A Road Less Travelled
WEDNESDAY 15 MAY, 2002 - JINAN, CHINA
[The Zhonghao Grand Hotel in Jinan, China.]
GPS TRACK SINCE LAST UPDATE
[Xuzhou to Jinan, China, 230 miles in 1 day.]
GLOBERIDERS TOUR DAY NO: 8
DAYS SINCE LAST UPDATE: 1
TOTAL DRIVEN MILEAGE TO DATE: 670
TOTAL GASOLINE USED TO DATE: 18 gallons
TOTAL NO. OF AA BATTERIES USED TO DATE: 16
TOTAL AIRLINE MILEAGE TO DATE: 7,343
Today finds us in Jinan, China, the capital city of Shandong Province and home to about 2 million people. Our itinerary claims that Jinan in also known as the "City of Springs" due to more than 100 bubbling natural springs in the area. They should rename it "The City of 100 Potholes" as all of them have apparently left Middle Kingdom en masse, and moved to the The Celestial Kingdom - we've been driving in solid rain for the last two road days.
The Globeriders are a well-disciplined group. Everyone has shown up for the morning pack and road march routine on time. But, things happen - just as we were ready to pull out yesterday, Rick discovered he had a flat tire. Helge had the tire off in minutes. Rick pulled out a set of three TITANIUM tire irons! The tube was replaced, and normally, we would expend about 350 to 400 strokes with a hand-pump to re-inflate the tire to get the bead seated. With great pride, I pulled out the USD$10.00 12V tire pump that I had purchased and modified prior to the trip based on a "how-to" article I found on the Horizon's Unlimited website. All BMW GS motorycles are equipped with a 12V accessory outlet. Once again, we had a crowd of admiring on-lookers watching as we wheeled the repaired wheel over to my bike, plugged in the pump, flipped a switch and Voila! Let there be air!
The pump was a standard, cheap widget purchased from Wal-Mart. Of course, it came from China. The plastic cases were removed and tossed, the air hose shortened, the switch bolted directly to the pump housing, and cigarette lighter adapter removed and replaced with a BMW accessory plug. The whole thing is about the size of a 2" thick passport, and I assure you, that $10.00 purchase was "priceless" on a rainy morning in China with 9 other riders ready and waiting to get underway:
[How to make a $10 tire pump priceless by throwing most of it away.]
The Chinese officials continue to punish us for all failing our driving tests by making us drive in Chinese traffic ;<) It was a very different group of riders that set out on our 2nd full day of driving yesterday, then that which first left the freight yard where we took delivery of our bikes. On day one, the group was disorganized, bewildered by the chaotic traffic, and extremely hesitant to cut in front of anyone. We kept doing stupid things like stopping for pedestrians and red lights. We foolishly beleived that that blinker actually meant something. We were uncomfortable to sound our horns.
Amazing what a difference one day can make. First, a word on traffic lights. The big cities have all-new infrastructure. Bright LED-powered signals exist at major interserctions. Also, on each signal arm, there is a large numeric LED display which actually counts down the time until the next signal change. The time hits "0", the lights go red. It starts counting down from "53", and when it next hits "0", the signals go green. Unlike the States, people know exactly how much time they have to put on that eye-liner until the signal change. The results are dramatic!
Much more confident now in traffic, the timer hits "0", and the Globeriders shoot out like pools balls on a clean break. Each rider chooses his "spot", carooms thru the intersection (because cross-traffic may or may not heed their red light), and magically forms up, properly staggered and spaced on the other side. In addition to split-second analysis of the traffic pattern, horns, turn signals and high beams are all used in a carefully orchestrated concert. The first few miles are the toughest, and the chance for a mishap greatest. We've only driven a fraction of our journey, but no one has had an accident. The Globeriders have fully lived up to the what was expected of our failing the driver's exam - we've learned that, just like the test, the rules don't matter - Darwin rules!
Paying attention is critical. We were motoring along a fairly wide and well-paved highway, when suddenly, the horizon moved in about 17 miles. Coming to a stop, we found the road ended in a high berm of dirt. Not so lucky, the driver of a late model car, which we found high-sided on top of the berm after hitting it at what must have been a high rate of speed. This accident happened at night. Like us, he saw no warning signs, as there weren't any; no indication of what lay ahead, and the highway was unlit. Giant holes magically appear in the best stretch of road. Detours are are filled with large rocks, giant mud puddles, small streams of silt-laden water, people, dogs, ox-drawn carriages, and every imaginable manner of petroleum-powered vehicle. We spent a lot of time up on the pegs, sitting down would punish not only the rider, but the bike and suspension as well. With is typical wry Norwegian humor, Helge assures us "It's good to get used to it, up North, they have a LOT of mud.!"
[A little higher bumper, better suspension, or a warning sign or two, and he probably would have made it.]
[As you can see, the other side was unpaved, but ready for it, wide, and covered with woven mats made of rice stalks - the road you're on can suddenly become the road less travelled!]
I'm closing today's update with the Three Stages of Chinese Traffic Acclimation:
(Day One) - This traffic is amazing! I've never seen so many different vehicles in my life, and the traffic signals are so cool!
(Day Two) - I can't believe these people! They're the rudest most insane idiots I've ever seen - that b**tard tried to kill me! I hate this place! There's no way you're going to get me on that bike again!
(Day Three) - What traffic?
[Motoring along the highway to Jinan in a driving rain and gusting crosswinds. I'm not complaining, with state of the art equipment, a capable bike, 41 liters of fuel, and as fine a group of companions as you could hope for, nothing could diminish my joy, wonder and the miracle of travelling the People's Republic of China on two wheels - No problems here!]
Posted by Mike Paull at May 15, 2002 05:08 AM GMT