Getting into bed is like diving into the mouth of a giant fluffy duvet caterpillar, my head sticking out of it’s mouth. I am as snug as a bug in a big fluffy rug. I’m sleeping like the dead as soon as I hit the pillow. Perhaps I am dead. Perhaps this could be heaven. Certainly feels like it.
Get up at bladder o’clock and follow my nose outside and across the courtyard. I look up at the stars. I stare up at them and they all wink back like there is someone photographing me from every one. An amazing sight to go in the forever box.
We’re up before dawn to beat the sun to the peak. It’s -10 and the gritters haven’t been out. The road has a thin patina of ice on and we all carefully trickle up on tick over and wait for the first rays to touch the sky.
A couple of us try to walk right up to the far camp for a better view but we get turned round by a little bloke on a little scooter …
Perhaps their isn’t a better view anyway. I guess this one will have to do..My missus collects hearts… not real ones …. well not anymore … not since I installed a big fuck off padlock on the knife drawer … so I let my feminine side out for 2 minutes and make a cover for a card I’ll give her on our anniversary when I get home. Ahhhhh
Put my balls against the Ktm freezer and roll back down to breakfast…
This memory’s not going anywhere any time soon either…
As sad as it is, we have to leave. I look at the bend forecast on the GPS. It says ‘see yesterday’. The Bitch just hunkers down, grins, growls and fucks off towards the horizon with a howling banshee scream. I look over my shoulder… See ya… I’ll be back.. Fuck yea.
Get to New Tengri early and take a look at The Bitch. She’s not been shown any mercy the last couple of days and she’s looking really sad. The brakes gave me a few scares coming down the mountain too. To be brutally honest she looks a fucking mess. Like a lady that’s been parting too hard for too long, with mascara running all over her face and sweat stains in all the wrong places. She’s still smiling though, and that’s all that matters.
I’ve been in touch with a couple of mates. One, Rob, an Aussie, into his off roading big styley, and Guy, owner of Nitron. Rob has given me some instructions to make a DIY seal cleaner so I get my shit together and get The Bitch on the treatment table.
Get the mudguard off and the problem is immediately obvious. The chrome has worn off the forks. Nothing serious … I’ll just put some silver foil on them.. they’ll be fine
The bike has only done about 35,000 miles and the chrome has worn out already. I’m unimpressed to say the least. Granted, a few of those miles have been ‘non-tarmac’ but this is just bollocks.
Then work it under the seal and move it round to dislodge the dust.. or in this case … loose chrome ..Add some completely useless strips of leather to the dust sealsReassemble, and dress the wounds to stop it leaking fork blood all over the place. It’s a good look..
Guy tells me I’ll not loose 100% of the oil. That’s great … but .. eventually the forks will just flop about like the tits on a topless trampolinist. Something to look forward to…
Take The Bitch for a quick scrub down. I’d forgotten what she looked like under all that shit and grime. She’s still a looker. Still gives me the horn….
Talking of which…. I’m riding back to the hotel and the 5000000th vehicle today pulls out straight in front of me. Queue LOUD HORN… Queue … spluttering fart…. Queue smell of burning electrics …
Shit…. this is serious. Smells like a show stopper. BITCH. WTF has happened? Burning electrics is not usually a good sign. My brain is going overtime.. the bike is going to have to go on the truck for sure. I’m not going to be able to fix something like this out here in the middle of fucking nowhere. I roll into the hotel and take a look. Bugger bollocks, tits and arse. It’s totally fucked.
It’s my worst nightmare. The one fucking essential thing on the whole bike has gone FUBAR. The fucking bloody horn has broken. The compressor has burnt out and is now just blowing out a weak fart of electrical smelling air. Riding in China without a horn is like walking through a pack of hyenas smothered in gravy. It’s always going to end in blood and tears. Fuck. I’ll have to think seriously think about this.
The guide tells us the road is being shut just out of town for more roadworks. We need to be through them before 7am and they’re miles up the bloody road so we’re up and out in the pitch dark… again..
Roadworks… brilliant. Miles of them. In a ‘normal’ country they would divert you round somewhere but out here there is no option so you just drive over the road, whatever state of destruction it is currently in. They seem to decide on the edges first, then build 2ft high concrete walls down the sides. Then they get some massive fuck off big boys toy digger to drive between the walls and completely destroy whatever was there before and just leave a dusty bumpy mess … then they … fuck I don’t know .. that’s what stage they seem to be at the moment here … just what my fragile forks need… miles of destruction, bumps boulders and dust. A lot of the cars here are quite new and the drivers are crawling through the melee. It’s a very odd sensation indeed. The walls keep a lot of the dust in so it feels like you’re riding down a light brown river with water up to your seat. You can’t see through it.
Eventually we reach solid ground again and I have time to think about my wankered horn. I guess every decision, even life of death decisions like riding without a horn in China is based on the risk/reward ratio. So.. if this is the reward .. then I guess I’ll take the risk..
Today’s destination is some place hidden 30 miles down a side road that I deliberately ride past just so I can spend an hour riding over a mountain pass to do a recce of tomorrows route. That’s the official line and I’m sticking to it. I just forgot to tell the other riders… sorry…
Rock into Sakya in the early afternoon and it’s another town built around a famous monastery/somewhere I’d never heard of. Sakya monastery is an unusual place for a number of reasons that I suggest you look up yourselves … if you’re interested.. like the monks can marry … see … now you’re interested … Anyway, it’s a pretty impressive place, not least for it’s library. This place has a proper Harry Potter library.. it’s the most surreal room I’ve ever been in. It’s enormous for a start. Properly HUGE. All the walls just disappear off into the distance in all directions …left.. right … up… and all the walls are made of big pigeon holes full to bursting with ancient scrolls … just millions of them … Jesus…. or … Buddah .. or .. I dunno.. Whatever I say I’m going to get into trouble… It’s an amazing place for sure.
Get out of Sakya and start our decent.. it’s all downhill from here… for a while at least. We’ve all got used to the altitude now but it will be nice to get some red blood back instead of this light blue stuff I’ve got at the moment. Lhasa is somewhere about 10000ft so virtually see level..
This is still Tibet though so we still have to dick about diverting into towns and registering with the police every 10 minutes but I’ve almost stopped caring. The locals don’t seem to care either… about anything… even their haircuts …
But with views like this, nobody’s looking at your hair anyway… As we approach Lhasa we’re all in sight of each other but that changes in about 5 seconds flat. Lhasa is a big heaving city with suicidal traffic. The UK has RoSPA, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents. China has the opposite. China has a society for the creation of accidents, and everyone is a member. Lhasa seems to be it’s headquarters. This isn’t the time to try and stick together. This is a time to concentrate on staying alive, especially is you haven’t got a BIG FUCK OFF HORN! You just have to rely on speed. Fuck the signs, fuck the lights, fuck the speed limits, fuck the lines in the road and fuck every every fucker on the road. That’s the Lhasa driver’s handbook. Perfect. Game on. I’m off…
I love this stuff and so does The Bitch. She loves absolutely nothing more than playing in traffic. Slipping her slim hips through the gaps and giving a loud farting finger to the driver as she fucks off up the road. Roaring with laughter as she scorches off the line before the light has hit the retina of the cage driver by her side. Screaming with joy as she hoons through the lines of traffic leaving the unmistakable scent of eau du gasoline in her wake. Oh yea baby .. the joy of 2 wheels and a big fuck off engine.
I get to the Potala Palace. It’s trafficorama. I need a picture… I could pull over to the side and get a shot with crap everwhere and cars all over the place…
Or I could just stop in the middle of the road, put the hazard lights on… and walk off.. there’s bound to be a gap… eventually … probably… 10 minutes later… after much squealing of breaks and rapid lane changes by confused drivers .. and a Whoop Whoop from a police van that couldn’t see me hiding behind a tree … and a gap suddenly appears … job done…Lhasa is such a lovely place. I could wander round here for weeks. And I even get to use the C word.. I can’t remember the last time I used it.. “Coffee please” The Swiss boys turned up at the same hotel too. Good to see they all made it safe and sound. Their bikes are being put in a container and taken to Beijing then back to Switzerland.
We’ve got a day off here so I head out to takes some pictures. Still life ..City life ….Local wildlife. I’m running out of fork tampons for The Bitch so I spend an hour in dark holes in the walls, assembling a Ktm medical kit. Towels, scissors, and elastic. Ktm owners .. don’t leave home without them.
A few days ago I got an email from the Navo guide. The G318 is closed for the first 200 miles out of Lhasa, for 3 months, starting now. Brilliant.
So we need to take a big diversion. What’s that I hear in the background? Is that the sound of the shit and happens brothers rubbing their hands with glee? Tittering? Getting ready for a great day out together? I just hope they don’t let things get out of hand.
We look at the map with the guide and identify the route. I put a couple of way points in the GPS and we’re off. In the immortal words uttered just before any and every natural and unnatural disaster that has ever been. “What could possibly go wrong?”We get on the expressway and head out into a beautiful dawn, full of hope and promise.. Wait for the guide to identify the correct road, just to be sure, then we’re off. It’s a busy road with all the diverted traffic on it so we all get split up quickly. I get to a big sod off police check and I’m not in the mood to wait so I coast up alongside a truck and go through the barrier with it. I’m spotted as I’m leaving and there’s a lot of shouting and waving but I’m not stopping. I forgot to take my patience tablets this morning, sorry boys. But waiting in unavoidable in China. At the next town I have to wait for the others to arrive, and they had to wait at the police check anyway. I’m never going to win. And just to rub salt in the wound I have to go into the next police station, listen to a (well meaning) lecture on road safety, and write a short essay in a visitors book about how wonderful china is… Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh GOD. Still… it gives Shit and Happens a chance to catch up and get into the back of the guide’s van..
We come to another small checkpoint just before a narrow bridge. Shit and Happens get out the truck, run round the back and into the little hut, then whisper into the guard’s ear, little fuckers. The guard tells the guide that the bikes can go over the bridge, but the truck cannot. Shit and Happens are in the shed absolutely pissing themselves. Rolling round and holding their sides, eyes watering with laughter. Unable to believe their luck.
The guide tells me to take the others over and he’ll take a long route round and meet up with us later. So now the disaster recipe is complete. I try to disseminate the information to the other riders but Chinese whispers ensure confusion reigns and assumptions are made. The guide goes his way, and we go ours.
Over the bridge we go. Follow the GPS, we’ll be fine… Get to a junction, turn off up a mountain, avoid a massive yak, and go play. The X302. It’s a thing of beauty. It’s a delicious sticky snake of a road. It’s brand spanking new and as smooth as botoxed baby’s bottom. It’s twisty and spectacular. It’s every bikers dream. It’s absolutely deserted. Not another vehicle on it. The locals are using the road to dry their crops on. It’s.. it’s… it’s the wrong bloody road.. I’ve started seeing some signs for the G318. I’ve been feeling this is all wrong for the last few miles, and so have a couple of the others. I pull over and signal for everyone to stop but a couple of them ride past assuming I’m taking pictures. The rest stop and we have a chat, look at the map, and agree we’ve taken a wrong turn. Bollocks. Still, no harm done. We’ll wait for the others to turn round and some back, then we’ll retrace our steps.
5..10.. 15 minutes and there is no sign of them. They must be up the road somewhere waiting for us. I’m sure they will be. So I ask the others to wait while I ride up and collect the strays. 10km… 20.. 40.. nothing. The road feels like it’s running off the end of world. There is nobody and nothing here. Nothing at all. It’s completely and utterly naked apart from a black stripe of tarmac. 50km… 60.. still nothing. I come to a grotty police shed by the side of the road with a barrier across stopping people from going up to the closed G318. They’re not here either. Surely they can’t have gone much further. So I skip round the barrier and ride another 10km up to the G318. It’s obviously closed. There is no traffic on it at all… what’s left of it… except construction vehicles. I still can’t see them though so I ride up to a worker outside a hut and point up the road, and to my bike. He just holds up 2 fingers and points up the road. Fuck. Really? They’ve gone off into 200 km of roadworks? Oh dear…
So now I’ve got 2 riders in the G318 roadworks, I’ve got 3 other riders waiting for me 70km back up the X302, and the guide somewhere on the original route wondering where the fuck we’ve got to. I try to contact the 2 in the roadworks but can’t get hold of them. I don’t have much petrol and I can’t chase the strays any further so I have to turn back and ride back to the 3 waiting riders. Get back to them, get hold of the guide and he’s been waiting for us for 3 hours back at the main road. We all need to get back to him and decide what we’re going to do.
We work our way back down the 302, find the guide and tell him what’s happened. His reaction … “Oh my Godness” ..
This is a real problem for him. He is supposed to be with us at all times and he could loose his job if the police get involved recovering stray riders, especially here in Tibet. If the riders get to a police check without the guide then they could spark a real shit storm for him. We could just take the diversion, cross our fingers and hope we all meet up at the end. Right now that works for me .. but .. we’ve no idea if there is fuel available in the roadworks, and if there is, can they get it without the guide. We’ve no option other than to follow them into the unknown.
So now it’s about 6pm and I’m running on fumes so we all back track 25km to the bridge where the problem started and get fuel. It’s getting cold now, and dark. The sky is looking evil. It’s looking for a fight. That’s all we bloody need.
Back up to the X302 we go. Back out into the wilderness. Someone turns all the lights down and the mountains settle in to watch the fight.. ding ding.. round one. Down comes the rain, cold and hard, then the wind picks. Piercing rays of light race across the plains like giant spotlights, sweeping along the mountainsides, looking for victims. Round 2 brings the thunder and lightening. Fantastic sparks of light dodge and dance all around the sky, firing at the ground and turning the world blue for an instant at a time. We get to G318 junction. They’re not letting us on, maybe 9pm… maybe.. Great. We’re just sitting on the bikes, dejected tired and cold. Then round 3 starts. The heavens open and we’re pelted with hail stones. Perfect. We all just stare out at each other from behind our little pieces of steamed up plastic. What… the…. FUUUUUCCCCCCCCKKKK are we doing here!! Beam me up Scottie…At about 8, somebody grabs the sky fader and turns it right down.. and off. Time to go.. GPS says about 170km to our destination. Just over 100 miles. How hard can that be?
When the Chinese do a project like this they don’t piss about. They swarm all over it 24 hours a day for as long as it takes. Health and safety doesn’t take first place either.. or second… or third. If it’s quicker to risk loosing a few bodies under the concrete or down a hole, then that’s fine. Just as long as it’s done quickly.
We head off into the dark, no markings, no barriers, no idea whats running under our wheels. I frequently run my foot along the ground to try and get an idea of what’s going on but it’s not easy to tell. The road is closed but all sorts of traffic has crawled out of the dark to use it and we come to big lines of red lights, cars and lorries trying to work their way through. We get to a section being surfaced, road rollers rushing up and down, whispy steam running across the surface in the rain. Fuck, this is going to take a while. But no, they just wave us on to the hot tarmac and we weave between the rollers and just ride on to the next obstacle. It’s just mad.
The road quickly turns to deep stone chippings, my personal favorite, and we start to climb.. and I see a sign I recognize from last year, and I know exactly where we are. We’re headed up a 5000m pass on the loose in the pitch darkness. Not another vehicle in sight. Get to the top and the road starts to slope down steeply… towards … nothing. My brain is telling me to stop. I’m on loose gravel, descending a 5000m pass, and there are no barriers… They’ve got the posts in but the armco is still on their ‘to-do’ list… Fucking hell. This is just not funny any more. We can see the construction traffic way off and way down below us. They’ve got the giant moles out digging tunnels for the expressway to run under the mountains. There’s no way we’ll get on there. We tiptoe and wriggle our way down in low gear, my turtle with it’s head permanently stuck out my arse. And it’s front legs.. and it’s shell… by the time we get to the bottom it’s just desperately hanging in there just by it’s back feet …
OK, job done, now let’s just get on with it.. “It’ quickly turns into a complete fuckfest of mud, gravel, and ‘t r c’. That’s tarmac with at least 50% of the surface missing. Fucking great holes with rim killer edges, cleverly arranged so that there isn’t one continuous line in any direction. Its a real work of art. It’s a real bastard nightmare. To make it worse, there is construction traffic on it too. Heavily loaded trucks crawling through the night in clouds of black smoke, reducing our options to 1. That fucking great deep round hole to the left or 2. That narrow groove with knife edges to the right. 3. Stop….cry. ..die. 3 is quickly looking my best option…
We all jog and jiggle through the darkness, crawling through the mess, trying to stay upright with wheels and tyres intact. Around midnight we get to a town and pick our way through the mud and shit past a long line of static traffic with their engines off. This isn’t good..
Get to the front and it looks like there is a fight going on between 2 massive yellow Transformers Two enormous digger buckets are flying through the air like giant boxing gloves, picked out in the spotlights from the cabs. Get off the bikes and walk up for a closer look. Turns out they’re not fighting, they’re digging 2 6ft deep trenches across the road. Right across the road, from building to building. There is absolutely no way through this. Fuckit. We’re stuck.
You brain makes all sorts of calculations based on your experience at home. This would take weeks. Health and safety assessments. Putting up barriers. Ordering 1000 clipboards and people to carry them about looking important and wasting time. Ticking a million boxes. Putting up signs. Construct a temporary village of offices, restaurants, toilets, showers. Ground surveys.. Architects… traffic control…
Or…. you could just drive a fuck off digger into the middle of the road to stop the traffic, quickly dig a trench as onlookers stand on the sides, ducking their heads to avoid having them batted of their shoulders by a 2 tonne bucket. You could then get 3 men to roll a pipe in the hole and level the ground underneath with a shovel while the digger chases them along, pushing dirt in at their feet. One trip, one buried bloke, but still 2 left so carry on regardless.. Fill the hole, then race along punching the ground hard with the bucket until it’s sort of level, then back out into the shadows and let the traffic fight begin. That would take about 30 minutes… let’s do that then.
As soon as the diggers retreat, the traffic rushes towards each other and locks like two sumo wrestlers starting a fight. Static to gridlocked in approximately 5 seconds. We saddle up and pick our way between all the metal and we’re immediately into a quagmire with mud about a foot deep and trucks skidding about like fat drunken ice skaters. We all stop for a mimute. We don’t even speak. We just look up the road, start the engines, follow the headlights.
Get to the next town and there is a police roadblock. Really? We try and run it but they’re not having it and we get called into a dark dark shed out the rain. I walk into the warmth and see a big fire. I have the urge to just curl up like a wet leathery dog, go fetal, lie down, shut down. The flames are throwing dark shadows round the walls and I can smell food. Can’t see a bloody thing though. It’s like I’ve walked into a scene from Blade Runner. Then I see screens coming to life, and faces appearing out the dark. The power has come back on. Hands appear out the dark and take passports, the photocopier kicks into life and we’re off again. GPS is predicting a 2:30am finish. It’s pissing down with rain, it’s freezing cold, and the visor has put me into protective mode and steamed up, hiding all the shit outside from my tired eyes.
Then we hit the water. We’ve not seen any traffic for ages and we’ve come to a section where they’ve been through and done their 2ft concrete wall thing down the sides. Perfect. Perfect that is for creating long sections of very deep water. I’ve really had enough of this now. This is dangerous. We’re in the middle of fucking nowhere in the middle of the night and we’re on a motorcycle assault course. We’re all wankered and we’re on on auto pilot. Don’t think about it, just do it. I keep hearing the rims twatting big holes deep under the water. I daren’t even think about the forks.. I’m in a deep deep puddle and I hit something big… I suspect it was a submarine .. and the bike suddenly lurches left. I’ll be off now… I know I’m coming off. It’s guaranteed. The bike is heading for the wall and at the last moment I jump off to avoid being crushed against the concrete. I don’t know exactly how I’ve managed it but I land on my feet on top of the wall, with the bike leaning against the concrete, still running, up to it’s tits in water. A proper Ninja dismount. I just push the bike away from the wall, get on, ride out… fuck that was close. The other riders pull up beside me, bikes steaming in the dark, all looking at each other. This is simply insane.
Eventually we see traffic way off down and to the right, running fast, using the expressway… We trudge through a few more miles of destruction and come to a freeway entrance. There are barriers of a sort but after what we’ve been through tonight they’ve dispatched in a second and we’re down on the new road. We’re still about an hour away and not guaranteed that we’ll be able to get off the expressway at our stop but we get on anyway.
Reach the town about 3am. We’ve got a hotel name but no coordinates so we hunt about for a while among the people of the night, round and round in ever decreasing circles until we finally roll into the car park about 3:30am. The strays are here. We’re all back together. We’ve all had an interesting day.. and the shit and happens brothers have had a fucking ball.
In the morning, breakfast is a little awkward at first but I serve out some portions of blame, including to myself, apologies are made, humble pies are nibbled and we’re all friends again.
I tell them if it happens again, I’m going to have their penises sliced and served for lunch.
I’m hoping that today, shit and happens will sleep in and miss their ride. I know the 318 from here is delicious. I wander up to The Bitch in the car park. Her bandages are soaked in oil and she’s caked in shit again but she’s got me through it so I change her dressings and treat her to a tank of 98 for breakfast.
Last night is quickly forgotten as we scream across the mountains then chase a big river in the rain.
The 318 is such schizophrenic road. It’s different every day. Anything you could put on a road menu, it’s got it. Mountains, valleys, rivers, tunnels, and all threaded together with a single lovely smooth curvy strip of the black stuff.
Wake up with the clouds slowly marching past the windows. Last year this section was a disaster after lots of landslides and earthquakes but this year it’s absolutely delicious. The best on the planet. Want to argue? You’re going to loose! I guarantee it.
The camera keeps jumping up and down in the tank bag and wanting to come out for a look about. I’m falling behind the others I’m sure but I don’t care. I don’t want to blur this scenery.
The trees disappear, the roads begin to rise and fall, they begin to twist and turn and the speed starts to increase. The grin begins and starts to spread as The Bitch starts chasing the black dragon. She’s locked in like a low flying missile and her target is the horizon, ASAP.
I come to a bend with water coming down the mountain and across the road. Not usually a problem but I slow down a bit as I approach then I see a shadow appear in the water. Fuck…. I pull at the bars.. too late. There is a horrible noise and the bike leaps to the side , lands and refuses to go in anything but a straight line. I pull over and look at the damage. The water has washed away a section of the road and left a 6 inch wall of tarmac with a deep gully in front of it. The rim has taken a big twatting and the tyre has punctured and immediately gone down. Get the tools out and put a new tube in. Call the guide. He’s waiting an hour up the road at a checkpoint. Fuckit.As I’m finishing up, a car comes through and there is a loud crack as they go though the water. The passenger is hanging out the window looking at the wheels. It’s going along about 10mph and it’s obviously done some damage.. Perhaps I should open a pop-up garage here. I’d make a fortune..Get the bike back together and gingerly ride up the road to check it out. It all feels fine. I’m amazed but I’m not going to question it. I’m a long way behind now and I need to get a groove on. Time for a couple of hours of tarmac sex..
SHHHHIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIITTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTT this bike is quick. For 95% of these journeys I ride with as much mechanical sympathy as I can, aware of the miles it’s got to cover, minimizing the wear to the tyres, brakes and chains. The other 5% is preserved for roads like this where The Bitch takes a big breath, adds a fuck load of fuel then buggers off down the road at insane speeds. Tarmac sex at it’s best.
By the time I get to the hotel I’m spent. I’m shaking. I’m sweating. I’m done. I caught the other riders up and riding behind the Transalp I see the back wheel is buckled so I go up for a chat. Turns out he has hit the same hole. He didn’t notice the damage but his wheel has a big dent in as well as the buckle. Good job he’s got spoked wheels.
He comes over to look at my bike and compare dents. He walks over and bends down. “Have you seen your tyre mate?”. Errrr no… why? “Best take a look yourself”.
I bend over and take a look. And my world starts to fold.
The tyre is split. I’ve been tear arsing round all afternoon, scraping the luggage and properly beasting the bike until it’s panting and screaming for its life. I’ve been burying the front tyre in the tarmac on the brakes. I’ve been doing all that with a split in my front tyre… I must have cut it inside with the rim and it’s worked through and fractured. I can see the cut wire through the hole.
And my spare is 1000s of miles away in Kyrgyzstan. We all left them in a lovely pile and rode away. There is now way on earth I’ll get a tyre out here. No way at all. My mind is furiously going through plans. A… B… C… all ending up with the bike on the van. There is a Ktm dealer in Kuming but that’s 1000’s of miles away, it might as well be on the moon for all the use that is. I might get one in Laos, or Thailand.. but they’re weeks away. I’m totally and utterly fucked. Another trip finishing early. I just collapse onto my haunches. My head drops and I let a long breath out. I’m not sure can be bothered to breath in again. I just close my eyes and shut down. It’s all over. Bollocks.Next Page