Get up and out with one simple aim and a simple route. Part one. Go to take a fast boat out to see a feck off huge Buddha carved out of the rock. Pretty impressive, though the smog is still distilling the experience under a blanket. Just as we’re about to leave, the guide gets a big bag of spanners out and throws them in the works. The original destination is pretty close and it’s still quite early so we’re going somewhere else a bit further out. “Don’t, whatever you do, take the 307. Military road, big trouble, keep away”. Pardon? Blah blah blah…confusion…lost in translation.. off we go… Ok. My satnav chooses this exact moment to fail. Won’t turn on. Was ok this morning… Fuckidy bollocks. Some people have the gamin cards and some have the open street maps loaded. They’re disagreeing, coupled with the fact that the same road number is used for at least 5 different roads, and the disaster recipe is almost complete. Time to stir.
Follow the leader, make some choices and about 2 we end up at a junction. It’s not clear whats what here and some of the roads are out due to monster landslides down the mountains. Some say left, some say right. We go right. Go through a tunnel and suddenly it feels like we’re the wrong side of the river. Not only that, but it feels like we’re on the wrong side of the wrong river. I think it split when we were in the tunnel. I can see a road on the other side and lots of it is either in the river or blocked with big boulders so I stupidly put it out my mind, keep calm and carry on. The satnavs are all constantly recalculating like Bletchly Park mathematicians and so we carry on digging ourselves further into the hole. Come to another junction, unmarked. We need to go right but an army checkpoint says no, definitely definitely no. So we go left – through endless tunnels, most without lights and frequently not finished. Feels like we’re driving to the centre of the earth. 30 minutes later and we’re at another checkpoint. There is a massive dam peeking through the mist and there is no way through. Guess what? Three guesses what road this is. It’s the 307. Double fuckidy wank. One of the riders goes to avoid a speed bump and puts his bike down a culvert against a solid cliff. Drag the bike out and it’s taken a hit on the front and looks like it has a boxers broken nose, all bent to the right. There is a temporary suspended bridge across the ravine for locals, probably due to the landslides. The army lets us through to cross the bridge and try the other road but it’s access only to a few isolated and cut off villages. 4pm now and we’re a long long way from where we want to be and, more importantly, where our plan says we will be. The guide is 100 miles away. Ohhhhhhhhh poooooo. Only one thing for it, back track for an hour through all the shit and tunnels to the last big town. 6pm. Getting dark. Take the left at the original junction. It’s shit. Mud and clay. Concede slabs all rearranged by the landslide giants and left sticking up out the road at all angles like old people’s teeth. Then the road turns into a rough track and starts to climb steeply up the mountain. The satnavs have had a chat and decided to give up and all have an early night. Pitch black now, very very rough, twisty narrow and steep. Someone up ahead is off. Luckily fell off to the left rather than the abyss on the right. Come to a junction, no signs, no indications, no nothing. A car load of people arrive and fall out the car, all pissed as farts. Noise, confusion, hands pointing out in all directions. Chaos. Phone the guide, he can’t work out where we are. The people are so drunk the guide can’t understand what they’re saying. They also have a heavy local accent which just adds to the confusion. 9pm. Getting nowhere. I backtrack to an isolated little shop on the hill and the guide speaks to the owner and together they work out where we are. One of the riders split with us earlier,went alone, took the wrong road and ended up somewhere he really shouldn’t be, near some sort of sensitive project. He’s also hit a big rock, bent his front wheel rim so badly the tyre is off. You couldn’t make this stuff up. The guide has a real problem now. 5 riders in one place, one rider in another and him in another. He has to call in the police. He goes out to the single rider. We wait for the police to come to us and escort us. Sit in the little shop till 11pm. The owner has phoned all her family to come and see the animals that have landed on the mountain. Cars turn up, people point and prod and take pictures. All very friendly though. They just never ever see foreigners round here. At 11 the police turn up. Loads of paperwork then they escort us an hour back down the mountain. They’re often not doing more than 10mph and it makes it very difficult to follow in the very steep muddy and wet sections. Absolutely pitch black too – blind black. No light pollution at all. Poor old bike is getting really hot at this speed too. Just have to ride through every puddle I see as fast as I can to sluce it down. We eventually reach the town and the police station. Some local english teachers have been dragged out their beds to interpret but they’re almost madly happy at meeting us. It’s like a real alien sighting for them. The police send someone out for some warm dumplings at about 1am and we sit round eating and drinking hot water. Lots and lots of paperwork and it’s taking forever. They’re trying to organize a hotel but none of the ATMs want to play and we’ve virtually no money. At about 2 we get a three police car escort with lights and all over to what looks like some kind of impounding yard. Old bikes and scooters everywhere all covered in dust. We leave the bikes under cover and cross to a hotel hidden within a block of flats. Knock up the night watchman from behind his metal grill and share our money out to pay. Luckily this place is dirt cheap, about £10 a room. This place has a ‘clock rate’ of just a few quid an hour too. Single rooms only. I’ve never been to a place so obviously just a ‘place to mate’. I suspected as much on the way in. There were a few ‘underdressed’ ladies hanging about outside and someone in a big new 4×4 came and picked them up. 2am must have been ‘cocking off’ time. Anyway I’m so knackered that should I encounter a copulating couple already in my bed, I’d just ask them to move over and keep the noise down. As it happens, its just a room, a clean bed and a big rack of condoms. On the bed and piling up the Z’s in 10 seconds flat.
Woken up early by the police who take us for breakfast at a fried chicken joint. Order the cheapest. We’re down to a few quid each now. Out for fuel. One rider has enough cash to give us all a splash and we pool everything we have left. I’ve got 20p, others have less. The police have to escort us to meet up with the guide 100 miles away. There is a nice new motorway but this is the police though so motor-no-way unfortunately. For 3 hours we average 20mph up and down mountains through endless shitty towns with wet cobbled streets. Through places that should be used for bombing practice, or maybe already have, desperately hanging on to the hillsides waiting to slip quietly into the river below. A lot of them just look like filthy squats. What a life. No time to stop for pictures though – the police don’t stop until they need to pee. They probably don’t want us here anyway. My satnav is back – I took out the battery and it works on the bike. No use here though. None of the satnavs have any roads showing, we’re strictly off-grid and have been all morning. We get near the meeting point bu there are big blue signs across the road, not usually a good sign. There’s been a big landslide and the road is closed. The police we’re with are some sort of special branch tourist section, they make a few phone calls and 10 minutes later the diggers are clearing the big rocks just enough to let the bikes through. Just us.
We all get through to the smell of burning clutches and stinky pants and they instantly seal the gap behind us. The guide is waiting the other side. He’s obviously shitting himself about the trouble and is bowing and fawning to the police, just stopping short of getting on his knees and opening his mouth. The police walk back and we’ve got to follow the guide to meet the other rider who is being held with another set of police up the road. ‘Road ahead is bad, very very bad, keep a long way apart’ he says. The road turns into a cobble/brick pave mix, wet, slippery and rutted. There is a waterfall across the road. A proper one. Very impressive too. Through that then its 2 miles of continuous water completely across the road and anything up to a foot deep, over my feet anyway, with random hidden holes and ruts. The old GS just hisses her displeasure like a cornered cat and steams on through. Miles of wet dark tunnels anything up to 5km long, roads with tarmac split and raised feet in the air by earth movement. We finally reach our other rider and we’re all together again. The guide does the bending over and offering all orafices thing again then we’re finally on our way with another special brach escort to our destination. Petrol is getting really low. No money…tension…. puncture. Shit. One of the riders has stopped with a puncture just as it’s starting to get dark. I go back to help. He’s got some new fangled kit with little wedges of rubber. Fucking useless. I’ve seen these things before. Absolute shite, You might as well try push a piece of string cheese in. Push it in, pump it up, hissssssssss. Total flippin pony. I use the old BMW bunny ears plugs. Give the hole a good reaming first which always looks wrong, plenty of glue and fit the bung. Pump it up, ride off. I take his pillion 7km to the next petrol station. His GS is telling him the pressure is falling. Take a look and he’s got another flippin hole. It’s tiny but leaking. Try his kit again. Shit. Wont go in the hole, won’t expand the hole. These kits look great on the perfect puncture but I’ve never seen them work on a proper one on the road. BMW plugs to the rescue again. My advice, the old technology is best in the real world. It’s 7 now and dark. Follow the police 60km over a foggy mountain amongst the bat shit crazy driving. Both my headlights are out and I’m on aux only – all part of the fun. Into a big old city and a really nice hotel. Police finally release us and go back to base. We find a working ATM, have a late late dinner and relax:)
Ok, the guide is clearly still worried this morning. He’s been giving us a lot of leeway and we’ve been able to go alone and choose our routes. Not today though, follow the van. The bloke with the 1200 adventure can’t do more than 50mph because of his front wheel. He’s got the luck of the devil this bloke. He hit a rock about 10 at night on some shitty track in the dark and tore the tyre off. He rode slowly for about 2 miles where there was someone in a hut who took the wheel off, took some spokes out and beat the big dent out. Then managed to reassemble the wheel and put a tube in. Spin the wheel though and there is at least a 1cm buckle in it. He’s flipping lucky it’s moving at all. He’s got a huge dent in the back wheel too. He hit the rock on the side somehow and the left side of the rim looks like its been punched hard with a granite fist. He’s been in touch with Motorworks and luckily (again!) they have a 2nd hand pair that they’re sending out. Going to take a while though. So, it’s low speed tarmac torture all day long. We were supposed to be doing some local roads here but there was an earthquake here last month (just a small one, 300 killed) and lots of rain so the roads are all but impassable. Just how we like it. The guide won’t go that way though, spoilsport. We get chased to the hotel by huge rumbling black thunder clouds We win, just, and the storm throws the mother of all strops, thumping its fists, banging its feet and trying to cast spells with huge bolts of lightening that knock out the electrics.
Today….see yesterday…this can’t go on… The only difference being that someone snook into the room in the night, inserted a huge weather balloon into my bowel and filled it up with bars of chocolate that had been left in the sunshine for 12 hours. I woke up thinking one wrong move and I’ll blow the windows out and redecorate the room in a light shade of brown. Crawl to the loo and secure myself to the bowl using the carbon fibre straps I carry for this eventuality. Let loose an anal earthquake of at least 12.5 on the rectum scale and squirt poo at a pressure that could cut through armor plating. I think I cut through to two floors below. They’ll have a surprise in the morning.
Ok. This morning the guide knows he’s got trouble. I’ve been saying for a few days that we want to get off the motorway and today he’s prepared. He’s not going to let me do the testical removal thing again that’s for sure. He’s turned up in a pair of cast iron trousers, held up with a huge chain and secured by an enormous padlock that wouldn’t look out of place at the tower of London. It’s looks like he’s wearing a massive metal sporran. Bugger, I forgot my acetylene torch too. It’s the first of Oct today and it’s the first day of a week long Chinese holiday. All the toll roads are free and every bugger and his dog is on them. We all know what that means. Accidents, and lots of them. It only takes a few minutes to see the first one, then the second… Traffic is crawling and the bikes are getting hot so we decide to use the small gutter lane, along with loads of cars. Miles and miles and miles, bugger this. We pull over and discuss amongst ourselves. My satnav is foobar again, only showing base maps. It has the gamin card in, god knows what it’s problem is. Another rider is showing the old road and is kind enough to offer to navigate so three of us text the guide and go local. It’s just soooooo much nicer down here, so much slower but so much more to see. Rice harvest is in full swing and everyone is in the fields in the sunshine. People with pointy hats struggling head down with huge loads on their back. Normal Chinese country life. The road is like a bag of Revels. Lots of you can take or leave, stuff you would definitely avoid if you could, but plenty of your favourites too and even some surprises thrown in. Eventually everything comes to a standstill, both ways bunged up. There are cars and lorries in both directions on both sides of the road all trying to push their way through against the oncoming vehicles and it’s completely blocked solid. We push our way through, ignore the police trying to stop us but eventually it’s locked too tight for us to find a way through. As luck would have it, somewhere behind us something moves a few yards and the oncoming traffic begins to move. Only about 20 yards but it’s enough. Like a bath fart bubble rolling slowly up your legs, we push the traffic over as it moves before closing tight behind us. We get to the front of the queue. Both sides of the road is oncoming traffic. Mad! There are police here but they’re doing nothing, just trying to divert the oncoming traffic away somewhere. It’s just a continuous stream. 10 minutes … nothing. We will be here all day If nothing happens, it’s time for action. I start the bike ride straight towards the oncoming traffic. The policeman starts running and shouting and waving his arms. That’s not going to work mate! So I just continue to ride at the oncoming traffic until it has to stop.
There is a small gap down the side now and the other bikes file down it and along a ditch to a gap on the other side. I go through too and after a few minutes we’re on open road again. I think the whole problem is caused by just a few parked lorries. Anyway, we’re a long way behind the guide now and he’s sending frantic texts so we get back on the expressway and meet him at about 4pm, allegedly only 130km from the hotel. What follows is a comedy of navigational errors that leaves us on the wrong side of a mountain at about 7. It’s dark, it’s cold, but it’s only 30km, no problem. Problem! The road is the tightest, narrowest, steepest and curviest two lane strip of tarmac I’ve ever seen. We’re behind a truck and a long snaking line of cars. There aren’t any barriers and the risk reward ratio is so high that you just have to crawl. 30km, 90 minutes. Hotel is in a lovely little village within a town. We have to follow a girl on a push bike down narrow cobbled alleys and footpaths in the pitch black and I have the tubby guide as a pillion. One rider ditches his bike in another culvert and we all arrive sweating and swearing. Lovely lovely place though. A tourist trap for sure, they even have coffee and English menus, but lovely none the less. Finally sit down for dinner about 10:30.
Up early for a quick scout around the village and a quiet coffee in the square as the place comes to life and the sun creeps out from the night. Coffee. Lovely lovely coffee. I love coffee. Late breakfast on a sun terrace as a cat chases the dozy morning moths on the glass roof above my head. Out of the maze of footpaths to meet the guide. His van wont start. Push start it. Runs for a few seconds then stops. Then the engine light comes on, and the engine starts – work that one out. Not far to go today. Get the chickens out and start to count them. Get out all the eggs and put them in one basket. I should not have done that! Wonderful wide smooth ribbon of road for the fist 100km, just 80 to go. Destination is an isolated tibetan village in the mountains. One road in, one road out. Starts bad though. We’ve done plenty of rough roads out here but these are really really bad. Big big holes, often with sharp edges of old tarmac. Hidden yomps and sharp rocks sticking out like knives, as unforgiving as a loan skark. We do 20km in an hour.
Speak to a local, 4 hours from here for the final 60km and it gets worse with rock falls and lots of running water. There is absolutely nothing to prove, and we’d have to come back the same way tomorrow. There’s no point so we turn around and rearange a hotel in a town with no name where they’ve never seen anyone over 2′ 6″.
Luck out though. Good clean hotel with big rooms and everything seems to work. Out to eat at the place next door, and run by the hotel owner. Choose the ingredients from a cooler and they cook it up as they think fit. We get the guide in to try and identify the amorphous blobs quivering on the plates for selection. “Beef”. Yep, got that one, beef is good. “stomach of sheep”. Ok, not so good, stomach in my stomach would probably be rejected. “Face and nose of cow”. WTF! Who ever thought that would be a good idea? We stop him there before we gets to the “penis of pig” or “gut of goat” that I fear will follow. Beef it is then. Tastes good. Best for a while, but….
Wake up in the night. All the alarms are going off in my head…. “SCRAMBLE..SCRAMBLE”. Rush to the bathroom. It’s a white tiled wet room with a sqat pit loo. Forget aim, just FIRE. The squat pit has nowhere to secure my harness so I’m flying round the room like a balloon when you let go of the end, bouncing off the walls and blasting off tiles with my special latte jet thruster. Luckily I put my helmet on as I entered else I’d be out cold. Finally come down and land in the mire. I look like I’ve been competing in a particularly nasty mud wrestling competition. The bathroom…. the bathroom looks like a very large animal with chocolate blood has been slaughtered in it. Anyone know of a good tiler with no sense of smell? Clean myself up and head back to bed for a few hours with a hair trigger fart action constantly threatening to fire muck like a big bumderbuss.
Wake up not feeling to bad. Farts are set to stun though so keep away for breakfast. Start the trip back to Dali and take the slow road, winding along the edge of a long cool lake. Fishermen are bringing in their catches in small flat bottom boats and people are out enjoying themselves on the water. Dali is a big city based around an ancient walled city and that’s where we’re aiming for tonight. It’s a Chinese tourist hotspot and it’s still national holiday. It feels like someone has got a giant icing bag, filled it with a few little million people then squeezed them into every nook and crany of the city. It’s such a squeeze its difficult to breath. Wading around among all the people is tiring but still worth it. You forget where you are until you come to places like this.
Up and out early. I could happily have teleported today. Anonymous roads to an anonymous hotel in an anonymous new town. Hotel is way out of town in the business district. The town is brand new – totally new. There are rows and rows of tower blocks full of unoccupied apartments and two, full on, metal and glass office towers that look unoccupied too. I’ve read somewhere about this – lots of speculative construction but few buyers and this isn’t the first time we’ve seen this. I guess they’re planning on this boom lasting forever. If this goes bust it will be quite some fall. We have to walk about 2 miles to find food. It never fails to astound me how the Chinese continue to talk at you at 100mph even though they know you’ve not got a flippin clue what the hell they’re on about. I might as well be talking to a fish. Anyway, just nod and agree with everything they say and some kind of food usually turns up..
A new day and a complete contrast. We’re heading south and suddenly we’ve entered the jungle room complete with sky high humidity and exotic sound effects. Absolutely stunning mountain scenery too with the Mekong river meandering way way below us. The roads are lovely and curvey, just exactly the way we like them. Large sections have fallen down the mountains though in places. The concrete crash barriers are like flan crusts, delicate and often with big cracks at the bottom that you can peer through at the river below. They look very close to surrendering to gravity and I daren’t even lean on them, let alone through a 1150 at them. Chase up and down the mountains then spend a lovely afternoon running fast and smooth along a ribbon of road along a lazy river. Tea plantations are all around us with the most amazing terracing I’ve ever seen. Some is so steep it looks almost vertical. You can see the hats of the people moving about on the tiers with woven baskets on their backs, trimming and tending to the leaves. The evening shadows are stretching before bed and consuming the whole scene before my eyes. A beautiful sight. Not long left in China now. It will be good to see a change.
Today is really short. An hour on the expressway, or 5 very slow hours on the old road. Super polished and shiny, the front wheel’s sliding into corners like I’ve got an eel as a tyre. Odd how you just get used to it and compensate though. Beautiful scenery again though with palms and endless banana and tea plantations. The ‘black’ tea produced is very sort after and fetches a very high price. If someone dropped you in here with a blindfold you wouldn’t guess it was China. Not until you saw a 4 year old girl hawk and gob on the road that is. They teach them young round here. The people are looking different again too. Smaller and darker, not far from the Laos border. The city tonight has a western section the likes of which we’ve not seen so far. KFC, McDonalds, no Starbucks, even a Walmart which is eerie when you enter. Identikit with the American stores. Having sad that, you’re unlikely to see big fish tanks with 5 year olds using big nets to catch their dinner at the Springfield branch.
Rest day today – My riding gear has finally reached a tipping point where it now comprises >75% dust by weight. It is ingrained into the stitching, the lining, the zips, everywhere. It has also absorbed 50% of my bodyweight in sweat. It is no longer a pleasant place to be. The Chinese are famous for their laundry skills so last night I thought I’d test them out. The suit is a leather/textile mix and looks about 100 years old so, down to reception I go to see if they accept the challenge. A bit of a debate and a few phone calls later the challenge is accepted and the suit is collected by the cleaning demons. Get the call today to collect.
Apparently they sent a brand new suit back as they couldn’t clean the old one. That’s what it looks like anyway. Bloody amazing. I reckon they must have flown in the legendary laundry Jedi ‘Kinyan Aggysan’ for the job. Incredible. Price? £10 and they even looked embarrassed at having charged so much. Last full day in China today. I’ve been really wanting to get out but now it’s nearly over I realize how much I’m going to miss it. All the weird things we’ve all got used to will be gone, probably forever. It’s been a real eye opener for sure, especially down here in the south. Way off the tourist map most of the time and all the better for it.
Not far to go to MoHan on the Laos border. There is an expressway but we take the old road one last time. We’re in no hurry. The mountains still dominate all around us and the road clings to their sides. It’s really green and very dark under the dense trees. The terracing has been switched up a notch in scale from tea to rubber plantations. Rubber trees as far as the eye can see, like an army of sentinels standing to attention on every terrace. Mile and miles and miles of it. Down in the valleys the people are processing it. Sometimes small scale in vats at the sides of the road and sometimes on a proper industrial scale. You often get whiffs of hot rubber as you ride. Perhaps I should open a fettish shop down here. Suddenly the road turns into a bucking bronco and starts twisting and screwing up down and around with bumps, sand, gravel and lots of wood from the trees knocked down by the trucks all taking a turn at throwing me into the scenery but luckily the buzzer sounds just in time and I reach Mohan unscathed. Very quiet place on a hill up to the border. Out to eat with a load of rowdy locals celebrating the birth of a baby girl. The mother has to walk around with a pink headband on for the first few weeks of parenthood. Just another weird tradition in a very long list.
Yesterday the rider of the 1200 that twatted the rock and bent his wheels twatted another big rock on the road, smashed his bash plate and almost crushed one of his exhaust manifolds. Poor bike looks a real mess. We’re supposed to be leaving China today but we’ve been told all have to go together as a group. The rider with the broken bike has left his passport with the police at the previous town to get a visa extension to let him wait for his wheels. It’s all getting complicated. He leaves at 5am to ride back to the previous town to collect his passport and ride back to cross all together. We told him not to. We said he should get a taxi and leave his injured bike with us. He decided to take the bike. We’re at the border waiting for him to return. It’s 11 o’clock, they close at 5:30. The worst thing that could happen now is that we get a phone call from the rider saying that he has hit a taxi in a petrol station, bent his steering and the bike is unridable. The guide just looks at me, then hands me the phone and walks away in disgust. We’re screwed now. We can’t get out without his bike. We don’t have a trailer, just a small van. Getting a fully loaded 1200 adventure in that is going to involve some serious dismantling into component form. Buggery bollocks and shit, what a day. So I get in the van together with my little ‘doctors bag’ of tools and the guide drives the 2 hours to him. The police are there now too. It just gets better and better. I look at the bike. The taxi was coming in as he was going out. Somehow the wheels have met. Not a mark on the taxi. The BMW’s bar are pointing hard right but the wheel is pointing hard left and the mudguard is somewhere in between. It looks really odd. Looks like the bottom yoke has twisted. He has a hard stop fitted and one of the rubber stoppers is destroyed so it’s obviously taken a big hit and twisted the forks in the yoke. I undo all the clamp bolts and twat the wheel back to centre, jump on the forks to push the stantions back into the yoke properly and the mudguard centres too. Amazing. It looks like nothing is really bent, just all twisted. I keep twatting the wheel left and right until it runs smoothly and the brakes are square on the disks, do the bolts up and we’re ready to go. The bloke must have a guardian angel on each shoulder and lady luck as a pillion. As there is apparently no damage (I suspect the bottom yoke is still slightly twisted) the police just check the paperwork and we can leave. Another 2 hours back to the border and we manager to get out 30 minutes before it closes, all bikes together. Our visas expired today so we had to go. Sad to leave though, really quite sad.Next Page