A spot of welding

Tuesday 28th July:  As Brigid rightly said, there is nothing to see in Kharkhorin of Genghis Khan, sadly. Having seen the Erdene Zuu Monastery and wandered around the town, the next morning it was time to return to UlaanBaatar (UB). The weather was threatening to rain and sure enough as we left it started – not a good omen for the bad stretch of road ahead. But fortune favours the bold and, as we approach the bad 25 kms or so, the weather brightened up and we had a very pleasant ride back to UB, untroubled by the road.

We spent another couple of nights in UB before commencing Brigid’s trip: the ride home. The traffic was light and the weather and road were good as we headed north and that lulled me into a false sense of security. I found a couple of deep pot holes, one natural and one man made where the surface had been taken up in preparation for repair. The bike went right down to the bottom of the shocks and really clunked. At the time, I didn’t notice anything else wrong and we rode on to our overnight stop in Darkhan without further mishap.

The following morning, as I started loading the bike, I saw that the seat was not right, the front wasn’t nestling against the tank as it should be. I took it off to have a look and then saw that there was a break in the front subframe where it joins on to the real sub frame. This was a major problem. Without it being properly fixed, it was a trip stopper. We talked about our options and agreed that we had to get the bike into Russia, where we might have a chance of getting a temporary fix, a “bodge”, done. So off we rode, reaching the border without any further problems.

As usual the border took longer than it should, but we got through and off we went. But, as we rode, I noticed that the handlebars were getting further away from me. Not a good sign! Suddenly, first the left plastic panel, and then the right one, cracked, and the front ends of both came away from the front fairing. BUGGER! The handle bars were then even further away from me. Without looking, I realised there was a major, major, problem, and the only way I could possibly get the bike to even the next town was to stand on the foot pegs to try to keep the weight off the broken sub frame. So I did, for about 80 kms (50 miles), with Brigid riding behind me with her hazard lights flashing.

By the time we reached the first real town, Gusinoozyorsk, we were both just about out of fuel and had to stop at the first petrol station we came to. I took the seat off and was not surprised to see that both sides of the front sub frame, at the rear of it, had sheered completely. It was a nightmare. The end of the ride and, probably, a write-off of the bike. We were discussing our options as a local man approached, as often happens, and asked, in broken English, where we were going. I have to confess we were not very receptive, but tried to be patient. I pointed out that we had a major problem with the frame. He pointed to the rear of a bright orange building next but one to the garage, and said go to the “orange house”, where the man could fix it. We said that we needed to get the bike to Ulan Ude, thinking that we might be able to ship it home from there and where we could work out our options. We were polite, but clearly not receptive to his advice, and he went away without saying anything else. If he was unimpressed with us, particularly in the light of events, he was justified. It didn’t take long to come to the conclusion that there was nothing to be lost by going to the “orange house”, so we slowly rode around to the front of the building.

It wasn’t a house but a factory unit. A big one, with sign outside that read, in Russian, “Auto Tech Centre”. Maybe the man was right, I thought. A couple of guys were outside, so we got off our bikes and gestured that my bike was broken. The doors were opened, I took the bike in, took off the seat and showed them the damage. They immediately started chattering away and mentioned Argon welding. Without any formal agreement to do the work, or an indication of the cost, one guy immediately started stripping the bike down and within a hour it was down to the subframe. At this point I mentally hoped that he knew how to put it all back together, but realistically knew that if he couldn’t fix the break it really didn’t matter! By now, the guy doing the work was busy cleaning the broken surfaces with a powered wire brush.

It was now around 7pm, and we knew we were there for the night. We asked them if they knew of a local hotel. Their response was two fold, if we were prepared to stay for the night it meant they could do a better job, and yes they knew of a local hotel. We were taken there with just the stuff we needed, whilst Brigid’s bike was brought inside the big, very well equipped workshop. To call it a garage would be selling it short.

We didn’t sleep very well that night, worrying about what the morning would bring. By the time we got back to the workshop in the morning I was a bit frazzled. We walked in and there was the bike, being put back together. We were shown the welded sub frame and I was absolutely amazed, it looked like new. There was no sign of any different metal, it was very clean, just like a new sub frame would be. It seemed very strong, like new. Perfect. Even better, the welder showed me the pannier carriers and indicated that he had also welded them. They were more solid than they had ever been.

We were ecstatic, I was in seventh heaven, the ride was still on! Yet another low to a real high in less than 24 hours, someone “up there” really must be looking after us.

Beijing

JR at The Great WallWednesday 15th July: I was fortunate that after Sunday’s celebrations I, alone of the group, could afford to have a lie in. The rest were leaving at 9am to ride their bikes to the port at Tianjin, about 100 miles away, so that their bikes could be put into a container for shipping back to the UK. I, of course, was already bikeless, but was still up and eating breakfast by 9am. I ventured out a few hundred yards to visit Tiananmen Square, but decided it was just to hot and humid. So, after taking a few photos returned to the air conditioned comfort of Raffles Hotel, our luxurious Beijing accommodation, where I caught up with the blog and looked around the shops in the afternoon. China is famous for producing cheap goods, but there was no evidence of that in Beijing!

Tuesday we all visited the Great Wall at Mutianyu. There are a great number of sites to visit the Great Wall and the one we went to was not the closest. That was a bonus as the school holidays had started and our guide Andy showed us photos of sites nearer to Beijing taken during the holidays. Just try and imagine the busiest shopping street you can, during the last few days before Christmas. That was what the photos showed, the whole wall and the approaches were absolutely crammed full of people and anyone with claustrophobia would have been terrified.

Fortunately, we had no such problems, and were able to take a leisurely stroll along the wall for a couple of hours although, it didn’t really need that long and my stomach started complaining before time was up, but I had already taken my photos and had seen enough.

We returned to Beijing in plenty of time to get ready for the last group meal of the trip, and what better meal to have in Beijing than Peking Duck at a local restaurant famous for its duck, and where you can see them being cooked in an open ovens. A great time was had by all and a number of short speeches were given.

The Gang at Rafflesd BeijingFor my part, I want to express my thanks to Kevin and Julia Sanders of Globebusters, without their agreement to us joining them just for the China part of the ride, I would not have achieved to goal of “Inagh to China”. For that, I will be forever grateful. In addition, I had a wonderful time and learnt much about riding in adverse conditions, not to mention the fantastic mud bath facilities! Their team of Darran and Alan were very supportive and great fun, to boot. I must say that before joining up with the group I was worried about joining them half way through. However, my fears were all groundless and every one of the people on the ride was friendly and helped to make the ride a unbelievable experience. There are times from that ride that will stay with me forever. Thank you, one and all.

The following day, Thursday, was spent recovering and wandering around the shops and was an anti-climax for most. The majority were flying home over the next few days, although Stuart was staying for a week and his wife was joining him for a holiday. However, I was getting really excited. The following morning I was leaving for the border with Mongolia and a reunion with Brigid after over 9 weeks apart. It was the start of a new ride for me, the ride home with Brigid, and I just couldn’t wait!

Beijing – mission accomplished!

At the Ace Cafe BeijingSunday, 12th July: Ok, so I have had a bit of a break from blogging, especially as Brigid has now started writing about her adventures in Russia. However, it would just not be right to leave you all agog to know how I finished up the the ride into Beijing – completing the “Inagh to China” objective!

So, we left Xian on Thursday 9th and had three long days on the road. Although the actual distances were not too bad at between 250 and 300 or so miles per day, the nearer to Beijing we got, the heavier the traffic got and there were, of course, yet more roadworks and crazy Chinese drivers. The weather also decided to warm up and it got very humid. Consequently, by the time we reached the hotel in the evenings, up to Saturday, everyone was hot and sweaty and most, including me, were in desperate need of a beer or two. Following the shower, it was usually time for dinner and the long day took its toll, so an early night followed. The hotels were nice, but little time was left to see the area outside the hotel.

Drone cameraThen came the big day. Sunday 12th July. Arrival in Beijing. Three and a half years of planning, all leading up to one day! We rode in one convoy of 10 bikes, one support van and two Minis. The Minis shared the job of filming us, whilst zipping in and out of the traffic ahead and at the same time using a very clever drone carrying a camera, thereby getting some amazing overhead shots of us riding. We had around a 100 miles to go to get to the official opening of the new Ace Cafe in Beijing. That’s what the Globebusters ride was, “Ace to Ace”, i.e. Ace Cafe London to the new Ace Cafe in Beijing. The owners of the Ace Cafe in London flew out for the event, having seen the riders off from London’s Ace.

Other bikes at the Ace BeijingWe arrived just after 12 noon. We knew there was going to be some sort of arrival event, but had no idea just how big it was going to be. I must confess that I was a bit sceptical about that, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. We rode along, having turned off the main road and pulled alongside the car park of the Beijing Ace cafe.

Chinese Dragon danceThere were a huge amount of motorbikes and a great crowd to welcome us with a ticker tape machine and a great roar as we were signalled to ride in to the front of the cafe one by one. I had been feeling a little bit emotional prior to the arrival, but the excitement generated by the crowd and the loudspeaker introductions, followed by the champagne shower made me forget all that, and the excitement took over. It was a fantastic reception and not a moment I will ever forget.

*additional photos by Anna Routledge

Essential maintenance

Wednesday, 8th July: This morning I had intended to do a little maintenance on the bike and clean out the air filter. However, after discussion the highly technical issue of air filters with Darran, one of the Globebusters guys, I decided not to. My K & N air filter needs to have oil added to it, and don’t have any with my, well, not the right type of oil anyway, still it saves me an hour and stops me getting oily fingers.

I went shopping instead for a new camera to replace the one that got nicked in Almaty. I found the model that I wanted but it was 30% more than I can get it online. Now call me tight-fisted, but I’m not paying that so I will wait, either until Beijing or until I get home and buy one there.

As the temperatures are unlikely to drop significantly from now on, I then took the opportunity to post some thermal clothing back home, thereby losing some excess weight from the bike. It also makes some space for the spare parts that have, apparently arrived. This is good news as it is liklely I will need to change the brake pads at some point before getting home and the thought of having to send off for another set of pads had irritated me, just a little. It was galling to think that Brigid had sent them in plenty of time to collect them from the company on the way through Chengdu but that the system had contrived to produce them after we had left there. Consequently, I won’t get them until after the bike has been shipped to the border with Mongolia and I will have to change them some time after that even though I had set aside time to do them in Beijing.

Bugger!

Xian

En route to Xian 3Tuesday, 7th July: Another beautiful ride through great mountain scenery and twisty roads at the start, spoilt only by a stupid error in not parking the bike on the right slope at a view point. The result was that as I started to get off, the bike decided it didn’t like where I parked it so it fell over. Bloody temperamental bugger! Fortunately, no damage, the panniers came to the rescue again.

Glad the timbers on this bridge were newThe nearer we got to Xian, the more the traffic built up and the more road works were going on … and the warmer it got. It was very humid and the only way to cool down was to ride bit quicker, making sure the ventilation zips were undone. Nevertheless, by the time we arrived at the beautiful hotel in Xian on Monday evening, we needed a couple of cold beers to cool us down!

No Al not a good lookThere is a very good street market in the Muslim quarter, only a couple of hundred yards from the hotel and after dinner we took the opportunity to look around it. Despite it being after 9 pm and dark, it was a hive of activity. Presumably the heat of the day discourages people from going out until the cooler evening arrives. That said, cool is relative, especially around this part of China. It was still warm enough to walk around with shorts and still feel hot.

Xian Bell TowerTuesday morning most of us took up the option of a trip to see the Terracotta Army, a couple of hours drive away by coach. The guide, through her heavily accented English, explained the background to the discovery and the reasons the locals set alight to the excavations. It turned out the the government started taxing the locals to pay for the excavations and they didn’t like it so they took action!

It's bigDespite the fascination of the 2000 year old clay soldiers, 4 hours was really more than we needed. It was probably just as well that beer wasn’t available, or we would have needed a few pit stops on the way back to the hotel!

“Offa” a Franco / Irsaeli living in South Africa (and I though I was mixed up!) found a very nice Italian restaurant for the evening as a break from the Chinese food that we would probably be eating over the next few days and the Lasagne and Chianti went down very nicely, thank you.

Civilisation!

Guangyuan hotelSaturday, 5th July: Our stay in Chengdu came to an end with a 360 kilometre ride to Guangyuan, the majority of which had to be done on the one tank of fuel. It was doable, but a bit of a worry nonetheless. The countryside is much greener now and the roads still have a few high areas with some good bends on the hills and mountains. That said, there will be more and more built up areas the nearer we get to Beijing. It makes the riding less enjoyable and we certainly have to keep our wits about us with some of the other road users seemingly suicidal, and I certainly include the pedestrians in that comment!

We arrived at the hotel around the 5pm mark. It was another very smart and comfortable hotel, and I could certainly get used to this comfort. It seems the “homestays” are now far behind us but the memory of them makes us appreciate the better hotels even more. We were left with time for a shower and a brief wander around town before our 7pm daily briefing on tomorrow’s ride. It was then time for a bit to eat and an early night for another 350 kilometre ride on Saturday.

Despite dire warnings from Kevin on the humidity and heat, we have been lucky so far. It hasn’t really got too hot yet, but I am sure it won’t last. Sunday’s ride was another mix of mountain twisty roads and built up areas. We made good progress until we were stopped by some local police with warnings about roadworks on a bridge ahead. The only alternative route was via an Expressway, or motorway, but motorcycles are not allowed on them. We took our chances and, after 10 minutes or so, found the bridge, which had been newly laid with a dry concrete mix and had been covered with some cloth coverings to protect it. That, however, wasn’t the problem. It appears that a lorry driver delivering a load of girders and metal slabs for the bridge had got fed up waiting and just tipped them all over the road, blocking it completely. A team of workers were being very industrious in trying to clear them up, but they were heavy and had to be moved in a logical order to avoid a collapse of the “higgledy piggledy” pile. Fortunately motorcycles don’t need much space to get through, but it was still an hour or so before enough space was created for us to escape the log-jam. The roads either side of the blockage were very sandy with recent rains bringing a lot of sand down from the surrounding hills. The roads were also wet with rain and drizzle while we road along, so great care was needed to avoid coming off.

Selecting my meal from this tank in Guangyuan did not appealThe hotel, in Fo Ping, was comfortable enough – although not up to the standard of the previous day or so and internet access was even worse than usual. The Chinese authorities are well known for blocking certain websites and their electronic censorship has the effect of slowing everything down to a rate which makes practical use of the internet very difficult. We ate in Chinese restaurant next to hotel being the apparent best option in a small town.

Giant (and not so giant) Pandas!

Fully grownFriday, 3rd July: Thursday morning was a bit of a lie in for me and then looking after laundry and sundry other boring stuff. The afternoon gave us an opportunity to have a quick look around the city and have a bite to eat before heading to a Chinese Opera, the highlight of which was a very clever part of the show whereby the characters, who were wearing facemasks, contrived to change from one mask to another instantaneously. Although we think we guessed how it was done it was nonetheless a very clever show, but one and a half hours was definitely long enough.

New baby PandaFriday morning we had an excursion to see the Giant Pandas at Chengdu Panda Research Centre, and were fortunate to see one tiny Panda that was less than 1 month old and so had not developed his black patches. He was being looked after in an incubator and was really sweet. The others were active enough despite the heavy rain and I certainly enjoyed the experience.

The afternoon was taken up preparing our bikes, and in my case my Garmin, for more miles tomorrow. I can do without getting lost again tomorrow, well, not lost exactly as we knew where we were, we just couldn’t find the right way to get to the hotel! In defence of Norman and myself, Chengdu is China’s 8th biggest city with a population of 14 million, so taking a little longer than planned to find the hotel wasn’t so bad, and at least I wasn’t last. Sorry Norman!

Chengdu

Wednesday, 1st July: Today we were due to go to Mount Emie, a World Heritage Site and a sacred Buddhist site. However, following a tunnel collapse, the route to get there was a lot longer than it should have been and the decision was made to go straight to Chengdu, where we were due to stay for two nights from Thursday. The result was a longer day’s ride than we should have had, but an extra day’s stop in Chengdu.

Due to the collapsed tunnel our route, of necessity, took us south before swinging North East to Chengdu. I left our overnight stop first, with Norman, and despite yet more road works and diversions, made good progress. Initially. I took it easy over a mountain roads covered with uneven concrete, taking care of my pannier mounts. All was going well and we were scheduled to arrive at the hotel in Chengdu around 6pm.

Chengdu CityHowever, on approaching the city, Norman and I compared notes as to the routes our Garmins had suggested. Despite feeding in exactly the same co-ordinates, the routes and distances were completely different, mine being half as long again as Norman’s. We therefore decided to follow his. Suffice it to say it took hours to actually get the 12 miles or so to the hotel and very near the end Norman and I somehow got separated, so I arrived 5 minutes or so ahead of him after over 12 hours riding – two hours longer than it should have taken.

Bar area downtown ChengduThe rest of the guys, Kevin and Darran excepted, had gone into town to the Irish Pub called the Shamrock. A quick shower and change saw the three of us following suit, while Norman chose to chill out in the hotel. Needless to say, my arrival in the pub brought a huge, good natured, ironic cheer from the gang. I coped with a couple of Guinnesses but it can’t compete with the quality of Guinness at home and, in order to preserve my taste buds, switched beers.

All in all a frustrating day, but if everything went smoothly it wouldn’t be an adventure would it?

Batang to Kangding

Thoughtful parking by tthe car driverTuesday, 30th June: The ride today was from Batang to Kangding, a ride of some 442 kms. By all accounts, 2 years ago there were a lot of roadworks so, hopefully, not too many bad sections.

We left at 8am and it must be said the initial climb was spoilt by my bike’s ignition light coming on near the bottom of the steep gradient. I was hoping that it was just a faulty switch, as Kevin, Alan and Darran were busy changing Wayne’s rear tyre, which was flat this morning, and they would have therefore taken a while getting to me in the case of a more serious problem.

By the time I neared the top of the mountain my bike had given up the ghost, and I ground to a halt on a rock strewn slope with little to go and examine while I awaited the cavalry. I confess I know little about motorcycle electrics that was likely to be of any use. I was fearing the worst, envisaging the alternator or regulator needing replacing, or burned out wiring requiring some major part to be shipped out and involving substantial work.

Sometimes, making silly assumptions like that can make us (me) look so stupid! In due course, Alan rode up a stopped by my bike. After explaining what happened he immediately said “It sounds like the battery connection”. “I haven’t heard of that coming loose on a ride before” I said, “Ah, but you haven’t done one of these rides before have you!”. Sure enough, Alan was spot on, the negative lead to the battery was very loose and explains why the horn was sounding a bit weird the day before, Lord knows how long it had been like that. A few short seconds later with the short bolt fastened again the bike roared into life and I must confess I planted a smacker in Alan’s cheek!

I was soon revelling in the Tiger’s power again, as it gobbled up mile after mile at over 4,000 metres like the real thing – closing in on a kill after days with no food in it’s belly! It felt so good having gone from near despair at the possible consequences of mechanical breakdown, to sheer joy at it being no problem at all, then ecstasy at the beautiful scenery whilst eating up the miles of long straights and slow curves. Perfect biking roads, fantastic!

That feeling though soon came to an end as we passed our third Chinese Army convoy and neared our destination, only to find that the road was, yet again, under repair. Having had three sections of the pannier carrier welded and the sump guard being held on by zip ties, I am nursing the bike along such sections of road as it sounds somewhere between a rusty bed spring and a metal ball bearing rattling in a tin can. It is a bit frustrating. However, we eventually entered the town, only to find the road down to our hotel was changed to a one way street, the wrong way. Just imagine then, my horror when Garmin told me that it would take another 184 kms to get to the hotel, rather than the 4 kms it should have!

Needless to say, Garmin was wrong. Again. A little bit of creativity, a little bit of riding on the foot pegs, and a little more than the original 4 kilometres, but we arrived. Kangding is virtually two towns in one. We have to ride through the newer part to get to our hotel, which was in the older quarter, fortunately. The new town seems a bit soulless whilst the old quarter is lively with restaurants and nice shops and lots of character.

Sun ripened …

Monday, 29th June: In terms of distance, today was a shortish ride at only 258 kms (about 150 miles). However, there were four different mountain passes, so we had a lot of fun climbing and descending the countless hairpin bends. What was alarming to most of the guys, was that in many places there seemed to be no barrier between the side of the road and the seemingly endless drop into either the Mekong or the Yangze rivers, both of which we crossed today. I did find myself being occasionally worried about the steep drop, but just slowed down until I regained my concentration. Fortunately, we didn’t lose anyone over the side of the road!

Despite the high passes, we are now gradually coming down from the Tibetan plateau and with that comes the warmer weather. For warmer, read hot and sticky! There were three main checkpoints today as we officially left Tibet and entered Sichuan Province. That meant a lot of hanging around while the border officials checked and re-checked our paperwork at every checkpoint.

The end result was that by the time we reached the hotel in Batang, I was ripe for a shower, and I use the term ripe deliberately! However, Murphy’s Law kicked in again and there was a power cut at the hotel when we arrived. Now that in itself wouldn’t have mattered too much had we not been allocated rooms on the 6th floor and the power cut meant no lifts! Consequently a few of us went on strike and cooled down in the lobby over a few cold beers until the power was restored … fortunately before anyone though to call for the fumigation squad to search for the bad smell.