July 31st-August 1st; Boketu to Manzhouli (440km), Manzhouli to Xinbaerhu Youqi (248km)
We had smooth sailing up to our northern-most point and the Russian border today as we really entered the open grass plains today. The terrain flattened completely out as the provincial road merged with the expressay as the only road left to go up north.
We actually had to hop on the expressway before this point though as we hit some construction with no proper detour around it. We’ve learned that you can never rely on proper signage on Chinese roads. Even worse was that none of the workers seemed to know the way around either. There was one guy, right where the road got blocked who told us we needed to go back, but was also really excited to meet us. I’m pretty sure he was stone-cold drunk (at about 10:30am) because his cheeks were completely red and he kept asking me to stay behind and drink with him. He also spent about 10-15 minutes exchanging contact information, even giving us the phone number of his brother in law to call in case we wanted to find him.
We eventually decided to just go on the expressway. Didn’t seem worth it to risk construction or back roads, and with that we made great time going about 120+km/h down the completely deserted highway towards Manzhouli.
Biker Friends at the Russian Border
We got to the border in great time. It was about 4:30 and one thing that I wanted to try and do while up there was actually cross into Russia. The reason for this is that my current visa, though is good until the end of the year, requires me to exit and re-enter the country every 90 days. I still had plenty of time on the visa but didn’t want to have to deal with it later on stuck in the middle of nowhere so I thought I’d give it a shot.
In the end it turned out there was no way to cross without going through some red tape. The bike would take days if not weeks to register and I couldn’t walk across so would need to get a bus. Then of course I would also need a visa from the Russian Embassy. So we abandoned the idea.
We met a lot of interesting people there though including one group of about 15-20 Harley Davidson riders that had come up from Hebei and two guys that had traveled up from the south and were planning on riding through Russia into Europe. It was nice, as usual, to meet other travelers and talk a little bit more about the road and less about where we were from and how much our bike cost.
Manzhouli was a weird town. It was clearly built for all the Russian tourists coming across to shop as nearly all the signs were in Russian and the architecture, though obviously fake and new for the most part, was trying to immitate a traditional Russian style with domed roofs, gothic looking pillars, fake stone and tile materials. We tried to find a Russian restaurant for dinner, which we managed to do, but I wouldn’t say the food was authentic by any means.
Run in with the Police
We started to leave Manzhouli after a bit of a sleep in as we starting to feel a little rundown (but still in good spirits!). It was raining unfortunately, and the water was out in our section of the city because of a big storm the night before. After a long time wandering around trying to find a gas station, we started to make our way out.
I pulled up to a stoplight around through the bike lane and a little infront of the first stopped car when a police officer stepped out from the corner pointed at my front tire, walked around the bike and took my key out. We then spent the next 30 minutes or so arguing with about 4 different police officers that were all monitoring that corner about how I had crossed the stop line at the light.
I was making the argument that in rain it was safer for me to pull out a little in case a car wasn’t paying attention and rear-ended me (I have a friend who had this happen to him exactly actually). They were so intent on giving me trouble though that they started to make the point that it didn’t matter what my logic was, the traffic laws were number one. It became clear that they were just intent on giving the foreigner trouble though as multiple vehicles crossed this same exact line while stopped with no repurcussions whatsoever. One car I had pointed out to them and they then felt compelled to pull him over. Amy told me later that nothing actually happened though and it was all for show.
Eventually, one particularly angry cop yelled at me that they didn’t need to fine me but my logic was irrelevant and I needed to admit I was wrong. This was ok with me as it became clear that they were just trying to save face now and wanted it to end.
Back South Through the Open Plains
The rest of the day was much nicer. The road was completely flat and open which made for some really interesting scenery. Even driving in the rain, which eventually cleared up, was nice because it added a certain serenity to the ride.
We decided that we would try and camp for the night at one of the Mongolian yurt camps dotted around the plains. So as the day started winding down we found one to pull into and asked if they had a place to stay. This particular camp was apparently setup more as a restaurant than a place to stay, but they told us we could stay in one of the employee yurts or setup our tent outside.
Shelter from the Storm
After we set up our camp for the night, we went into the main yurt for dinner. We could see some rainclouds in the distance but it looked like they were blowing away. As we were sitting waiting for our dinner though, we could see some rain starting to come in. We looked out and actually caught a glimpse of a full rainbow right over the camp.
After that though, the night got rough. The rain and wind picked up to become apparently the heaviest storm they had had (or would have) all year. Wind was blowing things all over the place as picnic table got picked up and tossed right towards the yurts. It wasn’t long before one of the stakes in my tent came loose and the tent collapsed.
We saw all this from our dinner yurt and knew that we would in fact be spending the night in the yurt instead of the tent. Actually, even the yurt was leaking pretty heavily everywhere except right over the 3 beds that went around in a semi-circle at the edge of the tent.
At one point in the night, I looked out through the door and through a bolt of lightening saw that bike had fallen over. Later, when the rain stopped and we went over to inspect, I found that despite reinforcing the ground under the kickstand, it had still sunk through until the bike was on its side. One of the attendants found a plank of wood and we managed to pick the bike back up with not much damage having been done.
So, with that we spent the rest of the night in the yurt hoping the sun would be out in the morning enough for us to dry our stuff off.