(skip to the bottom of the post for links to the book and show)
It’s been just over four years now since Amy and I left on our five-month motorcycle adventure through all 33 provinces in Mainland China. While our lives have progressed with non-motorcycling events in the intervening years (marriage, new career, moving back the U.S.), the trip has never been too far from our minds.
Ever since making the decision that rather than do a month-long trip to Yunnan, we would attempt the much more ambitious itinerary we ended up with, it occurred to me that this could be an experience worth sharing. So I decided that we would prepare ourselves to not just motorcycle for five months but try and capture the whole thing at the same time.
With limited funds and no chance for any technical support, almost as much planning went into how we would record our experiences as went into the trip itself. We carried a total of 6 cameras- two iPhones in waterproof cases, a Nikon DSLR, a Canon point and shoot, and two action cameras (one helmet and one to attach at the end of a pole or on the bike). Everyday Amy and I would have from 2-4 hours of work split between the two of us. Notes in our journals about the days’ events, recording daily video diaries, organizing all of our footage from the day (both video and photo) so it could be easily searchable later, transcribing information to be shared on social media, plus the duties we had for our sponsor and partner charity. It was a lot of work to put in on top of 8-10 hours of rigorous motorcycle travel, and often easy to question if it was even worth it.
I’m not sure how one measures the worth of effort expounded, but at the end of four years of it (it almost definitely won’t be financially worth it!), I can at least say that I’m proud of the results. Today I’m happy to present two fruits of that labor- a narrative book and a pilot for a TV mini-series. The 25-minute pilot was produced by the end of 2015 when Amy, myself, and our co-producer David Muskett released it at a private screening with friends in Beijing. Having since been unable to find a broadcast/online network willing to take a risk on us and help produce the remaining 6 episodes, we’ve decided to finally release it to the public for free on our YouTube channel. The first episode covers a lot of ground. It introduces Amy and I, how we decided to travel around China by motorcycle, all the prep work that led to our departure from Beijing, and the first 10 days of the journey from Beijing to Harbin, Heilongjiang province (and in just the first 10 days a lot happens including a motorboat trip to North Korea, a leaking gas tank, a disappearing highway, and our first fall!).
With a different medium comes a different approach to sharing experiences. The book is written as a travel narrative that follows the journey from my personal point of view. My goal with this project though was not just to tell a travel story (“this happened, then this broke, then we got lost, etc.”). I also wanted to use this as an opportunity to share with readers a more well-rounded, nuanced view of China than the one that is often depicted in the news and social media. The trip itself along with our backgrounds with China and the language, I the opportunity to have this experience first hand. Wrapped in the framework of an adventure travel book, it is also what I hope to share with readers of my book. Some of my favorite travel books are the ones that practically trick you into learning something. It’s also why I love to travel by motorcycle. The immersive experience lends itself to forcing you as a traveler to think more about the places you are traveling through rather than simply acting, in the words of Robert Pirzig, as a “passive observer [letting it] all [move] by you boringly in a frame”.
I’ve been asked before why I wanted to write a book about The Great Ride of China, and after spending 3.5 years with that goal in mind, I can say it’s a fair question! While others have certainly had more exciting or dangerous or profound journeys in China and elsewhere, and many have even written books (and produced TV shows!) about it far better than mine, I felt that this is a story of mine worth sharing. If I can inspire just one person to embark on an adventure that he or she has been dreaming of, or introduce someone to a more human side of a country I called home for the better part of my adult life, then I’d say it’s mission accomplished.
Before sharing the links one last time, there is a third and final side of the story that I’m really excited to share- Amy’s! While the project is still in production, Amy has been working on a coffee table-style photo book alongside my book. While it can be thought of as a companion to the works above, it also stands very much on its own. Her book is a collection of some of our favorite images from the journey thematically arranged by Amy. The photos will also be accompanied by several personal essays sharing her perspective on some of the challenges (and rewards) of life on the road in China. If this is something you’d be interested in, make sure to sign up for our newsletter and you can also check out a preview of some of the photos here.