Jiaozhou-

Heck, British cities have muck and grime too, but this city, Jiaozhou has shattered glass all over the pavement outside Macdonalds from a construction project and the main road through the town is being torn up for works. I ate outside last night thought it would be nice having a barbecue next to the canal until I sat down and got a waft of the fetid, rotting water. Oh well. This town gave me the best hotel of the trip. 228 yuan and a living room area, high up in the building and the most awesome buffet breakfast imaginable. Luxury.

Buffet breakfast. Just what a road-zombie needs.

Day 2 – Hebei

Day2

I set up the phone holder today, so navigation was a bit better but the battery kept running out on my phone.
I started out the day in a hotel in Dacheng, a small truck stop town on a main road in Hebei province. Collecting the bike from security, I had a lot of people asking me questions, sort of hovering around me. One young guy persisted and wanted a photo, I thought alright. I got outside and I was sitting on the bike, a bit distracted by all this so had the thought to put my GoPro on my helmet. I let the bike go and it went over, the left handlebar hit me in the mouth, busting my lip open. I was frustrated and got a bit pissed off that these people would hover around and seem so interested but wouldn’t help me catch the bike or even lift it up. It wouldn’t start after this, so I pushed it around the corner to a mechanic who said it was short on oil, which he added for a paltry sum- like 35yuan. It was a bit worrying if the bike was burning oil but…

Oil top up

What did I learn? focus and concentrate again- this is not the only time I had a problem in the morning when still sleep-addled- on the last day, leaving the hotel carpark, I slipped the clutch. My left leg jerked and spun by turning to the left to correct myself which left me with a groin strain- painful when changing gears- so – careful in the mornings!
and also the importance of oil checks…

This day was quite peaceful and, with the phone in place, I could stop and check the map with GPS. I recommend MotionX GPS download from apple store – about $30 but worth it- only problem is that the map is about 20m off, the Chinese government apparently do this for security reasons- meant I missed my junction a few times and road up to 20 km in the wrong direction, but, what can you do?
I was managing to follow main roads now, and the one I got on terminated in a small town where there was a mosque, a good place for lunch- actually one table of guys sent over two bottles of beer to my table which I refused (because I was riding) so I got coke bought for me. After chatting with another patron, a guy on business here, he bought my meal unexpectedly. Reminds me of the hospitality of Chinese people that I used to see a lot when living in a small town in Hunan province, but had kinda forgotten.

Lunch…free:)

The first two days were slower going than I had reckoned. The second day I managed 142.2 miles and I was only just inside Shandong province. Actually probably the highlights for today were the gradually increasing amount of sunny spells and dry riding conditions and entering Shandong province over a small bridge. This took me into a scarcely populated area of farms, which was, in contrast to Hebei with its long roads, massive trucks and greasy truck stop towns quite peaceful.

Into Shandong

The other highlight for me was the little town of Wudi in Shandong where I stopped for the night. The food was excellent and the town was charming with many locals being very friendly and above all curious. I asked for rice in a restaurant for dinner and they said they didn’t serve rice but I could choose from mantou (steamed bun) dumplings (which three of them were preparing en-mass there in front of me) or noodles. I went for mantou and it reminded me that I was definitely in the North. The other thing about this restaurant, apart from being run by Hui Muslim minority people, a lot in those parts, was the enormous barbecue grill- about twenty feet long and covered.

Day 1- Leaving Beijing

I woke up early. I found that the staff at the hotel had kindly covered the bike in bin bags naan there had been a deluge during the night. In fact, I was warned that Beijing was forecast heavy rain and thunderstorms for two days…nice.

I set off and the rain started. I hadn’t set up the phone holder on the handlebars yet for the phone (to use GPS), so I decided to travel South and East by turns, taking an excruciatingly long time to leave Beijing this way and, trying to avoid ‘G’ roads- national roads- I was constantly changing roads (this was not necessary I found out later in the trip). Heavy rain meant I was soaked early in the day.

Heavy rain for most of the first day.

I ended up going into the countryside with the road eventually disappearing and I found myself in tree planted farmland with a slick, muddy and rutted path. The inevitable spill happened and I decked it. I was fine, but the bike had fallen on the right handlebar and, after pushing it onto the flat road, I found the throttle didn’t turn. I got the tools out and took off the handguard to see if it freed up the throttle to no avail. I ended up pushing the bike back up the track to the nearest inhabited place, got directions to the nearest mechanic, and then pushed the bike  2-3 kilometres. In the rain.

“…and then (I) pushed the bike  2-3 kilometres. In the rain.”

The mechanic fixed it quite easily (taking off the brake lever holder) and I came back from an awesome lunch to find him fanning around with some sort of tippex (that’s correction fluid for American readers) and a hairdryer trying to fill in the cosmetic scratches on the hand protectors (I thought ” he wants to make some cash”). Fair enough, after him taking the bike around the block and ( the locals joking that he’d stolen my bike- Lol) in sandals!! and then me, he suggested I pay 200 yuan (nearly $30), I offered 100 and he said fine.A lovely lady gave me a plastic wallet for my passport which had become wet in the downpour. Swings and roundabouts.

My glorious dumpling lunch
The farm track where I took a dive

Learning points

actually none at the time, but these in retrospect
-Signs pointing to a road ahead in China usually mean that this road will intersect the one you’re on, not that the road will turn into the signposted road, as I’d thought.
– mishaps and breakdowns are an adventure.