Riding the Dragon’s Back
Day Five Linyi to Yangzhou
Culture shock: Pacific Coast Chapter Westminster, California
There are many good roads in China but there are far more bad ones. Today rarely saw Fourth gear. The hard roads became an angry dragon undulating below us. Waves and bumps that shook and bounced the bikes for miles, this dance was the twist. Next came the ruts. Small ruts became 2-feet-deep potholes. Moving too fast to avoid, one sent Jay airborne bucking him completely off his bike. He banged up both his body and bike but he rode on to our next stop. Convinced he could soldier on, we disagreed and called in the chase vehicle to trailer his bike and get him safely to Shanghai. Jay is a seasoned rider; his first bike in China was a Suzuki GSX-R600 in 2003. He had that bike for three years then purchased his first Harley-Davidson. I’m gonna miss him. Continuing on, the hard road suddenly closed sending massive trucks, cars, scooters, and us down a dirt road that ultimately became a single lane. We encountered a Mandarin standoff that took our whole team to resolve so our motorcycles could pass, and that was the easy part. A bridge was also closed for repair routing two-wheeled vehicles, meaning bicycles and scooters, (Harley-Davidsons have never passed here before) to a temporary bridge over the river. Four feet wide and 40 feet long, this was the only access to the other side. Certainly not intended for fully loaded 1,000-pound Electra Glides, with great trepidation we crossed. As the bridge swayed high above the river, each one of us said a silent prayer. It will be a great adventure if nothing goes awry; sheer stupidity if something does. We toasted at dinner in Yangzhou to a great adventure.
Like every city I visited in China, its history runs deep. If this were a sightseeing tour, I would visit the beautiful Five Pavilion Bridge and Twenty Four Bridge at Slender Lake, He Garden or Wen Feng Tower, but it’s not. I am riding seven to 10 hours a day on roads unpredictable as an angry dragon.
Day SixYangzhou to Shanghai
Sixth gear, three lane roads with barriers in between prohibiting oncoming traffic, people actually using turn signals and paying attention to stoplights. It’s hard to believe I’m still in China. Lunch in Wuxi was my favorite so far. Roasted sweet & sour baby eggplant, edamame and tofu dish, shrimp, and fresh vegetables sautéed with a tangy soy sauce. Every town and province has its own unique food; there was literally something distinct and new almost every meal on my journey. I realized that the term “Chinese food” would be like saying “European food,” a complete misnomer. French and German cuisines are completely different.
Back in Shanghai I had one more day and visited Zhujiajiao, a canal town, often compared to Venice, Italy. It is situated on the bank of the Dianshan Lake on the western outskirts of Shanghai. The town features waterways, arched stone bridges, ancient streets paved with stone, and more than 10,000 houses dating back to the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) dynasties. The five-arch Fangsheng Bridge, built in 1571 in the Ming Dynasty, is still standing there. Inscriptions on the weather-beaten stones tell people to do good things and accumulate merits for the afterlife. There are 36 bridges in the town and each has a name and a story. Sitting on a bridge watching the boats drift by, I contemplate my story and the past week.
I’d traveled six days and 1,600 miles on a Harley-Davidson motorcycle through China’s largest cities and rural villages; places that had never seen the likes of Chinese or Americans on thundering Harleys. I have newfound friends and respect for the people and its culture, not to mention a new respect for the durability of a Harley. I had ridden with the Shanghai H.O.G.s in China, met wonderful people everywhere. Deemed worthy to ride with this elite group of adventure riders, they presented me with an honorary Shanghai H.O.G. patch. I’ll wear it proudly.