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Old city wall in Datong- Lots more of these now that we're moving towards the ancient center of China

Days 19 & 20 – Back to the “Real China”

August 6th-7th; 240km/231km; Huade, IM to Datong, Shanxi to Xinzhou, Shanxi

Drying Out

Laying everything out after the rains from the previous night

Laying everything out after the rains from the previous night

We spent virtually the entire morning drying all of our stuff out from the rains the previous night. As we were laying stuff out and boiling some water for some instant coffee (using our Chinese liquor, baijiu, fueled alcohol stove) various members of the village came out to say hi and see what the weird foreigners were up to outside of their village. In most cases of course this just meant silently staring at us as we went about our business. Our friends from the previous day also came out to see how we had made out during the night.

By lunch time we were on our way again and luckily most things had had a chance to dry out completely.

Moving South and Away from the Periphery

We passed 5,000km!

We passed 5,000km!

We started moving farther south today. This meant starting to put the plains and beautiful roads of Inner Mongolia behind us. Literally as soon as we took the turn from going west to south, the roads got noticeably worse.

We were moving back towards the more heavily inhabitated and trafficked areas of China which meant that the roads were much more abused by the overweight trucks barreling across them. In addition to the roads being in worse condition, the drivers even seemed to get more frantic and less aware of their surroundings. This more stressful type of driving made entering our 7th province, Shanxi, more than a little bittersweet.

Old city wall in Datong- Lots more of these now that we're moving towards the ancient center of China

Old city wall in Datong- Lots more of these now that we’re moving towards the ancient center of China

The city we ended up in for the night, Datong, was not that fun either as the traffic was miserable and there was dust everywhere. We were further frustrated by the fact that we were turned away by three different hotels in a row that couldn’t register foreigners. One didn’t seem to know their own policies as they said yes, but then after they looked at our passports just as we were starting to unpack, realized they couldn’t. Another simply said it was against their policy to accept foreigners. Ok…

A Late Start, More Rain, and The Expressway

We had ended up in a rather nice hotel, seemingly the only one that would accept foreigners, and took the opportunity to catch up on some posts and emails in the morning.

We ended up getting our latest start yet, around 12:30. It had been raining all morning and I think we were both hoping it would stop at some point. But by noon it became clear that we would be suiting up for rain.

We finally managed to navigate our way out of the city before stopping for some gas. There, one of the attendants informed us that the road ahead was closed for construction and told us about a route around. We followed his instructions navigating through a little village but soon we ran out of intersections where a paved road was an option.

Not wanting to risk hours of mud trying to find a way back to the actual road, we decided that our only way forward would be to sneak onto the expressway. After a couple days back on crowded, dusty, and dilapidated roads, you forget how nice the convenience of the expressway can be. Even with the rain we made great time and the driving was much less stressful.

Back to the Trucks

So many trucks to pass on these smaller roads.

So many trucks to pass on these smaller roads.

Couldn’t last though. Just after passing through an extremely long tunnel, at least a couple of km long, there was a police car stopped next to where it looked like there had been an accident. A cop came right out onto the road with his hand out motioning us to pull over.

Despite putting on our best “dumb foreigner” act, pretending not to understand his telling us we weren’t allowed on, it became pretty hard not to understand what his gestures were indicating. So we got off at the exit right in front of us and back onto the 国道, the smaller provincial road.

The road was nice enough, without much construction, but there were a huge number of trucks on the road. It seemed that every 5 minutes I would be passing half a dozen trucks at a time or so and we were passing rest stops, restaurants, and gas stations with dozens more all parked outside. We passed by one traffic jam on the way that had been caused by what looked like two trucks that had been in a collision. It didn’t seem any one had been seriously injured, but it was a sobering reminder of how lucky we are sometimes. Also lucky was that being on a motorcycle, we didn’t have to stick around in the jam as we squeezed through and continued on our way.

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About Buck

Buck, originally from New York, first came to China in 2006 traveling with some friends and immediately fell in love with the country, returning frequently including a semester studying at Tsinghua University in 2009. He finally moved to Beijing after graduating from the University of Toronto in 2010. He has a passion for adventure and travel, completing numerous long distance motorcycling and hiking trips around the U.S., Canada, and China including a circumnavigation of the U.S. (13,840km) and a thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail (3,500km). When he's not wandering (and sometimes when he is), Buck works as a web developer and marketing consultant in Beijing.