Tuesday 19th – Xi’an – Simon.

Richard has been many times to Xi’an , both on working trips for Roll Royce but also with Christina his partner just to visit this one time capitol of China. Our stay here has been augmented greatly by meeting some of their Chinese friends who have lived in the city for many years and indeed held senior positions here in Government and business. Having been guided out of the Qin Ling mountains by them, gone out to dinner with them and today Mr Sei has kindly offered to take a few of us to a beautiful local park about an hour back into the mountains. We are met at the front door of the hotel and whisked off in his V8 Range rover. No one wants to squeeze into my hire car for the day  and by the way I took the white one today.

Price tag about 3 X European due to import tax.(2M)

Mr Sei dusts out his new car

On climbing up out Xi’an on an empty motorway we enter an 18 kilometre tunnel, brand new and every 8 K ms there is a widened section which is flood lit and contain plastic shrubs and palm trees!

Keep awake sections with plastic shrubs and trees

Mr Sei is a senior member of the Xi’an police authority and drove us very safely at vast speeds . His wife and he love the musical “the Sound of Music!” so much so that he opened a now well known Xi’an restaurant and called it “Edelweiss”!! He is also a passionate fan of Julie Andrews plus he has a Chinese version of the musical on his sound system in the car . We were given a rare treat of listening to him belt out the tracks singing along the lyrics, having developed a great tenor voice while serving in the Chinese army!

We arrive at the park and after a rather inauspicious start up a a concrete track we enter a 10 k ms canyon. It is possible to get right to the top and look out over Xi’an; we made it to the Bridge half way up.

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The canyon had been refashioned with bridges , stepping stone and a number of small glades which were beginning to encourage the original Fauna and flora back

A set of rather unsettling stepping stones guided you through a narrow part of the gorge.

At the halfway point the ravine is crossed by a cats cradle of bridge and platforms.

As we descend a few more people have arrived to try out the white water rafting- not exactly “ River Wild” scary film with Meryl Streep ? Anyway they all seemed to be enjoying it.

After being treated to lunch at a local restaurant by the river we speed back to Xi’an- this time I got to sit in the front of this vast silent tank while Mr S gave some more renderings of SOM.

In the evening we walked out into the Islamic quarter for an alcohol free supper and took in the street markets. Some strange sights. A small dog talking to to two camels

some beautifully lit pagoda styled building in the old city -all the best

Simon

And finally a guy on a motorized tricycle with about 5000 eggs on Board

-all the best

Simon

Sunday 17th June Yang Xian to Xi’an- Simon

We had to get out of the hotel in Yang Xian, the cigarette smoke infused bed linen, no food, fungi around the bath. I know – I can hear you saying we are a bunch of softies. Anyway it was so bad we even got up early to get away. At least it was relatively cheap.

Said goodbye to a great bunch of British birdwatchers who where enjoying their last day seeing the Japanese Ibis.

For today we have asked Paul to choose a route that will give us great scenery and no motorways. We have a problem coming into Xi’an in that no motorbikes over 125 cc are allowed into the City centre. However Richard has a good friend in town who has a good friend in the city council and there maybe a solution.

Texts are still coming through from John who is now trying to escape from Beijing back to UK. Apparently not enough “chops” in his passport. They try and give him a rough time but what are they going to do -lock him up and tell him he has to live in China for the rest of his life. In fact the authorities are usually very polite and reasonable with these hitches- no doubt he will get through.

Off into the countryside and a trip through the Qingling Hills. Rolls Royce, by the way, named many of its engine’s after British rivers, The Trent, the Spay, and in fact sold the licence to manufacture the Spay engine to the Chinese who rather engagingly decided to name its own engines after its mountain ranges, So the Chinese version of the the Rolls Royce Spay engine is called the Qingling engine!!!

Here we are starting what is going to be one of the great rides of the trip. 250 kms of switch back on mountain roads . I am riding John’s bike and so have less opportunity for taking photographs but we do have some great moments. I bitterly regret not stopping to photograph two guys with a tractor and cart who had two cormorants sitting on perches . The Chinese use these birds to catch  fish in the mountain streams. They put rings around their necks to stop them swallowing the fish. I think that some of them become so well trained that they can manage without the rings and get a treat at the end of a few dives.

Cormorant fishing

We stop for a drink at a small house beside the river and chat to a couple who have clearly had a hard life.

This road is a great challenge for biking because every mile or so  the surface has fallen into the river and although rebuilt we have to go off piste with gravel and sometime mud . This is fine for cars but bikes fall over in the skiddy stuff and so we ride standing on the pegs which allows the heavy bikes to find their own way.

We stop to say hello to some Chinese big bikers. They have a lot of trouble getting their bikes in and have probably taken some “short cuts” to get BMWs and big Hondas onto their roads. They wear simple clothes and a few knee pads

 

 

Before we come out of the hills we try one of the small suspension bridges across the gorge

We charge on down the valley and notice that the temperature rises from 25 through to 35 deg C. We suddenly meet Richard and Paul’s special guides who are going to try and get us to central Xi’an.

For reasons we don’t understand large motorbikes  (over 125 cc ) are banned from many of China’s big cities. Xi’an is ginormouse probably as big as London. We are led down through the last section of the Chinling Hills and onto a massive Xi’an ring road .

My helmet is hurting , and I have a numb right side of my face where the helmet has pressed all day on one of my cranial nerves. The temperature is 36 deg C and my arse is sore. Eventually we get to the outskirts of Xi’an  and unbelievably our police escort is waiting!!!!. Out riders -the lot! We charge through 30 Kms of Xi’an with the blue lights flashing. Right into the Soffitel. It has been one of the best days and I am very grateful for the opportunity to ride into the central plain of China on John’s bike. Covered in sweat and diesel oil ( we spilt it while refueling the van) we stop out side the reception where some tosser has left his Lambourghini . I have to have a shot standing by it!!

Great beer in the bar and now a few more days rest to fix some of the electrics on the bikes and most importantly to visit Rihard’s charity that cares for orphaned children.

Simon

Friday 15th Guangyuan to Yang Xian and John’s last riding day-Simon

At least I think we stayed in Guangyuan last night! It took us about an hour to get out of the city because they had closed all the roads to vehicles over 2.5 meters high and the van is about 2.8m. For the past three days we have been in Sichuan Provence (known amongst other things for its spicy food). Guangyuan is on the main road from Changdu to Xi’an and straddles a massive river which I believe is one of the main tributaries of the Yanksie River. The flow in spate must be awesome because the flood defences are built up to to 40-50 feet of concrete balustrade. It is John’s last ride with us today for he must go with Paul in the pickup tomorrow to catch a flight from Xi’an to Beijing and then onto to London. He is going to make it back in time for his son Tom’s wedding to Dianna.

We are going to enjoy the day’s ride and master every form of Completely Bonkers Chinese Driving (CBCD) that is thrown at us. Including drivers not looking where they are going

Not looking where we are going!!!!!

The containment of the Yanksie

In tight formation we practice our convoy maneuvers in the early morning traffic

In the morning hotels, businesses and maybe army bands gather their staff together for the day’s briefing. In matching kit these various cadres walk and parade around.

Once released from the tentacles of the City we eschew the motorway and take the main road which goes under it for 20 miles!

Back in the countryside we see houses sufficiently far from the epicentre of the big quake 4 years ago to have survived.

The Chinese love their dishes, Sun and satellite.

I have seen several dogs siting on motorbikes and enjoying the fresh air. However until now I have doubted whether Daisey and Molly our springers would tolerate the necessary balancing act required to remain aboard but I believe I have found the solution.

Panniers to die for

Every race has it peculiarities, indeed the Englishman goes out in the noonday sun. Every bit as mad is the Chinese male with a propensity to lift the shirt in order to cool the thorax . I am now collecting a series of shots on this particular habit.

After what has been been quite a tough ride the guys on the bikes due to the temperature being in the 90s, we find yet another set of barriers across all the roads in a town stopping all vehicles over 2.5 meters. In the end we are forced to go off piste

 

As we come into Yang Xian at the end of the day we see our first mechanized road sweeper!

The hotel is truly appalling and gets the “second worst hotel award “of the trip. John sleeps in his silk liner so as not to take bed bugs back to Devon and the wedding!!! After a shower we repair across the street to an equally seedy restaurant but fortunately the food is OK. We have brought with us several bottles of slightly better wine and a bottle of Johnnie Walker Black label . As is customary in Chinese restaurants we are put in a private room. John has been uncharacteristically quiet during the meal and we come to that point where something has to be said. After the not unpredictable start of “ I want to say something “ interrupted by “No I want to say something!” We reflected on the fact that we have been an surprisingly harmonious bunch. And indeed as the weeks have gone by being together has gone on getting easier. Even the slightly more tense moments in Baku and Turkmenbashi where we were being abused by Azeri and Turkmeni border guards or having to sleep in no man’s land on diesel soaked tarmac in the ferry park were remembered as enjoyable. John marked the occasion gracefully by saying lots of good things but we all agreed that it was due to a unique train of events that we had got even this far. From the drunken sparkle in Dave and John’s eyes 30 years ago when they hatched the plot to do “London -Beijing” on bikes, through the sudden impulses to buy the biggest bloody monster bikes available, and then learn to ride them ! We reflected on the gradual gathering of momentum during which Richard, Nick and I became enthralled with the idea despite moments of disillusionment through broken legs (me )and overly long races through the Namibian Desert(Nick). I don’t recall Richard ever being disillusioned- for him it was always going to happen and be merely a long and enjoyably complicated way of getting his mates back to his and Christina’s house in Wisdom Valley near Beijing

Goodbye John- you will be riding with us in spirit!

Now onto Xi’an and gradually picking up members of our families for that final approach to Beijing and Wisdom Valley.

Bestwes to all

Simon

Wednesday 13th June down from Juizhaijou – Simon

For those of you who have not shared in my fascination for the very impressive heights and “lowts” of the past few weeks then you have just one more day to endure my references to altitude for we are going to slide out the bottom of these great mountains of Central China in the next two days. Paradoxically the Tibetan Plateau is relatively flat on top with a few small hillocks poking into the cloud but today half way down to sea level we continue to meander through ever increasingly deep valleys and take our last switch back ascent. If you at home are finding it difficult to follow where we have been on the map, well you are not alone. We have three maps of Central China with us and they all have different roads and place names. Only the trunk roads and big cities seem to match. Paul and his brother Gerry have done this trip 3-4 times before and they get lost frequently even using GPS. We have no idea where we are most of the time and I shudder to think how we would get out of the country if Paul deserted us. At least Richard can read Mandarin but none of the maps with Roman letters are accurate. Apparently this a throw back to a time when the Republic purposefully kept maps vague in order to confuse invaders ( Russians I expect) . There may be good modern maps in Mandarin but we could not read them. As we leave our comfortable Sheraton Hotel in Juizhaijou we begin the second half of our descent.

 

This valley taking us down from Jaizhaijou is very alpine with lush grass and crashing torrents beside the road. Although there are no trout or salmon here in the rivers the locals clearly extract some other species of mountain fish from small fishing groins built into the river.

The river beds and drainage systems are constantly dredged and cleared to prevent inadvertent damming  which can easily result in flash flooding.

As we float downwards the mountains on either side seem to tower even higher above us

And the houses beside the road seem very well kept and relatively luxurious.

 

We have asked Paul to give us a route that takes us through the best of the passes and at a small fork in the road we turn south again and climb from about 1000 metres back up 3400 m.

John signals frantically to me to photograph to sign for Ka Zi from where all the craziest drivers originated no doubt.

The river in this valley has a series of gravel factories in its bed and the steep side interdigitate into each other with great green and blue folds

As we climb the roads seems to have been torn apart by frequent rockfalls

After a gear grinding hour we reach a beautiful summit with a mass of asalya and juniper trees.

Unfortunately the picnic area is a bit spoilt by a glitzy summit arch

As we tumble down the other side and in effect out of the high mountain ranges we experience a rocky switch back with a lot of off piste

no room for two then!!

As the valley flattens out we see signs of simple farming life with people drying grain and black sesame beside the road on their front porches

Paul finds our small hotel and after a shower we venture out for a meal.

All the best

Simon