Friday, October 28, 2016

Sacred Mountain Moto Tour, Part 5

 Dear Family

So I left Yangshou and, as planned, in order to protect the heavily loaded bike from breaking again on the bumpy Chinese roads I took the Expressway (which is not legal for motorcycles in most provinces). On the expressway I easily arrived at the town of Nanyue well before dark. Since this town is right at the foot of the Southern Mount Heng, I could just set out on foot from my hotel in the morning.

The lower part of the trail up Hengshan follows along side a stream with many small waterfalls along the way. This creates a sound bath all along the path which is named something like "Buddhist Music Garden":

Then the path joins the road which goes almost half way up the mountain. But it is only partway on the road as there are many exits onto walking paths that avoid the road with a constant stream of tourist buses (the sign says "Climb on foot")

As  usual there are little temples along the way, Here's one with a wall that has a lovely hobbit doorway in it:

And finally I reached the summit. You can just see the flames coming from the furnace on the right of the following photo. That is where people offer their sacrifice of incense. Now usually temples have an area where you can burn incense sticks and some people burn a few sticks at a time. Here I saw many people carrying a plastic bag full of many boxes of incense sticks. Well they would say their prayer and then toss the whole bag of incense in the furnace.

Also for a short time while I was at the summit, there was a break in the clouds. For a while we were actually between cloud layers so I got the heavenly view of the sea of clouds for which these mountains are famous.

On the way down I stumbled upon a path that went a different route, beside a stream that completely bypassed the road way I took up the mountain.

Next on the agenda is Huangshan (Yellow mountain) which is 900 km away. I had originally scheduled 2 days to do this trip, but with my new plan of using the expressways to avoid rattling my motorcycle to pieces, I figured I could do it in one day, Well at the first rest stop I was escorted off the expressway by  the traffic police. They were very nice a about it and wished me a pleasant journey - on the regular roads. Since they officially recorded and photographed my passport and driving license, I thought it wise to stay off the expressway for the rest of the province of Jiangxi.

This put me back on the regular Chinese roads which are often OK, but can also run for long stretches like this (or worse):

And as luck would have it, I got a fair amount of the above - so I was glad I had my bamboo struts supporting my luggage racks. Also, since it had recently rained a lot, it was also full of mud. Of course this meant it was again a 2 day trip to make it to Huangshan so  I camped by the side of the road this night.

I am so happy with my "2 second tent" That's what it is called but in reality it takes about a full 30 seconds to set it up and maybe 2 minutes to fold it up again. In the rain it is a real treat to be able to set up for the night in under a minute. Also, whether its a "2 second" tent or not, it is great security to have a tent because, when plans change and you are out in the country, it is often not possible to find a hotel. For a hotel to accept foreigners they have to be officially registered with the police department. So in out of the way, countryside areas where a hotel could expect at best one foreigner every 2 or three years, its just not worth the trouble to go through the registration process, hence they are not allowed to accept foreigners. But, in China, one is allowed to pitch a tent pretty much anywhere.

Once through the mud, it was a nice drive on the regular roads, I got to see things that you just don't see on the expressways: villages, terraced rice fields and gardens, water buffalo with birds sitting on their shoulders and incredible bamboo forests just like in the movies. But I was driving and didn't take photos as my phone was clamped to my handlebars as a GPS Navigation tool - which led me straight to my hotel in Huangshan city.

And that was a problem. I didn't research thoroughly enough. You can see on the map below Huangshan park is in the middle of the map and just north of it is what looks like a town named Huangshan. So I booked myself a hotel in Huangshan City, It wasn't until I got there that I discovered the mountain Huangshan was not at all nearby. Then on closer inspection of the map I could see there are 2 towns named "Huangshan" in English, but only be looking at the Chinese characters underneath can we know that only one of them is Huangshan city and the other is Huangshan district. So, now, instead of being close to the mountain, I was 1-1/2 hours away. Actually it took me longer than that because my GPS was malfunctioning. After many wrong  turns I finally rebooted my phone and was back on track.

One more little glitch along the way is that my radiator fan stopped working. As long as I kept moving faster than 40 KM/hour I was OK but in slow city traffic the bike would quickly overheat. I made out alright by shutting the engine down at every red light.

So here we are on the trail up Yellow mountain (Huang = Yellow, Shan = mountain). It has amazing stairs all the way to the top:

It was foggy, which gave everything a bit of a mystical look:

The further I got, the steeper became the stairs:

No  words required for this stairway:

People resting on the summit:

There is another way down so I had new stairways for the return trip:

And a couple of hundred meters down from the summit suddenly the clouds broke to again give me a view of the sea of clouds:

By  the way, Huangshan seems to be known to foreigners. I saw about a dozen westerners on this mountain. Up until now, on the 6 sacred mountains I visited (which are all major Chinese tourist sites) I saw a total of 2 Caucasians.

My original plan had me visiting Jiuhuashan (top left of the map) the next day which would have been a 1-1/2 hour drive each way from a hotel in Huangshan District. But my being in Huangshan City now made it a 3-1/2 hour drive. This meant that in order to be able to still drive back in mostly daylight, I would have at most 2 hours on the mountain. That's definitely not long enough to climb, but I could take the cable car to the top and back.

Here's the entrance gate to the Jiuhuashan scenic area which unfortunately for me was the best part:

I have learned that on these tourist mountains, the roads are closed to private vehicles. To control traffic they only allow tour buses on the roads, so unless you are walking, the only way to get there is to transfer to a tourist bus. I bought a bus ticket to the base of the cable car to the top. I ensured this by pointing on the map to the Chinese characters on the bottom of the cable car. Well ended up on a bus to the tourist street in the village at the base of the mountain (many kilometers from the cable car). Since I only had a 2 hour window there was really no time to head back to the reception area and get a different bus, so I figured I may well look around at what was there on the tourist street. Well the fog was so thick we could not even see across the street:

At  least I had a pleasant motorcycle ride there and back. The roads were mostly good pavement, nice mountain twisty roads and not a lot of traffic.

And now, because of the delays waiting for gas tanks, I had to skip Putuashan, the island mountain on the coast. Besides with no radiator fan I could not head into the heavily populated area that surrounds Shanghai. So next was to head straight for the last mountain on my tour, Taishan...

Love Bill

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Sacred Mountain Moto Tour, Part 4: Yangshuo

So here I am hanging out in Yangshuo for a few days. Yangshuo county of Guilin city is most famous for the Li river winding through karst hills. Most foreigners have seen photos, paintings or drawings of this landscape and Chinese residents see it everyday on the 20 yuan note:

Just one or 2 bends up river from the 20 yuan note is the view from the top of Xianggong hill as photographed by my hotel host during my stay here.

Originally I had planned on coming here to relax and do laundry before continuing on the mountain tour. I was also meeting my friend Penny who was here taking a break in between work contracts in Shenzhen. Now of course I had the additional job of motorcycle repairs while here. Fortunately I had booked a small, family owned bed and breakfast type hotel and the hosts both spoke English and were more than willing to help me find parts and otherwise support my project. First thing of course was to order the new fuel tank which was easily done with the help of Sophia doing the communication in Chinese with the on-line seller.

While waiting for the tank to arrive, Penny and I explored the area on bicycles. We were staying a bit west of Yangshuo town which meant we were on the Yulong river rather than the Li river. We visited a couple of very old bridges, here's one:

And Penny and me standing on the bridge:

This next bridge, the Fuli bridge is even older and you can see one of the bamboo rafts that are constantly going down the river. Hmm, the tourist rafts all have chairs and umbrellas attached (like in the first bridge photo), maybe this is actually some locals going down the river ion a non-tourist trip.

And here's the same bridge from the other side. I am just adding one more photo because I like the way the reflections on the water make a perfect circle.

One day, I discovered I was missing my bank card and I realized  had left it in the ATM 2 days earlier when I withdrew some cash. This was a big problem because I wasn't sure I'd be able to get the card back especially after so long. But I definitely had to try. So off I went to town back to the bank where I was at 2 days before.  Yes, I thought it was a bank but when I got there, I realized it was not an actual bank but just a standalone ATM.

OH oh, that means I can't just go inside to ask for my card, so I set about looking for the actual bank. I could not find the Bank of China so went in to a branch of ICBC (Industrial Commercial Bank of China) which is my bank at home - the bank that issued my lost card. I thought I'd explain to them my situation and ask them to tell me where to find the Bank of China. Well it turned out to be a good thing I stopped here because they explained that they would have to do a special printout of my account details which if I take to the Bank of China they will give my my card. Of course this whole process takes time because I have to have someone on the phone who speaks Chinese and English and we pass the phone back and forth with the banking staff. So finally we get to the counter and I give the clerk my account number and passport so she can produce the special printout... It took 40 minutes with three bank tellers huddled in front of the computer to produce this printout. One of the bank tellers drew me a map of how to find the bank of China. It is not nearby. At the bank of China, it looks promising because not only did I find someone who spoke a little English, but after giving her my special printout and my passport she said "OK, I'll go and get your card now". Well, not quite, she came back saying they have the card with that account number on it but my special printout did not have my passport number printed on it so they could not release the card. Back I went to ICBC to ask for a new printout this time including my passport number. They were not able to do this but they made a combination of 2 official printouts that had all the required information on it. So back to the Bank of China I went hoping it was not closed since it was getting late in the day. Fortunately, the bank was open and they accepted the 2 documents and I got my card back.

This is often how it works in China with anything official. There are many forms to be completed, in triplicate and all officially stamped and distributed to various offices. One never really knows how long it'll take or how many other offices you will be directed to before the process is complete, I was actually fortunate that everything was successfully resolved in one afternoon without having to continue the next day.

Next day my fuel tank arrived. It was defective. One of the nuts that secure the fuel pump to the tank was misaligned. on the inside of the tank it was welded off center from the hole. This meant I could not get a screw in straight and could not seal the fuel pump to the tank.

I tried everything I could think of but could not get it to seal. I could have filed the hole wider and that might have worked. But if it didn't work, the act of filling would mean I could no longer return the tank for refund. So, in the end, I just had to give up on this tank, send it back and order another. Even this process took 2 hours of Sophia on the phone with the seller. He would not believe there was anything wrong with the tank and said it is me who does not know how to install the fuel pump. Finally we convinced him - to exchange the tank that is, he still believed I was an idiot.

So, more waiting... More trips to the Youlong river... Here are some tourist rafts shooting over the mini rapids:

Now originally I had bought some low grade hardware store bolts locally to re-attach my frame. I figured they would hold at least long enough for me to drive into Guilin City to buy some automotive grade bolts. But after investigating where to go in the city by buy hardened steel bolts, the conclusion was they would be very difficult to find - I'd have to order them online. So I did and I fixed the frame. But this being China, just because the bolt head is stamped with the grade does not mean for sure that it is actually heat treated to that grade. So I tested a sample of my new bolts against one of my hardware store bolts. I fixed both bolts to an old machine I found in the bush and whacked them both with a hammer. The hardware store bolt folded right over and the high grade bold required harder hammer hits before it started to bend and then snapped in half. (high grade bolts withstand bending but after a point something has to give and they snap) This proves at least that my new bolts are a higher grade than the hardware store bolts. We still don't know for sure that they are the extra high grade they claim to be, but for sure they are better than the hardware store bolts:

Still waiting for the replacement fuel tank... The seller was a day late in getting it ready for shipping, so I wait yet another day. To this rural location the air express shipping takes 2 full days rather than the 1-1/2 days to Chengdu for the first tank. So lots more time to go exploring. Another site withing cycling distance is "Moon Hill" so named because of the moon shaped hole in the center. It takes about 15 or 20 minutes to get to the top. This photos is from a viewpoint part way up:

The next day after discussing my predicament on the motorcycle forum I usually use back in Canada,, I learned that a properly designed luggage rack would not be only attached to the rear frame but would also have some sort of support to the main frame. So, I figured out a way to, temporarily at least, using tools and materials available to me, add some supporting struts from the main frame to the luggage racks:

I'm sure that these will help. Even so I will try to stick to the smooth expressways for the remainder of my trip, it is a great comfort for me to know that I now have added support in case I do get stuck on another hellishly pot-holed torn-up Chinese road.

The next morning my gas tank arrived, I installed it and went to town to get my chain tightened and oil changed then made final preparations to leave the next morning. That night, my hosts invited me and the 2 other guests to join them for dinner:

I was eight days here, waiting and relaxing and was now finally ready to head out to the next mountain...

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Sacred Mountain Moto Tour, Part 3

I had some company at this hotel. Steve, a member of the Chinese motorcycle forum I belong to, joined me here the next day. He was very helpful and supportive of me and my situation and his Chinese wife was instrumental in ordering a new gas tank for me. And Cristina from Spain arrived by train the next morning so we hung out together for the day.
Well I came here to visit a QingCheng mountain and actually so did Cristina. Even though it was pouring rain, off we went. It was actually walking distance to the base of the mountain but we took a taxi since it was raining. Here I am in a courtyard at the bottom of the mountain:

We just went for it, even though there was a cable car option, we hiked all the way to the top by foot, in the rain. Here's the top:

At the bottom, on the way out there is an option to take a boat across the small lake rather than walking around. We walked around and then all the way back to the hotel.

I Paid for express air freight and wouldn't you know it, The gas tank arrived that afternoon after our hike. I put it on the motorcycle as soon as it arrived:

There was one small issue with the installation. The front mounting bracket of the fuel tank did not quite fit, I had to force it to fit. It was as if the gas tank was a little bit shorter than the old one. (hmm, is this another hint of what's to come?) But the the tank did come together in the end and we left the following morning. Steve went with me to the next destination which was only about 3 hours drive away. Still raining.

Our destination was EmeiShan, Another sacred Buddhist mountain. Steve is a 2 pack a day smoker so we took the cable car up. Here is the top, still raining:

in the left of the above photo you can almost make out the gold statue in the center of the summit. Here is a closer photo of it complete with the six tusked elephants which have a story in this area. Even from this close we can just barely see the statue. There was definitely no panoramic view from the summit.

On  the way down (we did some walking because the cable car doesn't do the whole route) we saw some of the monkeys that are another feature of this mountain.

And here is the queueing area for the cablecar. As you can see it is empty because there were not enough tourists to need it this rainy October afternoon. But it gives you an idea how busy it can be here on a sunny summer day.

The following day I set out for Guilin. Steve cam along with me as for as Lashan just to take a look at the worlds largest Buddha carving. It is huge, you can see the scale of it compared to the people over on the left. We only looked at it from head level because the lineup and the trek down to the his toes takes a full 2 hours which we didn't want to endure.

Steve and I parted ways and I continued alone in the direction of Guilin. I camped by the side of the road that night, still raining:

When I stopped for the night I smelled gas, sure enough my fuel tank was again leaking. In the cold and rain, I didn't want to investigate. I decided to keep going even with a dripping fuel tank. I'd have time to investigate when i got to Guilin. Well, my GPS did a recalculation and sent me off on an extremely bumpy road that seemed to never end. After one of the big bumps the rear of my motorcycle seemed a lot lower than it used to be and it regularly hit the rear tire on bumps. Also my fuel tank was not dripping anymore, it was gushing.  Whenever I stopped for gas, someone would notice the gas running down the side of the bike and would raise the alarm, yelling at me and pointing at the fuel running out. I realized that if I continued on these small bumpy roads, I would never make it another 1000 km to Guilin (which was now more than 4 days away at the speed I was going). I knew the only way I would make it would be to take the smooth, fast expressway (which in these provinces is forbidden for motorcycles). So I crashed the barrier and took the expressway, all through the day and night and arrived in Guilin in the morning. Besides the gas running down the side of my motorcycle, I could see by how the trim pieces had all separated that there was something more going on than just a leak.

sure enough the 2 bolts holding the rear subframe to the main frame had snapped cleanly off leaving the rear frame pivoting off of its 2 lower bolts:

The fuel tank is mounted to the front frame and to the back frame, so when the back frame separated, it pulled on the tank, stretching it and creating leaks where the mounting bracket is welded on. It was now evident that when the first tank was leaking, one of the bolts must have already been snapped off. The the second bolt snapped after the fuel tank was replaced putting even more stress on it than before.

So, here we are again, ordering another fuel tank and now i will also be looking for new bolts to hold the frame together. In the meantime I can explore Yangshuo county of Guilin on my rental bike. Its not raining here!

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Sacred Mountain Moto Tour, Part 2.

OK, so I am stuck here in a tiny town at the bottom of a mountain valley. There is no way to get out of high gear so clearly the motorcycle needs to be repaired. At this point I don't even know if its a major repair (engine disassembled to access the transmission) or not. But the rest of my context at that time is that it was only 2 days before the start of the national day holiday. Note that this holiday is not just a long weekend - it is 7 whole days. My worry is that if I find a way to get this motorcycle to a shop somewhere, it'll just sit until the holiday is over - and I'll be stuck having to wait there for it for I don't know how long and there are practically no hotel rooms available during this holiday period.

So I figured the best solution was to ship the bike to a repair shop in Beijing. Then at least I can wait for it at home. Nothing is simple in China. It took 12 hours to arrange shipping. By the time the truck came to pick it up it was dark. And then they had rules that they could not transport anything with gasoline in it so here we were looking like a bunch of hoodlums siphoning gas out in the dark:

Then, I was surprised to learn we aren't loading the bike in the truck right away. Instead the bike is to
be pushed to their shipping depot which is 2 kilometers away. I helped them push it over the hump of the bridge then left them to take it the rest of the way on their own.

24 hours later the bike was being dropped off at a service shop in Beijing and I made it there at 10:00 am the next morning to find out what the situation was.

They ripped out the clutch, shifter shaft and sector drum and said it all had to be replaced, they had the parts and would be done in 3 hours. Well I'm not so sure it needed the clutch but I wasn't about to argue the point, I'd already paid more in shipping charges than what they quoted for the repair.

And sure enough, it was ready in less than 3 hours. I drove home and it was running perfectly. So I did some repacking and headed out first thing in the morning. Since it was now the very first day of the national holiday and expressway tolls are free for the holidays so I was expecting traffic jams. I left at 5:00 am hoping to avoid them. Of course by the time I got to Beijing it was 6:00 which was right about when 40,000 other motorists thought they'd leave to beat the rush. Even with all my baggage packed, I could still squeeze through the traffic jams and once clear of Beijing, the expressways were free flowing. Along the way I met some other bikers taking advantage of the free tolls.

Because of the time lost for repair, I had to skip a mountain. As much as I wanted to go to North Heng Shan, that was the obvious choice to skip as it would be somewhat of a nightmare during the national holiday. So I went straight to Song Shan which turned out to be a great choice because it was not too crowded at all. In fact I never had to wait for people in front of me to make it through a section of path. Like the expressways it was free flowing. Every mountain has its claims. This one apparently is where Lao Zi wrote the Tao Te Ching

It's very steep:

view of some temple areas from above:

The only actual traffic jam on the mountain that day was at the very summit where everyone was clambering to get their photo taken with the summit stone.

I said it was very steep. It is staircase all the way up. most of the flights of stairs are 10 times longer than the one pictured below. Of all the famous sacred mountains, this is probably the only one with no cable car to the top (no, I know TaiShan also has no cable car). The never ending stairway is the only way up. Even the water and coca cola that gets sold at the top has to come all the way up these stairs. I'll bet most people buying coke at the top don't appreciate why it is so much more expensive than down below. This guy certainly does. I wonder how many trips he makes per day?

Now another thing this area is famous for is the Shaolin temples. They are right down in the valley below the mountain. And it turned out my hotel was right in the middle of the Shaolin temple park. This made it almost impossible for me to leave in the morning and to come back at night because I was going against the flow of thousands (possibly tens of thousands) of tourists coming to see the famous Shaolin temples. There are also many Kung Fu schools here, In fact my hotel was actually a Kung Fu school that had a few rooms to spare.Here are the students heading to their morning exersize area while I'm packing up the bike.

next stop is Chengdu which is more than a one day drive even on the expressways. I don't get very far at all before I notice the bike is leaking fuel. What now? Well, even though it was a holiday we managed to get a repair crew out on the highway to help me. It turned out to be ridiculously simple, a fuel hose that was not properly clicked in to its mating pipe. Once the fuel tank was removed, it was a one click repair.

but was this an omen of things to come? Apparently yes, because on arrival at my hotel in Chengdu, I found fuel leaking again. I figured at least now I know how to fix it, so I started removing all the trim in order to access the fuel tank. Then I discovered the hoses where all secure, it was the fuel tank itself that was leaking. Nothing I could do right then but drain the fuel and let the bike air out for a few hours till night time when the hotel manager insisted I bring my bike into the hotel. So here it'll sit, in the middle of the hotel lobby until I can get a new fuel tank.

To be continued...