A Chinese Road Trip: Cuandixia Village and Back

Hiking up the Mountain Near CuandixiaI guess this could be considered my first official ride of the season. With the weather warming up into the high-teens, low-twenties (Celsius) and a national holiday in China, Qingming Jie, giving me three days off, it seemed like the perfect time to really test out my new motorcycle for the first time, going 100km out of Beijing to Cuandixia Village, a Ming Dynasty era village tucked in a valley among the surrounding mountains of the city center.

The roads were perfect for motorcycle riding. Only 100km made it just long enough to enjoy the good weather, but not too long that your butt goes completely numb. There was some good open highway at the beginning driving out of the city with my girlfriend as passenger. Soon, after only about 50km, we joined up with highway G109 at the entrance to the mountains surrounding Beijing, when I pulled right up to another motorcycle which turned out to be an earlier model of my first bike, a Harley-Davidson Sportster, not something you frequently come across in China. We ended up stopping for a break at the same place not too much farther ahead, next to a brook, so I took the opportunity to jealously admire his bike, enjoying the sound of the pipes as he drove off ahead.

The rest of the ride was both very pleasant and also extremely stressful. We started to climb up into the mountains along some really fun, windy turns that reminded me of the cliff hugging Pacific Coast Highway in California, but unfortunately we were caught behind a truck for a lot of this, resulting in face-fuls of unpleasant smells, a mixture of burning brake and tire rubber as well as some black, smokey exhaust. The trip also gave me an opportunity to think about the quality of drivers in China. My overall impression is that many Chinese are not quite ready to be driving, particularly on precarious mountain highways, as I was continuously in awe of some very nice cars passing on a two-lane highway around blind turns. There is also a general lack of awareness of motorcycles on the road, as I was often treated as an annoying nuisance simply to be pushed aside as the other drivers saw fit. Several times, people would try to pass us on the motorcycle by coming up on the side and then moving over into my lane, facing me with the decision to either move back or be pushed off the road entirely. I ended up flipping off more than a couple cars, and even threw my leg out trying to kick one or two. This blatant lack of road manners can be best displayed through the massive traffic jam we encountered on our journey back. About half-way back to Beijing, there was a major stoppage of traffic, so much so that people had turned their cars off and were getting out to walk around. Soon, cars began to take advantage of the fact that there was no oncoming traffic and used the opposite lane to get ahead of the jam, only to find that that lane had stopped as well not too far ahead. I started to have visions of a multi-day long traffic jam as I recalled the 60-mile, 10 day traffic jam that Beijing experienced the previous summer, praying that that wasn’t what we were about to experience. Luckily, being on the motorcycle we were able to wind our way through, only to find absolutely no cause for the trouble other than drivers stubbornly not letting on-coming traffic through, probably the result of more cars passing on a blind turn.

I have to say though, I was very impressed with how my little Jincheng 250 handled the trip. I was able to cruise at 70km/hour no problem, even fully packed for two days and with a passenger, even at times being able to maintain 90km/h. We were also able to maneuver the very sharp turns without much problem, though I have to admit that I was craving a more powerful engine for the ascents not to mention as a way to help me avoid the obnoxious drivers. I did have some problems with my engine popping out of gear momentarily and losing some thrust at random intervals, but overall we made the trip without incident. I also found that “Mafan” has quite a respectable gas mileage at about 29 km/liter highway, with about a 15 liter gas tank (my own estimation), meaning the trip would have been doable on a single tank of gas.

The area we visited was really nice, even if crowded, with the ancient village a great visit and the surrounding scenery making for some nice weekend hiking. We met up with some friends from Beijing that took the bus up. When we couldn’t find an open inn (客栈, Kezhan), we moved on to another nearby village, where we found most of the lodging was actually closed until we came upon a couple that happened to have two free beds. As it turned out, this was their personal home and the rooms that we stayed in had formerly belonged to their children who had moved to the city for work and school. The couple was extremely friendly, cooking us up some food in their personal kitchen, giving us heating blankets, and a coal heating stove for our room. Best of all, they had a western-style toilet and hot water!

Below you can see some of our pictures from the trip, and, even though I wasn’t able to attach my camera mount to the bike, my girlfriend Amy was able to film bits of the drive there and back. I’ll be editing this footage and posting it here soon! If any of our readers have questions about road tripping in China or if you have some experiences of your own you’d like to share, please share in the comments. We’d love to hear it!

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Days 57-59: Wine Country, Halloween Party, College Town, and Home

Death Biker and Jack Sparrow

October 23rd-25th; Miles 8030-8151, 8151-8440, 8440-8617

It was a bittersweet thing, leaving Toronto. It ended with a lot of drama, but I also had a really good time with all my friends on the last night. In a way, I could not have asked for a more perfect farewell.

So by 1:30 in the afternoon, after finishing of with a “bang” and managing to walk off what was left of the alcohol in my system, I was back on the road. One of the things that I love about riding, is that after it all, it felt great and peaceful to just be alone in my own head again and go over it all.

My next stop was Niagara where I had some friends I had known from my days in Toronto. The original plan was to pass through for a meal and then push on to Oneonta, NY where my brother was, but with the late start as well as horrendous traffic due to the major East-West highway out of Toronto being completely closed down (I didn’t get out of the city for at least an hour on what should’ve been a 10-20 minute drive), I was much more delayed then I would have liked. And then the rain clouds moved in. It didn’t pick up too bad, just a drizzle, until I moved into the Niagara wine region. This was actually my first major run in with rain (while on the motorcycle at least) of the trip, so I can’t really complain, but as I was going through what I’m sure would have otherwise been a beautiful drive, I could barely see through my helmet as I navigated around the area looking for my friends’ house. But I eventually found it, greeting them in the entrance of their house soaking wet, as they brought me a towel to dry off and take my stuff off before hugging and saying hello.

Since I got there so late, around 4:30, and the rain didn’t really look like it would be moving on anytime soon, my hosts Ijeoma and Nick told me that there was a Halloween party that night and said I should come along and stay the night. So who was I to say no to such an offer! It always seems to work out just the way it’s supposed to. So we went out to dinner and went to a Value Village to pick up some costumes, I found a mask and gloves to wear as an “undead biker,” Nick was Jack Sparrow from Pirates of the Caribbean, and Ijeoma was an 80s girl.

So, another late night of festivities in an amazingly, festively decorated house with some their acting friends from the area and another relatively late start the next day after we all had breakfast together. My next and final stop before the end of the trip was to visit my brother at school in Oneonta, NY. We hadn’t seen each other in a while so it was nice to see him, hang out, watch some movies, and meet some of his friends. He was staying at a friends house at the time and there was another extra bed available, so overall a good set up.

And then the final ride, the last nearly 200 miles to complete the full circle of my trip around the US. The drive was beautiful through the Cherry Ridge Wild Forest next to the Catskills, surrounded by trees changing all sorts of different colors, and the roads winding through, up, and over the hills. I took rt. 28 –> 10 –> 26 –> 206 –> rt. 17 which took me to the Palisades Parkway across the George Washington Bridge and into the city.

And so, in a daze and in complete shock at the reality of the situation of my 2 month odyssey around the country actually over, I had a meal at Good Enough to Eat in the city and then drove back home, pulling Eowyn, my ’05 Dyna Wide Glide and faithful companion throughout, into her parking spot in front of the house, completing the 8,600 mile long circuit.

Day 53: The Long Haul to Toronto

Driving through Chicago

October 19th; Miles 7070-8030

Today is when the reality of my trip soon being over really started to set in. I moved through the rest of the midwest and then entered the east. Well actually technically Toronto, Ontario is counted more central Canada, but after today I would just be heading south back to New York. I had also spent 4 years in Toronto for my undergraduate degree and so this area was actually familiar to me, in contrast with most everything else I’d done so far.

Despite this however, it was not an easy day by any means! I was on the road for a total of 17 hours, went through 5 states, 4 major cities, one time zone change, two countries, and went through my second iron butt of the trip!

It was not originally intended to be so long of a day, still tough, but only about 800 miles rather than the nearly 1000 that it turned into.

I actually got a good start this morning. My host, Debbie, woke me up at around 6:30 to leave by 7 since she had work to get to that morning. Then I was on the road, making my way entirely on interstate, I-94 –> I-90 towards Milwaukee, WI where I could hopefully pick up the ferry to cross Lake Michigan over into Michigan state.

I say “hopefully” because, unfortunately, when I arrived at 1:15, I had missed the last ferry by 45 minutes… and the next one wouldn’t be in until 5am the next morning. So I stood in the ferry hub after being told the bad news, took a deep breath, and decided to bite the bullet and start making my way the long way, south, around the lake. This meant driving through Milwaukee, Chicago, Indiana, and then finally back up to Michigan. This also meant going through Chicago traffic which was just pure congestion, not moving at all. It took me over 3 hours to go 150 miles, not good when I had an extra 200 miles to do.

When it started to get dark, and I could feel myself starting to fade a bit, I began toying with the idea of pulling over and just getting in early in the morning. But I had had an energy drink and a coffee at around 4 or 5 and figured once that wore off I’d pull over somewhere. I was in Ontario, at around 9:30 and with about 200 miles left when this happened. So I pulled off the highway when I saw there was a hotel, too expensive (over $100 with tax), so I went on, pulled over again, same thing. When I saw there were campsites, I pulled off only to see a sign telling me it was 14km off the highway. Not good when I had already experienced seasonal closings of campgrounds. So it wasn’t too long before I resigned myself to going the whole way, and by 1:00 I finally saw the Toronto skyline.

Unfortunately, my night wasn’t over yet! I was going to be staying with an ex-girlfriend of mine who I hadn’t seen in over 5 months since leaving Toronto after school for China. I got in at 1:30, unpacked the bike and carried my stuff over to her door. She had roommates so I didn’t want to ring or knock on the door. I couldn’t use my phone since I was in a foreign country now but luckily there was a 24 hour coffee shop across the street with wifi. So I left my bags at her door and went across the street to call. No answer. I called again. Still no answer. I did this maybe ten times, texting as well. Then I went across the street and knocked. Again, no answer.

This went on until about 3 o’clock in the morning. So with my eyes stinging from the exhaustion of driving and only having eaten a couple of the left over donuts at the Tim Hortons since my mid-afternoon McDonald’s snack, I found a hostel that was about a half mile away. So I left a message for my ex saying what I was doing, picked up my two bags and helmet and set off (in her defense, I wasn’t totally sure if I was going to make it in that day and I also wanted my arrival to be a bit of a surprise so I wasn’t too specific on when I was going to get in, explaining why everyone was asleep and unprepared).

I got to the hostel and asked if they had any space available. Of course with the way the night was going, they only had a private room that cost $70 before tax. After turning down only slightly more expensive hotels, I decided that was ridiculous and asked if there was anything else in the area. Turns out the guy was trying to rip me off because all of a sudden he realized that he was looking at the wrong day (because it was after midnight, right…?) and that there actually was an empty dorm bed for $23. I said I’d take it and moved in, trying as much as I could (though unsuccessfully) to be quiet as I took off all my riding gear and collapsed in bed.

At 4:30 in the morning though, my phone vibrated, waking me up. My ex had woken up and gotten my messages and wanted to know where I was. I told her the address and said she should come get me in the morning. Next thing I know, 10 minutes later, the porter for the hostel opens the door, sees me, and tells me my friend was there! So, feeling so tired that I feel drunk, I put my clothes back on, pick up all my stuff and head back with Courtney.

This was a very action filled first day back in Toronto for what would turn out to be a very intense 3 day visit.

Toronto to New Orleans and Back – Route Planned!

After many changes and much Google Maps finnicking (is that a word?) we’ve locked in the planned route to New Orleans from Toronto.

On August 25th Brent and Pam will leave Toronto on ‘Nora’ (Brent’s Kawasaki Vulcan Classic) to meet Buck (recently returned from China for a short visit and monster trip through the U.S.A. before returning to China indefinitely) in New York City.

After tearing up the town for a couple days, the group will leave NYC en route to Roanoke, Virginia via Skyline Drive through Shenandoah National Park and Blue Ridge Parkway in George Washington National Forest for a total of 847 km’s (526 miles).

Day 2 takes us through Cherokee National Forest and the Great Smoky Mountains and Chattahoochee National Forest with potential stops at ‘Mountain City’ in Cherokee National Forest and ‘Hot Springs’ in the Great Smoky Mountains, with our final destination in Calhoun, Georgia, for a total of 742 kms (461 miles).

The third day of the trip has us arriving in New Orleans after crossing through Birmingham, Alabama, and De Soto National Forest and across Interstate 10 bridge in to New Orleans! A 842 km day (523 miles). We’ll be staying on Bourbon Street in the French Quarter of New Orleans for three days.

After a three day stay in New Orleans we’re heading up the Mississippi River in to Memphis, Tennessee, where the group will spend one last night together before parting ways – Buck to continue his trip around the U.S.A. and Brent and Pam back to Toronto, Canada, to prepare for their trip to the West Coast of Canada.

The entire time we will be posting on Twitter, Facebook and posting videos to our YouTube page. If you haven’t already, follow us on twitter, join the Facebook page, and subscribe to our YouTube channel!

Manitoulin Island to Toronto via Chi-Cheemaun Ferry

There is so much I want to write about but the weather is too nice – any free time I have I find myself on the bike.

This past long weekend we took a trip up to Espanola. I’ve written about this trip before so I won’t repeat myself, but we took a different route home – and what an awesome ride it was! We left Honora Bay on Manitoulin Island at 9 am on Monday and headed to South Baymouth where the Chi-Cheemaun ferry departs for Tobermory. The ride to South Baymouth was amazing – we took Bidwell Road which winds through some amazing farmland. Lots of turns and no traffic at all – this was by far the best road we drove all weekend.

Here we caught the MS Chi-Cheemaun ferry to Tobermory. I recommend reserving your spot in advance, especially on holiday weekends – we were very lucky to be the last two motorcycles let on for this trip, otherwise we would have had to wait 3 hours for the next trip. Leaving the ferry is an interesting experience – all the motorcycles are ‘first on and first off’ the ferry. As you sit waiting for the ferry doors to open the tension builds, and all the motorcycles are sitting waiting like chariots to enter an arena. As the doors start to lower you can see crowds waiting to see all the bikes pull out of the ferry – I really can’t describe how cool the whole experience is!

After the ferry it was a relatively quick ride down Highway 6 – which had some amazing scenery – through Owen Sound and then split off on Highway 10 down to the 407 and across to Oshawa – our final destination. All in all it was a fantastic trip, and we agreed that, regardless of the cost of the ferry ($18 per motorcycle, $15 per person), we would certainly take this route again instead of the long and boring Highway 400 and 69 up to Sudbury and Highway 17 across to Espanola.

We took a timelapse video of our trip from Espanola to the Swing Bridge on to Manitoulin Island and down to Honora Bay. You can see it, along with all our other videos, here.

New York City to Daytona

This is from an e-mail from my Dad who rides a Harley Davidson ’05 Dyna Wide Glide. Thought I’d share his trip, sounded like a lot of fun and I can’t express how jealous I am.

The trip to Daytona was both fun and arduous. Fun going down: temperatures in the 70’s, clear, little wind. Toward the end of the first day (Tues.14th) there was a beautiful sky full of pink clouds as we rolled through N. Carolina to a motel in Fayetteville after 600+ miles. The next day was much the same although warmer as we got further south. Heavy traffic in Jacksonville. 80 more miles and we were in Ormond Beach (remember?). the first thing we did was to stop for beer and festivities at the Iron Horse Tavern (remember?). Got to the flea bag of a motel after some wrong turns. The address was 500 N. Atlantic Ave. which turned out to be south of S. Atlantic Ave.!!
I was riding with 2 Hoggers from NYC: Keith is an ex-marine and bus driver 62 yrs and very mechanical and good with directions. Krit is 34, Thai and a photographer, rides a Springer Soft Tail. I rode in the middle on my Wide Glide. We met two other members – Little John and Irish Tommy – down there.
The whole area was swarming with bikes, including a lot of choppers which I’m sure were trucked or trailered in for the most part. Three principal locations: the Rossmeyer dealership (remember?), Main Street, Daytona Beach, and the Daytona Speedway. We hung out for two days at all three bumping shoulders with an incredible menagerie of bikers. I got some Kuryakyn footpegs w stirrups, shiftpeg and a Mustang Sissy Bar pad for my taller bar.
Starting back on Sat. am the weather shifteded on us somewhere in Georgia. Rainsuits! Wasn’t hard, but it did slow us down. As the day wore on it got colder and dark. We were dead tired and cold when we got into Fayetteville. Keith remembered the exit and got us to the same EconoLodge. Unfortunately, the was a reunion for Fayetteville College in town and there were no more rooms at our motel or any others in town. So we had to chug nine more miles up the road to a Day’s Inn whose restaurant closed as we were checking in! We had to walk across the highway for a Quiznos’ dinner.
Sunday morning. Cold. We had to find someplace to buy long johns. Every gas stop meant hot chocolate and effort to shed the shivers. We didn’t eat lunch so stopped for early dinner at 5:30. Then on into the dark and colder riding. We finally decided with 170+ miles to go for NYC that we’d stop, make our explanatory phone calls and do the last leg in the morning. The first motel we tried didn’t have heat. Second one did.
At 6:30am the next day there was frost on the seats of the bikes! The next 2 hrs. before the sun got high enough in the sky to warm things up were so cold I thought that my teeth might crack. We took a long break around 9 to recover and made the rest of the run in heavy rush hour traffic up the NJ Turnpike, 440 to 278 on Staten Island and for me and Krit the BQE to Brooklyn where I took the McGuiness exit to the Pulaski Bridge and home at 10:30. The cats were there to greet me.
Ciao, Papa

Espanola to Bobcaygeon

After a long night of drinking, hot tubbing and freezing cold pool dips, I was up and on the road to Bobcaygeon by 11 am. I filled up Red Molly at a gas station right at Hwy 17 and then headed east to Sudbury, where I met Hwy 69 south. Along this stretch you can go for some time without seeing a gas station, so of course after passing one my low-fuel light comes on. Thinking I should be able to last to the next station, I press on.

After 15 minutes without seeing any sign of civilization I start to think, “I’m going to run out of gas on the side of this highway, in the middle of nowhere. What would I do? Hitch? Walk? How late is this going to make me to Bobcaygeon?”

Suddenly, at Hwy 529 in Magnetawan (about 60km north of Parry Sound), there is a little gas station with no noticeable signage. Of course I drove right passed it and had to turn around, but I was very thankful to whomever decided to open a gas station at that spot. And it only cost 95cents/liter.

I stopped again in Parry Sound for a coffee and to fill up the gas again. The traffic was very light and I was making good time. I continued until I hit Hwy 12 going south-east, where the road started to get busy. First off, this is a poorly marked highway, and when you first join it off the 69 you come to an unmarked crossroad. Without signage indicating a change in direction for the highway I continued straight – and on to a small dead end street. Had to turn around (for the second time thus far) and backtrack.

As you get closer to Orillia, the highway is one lane and packed with cars. The cars leading the pack are slower than the speed limit, and there is no room to pass. This continues until you hit the 11 south just past Orillia.  Again, attention must be paid here. The 11 and 12 merge heading south, but the 12 breaks off south-east again very quickly. The signage again is not noticeable, and for the third time this trip I pass my exit and am forced to turn around.

After what feels like eternity I hit Durham Road 15/8. This will take you east, through Fenelon Falls and right in to Bobcaygeon. This ride was a pleasure. Two lane, 80km/h speed limit, winding road cutting through farm land. Sharp and sweeping turns everywhere and no traffic. I wish I had the helmet camera on for that one. I’ve outlined the route (minus the turn arounds) on the google map below and HIGHLY RECOMMEND taking Durham Road 15/8 if you are in the area.

I arrived in Bobcaygeon just on time for dinner and shortly before the sun set. Total trip time was around 6.5 hours, and the bulk of it was thoroughly enjoyable.