CHINA

By Allen & Diane Moore

By Motorcycle with Edelweiss
Sept 2006

DianeDiane has long been a fan of all things Asian, having traveled to both China and Japan in the past. When I told her I'd go anywhere with her, as long as it was by motorcycle, she took that as an invitation to show me the Orient. Edelweiss motorcycle tours has only recently taken on China, and although the route we took is no longer offered, there are two new routes now on the schedule. Unlike most Edelweiss tours, China differs in that you cannot ride freely away from the group- you must remain with your guides. Being an independent sort, this bothered me a little initially; however, it soon became clear that this was a good policy.

Diane and I were the last couple to arrive for the start of the tour, arriving in Beijing only two hours before the first rider's meeting with our guides. We were picked up at the airport by Rick, the Chinese half of our two-man guide team. Rick had us whisked expertly through Beijing traffic to our hotel on the Northern outskirts of town, where we got cleaned up an prepared to meet our fellow adventurers. Our fellow riders fast became our newest good friends. Diane & I were joined by another American couple from Georgia, a man from Switzerland, five Germans, Rick, our Chinese guide and Thomas, our German guide. The following morning came quickly and we received our first introduction to Chinese traffic on our way to the Great Wall. What soon came to feel normal, even exhilarating, was at first, quite a shock. Our group made full use of our bike's agility. Splitting lanes, passing on the left, on the right, or- even on the sidewalk became the norm. The only traffic rule in China is that there are no rules. Honestly, I think all of us rode much more aggressively than we would at home; but it was just a way of life in China. Riders would have to split up to find their own path through the traffic. If the lead bike found a path to pass on the right, moments later others in the group would swarm to the left, gathering as a pack ahead of the obstacle, only to swarm around the next one only moments later. Since we've come home, traffic, SUV's and soccer mom's on cell phones all phase me a lot less.At the Great Wall

Seeing the Great Wall was an unusual experience for me. It was wonderful, and awe inspiring- 2,000 years old and 5,000km long; but, this vacation was already more about the ride, the culture and the new friends we were making along the way. After the Wall and a fishing expedition that contributed to our lunch, we rode on to the Valley of Thirteen Tombs- final resting place of thirteen of the Ming dynasty emperors. After logging 200km for the day, we reached our Beijing hotel once again, now ready to rest up before the morning's ride west into the Taihang Shan mountains.

After our Chinese breakfast, we were off heading west. Climbing into the mountains, traffic eased and soon we were high in mountains whose peaks were over 2,800 meters high (about 9,200'). Lunch was in a centuries old village rarely seen by westerners. Having left the tourist trail, I felt we had reached the China I had been looking for. The days destination was Datong, making for a 400km day. One bike in the group had a flat about 50km outside of Datong, forcing the rider, Cathy, one of our fellow Americans to saddle-up behind one of the Germans while Edelweiss dispatched the support vehicle to tend to the bike. The road into Datong was surreal for me, dusty at sunset and looking a little like a war zone on the outskirts of the city. The hotel was welcoming and well appointed, exceeding my expectations for a city not frequented by western tourists. Dinner, as was becoming usual on the tour, was wonderful. Rick, our Chinese guide ordered for us, and was served family style, as is the custom in China. Beers were enjoyed by all, and unlike the Chinese custom, we had ours served cold. During the course of our journey, countless meals became our favorites; but the mutton dumplings served in broth in the Muslim quarter of Xi 'an were outstanding.

Day four had us dancing through Datong traffic twice- first to visit across town to visit the Hanging Monastery- clinging high to a sheer rock wall for more than 1,400 years, then again to carry on towards Taishan. The sacred mountain Wutaishan lay before us with a pass at more than 2,600 meters. After crossing the pass we finished the day with about 250 km in a hotel catering to Chinese tourists seeking enlightenment at all the area Buddhist monasteries and temples. After a fine dinner of traditional Hot Pot we turned in to prepare for our "Rest Day" on day five. Path to enlightenment...Young Monk

Rest day in Edelweiss terms means optional riding day. We were here to ride and today was no exception. Back to the pass in the sacred mountains our destination now was Bei Feng Guan Hai- a temple at the summit of Wutaishan. From the pass we left the main road through a gate opened by a solitary monk. We followed a path paved with hand laid stones winding towards the summit. Ahead, in the distant mist, we spied the temple and adjoining monastery. At the top, we all felt like we'd found the top of the world. A few yuan bought us a fireworks display designed to wake the dragon- perhaps we did. Afternoon brought lunch, and more sightseeing. Day six would lead to the ancient walled city of Pingyao.

PingyaoAfter a full day of riding through beautiful hill country we arrive late in the afternoon at Pingyao. During the fourteenth century the historic walled city was built and became known as the birthplace of banking in China.  Over dinner in Pingyao, our new friends all agreed that the trip was passing us way too fast. We had no idea what the last riding days would have in store for us. We were warned to take a few extra items of clothing on the bikes with us since the support vehicle would have to detour around a bridge that only the bikes would be allowed to cross.

As it turned out, the bikes were unable to cross the bridge either. Consequently, we had to seek alternate lodging on the East side of the Yellow river. We got to see Hukou Falls; but, it wasn't from the three-star hotel we expected. Our last day of riding would have to begin with a detour to an alternate river crossing. Travel to the next bridge to the south was to add 100km to our final riding day. At the time, we had no idea that the 100km's would take nearly six hours to complete.

As dawn broke we heard the rain. Normally, rain doesn't phase me; but, today, perhaps it should have. We didn't know many of the details of the detour route; but, true to the spirit of our adventure, it would include long stretches of no pavement (i.e., mud...), pavement covered with several inches of wet clay and mud, construction delays, stuck trucks, and quite a few dropped bikes.

In the mud...After leaving the first village, we immediately ran into a serious construction zone. Uphill, nothing but mud, and tight curves for nearly a mile up the hillside. We had no idea that this was only the beginning. After beginning to relax on a short stretch of good pavement our confidence began its slow descent after we encountered one detour after another. By the time we finally reached the bridge, half the bikes had been down in the mud; but, no one was hurt. It was 3pm and we had 350 km left to go. After a quick meal, we pressed on- anxious to have a shower and a dry place to sleep. Weary from the long day, we`made it to our hotel in Xi'an at 9:45pm. During our final riding day our group bonded like never before due to the difficulty of the ride. It was clear, we had all become friends for life.

Xi'an gave us a glimpse at the terra cotta warrior army guarding the tomb of an emperor from 200 B.C. Culturally, Xi'an was influenced a great deal from outsiders. Being the eastern end of the silk road it has a large muslim population, relatively rare in the rest of China.

At the end of the tour, Diane and I chose to fly on to Shanghai to pamper ourselves a little before our return home. After a couple of days reflecting on our adventure in Shanghai, we both agreed- given the opportunity, we'd both do the trip again in a heartbeat!

The Bund

Next big motorcycle adventure? We're not sure- Maybe Morocco or New Zealand or ???
An online album of more photos can be found here.