Day One Shanghai to Yancheng
A dozen of the Shanghai H.O.G.s met downtown, and we departed city center. Once in rural Shandong province, the chaos actually intensified. Since we can’t ride the elevated expressways or highways, it’s all narrow secondary two-lane roads cutting through small villages and towns and is complete lawlessness. Beyond the arbitrary pulling into oncoming traffic or driving on the wrong side of the road, the miasma of cars, scooters, bicycles, and bizarre overloaded machines made Shanghai seem like a synchronized swim team. Plus, it was raining. I had to step up my game considerably because these riders live here and they do this all the time. Craig is a former police officer. He absolutely loved this riding style, beaming, “It’s like being in pursuit all day.” We travelled through tiny rural areas that have never seen or heard the sound of Harley’s big V-twin, and they absolutely loved it. A crowd of smiling, inquisitive faces surrounded us wherever we stopped. The roar of a dozen loud Harleys literally shut down daily activity. An intoxicating concoction of newfound celebrity and brashness of The Wild One, we dominated everywhere we went. I don’t know where else a dozen Harleys could roll in and get the respect of a king, yet ride like a cowboy. Yes, there were harrowing moments but Jim Rice is a master of attitude and position and kept the group moving safely. These riders all work together seamlessly as a team, wearing full-face helmets, protective riding gear, and handle their motorcycles with impressive skill. Stopping for lunch in Nantong, my first meal was comprised of traditional Chinese white rice, tea, whole cooked fish, vegetables, and a previously live chicken picked by a fellow rider.
The game of dodge ball began again, but after several hours of riding, what had earlier seemed like sheer madness became an orchestrated ballet of rhythm and motion. My breathing relaxed, pulse slowed, and instead of fixating on random moving targets and anticipating my every move, I saw the entire surreal scene unfolding like a lotus blossom before me. It became a beautiful, effortless ebb and flow of man, machine, and motion. I had found Zen and the art of motorcycling China.
Day Two Yancheng to Qingdao
"The longest journey begins with a single step."
The ballet begins again and the deeper we went into China, the more bizarre driving etiquette became. Massive buses barrel down the wrong side of the road. Overloaded trucks spill loads, and bicycle carts head directly into high-speed traffic, but hey, that’s China and today is sunny. The air became cooler and less acrid. This day’s ride included two ferry crossings: one the Yangtze River, the second Jiaozhou Bay to Qingdao. We dined in the village of Guanyun but today’s menu included deer tendons, chicken feet, fried frog tongues (don’t eat the ligaments though) to marrow sipped right from the bone with a straw. Pick your own sea snake or turtle to be barbecued and served up fresh; we weren’t in Kansas anymore, kids.
Finally out in rural China, new roads wound through tree-lined panoramas surrounded by lush green fields of soybeans and corn. Able to spend some time in Sixth-gear, I surveyed the landscape. Brick buildings that look hundreds of years old are juxtaposed against brand-new two story homes. Farmers drying out their corn crops against the background of new construction; new homes, new roads, new towns and cities sprout like mushrooms. Traveling through tepid pockets of air, scents ranged from peach blossoms to sewer stench—that is the dichotomy that is China. We stopped for a smoke (everybody smokes in China), and I found a gravesite near the road. It was property that’s probably been in a family for hundreds of years that now has paved roads bringing modern motorcycles rumbling through. A Chinese man bicycling by stopped to gawk at the Harleys. We were Yin & Yang: he, like me, was riding the specter between two worlds.