For last October’s national holiday a bunch of us decided to do a weeklong road trip to Yantai and Tsingdao, a 1700 km roundtrip. We were 7 people in total, 5 in a car and Buck and I on trusty Mafan (麻烦). Buck and I set out a day earlier than everyone else to get a head start. It would take us twice as long to get to Yantai – a coastal city close to Tsigndao with a colourful European influenced past – and so we would have to stay on the road one night. Part of the reason it would take us longer is because bikes are not allowed on the highways outside of Beijing. I have no idea why that is, but that suited us fine as highway driving is tedious, and with a bike we could explore the back roads and get a taste of the small towns and cities we passed through.
By the end of our first day we’d done 320 km and were happy to stop over in the nondescript town of Wudi. The ride out of Beijing had been difficult, as it seemed everyone was on their way out of the city. If ever you’ve come to visit Beijing and thought the traffic was a nightmare and that all drivers are suicidal, let me assure you, outside of Beijing there are some truly awful drivers. At the best of times most people consider a motorbike to be nothing more than an inconvenience to be pushed out of whichever lane they happen to be driving in as quickly as possible. However, usually these crazies can be held at bay with the horn and a viscous look from yours truly (sometimes further “encouragement” is needed with a hand gesture). Not so much on the backwater roads surrounding Beijing. Often a car following us would decide our spot was his now (despite the fact that we were following a truck and he’d be going nowhere fast), and would sidle up so close to us that there really was nothing for it but to drop back and let the usurper have his way.
Twice we saw cars coming towards us on a dual carriage way in the wrong lane going against traffic – obviously these people had gotten on at the wrong entrance and it was too much trouble to find an exit, so they simply decided to turn around and get back off the way they came – and we also passed several serious accidents (wonder why), all of which lead to an exhausting first day.
The second day was much better, getting away from the major cities and their urban sprawl and riding through smaller towns and villages where farmers everywhere were laying out their harvested corn cobs to dry. All surfaces lining the roads were used to lay out the corn, the result being that for miles on end you could see patches of yellow dotting the way ahead.
Sunset on the road
Seeing as we’d covered much less distance the day before, we had to make up some time. We ended up riding for 13 hours, the last hour being in the dark (not a fun experience when there are giant trucks thundering past you that do not stop for traffic lights), and finally made the remaining 450 km to Yantai. Happy to have made it in one pice we met up with our friends and indulged in a hearty dinner, which set the world to rights again.
Despite these road horror stories, it has to be said that there are a lot of friendly, reasonable and completely sane people out there. At one point we got lost as we went through what looked like a brand new town, all the road signs had stopped and our gps thought we were in the middle of a field. We saw a car parked up on the side of the road and Buck went over to ask for directions. Not only did the kind family tell us which way to go, they showed us, driving in front of us for 20 minutes to get us back on track. When you stop for food at local restaurants the people are some of the friendliest I’ve come across in China. Everyone is curious to find out why you are in their little town, where you came from and where you are headed, and locals are happy to give you tips about the upcoming roads. All in all this type of traveling leaves behind fond memories of very warm and welcoming exchanges.