Back from the brink

I feel like the Terminator at the end of T1.  I feel totally crushed.  The light in my eyes is dying.. dimming..  disappearing towards the darkness.  My brain has gone black.  The screen has been turned off and now there is just the white dot in the middle.  It’s flat lining.

Just as the light is about to fade to black, in it’s final death throws, my brain flashes one last image and I grasp it with both hands and follow the delicate thread. It’s an image of the leader of the Swiss tour group we hooked up with early in Tibet.  I remember sitting and talking with him in a police station somewhere.  Just him and me, having our photos done.  I remember his guide was with him, and that he was a mate of our guide.  I’ve not seen him since we left Lhasa days ago.  I remember him saying he was going to drive the G318 to recce it for a later trip…. and I remember seeing the guide somewhere recently.  I remember seeing him about an hour ago in reception.  We’re in a tiny town.  Really just a mile long strip of buildings along the road.  There aren’t many options out here.  I… wonder…

I stand up, turn around,  look round the car park and 20 yards away I see the Swiss bloke standing next to this…


Did I actually die?  Is this a dream?  “Hi… you don’t happen to have any tyres in the back of that do you?”  “Sure…. I have 2 or 3”  As I wander over I look through all my pockets and see if I’ve got any lucky stars left, or lucky heather, or four leaf clover.. Nope… I’m all out.. I know the Swiss group was 90%  700 Teneres plus a couple of F800s, all those wear 21 inch fronts so that’s probably what he has.  He only had a single 1200 and I can’t remember how new that was either. It’s not likely he can help but at least it keeps me from looking up the least painful suicide methods on the internet for another 30 seconds.

As I walk towards the back of the truck I see some apparitions appearing in the air just above it.  When I rode past Mt Kailash I think I picked up a few passengers.  I think a few of the Gods hitched a ride to get away from all the pilgrims constantly begging and asking for forgiveness.  I can imagine that gets a bit wearing… after 1000 years … They’re hovering above the van, but they’re all looking very enigmatic.. Are they smiling down on me?  Time to find out.

He lifts the flap and I’m immediately hit by a deafening wave of noise.  WTF is that?  I think … Is that the the sound of angels singing?… I look in and there, just within my reach is some rubber rocking horse shit.. A Heidenau K60, brand spanking new, exactly my size.   Very probably the only one in China.  So, I’ve just this moment discovered my tyre is fucked, and there is brand new replacement 20 yards away.  What the fuck are the odds of that?

I just fall to my knees and start sucking at the front of his trousers.  “Can I have that pleeeeeeeeease?  I’ve a hardly used 24 year old daughter I can give you, or a son.. your choice .. or a house in Southampton .. or my anal virginity .. anything you like .. just name it”.  All he wants are some dry trousers .. and 5 pieces of rectangular paper, each with a 20 stamped on them.   The guide thinks I’ve been arse raped.  I think I’ve just experienced a miracle.

I get back on the emotional roller coaster, AKA The Bitch, and ride 100 yards down the road where there is a big pile of lorry tyres. I Grab a greasy mechanic and get it changed.  The fucked tyre tears some more as it comes off the rim.. plan Z was to ride it anyway .. straight into the scenery probably .. The new tyre just pops on and The Bitch is  back in the game …. HELL YEA!

web--427Ride back round to the hotel and things are looking up already..web--424and up..web--426and up…web--425

With my luck running high I run around the town looking to lay a bet on the the leader of the catholic church declaring he is in fact a woman and that he from now on he wants to be known as “Pope Britney” but everyone has heard of the tyre miracle and they won’t take my money..

Wake up in the morning and the Gods are still smiling..web--429web--431web--432 web--430We take the bikes for breakfast and even the time wasting petrol voucher signing bloke looks happy for a change.web--433 web--434Then it’s Canyon O’Clock.  I’m keen not to be late… and so are the others.  We all disappear into the tight canyon maize and turn up the noise.   I have to take it easy to bed in the new tyre… I let it rotate once .. twice… that’ll do… web--435Then it gets all gorgeous..
web--437and bendy.. 99 of them .. up to 5000m …web--438Now I’m sure I’ve seen that sign done on a smaller scale with one hand.  I wonder if it’s an invitation, or maybe she’s got double jointed thighs… web--439web--440The Chinese don’t respect personal space, or personal anything really.  When we leave the bikes unattended, we turn round and they’re are people all over them, playing with the buttons, even sitting on them.  I go up to someone sitting on one of the bikes, push him and tell him in no uncertain terms to get the fuck off it.  Note to self.. in future .. check the twat hasn’t put the stand up .. that would end up with a Chinaman buried under a Ktm … that wouldn’t be good … I’m sure the ambulance will be here in good time… maybe sometime in 2019 … web--441Bugger off quick style to avoid the lynch mob, go about 500m round the corner and … here we go again…web--442Hanging on to a bolting Ktm is hungry work so we stop for lunch and confirm that stupid vain twats in hats aren’t just the preserve of the west. web--446We deliberately choose the cafe with the worst hygiene rating we can find.  I’m completely indestructible today – bring it on..web--447 web--449 web--448Then race the roving river through the warm afternoon sunshine.web--450To another lovely tiny mountain town
web--452web--453Two of us see a small neon sign, go down a dark passage, climb into a tiny lift and pop out in a hidden burger bar half way up a building.  Everyone just stares but we’re used to this by now.  As luck would have it … and I seem to be carrying a sack of it on my back .. there are not 1 by 2 English teachers in the crowd and they fall over themselves to help us avoid ordering the picked spider tits by mistake. web--454After what we’re ridden so far, after everything that we’ve seen,  telling people there is something special for tomorrow sounds just plain stupid… but it’s true.

Get to the police check/starting gate on the edge of town and take a look at the menu for today.  Look tasty… very very tasty


The light turns green, the curtain goes up and we’re off.   Off into the most ridiculous piece of road I know anywhere.  If there is another road on the planet that can give you this much variety on a single riding day then I’ll eat my own helmet… if I can still bend over far enough..web--456web--457web--458web--459web--461web--460web--462web--463web--466web--468web--469To end up at a grubby little hotel with a horrible view from both the foyerweb--473and my bedroom windowweb--474So we go and drown our sorrows in beer and cake..web--471web--472We’re at another holy mountain that I’ve never heard of.  Get up next morning, open the curtains … it’s probably raining.  Yep.. can’t see a thing.. web--475Go up on the roof for a better look in the cold morning air.  Oh yea.  Much better view from up here..web--476web--478We left Tibet yesterday.  We’re all excited.. we’re going for petrol .. and they’re going to let us fill up ourselves .. at the pump… just like the grown ups do… I wonder if I can remember how to do it.. web--479Before enjoying a final scream down and out of the mountains to Shangri-La.web--480 web--481web--482It’s a really fast road, and we’re going really fast.  Too fast. I come up behind a big 4×4 on a long sweeping left hand bend and I can see right round the corner.  I’m going to overtake, plenty of time, plenty of space, plenty of speed.  Open the throttle and off we go.  I’m probably doing somewhere between 70-80mph. I’m looking into the distance when I see something enter my peripheral vision  on the right.  It looks suspiciously like a big 4×4.. It’s decided to straight line the corner and it’s cutting me off, fast, and I’m going to hit it.  I am definitely going to hit it.  Don’t bother reading ahead and seeing if I really do.  I do. I’m leaning quite hard over and it’s quickly coming in on me and cutting me off.   This is very very likely going to hurt quite a bit.  At the last second I look at the car and just choose my spot.  I reckon I’m going into the drivers door.  Here we go.  It was nice speaking to you all …

Maybe the driver does something, maybe I do, it was all so quick I just don’t know exactly what happened.  My lent over front tyre touches the car’s front wheel.  I think the rest of the bike is going to come up vertical and slap into the side  but instead I just get a massive slide and wiggle on and the bike shakes like a wet dog.  By some miracle, nothing else touches the car and the driver pulls back onto his side of the road.  The bike sorts itself out and quickly gets itself back in shape.  The big bag of luck I’m carrying on my back suddenly feels a whole lot lighter.  Shiiiiittttt…  best slow down a bit…

By the time we get to Shangr-la I’m still shaking and I’m glad to just step off the bike.  I think I’ll have some lunch.  Lovely hotel, go the restaurant, right I’m going to treat myself to a hearty meal and celebrate being alive.  So what’s on the menu..
web--486“Errrrr…got any Snickers?”

As I was riding at 2mph with my feet on the ground coming into town I started thinking about my missus.  She’s often said I got a stone cold heart so I thought I’d prove her right.  She’d really like that…

When I was at base camp I took a few stones out the stream as I waited for the sun to rise and I put them in my pocket.  I also picked up a handful of colourful tattered prayer flags that were frozen to the ground.  I’ve got an idea so I grab the guide and we head off into the old town looking for someone that can work stone.  The guide tells me it’s unlikely we’ll find someone here.  We ask in loads of different shops.  Jewelry shops.  Handicrafts.  Hairdressers.. But no luck.  So I reach into my luck bag, grab a handful,  throw it into the air and follow it as it gets blown down a narrow back alley.   There’s a shop with some rough rocks outside, and a woman asleep on a bed behind the counter.   I pick up one of the rocks and throw it at the bed.  It’s a direct hit and she’s up and at us like a rabid dog..

We seemed to have stumbled upon the only jade cutter in the whole of Shangri-la.  From the dust covering everything in sight I think her sleep to work ratio is about 20 to 1.  I draw some shapes on the stone and we tell her what I would like like to do.  She says the stone is soft and fractured but she’ll try and see if she can remember how all these strange machines work and have a go..

web--488web--489web--487And the result.  Cold hard stone hearts.. from Everest.  Orders now being taken for 2019:)web--491 web--490All the fucking about early on in Tibet has given us a spare day so I spend it here taking the camera out for a walk.web--483 web--484Errr excuse me.  Shouldn’t that be on a lead?web--492web--497 web--496Go for a haircut and a shave.  I try never to go manual when I’m away. Being shaved is a pleasure you can’t get at home without booking an appointment,  signing a health and safety waver on 15 sheets of paper,  paying £30, then sticking your head in a clear plastic box and being shaved by someone using long rubber gloves through holes like somebody handling the Ebola virus.   Out here it’s £3, a 2nd hand blade and a young maiden breathing in your ear.    I had 5 shaves… just to be sure…web--494Whoops… my bad .. sorry .. it just went off in my handweb--495Last night we were wandering about and I saw a HUGE prayer wheel spinning round on the hill.  Go up for a look and it’s MASSIVE.  And it’s manual… Every few minutes enough people get enough energy together to push it round and chant their way around a few revolutions.  You don’t get that in Southampton.web--499Then wander home through the dark…wandering what duck body parts I’m going to eat for breakfast…web--500 web--501Breakfast is predictably unidentifiable/uninviting/possibly still alive and is best avoided, especially if you’re expecting to be down a million steps and with no toilet within squirting distance.

On the road we go, into the pouring rain, chasing the Tiger.  It’s difficult ride on a road through the clouds but by the time we reach the gorge it’s sorted itself out.  Grab a ticket and take a ride on the edge, up to Ann’s cafe where you can get bacon sandwiches, coffee, and an amazing view of one of the deepest gorges in the world.web--502 web--505 web--504 web--503Get back to the visitors centre an get down to see the rock that gives the gorge it’s name.  The legend says that the big rock in the middle of the raging torrent was used by the tiger to leap the gorge.  I bet it still got it’s paw’s wet though.web--507web--506 web--508 web--509 web--510Before returning to our admirers.. web--511web--515And another ride on the edge
web--512 web--513Down to Lijiang web--516 web--517And down to Dali via the lake.  Such a very beautiful place, but because it’s so beautiful it’s also bride central, all being photographed.  They’re bloody everywhere.   You can’t bloody move for flippin brides.  Not that I particularly want to move… not just at this particular moment… web--519 web--520 web--521 web--522Get to Dali, go out for a walk, and guess what…web--523 web--532We’ve nearing the end of our time in China and we’re all quite sad.  So to make ourselves feel better, and reinforce just how shit travelling in China really is, we all go out for a night at the Bad Monkey to stare at ugly women, drink shit beer, and listen to the worst band I’ve ever heard… all night
web--525 web--527web--530web--529web--528web--526Dali has a big ex-pat community and I can see why.  I think I could spend a lot of my time here.  Our guide says it’s his ambition to live here.   Perhaps with one of these…  I can’t see the attraction myself.. mind you I have my eyes closed and I’m facing the other way …web--533Dali traffic is a right bitch but we’re soon out and back in the wilderness.  Tonight we’re going to Zhenyuan,  way up into the mountains.    As I  got onto the bike this morning,  I picked up my Lucksack and was very dismayed to find it completely empty.  I’ve been fucking robbed and I suspect I know exactly who was behind it… bastards..
web--534web--535We’re having a great day.  It’s lovely and warm.. the roads are delicious.. the food is .. recognizable .. Perhaps I just mislayed my luck.  Perhaps I put it in another pocket.. perhaps I packed it somewhere really really safe.. that’ll be it…

Me and one other rider are running late.  Just enjoying the ride, the countryside, just the sights and sounds.  The sun is loosing it’s grip on the day and it’s slowly giving way to the night.    Dusk is coming down and we’re scooting along in formation, dealing with all the farm machinery returning to their beds.

We’re coming up behind a small truck, chugging and bumping it’s way along past a field with a big concrete culvert running alongside it.  There is a big tree ahead and a concrete bridge over the culvert into the field.  My mate goes to overtake, and I sudden;y hear the unmistakable chilling cackle of the  Shit and Happens crew.  The little bastards seems to have hitched a ride in the cab of the truck.  Just as the driver goes to indicate, I see Shit and Happens grab the indicator and hang on tight.  The instant my mate gets his head past the back of the truck they let go and I see the indicator begin to flash.  Shit and Happens jump into the back of the truck and start counting down in time with the taunting yellow flashes… 5..4…3…2… as the truck starts to fade across the road towards the turn.

My mate doesn’t have a chance.  By the time he realises what’s happening he can’t accelerate past, and he can’t brake hard enough as he’s pushed onto the gravel.

1… the truck makes contact and the bike is knocked hard.  It’s going down and the rider is thrown off, just missing the tree and landing on the small bridge.  All the traffic stops.  The truck stops.  I stop.  I run over to the little cloud of dust.  The rider hasn’t got up yet… that’s bad.  When he does get vertical, he looks like he’s been photo shopped into black and white.  And he does’t look … right.  He looks like he’s been carrying a 200kg handbag for 12 hours in his left hand.

He knows he’s hurt.  He shows me his right shoulder.  Fine.  Shows me his right… His right isn’t right.  It looks to me like he has broken his clavicle in 5 places and will need an operation to put the bone jigsaw back together and secure it with a titanium plate and also repair some damaged ligaments…. but I don’t tell him that… he’ll find out soon enough..

web--536 web--538 web--537We wait for the van, put the bike in the back and head off. We were told this road was closed close to the town tonight and that we’d probably have to wait for it to open. Right now that’s music to my rider’s ears…. Rap music… He absolutely hates rap music…

The road gets worse and worse as the it gets darker and darker. I ride behind the truck and watch the bike bounce about. Probably dancing to the rap… Get 10k from the town, it’s pitch black, and we’re into the road works. 30 minutes at 20kph on steep lose bumpy gravel behind 2 dozen lorries. Just what the doctor ordered…

Get to the town and he’s straight to the hospital. Looks like my roadside diagnosis was right. Poor bugger! He’s come back to the hotel wearing a contraption not unlike the harness I put on my pug when I take her out for a walk. He must be in absolute agony but he refuses to acknowledge it. He’s rock hard this boy. He says he’s going to stay with the group until we get the bike out. He get’s himself separate room in the basement where he can scream his heart out without keeping us awake.

The mood is understandably sombe the next day as we make our way down the expressway to Jinghong. We use the expressway for a change. Shit and Happens hate the expressways…web--539 web--542 web--541 web--540A quick squirt down to Mohan, unload the crashed bike and out we go. web--545

web--544 web--546I’ve said it before.  I’ll say it again.  I’ll be back.

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