Tuesday, September 23, 2008

A Race Through China

That's exactly what it was, not a ride but a race and boy was it crazy to say the least. With my mother ship and Dirk's old girl as he calls it sitting in a container in a yard somewhere in Ulaan Batar we bordered the train bound for the Chinese border for the second time in a week. The train journey down was an interesting start to an adventure of great proportions, the mongols sell 8 tickets to a compartment that only has 6 beds! And of course the mongols sharing our compartment were wise to this hence the reason they all claimed a bed the moment we bordered, great it was going to be a long 15 hours south. After sitting on the hard seats for what felt like an age, eating noodle soup and having some old crusty Mongol man try to lay a kiss on me I had had enough and found refuge and a place to lay in the luggage rack over head, rock hard but I think I managed to get an hour or so sleep. As the the train rattled along in the night I thought about how it was only a week ago I was just out there wrestling the mother ship through the Gobi Ocean and nearly freezing to death, maybe this train option was not such a bad way to go after all!

So there we were back at the border, as we exited Mongolia again I wondered what would unfold would our plan work, Chinese officials were slightly confused wondering why we had a cancelled entry stamp into their country only a week ago, we waited a long time before they finally decided we were no great threat and let us in, Ok step 1 down next was to find our new transport. Into the town of Eronhot we began step 2 and that was to buy a Chinese motorbike! The first shop we entered would be the last, bingo we had found what we were looking for. We picked out 2 brand new Sunik 150 cc motorbikes. The first one Dirk took for a test ride and they are a little different to the Africa Twin, well a lot different, for starters the gears are all down and then its possible to go from top gear to first in one motion, not used to the new gear box system Dirk was flying down the road with speed and went from top to first, the motor screamed a cry of stress and the bike came to a stop, hmm not good, back into the shop with it and it would not start, we quickly decided we wanted another one, that was one destroyed already! So after picking another we eventually had them ready to go. After my short test ride all I could think is this thing is a death trap, all the way across China on this!

Preparing to race across China.

The Vibrating Toothpick
So off we set on our new buckets of shit, no rego, no number plates, no licence, just a bit of scribble in Chinese that was a receipt, what were we doing? We made it out of town about 3 k's and the first problem, Dirks bike was leaking fuel, so we headed back to the shop and they replaced the carb for him. Take 2, away we rode this time making it about 5 k's and again another huge fuel leak, back again, this time they put two fuel filters in for us and cleaned out Dirks new carb as it was full of crap. By this time it was to late to try another attempt, we were defeated for the day and got a bed in a hotel, tomorrow we would try again to leave Erenhot for the third time.

Brand new nothing had fallen off yet, but that was only after 5 k's!
Now the biggest problem we had was the fact that we only had a visa valid for 16 days, not the usual 30 days China usually give, they only issued us with the period that we said we would be there for. In the beginning we thought it would be enough but in time it would be a problem.
So the following day saw us get out of town and across the plains of Inner Mongolia, the roads perfect, long and straight. Wow the bikes what absolute heaps of shit they were, 0-80 in about 1 minute, cruising speed of about 70-80 and viabrate, I could feel the fillings in my mouth rattling loose as the whole bike vibrated beyond belief, that's how they then became known as "The Vibrating Toothpicks"
They vibrated so much that even on day one things started to fall off and not work but there was nothing we could do about it as something new would bounce down the road, what did we expect only paying 563 US dollars a peice, we just pushed on and after a few days we thought all we will be left with at the end is a frame and motor! The first few days saw us pass through an industrial belt of China and mining area, I became depressed, the pollution was horrendous, all I could think is this world has no hope at all, the air was so thick with pollution that it made you choke, the world had just seen China on centre stage with the Olympics but I am sure no one ever thought of what else gos on in China, I really had a negative feel for the country and just wanted out. Every day there was something new, one night we went into a restaurant which was so full of smoke I again nearly choked, but the people lovely, they gave us some beer then took photos of us with their entire family, wives, kids, husbands, then when it came to the bill they insisted we don't pay, nice, then back to the hotel for a shower, so here I was in a open bath room washing myself and I turn around to see a China man taking photos of me on his phone, after telling him you cant do that he took another, hmm strange people as well, maybe he has never seen something as big.........that's my receding hair line of course!!
Always some on lookers, and the hotel I had my nude photos taken!
We arrived in the city of Xi'an, with a quick trip to the Terracotta warriors we pushed on. With our small sight seeing out of the way we pushed the toothpicks hard, talk about lost in translation, it was at times impossible to ask for directions, we would pronounce a town our best Chinese 100 different ways but still they could not understand us. Then the traffic it was crazy they don't look to cross the road as a pedestrian, they don't look to turn left or right, they simply do not look what so ever. On one occasion were flying along Dirk in front of me and there was a truck in the middle of the road going the same way as us, often we would overtake on the inside as it was safer, as Dirk got closer to the truck it decided to vear to the right, Dirk ran out of room as he tried stopping on a machine with not the most best brakes in the world, the truck pushed him right off the road, then where was I to go, I grabbed the brakes hard but it seemed to not do a thing, I needed to stop and stop fast, nope no chance as I slammed into the back of Dirks bike, with the typical crunching noise that goes with indicators and tail lights smashing. We just stood there and laughed our heads off! Another mishap that I laughed my head off with was Dirk was following a Honda civic along a rough road and the car stopped in front of him suddenly to slow for a bump but Dirk could not stop in time again due to the brakes been rubbish, he hit the back of the car denting the bumper, his bike went down but he was ok, but the amazing thing was as he hit the car the car also went over the bump and did not even feel or realise that a bike had just slammed into the back of it, it drove away, I just laughed in my helmet thinking we were about to get in some trouble now. Also the seat foam on my bike became so compressed that after the first hour in the saddle every morning I was sitting on the frame, so now the vibrations really went directly to my spine.
We entered one city and our first problem with the police, a traffic cop stopped us, hmm shit here we go I thought that was the end of our China attempt, an on looker spoke some English and told us we had no plates and needed rego papers, quickly we replied with a few small stories, we said we were told that we did not have to rego our bikes for 30 days after purchase and that we got this permission from the traffic police in Beijing, it worked, then the licence issue we pulled out our International ones which mean not a thing in China and the cop knew this, again we said we got permission from the traffic cops in Beijing, amazing it worked, he let us on our way. Would we make it accross China I thought, seems like I thought that very question alot??

Safe parking in the Hotel.
Time was of the issue so we started trying to get on the expressways which of course do not allow bikes on them. We would approach the toll booths pick a lane and go for it, flying past the booth with a Chinese person yelling out and blowing whistles at us, then we would slip past the boom sometimes not enough room, I smashed my mirror a few times clipping the boom, but the going was good on the expressway that's for sure, and then to get off it we had the same story dodging boom gates and officials. But then of course we pushed our luck to far, one toll we flew through there were two policemen standing there but we flew past leaving their screams disappear behind us, on we went pushing the toothpicks hard, vibrating like hell until 20 minutes later in my mirror the police car appeared, pulling along side me with sirens blaring and one of the cops screaming into the load speaking, shit this was serious, we pulled over and they hoped out, one cop coming at Dirk with a baton, screaming like hell in Chinese with a very mean look on his face, time to play the only card we had up our sleeves, the dumb white man card, off with the helmets turned the situation in our favour once they saw we were not Chinese, the baton was put away and the aggressive look put away as well, they seemed stumped, you could see them thinking shit what now they are not one of us! One tried some English explaining we could not ride on the expressway, of course we knew but after a while we said, "Oh you mean we cant ride our bikes on here?" Meanwhile the other cop was now taking photos of us on his phone, great looked like we would get out of this one. So know here we were riding down the expressway with a police escort, lights a blazing, all the way to the next exit. Once off and some more photos, hand shakes all round and big smiles, away we rode, laughing again. Of course down the road we went until the next entrance back onto the expressway, straight back on we went, seemed we would not get in to much trouble so why not!!
By the time we made it in the south, my blinkers stopped working, my front fairing bounced down the road, head light popped off, uses a litre of oil every 3 days, there fore smokes like hell, clutch slips like nothing else and I started getting punctures, I loath punctures!

Making it to Xi'an, about half way.

Road side snack.

Maybe more your taste, dog anyone?

We reached the city of Kunming in the south with 3 days to go therefor manged to have a day off, to get our Laos visa and get a hangover from a night in a jazz bar, we needed it to say the least, the question remained still would we be able to get the bikes into Laos if they last the remaining 700 k's to the border.
On the road to the Laos border the scenery turned into the jungles of South East Asia I know, and the humid weather, I felt again ever so close to making it home, familiar territory soon, having travelled to Laos 5 years ago when I first left Australia, shit I have never been back since not even for a visit, but here I was approaching the border on a bike that 15 days ago I doubted would never make it, one thing is for sure it did not look like it did a few weeks back but we had done it, step 2 we crossed China on a 150 cc Chinese bucket of shit, what a challenge it was, everyday full of excitement. Also China for me was amazing, in the beginning I wanted out, I was disappointed to see what I did but it was not all like that, it was completely the opposite, very beautiful, mountains, very green, rivers and streams winding everywhere, I was quite impressed.

Its hard to write the events of every day in China, each day was an adventure in itself and I would need for ever to tell it all, put simply it was crazy, we did it and there was never a dull moment, for Dirk and I it has become normal life-pulled over on a Chinese expressway a place not meant for bikes and as for the bikes, well they covered 5000 k's in 15 days, they did alright, maybe they aren't that bad after all!