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Week Seven Chapter - 12 ~ 18 June 2007 - China

National Flag of Turkmenistan

"It is good to have an end to journey towards; but it is the journey that matters in the end." - Ursula K. LeGuin

"I prepared excitedly for my departure, as if this journey had a mysterious significance. I had decided to change my mode of life. "'til now," I told myself, "you have only seen the shadow and been well content with it; now, I am going to lead you into the substance." - Nikos Kazantzakis, Zorba the Greek

"All the limitative Theorems of metamathematics and the theory of computation suggest that once the ability to represent your own structure has reached a certain critical point, that is the kiss of death: it guarantees that you can never represent yourself totally. Godel's Incompleteness Theorem, Church's Undecidability Theorem, Turing's Halting Problem, Turski's Truth Theorem-- all have the flavour of some ancient fairy tale which warns you that "To seek self- knowledge is to embark on a journey which . . . will always be incomplete, cannot be charted on a map, will never halt, cannot be described." - Douglas R. Hofstadter

Starting location for this week: Dunhuang, China
Ending location for this week: Pingliang, China
Planned mileage for this week: 983 miles (1,572 kilometers)

Nî hâo (The simplest form of "Hello" in official Mandarin Chinese)

China continues to fascinate. Our travels through The 'Stans certainly captured the imagination and steeped us all in histories and cultures that we had only read about, but the Soviet era has twisted much of the culture and the past, and oil is stealing the future except for the select few who sit in positions of power and influence.

Granted, we are only travelers on a pre-planned itinerary, visiting for only a short time, yet somehow in China, Communism coupled with a controlled form of good old-fashioned Capitalism seems to be working. The Gobi Desert was a barren wasteland for the most part, yet we were crossing it on a new national highway as good as those in any "First World" country. Infrastructure is being built at a frenetic pace. The government has abolished taxes on farms, everywhere one looks, fields are planted, and terraced lots of carefully tended crops undulate to the horizon. Commerce is everywhere. In small villages, rows of new "strip malls" have been built, awaiting occupancy by those who are willing to make the jump from the plow and hoe to the counter and cash register (well, abacus at any rate <g>).

As the roads and highways are being expanded, new gas stations are replacing the old, manned by cadres of cheerful attendants, primed to meter out China's dramatically growing appetite for gasoline. Neon and LED light strings festoon the shopping boulevards at night. In Xian, Carrefours, KFC, McDonalds and Starbucks reappear, on a scale that dwarfs equivalent retail outlets in Europe and The Americas.

1.4 billion people is a force to be reckoned with. . . .

Our journey comes to a close in this chapter. From the harsh climate of the Western frontier, we ride along the western end of The Great Wall, climbing up passes and plateaus blessed with cooler temperatures and rain.

Ahead lie the tombs and famed Terra Cotta Warriors of the Qing Dynasty, and the end of The Ride.

Welcome to Week Seven of the Silk Road!

Mike, Your Webmeister

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Unless otherwise noted, all photographic images on this page were taken by Helge Pedersen

The many forms of "Hello" in over 800 languages and other useful words and phrases are courtesy of Jennifer's Language Page.

To find out what time it is there (or anywhere!), visit The World Clock.

To see where they are now, visit the Navigation Technology Chapter.

For more information about China in this week's leg of the Silk Road, please visit the resources listed below:

- The World Factbook, maintained by the Central Intelligence Agency of the United States:

- The Consular Information Sheets, provided by the Department of State of the United States:

- The web-based, free-content encyclopedia entries at Wikipedia, maintained by "GlobeWriters" everywhere":

Rewind to Day 24 - 24 May 2007 - Bukhara, Uzbekistan

Sitting at the dinner table with us, Mike Mathews seemed nonchalant and good-natured as always.  In retrospect, his partner, Linda Sikorowski, was a little more animated and talkative than usual, but we thought nothing of it.

It was another unique evening - dinner in the courtyard, under the starts, in a restored madrasah, a center of Islamic education. We were being entertained by a trio of local musicians playing traditional instruments, and our guide, Sasha, had earlier informed us that an Eastern and belly dance performance was to follow.

As dessert was being served, we noticed that Linda had disappeared. Mike Mathews feigned ignorance as to her whereabouts. I jokingly said "Maybe she's going to dance." As the dessert plates were being cleared, Sasha introduced the first performer, "Tiger Lily."

Sitting in the middle of Uzbekistan, the thought occurred to me that a Tiger Lily (a flower) was certainly not indigenous to the area.  Any further speculation was derailed as, veiled in a glittering shawl, Lily swooped into the court-yard and the musicians kicked into high gear.

It took all of us far longer that it should have to realize that Tiger Lily (a play on the fact that Mike drives the only non-BMW bike on the tour, his Triumph Tiger), was none other than our very own Linda! We didn't figure it out immediately as she did a very credible belly dance.

Credible because, month's earlier, she conceived the idea at home in South Caroline, home of BMW's auto assembly plant in North America.  Apparently, a group of wives of the German staff at the plant had formed a belly dance troupe for fun and exercise.  Linda asked if she could attend a couple of sessions, and upon hearing her plan, she was embraced as one of their own.

People say it takes a real measure of courage and gumption to ride a motorbike across the Eurasian continent.

"Lily" put us all to shame that night.

[Images by Jeff Munn]

Day 46 - 15 June 2007 - Wuwei, China

June 17 - Father’s Day Reflections and Gratitudes

Happy Father’s Day – here’s a special father’s day greetings from China to my dad, Chris; Mike’s father, Wayne; all the fathers on this trip (pictured); and fathers everywhere. In our group, we have Dennis who became a father for the first time of twins before he left (and yes, he still got to go thanks to a very supportive wife and family), and Robin who will soon be a father again upon his return home to Victoria. Congratulations to you!

Jack, a father from Maine, carries around a card that reads, “Ride, Read and Reflect.” It’s very appropriate. For me, traveling provides me the time to reflect on life. I think about lessons learned, what’s important and what isn’t, what I take for granted, and what I’m grateful for. And this particular way of traveling (on the back of a motorcycle) really allows me a more involved or intimate way to feel and observe things around me, as compared to how I might experience it in a car. The other richness of this type of trip is conversing with other people who have different perspectives, life experiences and opinions on everything. Our ages span from 33 to 67 and we are an “international” group coming from 8 different countries – Canada, England, France, Greece, Ireland, Norway, Switzerland, and the USA. Everyone is an experienced global traveler and everyone adds a unique perspective on global affairs.

After many conversations and observations while traveling in this part of the world, here are just a few things I’m grateful for:

- Democratic governments, the freedom to express dissenting viewpoints and not be punished, the freedom to travel within and outside of one’s country, and peace.

- Water quality and good sanitation (includes being able to drink water from a tap and flush a toilet). Yes, I love to camp and yes, I can do my business just about anywhere. But when I get home, I’m going to hug my toilet and thank it! Yes, it’s the squat-over-a-hole method through most of these countries usually holding your nose, but fortunately not in the hotels. We’d come across a modern-looking gas station, with electric hand driers, electric-eye water faucets, and 10 stalls and you’d think, “alright, we’ve got toilets”…and then, there’s the hole.

- Good medical and dental care - Pete (another dad) works with pigs in Alberta, “I’ve seen lower pig pre-weaning mortality rates than the infant mortality rates in some of these countries.”

- Human rights and equality – There’s an old cigarette advertisement for women that says, “We’ve come a long way, baby”. Well, I agree, but after this trip I’d add, “but we have a long ways to go and let’s not turn back the clock!”

- Keeping the “wild” in “wildlife” - Birds are the only wildlife I’ve seen. I’ve seen pictures of wild creatures on posters advertising Kyrgyzstani parks and dried deer penises which are a delicacy in China, but no wild creatures.

As we traveled across the Gobi desert, every once in awhile we’d come across a huge white statue of an animal along the roadside - a deer and an eagle might not be surprising, but an elephant and a dinosaur?

- Care for domestic animals - I agree with Bissell (no, that’s not a first) – that dogs and cats born in the U.S. did something right in their previous life.

- Leaving future generations a cleaner environment – clean water, clean air, clean agriculture, clean motorcycles (that’s for Mike). Who would have thought an owl named “Woodsy Owl” dressed in people’s clothing saying, “Give a hoot, don’t pollute,” would do so much for keeping a country clean.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that “developed” countries have all the answers. I think it would be great if we adopted some of the things I’ve observed along the way.

I loved seeing people exercise in groups whether on street corners, parks, on-the-job (Chinese hotel rooms have scales in them); using other means of transportation besides cars, particularly bicycles (with no locks when parked); greeting and leaving each other with hugs instead of handshakes; walking hand in hand with friends (males, females, adults, and kids alike); placing an importance on hospitality; nurturing relationships rather than reading about them in People magazine; and emphasizing fresh “slow food” instead of processed “fast food”. Some of our very best meals in terms of food and interacting with the locals were from small restaurants where they went out and caught the fish, made noodles while we watched, cooked it all over a hole that was fueled by coal and voila – we had a great meal.

Then there would be things in the middle – things that on the surface look like their way of doing something is “backwards,” but when you think about it, their work ethic is admirable - they work to stay alive, they work to feed their families - something my dad experienced growing up in Wisconsin and worked VERY hard so his kids would have a better life (and we do). My dad is 93 and is mentally sharp, physically healthy, still drives, still hunts in northern Michigan every fall like he has for the last 53 years, and works every day, “even if it’s wrong.”

So, Dad, here’s to you..on Father’s Day..thanks for all you’ve done so I wouldn’t have to cut grass with a sickle, cut grass between the cracks of a sidewalk with a small tool, sweep streets with a broom made of sticks, or shear sheep with a scissors. I love you, miss you and will see you soon.



From "In Celebration of Dads and Fatherhood"

As you make your way in the world, it's good to know that there's some man who cares about you and thinks that you are the greatest, most beautiful thing. That will take you a long way. The voices in the outside world get so nasty sometimes, but when you have that kind of foundation, you don't have to buy into any of the negativity out there because you have somebody who bolsters and supports you.

My Father

The memory of my father is wrapped up in white paper,
like sandwiches taken for a day at work.

Just as a magician takes towers and rabbits
Out of his hat, he drew love from his body.

And the rivers of his hands
Overflowed with good deeds.

Yehuda Amichai

Day 49 - 18 June 2007 - Lanhzhou, China

Motorcycling in China

It has been 5 years since I had seen our Chinese guide and friend, Sim, from the GlobeRiders World Tour in 2002. I decided I would shave my face, wash my suit and my bike just prior to our border crossing day, so as to have a new appearance as I entered into China. Enda was so impressed with my washing; he threatened to bring great harm to myself and my motorcycle if I washed his bike. We posed for a photo shoot showing the different in clean suits and motorcycles.

The border crossing was a very long day. We were processed out of Kazakhstan quickly and into China. We changed time by 2 hours at the border so we wanted to be early before the Chinese went to lunch, but once again, due to some computer software problems in China, we were at the border for a long time. The Chinese border guards were very kind, wanted lots of photos and took photos of the group beside our bikes so that we would not have to fill out all the paper work. It is the only country (remember it still is Communist) that allowed photos at the border! Imagine that!

An inspection of all the license plates, engine numbers and VIN numbers was required for each motorcycle. We were required to ride our motorcycles into a large building with an X-ray scanner for inspection. The doors closed, the alarm went off and all the motorcycles were Zapped! The doors opened and we were able to mount up and ride to the next waiting area. Vince was so sure we were going to be released shortly, he kept his helmet and suit on and took a nap sitting right on his bike.

Well, the morning went into the afternoon and we all crashed on the soft grass under the trees. It was almost 5:00 in the afternoon when we were finally released and we then had to ride an hour to get our driver’s license and license plates. It was more than an hour ride to the driver’s license office in the next town. The office stayed open late to process all the driver’s license, but we would have to get the license plates the next day.

Our riding really began the second day in China. We are required to have a vehicle as a guide in front and a chase vehicle in back. We are required to ride in a group, but because this area of China is so remote we were able to bend the rules a little. We followed the tracks on our GPS from the previous Silk Road Adventure because you certainly can not read the city names on the road signs [Editor’s Note: All the road signage was bilingual, but in Chinese and Uygur!].

The first 3 days of riding were super highways, 4 lanes with a divider, smooth and fast. It was not so challenging for riding but scenery was good. We were in the desert but the mountains with snow covered peaks on the horizon were a beautiful site. Unbelievably the weather was cool at over 4,000 feet, not the heat that others experienced in previous years.

We experienced rain for most of the day from Yining to Kuytun. Crossing the high mountains and entering a lake region we found a nice place for a lunch of special noodle soup. These ladies really knew how to cook and fixed us a delicious bowl of hot noodle soup to warm us up.

Friendly faces usually meet us at the gas stations for our fuel stops. Only one time did we have trouble with the attendant trying to force us to move the motorcycles away from the pumps and put the gasoline in a container so that the motorcycle would be fueled away from the gas pump. This is a rule in some provinces in China but in most places with the big motorcycles we were able to convince the attendant the rule did not apply to us.

The next several days of riding in China would be more challenging. The challenges would include road construction, animals, people, pot holes, rainy weather, black coal mud, other riders and more vehicles as we moved in the more populated areas of eastern China. One of the highlights as we moved farther east in China was the sighting of the western terminus of the Great Wall. The wall is accessible in several locations for some great photos and a ride along beside the great wonder of the world. The wall is made of clay dry mud and clay in the western part where little water falls to melt it away.

It is a fabulous trip traveling along the Silk Road.

Mike Mathews

Rewind to Day 42 - 12 June 2007 - Dunhuang, China

Lights, Camera, Action!

The setting takes place close to sunset under a clear sky on the Mingsha Sand Dunes in Dunhuang, China.  These are beautiful, huge sand dunes.  The music playing is the theme song for the award-winning movie, “Lawrence of Arabia.”  The actors are most of our GlobeRiders group, including myself. 

The stars of the show, however, are the camels that will take us up and down the sand dunes.  Action:  get the camels to kneel, load up as you would on the motorcycle, get the camels to stand up, start moving and let them do the driving this time.

Imagine what it must be like to travel on camels across vast stretches of desert for days, alone, or with a small group dealing with sand storms, killer heat, no water, etc. – that’s survival!  We, on the other hand, chose the fun way of riding camels for just a couple of hours, taking pictures of each other, the camels, and the spectacular surroundings at sunset.  When we reached the top, some of us took a wooden sand sled down (the slow route), some chose the faster way down via an inner tube on a slick track (way more fun), and a few others rode ATVs around the dunes.  After that, we saddled up again on the camels and went to an area overlooking scenic Crescent Lake.  Then back to the outdoor rooftop lounge of one of our favorite hotels, The Silk Road Dun Huang Hotel, for drinks, cards, laughter, conversation, and peaceful reflections before hitting the bed.

None of us knew much about camels - these exotic, strange creatures of the desert.  On this trip, we’ve seen two types of camels.  So, I asked the camel owner, “Why do some camels have two humps and others have one hump?”   He replied (via our translator), “Because they’re different kinds.”   Duh…, in response to that enlightened answer, I looked up more info on, where else, Wikipedia:

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The Dromedary (Arabian) camel has a single hump and are desert dwellers (mostly in western Asia), and the Bactrian camel has two humps and are rugged cold-climate camels found further to the north and east in central Asia.  The average life expectancy of a camel is 50 to 60 years.  Camels can run up to 40mph in short bursts, and sustain speeds of up to 25mph. The term camel is also used more broadly to describe any of the six camel-like creatures in the family Camelidae:  the two true camels, and the four South American camelids: Llama, Alpaca, Guanaco, and Vicuna.

Humans first domesticated camels between 3,500–3,000 years ago.  Camels are still used for meat and milk (richer in fat and protein than cow’s milk), as beasts of burden, and the Bactrian camel’s two coats which they shed (the warm inner coat of down and a rough long and hairy outer coat) can be spun into yarn for knitting.  And now, of course, camels are being used for tourism, too.

Camels do not store water in their humps, as is commonly believed, although they do serve this purpose through roundabout means.  Their humps are a reservoir of fatty tissue and through other amazing physiological adaptations, camels are able to withstand long periods without water.  They are also able to withstand changes in body temperature and water content that would kill most other animals.

Their thick coat reflects sunlight and also insulates them from intense heat that radiates from hot desert sand.  Their long legs help by keeping them further from the hot ground.  Their mouth is very sturdy, able to chew thorny desert plants. Long eyelashes and ear hairs, together with sealable nostrils, form an effective barrier against sand. Their pace (moving both legs on one side at the same time) and their widened feet help them move without sinking into the sand.

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So, group, there’s a few interesting tidbits for you to impress your kids when you get home.  Oh, one final bit of combined wisdom from Pete and Henry, “It’s a lot more comfortable to ride a camel with a saddle than without, and if you don’t have a saddle, it’s easier to ride a camel up a hill then down.”   You get the picture…..

Happy camel and motorcycle trails,

Linda and Mike

Day 49 18 June 2007 - Pingliang, China

Not Just a Sunday Cruise. . . .

The following is an excerpt from the U.S. Department of State's Consular Information Sheet on China:

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TRAFFIC SAFETY AND ROAD CONDITIONS: While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. The information below concerning China is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.

The rate of traffic accidents in China, including fatal accidents, is among the highest in the world. Driving etiquette in China is developing. As a result, traffic is often chaotic, and right-of-way and other courtesies are often ignored. Travelers should note that cars and buses in the wrong lanes frequently hit pedestrians and bicyclists. Pedestrians should always be careful while walking near traffic. Road/traffic conditions are generally safe if occupants of modern passenger vehicles wear seatbelts. Most traffic accident injuries involve pedestrians or cyclists who are involved in collisions or who encounter unexpected road hazards (e.g., unmarked open manholes). Foreigners with resident permits can apply for PRC driver licenses; however, liability issues often make it preferable to employ a local driver. Child safety seats are not widely available in China. Americans who wish to ride bicycles in China are urged to wear safety helmets meeting U.S. standards.

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In case anyone is under the gross misconception that riding in China is just another Sunday cruise back home, make no mistake, it's not for the faint of heart. Darwinism is alive and well in China, only the fittest, alert, and quick-of-reflex survive.

I'm not sure what one would have to do to actually be ticked by the traffic police in China. Clearly, making an "illegal" pass, across a double-yellow, and forcing on-coming traffic out of the way isn't enough - an on-coming police car will just pull over to the shoulder and let you pass, like any other sensible driver here. Apparently, unlike their counterparts here in the USofA, policemen in China are truly focused on public safety, not revenue generation, and so long as you don't actually cause an accident, anything goes.

Standing water "puddles", hundreds of feet long, winds strong enough to blow a bike over, truck accidents (far more common than any other kind of vehicular mishap), slick, cloying and deep mud, coal dust, dirt and rocks everywhere, that pretty much sums up driving on China's secondary roads.

It's going to be hard to play by the (road) rules when we all return home.



Day 50 - 19 June 2007 - Xian, China

Views from the Back Seat

When I started this trip, to help describe some of the reasons we love to ride motorcycles, Mike and I sent our friends this quote by Patrick Symmes about motorcycle travel: “Sealed behind glass, insulated by climate control systems and music, the driver of a car knows nothing about the directions of the wind, the lay of sunlight, the small changes in temperature between a peak and a valley, the textured noise of differing asphalts, or the sweet and sour aromas of manured fields or passing pine forests. Engaged in all the senses and elements, balanced in the present tense, a rider on two wheels can taste moments of oneness with the road.”

A good friend of mine, Steve Bissell, sent an added note: “Not to mention either being freezing cold or asshole sweating hot, bugs in your teeth, hair, embedded in your skin, the broken limbs, the chaffed-to-the-bone thighs, permanently dislocated lower spine, blood in the urine, etc., etc. But you do get to hang out with people who can only talk/think/eat about motorcycles for 2 months; they are almost as interesting as people who run marathons. If there is a single person other than yourself who even knows who Anna Moffo is I'll eat your helmet. Have fun however. People think my trips are strange, this one fringes on psychotic.” After laughing out loud, I called Steve and (I confess) asked who Anna Moffo was. Turns out she’s an opera singer (since I love opera I should have known that).

As with other avid motorcyclists and passengers, there are many reasons why we love to ride. And this trip has been extraordinary – to ride through countries so foreign to us, to places like the Great Wall of China we’ve read and heard so much about, to be in areas that hardly any other foreigners go to – and all on motorcycles. When each rider got to drive through a hole in the Great Wall (in an older non-preserved section of the wall), Mike and I wondered how many people ever got to or will do that.

It’s certainly been a privilege to experience these special moments, and extremely exciting to experience them from the back seat of Mike’s motorcycle.

As a passenger (who admittedly doesn’t know much about motorcycles), I’ve certainly been impressed with Mike’s and all the riders’ passion for motorcycling, their riding abilities, safety concerns, knowledge, and resourcefulness when things need to be fixed. This group, like others before us, do as well as they can to follow the rules of the road (but hey, we’re not perfect): no wheelies (…Enda), leave room in the road for other vehicles, no kicking other vehicles, no loud pipes, no speeding, no passing on a solid yellow line or double solid yellow lines, no passing on the right, no passing in the shoulder lane or the dirt, no racing black BMWs with tinted windows, no leaving the chase vehicle in the dust, no tailgating, no bumping into each others’ panniers, and correct staggering when riding as a group (….Dan).

Seriously, each rider has to watch out for each other, pedestrians, cars, taxis, buses, trucks, bicyclists, scooters, animal-driven carts, loose animals, and police. This is true whether you’re in a big city or small village. Watching from the back seat of the motorcycle, it’s like a video game where hazards come at you really fast from all directions. While they’re avoiding hazards, the riders have to navigate without full understanding of the road signs. In rural areas there might not even be any signs and in cities there are so many signs you can’t see them fast enough.

The riders certainly became a lot more knowledgeable about their GPS navigation systems (except for Dan, whose nickname became: Dan Garmin – “buy a Garmin and get lost anyway”).

Someone told me that 44% of China’s entire gross national product goes into investment in the country, as compared to 10% in the U.S. The Chinese are building everything everywhere…and it’s not all for the 2008 Olympics. It’s to reach (and seemingly control) all corners of their country. So, there’s a lot of focus on transportation infrastructure – new airports, rail lines, railroad stations, and highways – even in the western part through the Gobi desert. Imagine building a modern interstate through Death Valley, California (right next to a 2-lane road that’s already in good shape).

Anyway, as you can imagine, we’ve driven on great roads and potholed, muddy, greasy, dusty, rough roads - some by choice, and others not by choice.

If you’re curious, Mike and I don’t have intercoms to talk to each other while riding. If we want each other’s attention, he motions to me or I just hit him (tap him gently), and then we either shout to each other or play charades. Even if I wanted to (which I don’t), it prevents me from being a true back seat driver. But, honestly, Mike doesn’t need my help driving – he’s a fantastic driver. Riding two-up has additional, unique challenges and Mike has done a remarkable job in keeping us upright and safe. The other riders have also complimented his riding ability. I personally think he’s the best rider, but then I’m obviously biased.

Signing off from the back seat,


Helge Pedersen Images from the Silk Road

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