We’re going through our final Tibet police check. We’re going to be set free again. All the beasts in the petrol paddock are snorting and trying to throw their heads in the air, all tense and ready to race. Sweating with excitement and foaming at the mouth.
There is a sad looking weirdo wandering about looking at them, fiddling with some beads and humming a very low volume chant. I can hear him as I walk over and mount up. Just as I grab the reins and kick the spurs into The Bitch I look round and make a nanosecond’s eye contact with him. Before I know it he has taken my eye contact as acquiescence and he’s jumped on the back. It’s too late to stop now though. The Bitch has smelt freedom and it’s launched off down the road like a Black Friday shopper after a bargain.
So now I’m riding quite quickly down a beautiful twisty river road with a weirdo chanting right in my ear. He’s wearing absolutely no protective equipment except ‘big hair’ (which would probably leave a horrible singeing smell if I accidentally threw him down the road) and a thin blanket. I don’t WTF he’s chanting but it’s got a good beat. “um bum bum chum come dum dum dum chum bum bum”. He doesn’t stop for a beat. He’s riding with one hand fiddling with his beads and the other hand seems to be issuing self inflicted punishment to his bollocks. Every now and then, usually right in the middle of the corner, he will punch himself hard in the balls and his chant will include a sudden random scream. “bum bum cum dum chum cum bum ARRRRHHHHHHHHHHH bum bum som chim”. Fucking scares the shit out of me. It’s like someone shouting “BOO” in the middle of a screw. It really puts me off my stroke. After 60 miles I’m a nervous wreck and have to stop for a rest. He’s not missed a beat for an hour. I can’t take any more of this. I hide, I watch, I wait, I watch, I wait. I can see him searching for me, scared to leave the bike, but he needs to visit the bushes and eventually he decides he is safe for a few seconds and wanders away. Bad move! I immediately run full speed down the road, do a huge hop, skip and a massive jump, get my key out in mid air, then land key first and twist. By the time my arse hits the saddle the engine is revving, The Bitch is screaming and the world is going backwards fast. The other riders tell me he runs down the road after me as I disappear in a cloud of TKC70 fumes. Another nail in anglo/Chinese relations.
The G318 is going to be a really hard act to follow, so the rest of the road to Shangri-La doesn’t even try. It just cheats. The road takes us up into thick cloud for the afternoon. Thick thick thick cloud. 5mph “can’t see the end of your dick when you pee” type of cloud. “I really really shouldn’t be doing this” type of cloud. Even the mental Chinese drivers are crawling in this. You just cannot see a bloody thing. You know you’re in the mountains. You know there aren’t any barriers. You just have a line on the sat nav that looks like a piece of pink string someone has dropped on the ground, all curled up and messy. We just resort to picking a car and following it at crawling speed. Anything else is just suicide.
Eventually we descend out the mirk and do a fast formation approach to Shangri-La. I was really expecting something special. I don’t know why. Just because I’d heard the name I guess and thought there must be something unique about the place but it’s just a big town round an old cobbled centre. Still, the hotel is better than we’ve had for a while and there are actually shops with stuff inside. We all have a decent meal for the first time in a while. I take a wander round the old town after dark looking at the shadows and the steamed up windows.
Somebody obviously requested “Play Misty for Me” on last night’s weather questionnaire. All morning DJ Sky is playing it on repeat as we go through yet more mountains on the hunt for the Leaping Tiger Gorge. Bitchin slippery roads and heavy traffic don’t make a good combination. Overtake strictly at your own risk. Trying to slow down or take any corner at anything other than exactly what the traffic is doing and you’re all over the place, two wheel sliding round the bends or just locking wheels on the horrible glassy tarmac.
I’m looking for the gorge. I thought it would be obvious. It’s supposed to be the deepest in the world. I’ve been through The Grand Canyon, and Copper Canyon in Mexico and as you approach them then you know something special is about to happen but the road out here is just a plain up and down road with no clue at all. Even the entrance is hidden up a small road off a town. Several of the riders just go straight past and don’t see it. Take a small road for a few kms then it all just opens out in front of you. The road is the usual scary shit with falling rocks and barriers that wouldn’t stop a toy car from going over the edge.
Not that impressive is it! Coming through Tibet has spoilt us. Anywhere with a river at the bottom and a mountains with clouds at the top is quite impressive for sure I guess. The road is a dead end after about 27km and its a good ride. We stop at “Anne’s” for a bacon sandwich and coffee. English language + bacon + coffee = tourist hotspot. Nice view though.
We head for tourist central to walk down to the river and the rock that is the source of the legend. The place is absolutely heaving with people, it’s about 300 degrees and I’m wearing full leathers. The perfect combination. The river is way down below and you have to fight your way down 100s of steep steps, every second one of which is occupied by a couple taking selfies. Get to the bottom, sweating like a bastard, and fight the crowd to see the Tiger rock. Right in the middle of the raging torrent is a 30ft rock that the tiger apparently used to leap the gorge. Yep – that looks likely.
The walk up was a bitch. I was sorely tempted to get a lift. At the bottom there are teams of people that will put you in a sedan chair and then walk you back up to the top. God only knows how or why they do it. As usual in these situations, it’s only the serious chubbers that are hiring them. Great mounds of human flesh pour their flaccid flesh into the chairs and two little chinamen struggle up the 100s of steps. We follow behind slowly, watching our steps in the waterfalls of human sweat that are running down off the little sherpas. We see several of the little buggers just collapse under the weight of the chubby wobbler sat in their chair too. If that was me, I’d get them right to the top, then I’d just tip the lazy fucker right over the edge and watch them bounce down like a giant pudgy pink power ball.
Still. If you make it safely to the top, you get another prize. Here’s mine. I chose this one because …. well… just because
From the gorge it’s a quick and simple ride down to Lijang and a hotel right next to the old town. We meet back up with our Norwegian rider on his High Ball. It’s nice to see him safe and well. The ‘old’ city is just a tourist trap. It’s a maize of 1000s of stalls selling the same things. As you walk along it’s just ‘food … animal body parts … trinkets… remedies…food … animal body parts … trinkets… remedies…’ repeat until dead. Later some of the riders go out for dinner, and get lost. Once the stalls are shut and shuttered, they all look identical. It takes them 2 hours to find their way out.
The place is also full of the American chains. KFC, Pizza Hut, and even Starbucks. It really pisses me off to be quite honest. I only bought 3 Starbucks as a protest.. it would usually have been at least 10 in a 24 hour period.
Next day is a short hop down the road to Dali. We’re back in the land of the expressways so we all decide to run the gauntlet and raid the toll gates. These raids are best done quick and fast and using the element of surprise. We make sure to group up into a tight pack then it’s 3…2….1 and GO. No hesitating, no surrender, just straight through the toll gates before they can raise the alarm and run out to stop you. A few short seconds and we’re through the gates and on the expressway. After what we’ve been through lately this is like heaven. Fast and smooth and sea level. We’re all quickly up to speed and in tight formation. There is a strange pleasure in riding really tight and fast with a small group of bikes and we all swap in and out of position like a small cloud of swallows, flowing in and out through the traffic like a noisy metallic blob of metal and wheels.
We peel off the expressway early so we can go round the big lake that Dali sits on. It’s a beautiful warm day and the lake is super saturated green under the big blue sky. We stop to take some pictures of the beautiful little island in the middle. It’s just such a beautiful place, and mobbed with the selfie brigade too.
As I’m walking back towards my bike I smell burning. I can’t immediately see where it’s coming from. A bit of sniffing and hunting about and I trace it to my ‘tottieometer’ attached to my trousers. It’s blown a bloody fuse. I’ve had to recalibrate this thing a few times since I entered China to be fair. When I first entered, I set it to really sensitive as I thought Chinese girls wouldn’t be that attractive. That soon turned out to be absolute bollocks and it kept going mental, beeping and reporting hits everywhere so I had to turn it right down. I’ve barely got the dial turned up at all now and it’s still blown a fuse. Then I turn round and see the problem. There is a girl standing just behind me that it pains my eyes to look at. It’s like looking at the sun, I just have to turn away otherwise I’m going to ruin my eyes and my trousers are just going to explode in a cloud of baby gravy. I have to get a picture but how am I going to do it? My pants are already at bursting point and on a hair trigger so I can’t even look in her direction. I just have to point the phone behind me, press randomly and hope the ‘auto tottie locating’ app works properly. What do you reckon? I can’t look…
Christ, that was the closest my pocket rocket has come to exploding on the launch pad for a long time. I quickly get on The Bitch and get going, nearly straight into the front of a c**t coming round a blind bend overtaking a car on the wrong side of the road…. again. Jesus this place is just incredible. I brake so hard that the front wheel leaves a big groove in the tarmac and all my bowel contents get pushed back up back in my mouth. This place is just fucking insane.
Dali itself is a huge sprawling mass but we’re headed for the old, original walled city up in the hills. Maybe a mile square it’s a mass of small streets enclosed by big walls. It’s a real mixture of old and new and it’s got a good atmosphere about it. Find the hotel, and head for the Bad Monkey bar for an evening chatting shit to a bisexual brit that owns the place. He came out a few years ago and started brewing beer and he’s going from strength to strength. Good music, good company, good food, good times in the friendly dark atmosphere that is Dali city.
We have a day off today to see the sights and as usual in these situations a few riders go missing in action. One comes in about 6am and another wakes up in somebody else’s gaff somewhere across town with no idea where/what/who he is. He has to ring the hotel and they send out a taxi to collect him and bring him back to safety. Top man.
I go down to the Bad Monkey for a full english breakfast which is like sex on a plate after this long away from home. I’ve just started the foreplay with the sausage when I get a shout from a ‘spotter’ sat out front. It’s confirmed by a big green return and an alarm on my tottieometer. I run outside with a face full of food, follow my mate’s pointing finger and chase down the street. She’s another beauty but she’s got ‘bitch’ running through her from head to toe. She doesn’t want to be photographed but I’ve got this covered and go into stealth mode with the camera. ‘Auto Tottie Detection’ on…. click…result…
By the time I get back at the table my sausage has gone soggy. That always happens… The things I’m willing to do in the name of art…
Spend the day wandering about, just soaking in the atmosphere, wandering the streets, taking pictures of the locals..
Back to the Bad Monkey again for tea and tottie. It’s a bloody magnet this place. I’ve got a lot of great memories and tonight is added to the list. I can’t put my finger on why exactly, a really good band are playing, everybody is relaxed and happy, and the people watching is top quality.
I have a drink. I never drink. I shouldn’t drink. My tottieometer flashes a big B for bootie and I run over to take a picture. The bootie owner spots me and I have to make a quick excuse about admiring her shoes…
I pop sticks before I get a stiletto in the eye… and giggle my way through the street back to the hotel..
Get up late and head out for Lincang. Supposed to be an easy ride and for the first half of the day it is. The roads are just fantastic. Full of 200m radius corners in the sky. The Bitch is due a big spanking and today she gets one. When she’s hot The Bitch is just the best thing on two wheels. On the big corners you can just throw her down on the pegs then just stab her in the genitals with a hot stick and she just fucks off up the road like a banshee with the back wheel breaking traction and the rider trying to keep his boner from stabbing him in the eye.
We all just scream out of the hills and across the mighty Mekong.
We’re all in a groove, all in formation, all moving fast. But then we come across a bit of a problem. A bit of a landslide. Well, I say a bit…
That’s not going to be cleared any time soon. Just then a local bus driver decides he’ll park carefully out of the way of the traffic. How very considerate of him.
We’re not going up, over or round that landslide so we have to take an alternative route. The only alternative is a turn 60 miles back in the direction from which we’ve just come. Through miles and miles of corners in the sky. What a shame. Back on The Bitch, dig in the spurs in, crack the whip and chase the tarmac back to the junction. God I love motorcycles.
We meet back up with the guide and he shows us the route out of town. This is the old route over the mountains and every bugger and his wife is on it today, including every truck in the south of China. It’s slow and tight and narrow and steep and extremely extremely scary. You would have thought we had ridden enough of pretty well everything now and that there is nothing that could scare us. That’s what I thought too until I started up this road. It’s just a set of circumstances really. The main problem being the trucks. This road is neglected and shiny and dirty and dusty. That’s not normally a problem but the trucks all have water cooled brakes like you see in a lot of these countries. Every time they break they spray water on the brakes, and that water runs off in tiny quantities onto the road. The water/dust/mud mix is exactly what inspired WD40 and it’s a fucking slimy slippery nightmare. Even at 20mph the front and back wheels are sliding about all over the road and it’s like motorcycle dancing on ice, up a mountain, with no barriers. Then we have the nearest miss of the whole trip.
Three riders are together and approaching a corner. A truck is approaching the other way. They all get to the corner at about the same time. The corner is quite tight and the truck just decides to cut it. No thought. No warning. The front rider guns it and just makes it through the corner just missing the back of the trailer as it sweeps round. The 2nd rider knows he’s fucked so he jumps on the brakes to avoid hitting the front of the truck. The third rider and his pillion are buggered now. They can’t stop on this surface and they hit the second rider, topple off the bike and go over the edge of the mountain. The bike is resting on the edge and they’ve gone out of sight. The second rider slams the bike down and rushes over to the edge where they went over and peers over the side. To say they’ve been lucky is a bit of an understatement. Like saying Trump’s hair looks a tad unnatural.. The mountainside here only slopes at maybe 60 or 70 degrees rather than the often vertical drops we’ve been seeing round here, and it’s covered in scrub. He leans over and sees the rider and pillion caught in a small tree just below the edge so he just grabs them and pulls them back up to the road. They say they just saw sky then branches. Bloody hell.
The road goes on forever and ever, and as we finally descend we start seeing the terraced tea plantations and the little hoards of workers.
It’s getting dark and cold and by the time we reach the hotel. We’re all fucked after the ride over the mountain. The hotel is way out of town in a business district, none of whose business is feeding people so we just chuck the helmets on and take a chance into town for a late night Pizza.
I’m reading in bed when I hear a bleeping noise. WTF? It’s about 1 in the morning and I’m buggered. Then there is a knock at the door. Really? “Hang on.” I bung on some trousers and open the door and before I know it there is a very attractive young lady in dressed in quick release clothing standing at the end of my bed, and she’s doing the fexting thing… I think she’s looking for a friend…. fuck sake…. and I can still hear the bleeping. It looks like my tottieometer can now see through doors too. Or maybe it just picked up a scent. Whatever, I’m going to have to sort it out… with a hammer…the tottieometer that is…. not the quick release chick…
Next morning everyone is looking shagged. Maybe the quick release girl did a complete tour of the building… Anyway, Puer is the destination today. Just up the road really. Easy peasy, if you have fuel that is… The fucking landslide is restricting the amount of fuel getting through and we spend an hour getting refused by every station in the town. The Victory is on fumes so I decant a bottle from my tank and we slowly head off to the next town where we finally manage to fill up. So another late start and into the mountains again. Stop, look and thank God you’re alive.
Still got to watch out for the occasional pot hole though…
After so many days on the bike you don’t realise how close you’re riding to the edge. If you ride very occasionally then you might be able to ride at 80-90% for short periods but have to concentrate hard. When you ride regularly in all weathers you can maybe ride at 80% for long periods without even thinking about it very much. When you’ve been on the bike all day everyday for weeks you find yourself riding at 90% all day and you can do a crossword at the same time. You just don’t realise you’re at 90% until something happens. We’re working our way out of the hills today and the roads are fast and open and dry but they’re slippery as hell and the bikes are moving about all over the place. So get a corner slightly wrong, or, like I did, brake just a fraction too late and you’re suddenly up to your neck in shit and drowning. I brake a tiny bit late on a fast downhill bend and the front just lets go. My reaction puts the bike upright and now I’m heading for the bank on the opposite side, trying to break hard but skidding every time I touch the lever. The KTM abs system is excellent and lets the wheel skid but there is absolutely no grip and I’m going to meet the bank very soon. I just manage to turn my target fixation off a fraction before I meet the mud and the bike finds some grip from somewhere and finally falls into the corner way on the wrong side of the road. Twat.
Just up the road I’m following another rider and we come up to another landslide. A bulldozer has just cleared the road but it’s left a 5mm coating of pure evil wet clay. We slow down and go in. I can see it all now in my head. I’m watching his back wheel as it just breaks traction and starts to slowly try and catch the front wheel. He’s going down right in front of me. The pillion ejects as soon as the bike starts to fall but the rider can’t get out the way and goes down with the bike. I see his head fly back as something painful happens and he reacts. I watch him slide along in front of me and put all my concentration into not joining in his accident. He and the bike slide off to the left into a bank of mud and I just coast out and on to the tarmac. By the time I’ve got off the bike he’s up and hobbling around but it looks like he got his foot caught under the bike and he is struggling. Three of us try to lift the bike but it’s almost impossible to even stand up in this stuff so we wedge the bike against the bank and manage to get it vertical just as another riders comes round the corner. Despite all the waving and shouting he does exactly the same thing and ends up on his arse sliding down the road. No damage though beyond some broken bits and a dent in his pride. The first rider gets on his bike and rides off on adrenaline and stubbornness. I hope that lasts… poor bugger is in a lot of pain.
I’m on my own as I get to Puer. I’m following the sat nav and I’m on the right road. Definitely. Down the hill, round the corner, and … WTF?
Looks like there still might be a bit of work to do on this road.. and maybe a bridge or two might be useful as well. The sat nav doesn’t have any more roads round here so I just go straight line and follow my nose. All the roads going in the direction I want are dead ends so I just start riding over the rough ground, through people’s gardens, across what looks like allotments, down a load of small paths between houses and up a steep slope through a gate and to pop out in the middle of a bloody building site. This place is still under construction and it takes me about 15 minutes of rough riding before I ride through a knackered fence and back onto tarmac. I’m last to the hotel by a long margin and just as I arrive the heavens open in a desperate attempt to clean up this shit hole.
Breakfast next day is a weird event served by people so ugly they have to be hidden behind a screen..
Both the group and the bikes are getting more and more battered and we take the easy and fast option of expressway all the way to Jingliang. Yesterday’s crash rider’s foot is badly swollen and he can’t really put any weight on it. Expressway riding is straight forward but anything else like moving is sensibly delegated to those of us with more than one useable foot. We get to Jingliang quite early for a change and have time to visit the ‘american quarter’ for a pizza hut meal followed by Walmart for afters.
All my fun in the mountains has fubar’d my front tyre so I go on the hunt for a fitter that can change it. Then I go and ride around behind the street cooler to wash/cool down.
Wait for the sun to get fed up and fuck off then take a late walk round the local streets to watch the people, and for the people to watch me.
Last full day in China today. Just a quick scoot down to Mohan along more roads in the sky through the rubber plantations. Quick stop at a local motorbike shop and we’re off.
The roads are really impressive down here, built way way up in the air.
Mohan hasn’t changed at all. It’s just a sleepy town full of comedy cakes and people who have blankets for hair.
We treat ourselves just one more time to a big plate of chickens heads and pigs faces and retire for the night before an early and uneventful exit over the border into Laos.
And so another ride through China comes to an end. Last time I went north to The Great Wall and then south, this time, across the Taklamakan desert then through unforgettable Tibet. I have to be one of the luckiest people alive. I’m still not satisfied though. I’ll be back…Next Page