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Silk Road Adventure 2011

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Chapter 01 Dispatch from Nick Gudewill

Day #46- Tue, 21st

Full Metal Jacket Day- almost! Admist drizzle, mist and light rain we left our comfortable digs at the usual 8 am start time heading for Xian which was the ancient capital of China during the Tang Dynasty from the 607 to 907 (and probably the most revered of all the dynasties).

We had been briefed by the Globebusters group last night at dinner to expect very difficult conditions particularly a one kilometre section of knee deep heavy mud construction part way along.

Globebusters does very intense world wide motorcycle touring without the cultural and educational opportunities offered by Globeriders. Their trip is 64,000 km of riding through 6 continents over 8 months for goodness sakes! They do 5 to 6 days of riding with a day off where we are 2 and 1 which is much more palatable for me. They fly the bikes between continents. I wish there had been more opportunity to converse but suffice to say that everyone looked tired and drawn with another 5 weeks to go before completion in Germany.

So to finish off we decided to bull doze our way on to the toll road which is technically illegal in these provinces and then see what happens. We got some cursory waves and gestures but ignored them and kept our heads down. It was a good thing too because the conditions deteriorated to rain and fog and I am pretty sure the section in question would have been all but impassable.

In the early afternoon we all rode triumphantly (and safely!) into Xian (province of Shaanxi), checked into our hotel and proceeded to arrange to get our filthy bikes washed prior to being containerized for shipment tomorrow.

The trip is about over except the loading of our bikes for shipment, some touring to see the Terra Cotta warriors and a farewell dinner.


Day #47- Wed, 22nd

The god's were smiling because it has been raining incessantly yet it stopped briefly so we could drive our bikes 20 klics to the container yard. The traffic was fairly heavy so we carefully picked our way through the inevitable busyness that comes in a city of 8 million.

It was high 5's all around and the we set to work to package up all the bikes heading to Seattle, Germany and New Zealand.
In the afternoon we stumbled through the wet to visit the wall surrounding the city and the Wild Goose Pagoda.

Xian's wall measures 3.6 km by 2.4 km in perimeter and was built by the Ming Dynasty around 1378. It is quite impressive in its size and majesty and has never been breached- hardly even threatened as by that time things were quieting down but the emperors didn't know it at the time.

Xian is one of the old capitals of China before Beijing and was once the largest city in the world. It has a rich and glorious history of over 1100 years particularly during the Tang Dynasty from 607 to 907 AD. This dynasty is reverred above all others for bringing success and prosperity to China in ways that others did not- particularly through the development of silk road trade.

The wall resonated for me because it is in the very center of the city and is symmetrical in every way. More to the point, our guide Mr. Ho helped me understand how much has happened since 1980 and the period since Chairman Deng first opened up the country to the west. This inner city was lived in by grey and blue uniformed chinese on bicycles. The place was poor and slumy and downtrodden- buildings were typically one floor. A big wedding present was a bike or a watch or a sewing machine. Everyone and everything was the same. Colourless in every way.

In contrast you look around today and see a hustling, bustling, entrepreneurial, modern city of 8 million. Startling the progress- amazing really and I just wonder about the next 30.

Ominously, Mr. Ho is quite anti government. Yes there has been relative progress he says but it has been very uneven. The concept of corruption and bribery is endemic and a way of life and the general population is well aware of those getting very, very rich at the expense of the masses. He thinks 80% of the people have had enough of it. How this will play out will be interesting to watch in the coming years with government officials having to learn how to be more transparent and accountable.

As an aside, I have mentioned that China is a country of many contrasts and I would be the first to admit that I know very little with this being my third visit. Having seen a lot of the inner 'hinterlands' and the relative prosperity I would be the first to be fooled. Speak to Pavel our young Canadian IT guy working in Munich and you get a different but important slant. In 2004 he was 3 weeks riding on the Globeriders World Tour from Shanghai through Beijing and on up to the Russian/Mongolian border. They were on secondary roads the whole way riding through one congested, polluted s--thole after another so his impression is much more tempered and I would say balanced about the true China story.

There is lots more to talk about but I am about all touristed out for now. We have the Terra Cotta warriors to visit tomorrow and then our farewell dinner.


Day #48- Thur, 23rd

Of the many highlights on this Silk Road adventure at the top of the list has to be our fascinating visit today to see the Terra Cotta Warriors. Situated about 30 km outside Xian, the 8th wonder of the world was discovered by a farmer digging a well in 1974. In fact, I met this very farmer and had him autograph a souvenir history book of the Terra Cotta Warriors (for a price)!

Emperor Shihuang in the Qin Dynasty was born in 259 BC (died 210 BC) and inherited his kingdom at 13 years old and became the ruler at 21. The Qin Dynasty dissappeared in 206 BC due to a farmer's revolution but more on that shortly.

The emperor through smarts and ruthless aggression succeeded in becoming the first emperor to unite the 7 small countries into one in 221 BC. With a population of approx. 20 million he succeeded in standardizing many important facets of life including coinage, letters of the alphabet, weights and measures, road widths and joining many of the great walls together.

He also set out to build a gargantuan tomb (pyramid) for himself to speed his journey into the after life and protect his spirits along the way. The land area is 56 sq km in size or about 5 km by 10 km! It took 38 years to build and over 700,000 artisans, craftsmen and labourers worked on the project.

The Terra Cotta Warriors as impressive as they are occupy only a tiny portion of the overall area- ie. 4 large pits. Over 600 pits have been discovered. Many of these pits remain covered from the environment. Pit #4 is empty because they ran out of time to complete this part before the revolution. Much of the 3 excavated pits are still covered and protected from the air because exposure of the painted clay to the air quickly deteriorates the finish and authorities want to preserve these remains while still allowing tourists to view this incredible discovery.

In all there are 6,000 life size warriors lined up in battle formation- archers, cavalrymen, charioteers, infantrymen. They are buried 15 feet in the ground which has now been excavated around them. Of all the weapons in their possession at the outset almost none remain as they were stolen during the farmers revolution so many years ago when the tombs were ransacked.

Much is still unknown as there are no written records. It is thought that the warriors were buried partly to protect the emerors flank (and spirits) as he sped into the afterlife and partly to preserve the construction effort itself.

The Qin Dynasty likely dissappeared (and became 3 countries) because the emperor did not adequately allow for the food provisioning of his population. So many farmers were absconded for the work effort not only of his tomb but for road building projects and the like mentioned above that it was only a matter of time before the system fell apart . His dynasty lasted only about 10 years but he certainly achieved a lot.

In summary, the Terra Cotta Warriors have to be seen in person to truly appreciate the scale of what had to have been a herculean effort so many years ago. It was very fitting that this was the last of a wonderful collection of so many outstanding opportunities to see and learn about the famous Silk Road and how this road achieved so much in opening up the world to trade, ideas and increased prosperity for all.

Tonight we had a sumptuous grand finale dinner with lots of beer, wine and speeches. It was a fitting way to celebrate a successful and safe conclusion to a wonderful trip that I feel honoured to have been a part of.

Over and out!


Day #49- Fri, 24th
From Shanghai airport;



Now that the trip is officially over and we are all safe and sound after about a 12,000 km odyssey, I am at the Shanghai airport about to leave for home; here are some personal reflections on the last two months:

When little Nicky Gudewill jumped on his bike one cold morning in early February to drive to the container port in Tacoma there were a lot of thoughts rumbling around in his noggin. The most immediate one was the ride at hand. A big, unfamiliar machine; the traffic on the I-5, cold weather conditions enroute, getting the gps to get me there; all in all a wee bit of a nail biter.

Trip deposit had been made, bike purchased, committed! For what? Who knows, just the big unknown. I knew it would be a helluva trip. Risky, yes. Life changing possibly, hopefully not. Character testing, certainly. Educational, absolutely.

Why do it I kept arguing to myself? Feedback from family and friends was lukewarm at best. How many needless risks does one need to take to enjoy life anyway? Why tempt fate? A motorcycle at your age, come on! A motorcycle trip on the silk road, who do you think you are anyway?

I guess I just summoned up a little courage and said if you 'can' do it (physically, financially), if you 'want' to do it, then you better actually 'do it' because time waits for no man.

A lot has transpired in the relatively short time of 2 months- some of it has been easy, some predictable, some challenging as follows:

-the riding bit, delightful; the bike is an engineering marvel (about a litre of oil used); it is like a finely tuned racehorse that just flies, so responsive, so reliable, so ready to perform in all conditions; the solitude of you and your thoughts on the road is almost spiritual; the level of trust you build with your fellow riders day in and day out is teamwork at its best;


-'holy shit' moments- never really had any except possibly the scooter issue coming in to Wuwei- thankfully;


-bikes down- we had lots of dropped bikes, more than a dozen, all at low speeds; I was in the middle of the pack with two-my second time which I didn't mention was in heavy mud on the second day and you know about the border crossing time;


-the surroundings- always changing, always interesting, always absorbing; a litany of people watching at its best- sights, smells, aromas, the noises of man and nature, animals and herds moving about, the messy clutter of life interspersed with neat and tidy tilled fields and magnificent scenery;


-the weather- mostly hot and dry although early on did have a heated vest plugged in; some rain at the start and finish but very manageable;


-road conditions- challenging, expect the unexpected; lots of stand up riding to lower the center of gravity on the bike and help to absorb the bumps and jolts of a lot of dirt roads, potholes and uneven pavement- thank goodness for my custom seat;


-traffic- more manageable than expected; some of it is a bit nerve racking but one gets used to it; you have your right of way and you better take it or the other guy will! The acceleration of the BMW makes up for a lot when you need to find an opening;


-downtime- about right, possibly a bit too much but lots of reading and reflecting accompished and time to write this diary beneficial;


-the guides- possibly the best part of the trip; well informed, always helpful, keen to communicate their knowledge, just a must in every way; you could not do a trip like this and make it worthwhile without them; a real learning experience thanks to them (and my questions!);


-the guys- one of the bigger challenges; day in day out same faces, same conversations or just about; they are all great but I can hardly stand own self after 53 days let alone them!


-roomate- have to say just terrific and a big plus on the trip; just lucky I guess but Chris and I go about our business inside and outside our hotel room and it all has worked out just fine; he deserves the credit!


-food- marginal, in fact take that down a notch; bland, boring, chewy (meat), uninteresting to say the least- same, same day in, day out; One saviour is the beer is good and cheap everywhere we go (and very thirst quenching after a long hot day on the road);


-routine-just fine; you get into a rhythmn and go with it; one day blends into another and each one is unique; there have been so many experiences it was good to keep a diary along the way;


Helge- a good leader, solid, dependable, patient, runs a good show; his humour and level headedness carries just about every issue and he has a lot of experience to bring to the party;

Length- would have to say that 53 days on the road is pretty long; I am a rookie though and never say never but I think an ideal trip would be anything up to a month;

Overall- 8 out of 10; the best golf trip or the best fishing trip would be a 9 so 8 is a good mark; looking forward to home though;

Life experience- definitely; conquering the unknown or shall I say challenging your limits is always a bit nerve racking but usually worthwhile; calculated risk is an adrenalin rush as long as you keep it within the bounds of your abilities and stay alert at all times.

So that is about it for now-the world has been circum-navigated approx. a third at the beginning and end by air with a motorbike ride in the middle, kinda cool. Until next time...!







Chapter 01 Dispatch from Pawel Chorbak

If you would like to follow along with Pawel's journey please visit his personal weblog by clicking here.


Helge's Photo Gallery


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