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Long, straight, and boring highway

Doing the Expressway Dash Back Down To The Coast

Days 120-122; Nov. 15th-17th; Wuhan, Hubei-Xinyu,Jiangxi-Heyuan, Guangdong-Zhuhai, Guangdong; 26,037km-27,287km

To Hop On Or Not To Hop On, That Is The Question

Rest stop on the highway shoulder. Helps avoid the risk of a rest stop attendant calling the cops on us.

Rest stop on the highway shoulder. Helps avoid the risk of a rest stop attendant calling the cops on us.

There is an interesting dichotomy to expressway riding. It makes for a bit of a complicated relationship that I have with these high-speed roadways. On the one hand, a day on the highway can be extremely productive in terms of distance covered. 400-500km can be covered in less than a full day of riding, giving us time in the day to do other things (sightseeing, email catch up, post office errands, etc). On the other hand they are extremely boring. Every time we are on the expressway I feel as if we are cheating ourselves. Here we are in this high speed walled garden, cutoff from all the life, culture, and, yes, even chaos outside, all the things that we actually came on this trip to see and experience.

When we can avoid getting on the highway, we do. The anxiety brought with each tollbooth, passing cop car, or patrolling guards at rest stops is more trouble usually than it’s worth. And the time wasted when someone tries to kick us off is too much hassle. However sometimes our schedule urges us forward at a pace that necessitates a 120km/h speed limit and so we weave our way past the waving tollbooth attendants and on to the highway.

We had a busy week ahead of us as we made our way back down south to the coast making this just one such a necessitating occasion. We had two of the city-state provincial level regions to visit when we got there, Hong Kong and neighboring Macau, after which in Shenzhen, the city that borders Hong Kong, we had been invited to a Free Lunch for Children event at a local hotel/resort. So from Wuhan we continued our progress on the expressway that we had started the day before. Even after starting at 1pm after needing to switch out our battery, which after so much use was having trouble holding a charge, at the local CFMoto shop and then a spicy noodle lunch at a grimy street-side hole in the wall, we were still able to cover about 430km, crossing over into a new province, Jiangxi.

Our local Jiangxi dinner. Yum yum!

Our local Jiangxi dinner. Yum yum!

We stayed in a Home Inn budget hotel right next to the main train station in the city, Xinyu. We asked around for a good restaurant where we could get local food. We decided that to say we officially visited a province we needed to satisfy at least one of two conditions: either have a specific site that we visit or have a local meal. Preferably we could do both. So since we didn’t have much time in Jiangxi, we found a nice local restaurant and tried some of the suggestions the server gave us. We had a nice tofu dish as well as a really tasty fish that luckily didn’t have too many bones. One thing we’ve found is that the area of south central China, namely the areas of Hunan, Hubei, and Jiangxi, really enjoy spicy food. Every dish here seems to be laced with peppers pretty much by default.

“Everything You See Is Just More TV”

Eastern Hubei and into Jiangxi seemed to have some really beautiful mountain landscapes. Viewing the rolling mountains from the expressway brought to mind Robert Pirsig‘s description of driving a car in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance:

In a car you’re always in a compartment, and because you’re used to it you don’t realize that through that car window everything you see is just more TV. You’re a passive observer and it is all moving by you boringly in a frame.

On a cycle the frame is gone. You’re completely in contact with it all. You’re in the scene, not just watching it anymore, and the sense of presence is overwhelming.

We wanted to try and continue on in our progress south on the national road to try and enjoy some of the mountains but our spirits were quickly dampened when before even breaking through the city limits the pavement was cracked and crumbling, lanes were rerouted, trucks were running us off the road, and detours were so poorly signed that no one knew where to go. Fuck that. Back to the expressway for us.

The Cluster Of Cities To A Border Crossing

Lonely expressway gas station

Lonely expressway gas station

That was more or less how it went through to Heyuan in Guangdong province and then the next day through the busy and expansive urban tangle of highways that line the coastal area of Guangzhou, Shenzhen, and Zhuhai.

We drove west across this mess, passing south under the city of Guangzhou to Zhuhai which shares its border with Macau, a former Portuguese colony which in 1999, like Hong Kong a couple of years earlier, was handed over to the Chinese now falling under the category of “Special Administrative Regions of The People’s Republic of China”. Unfortunately, this “Special Administrative” qualification meant that to drive into Macau and Hong Kong, one needed to apply for dual license plates and the proper driving documents. We had been trying to get these done in time for our visit but the process was too complicated and time consuming.

We attempted to talk our way across, pulling out all the information about Free Lunch for Children and explaining how we were raising money for charity while trying to break a world record. The police at the border were surprisingly sympathetic and even made some calls to see what they could do. In the end though, there was just way too much bureaucracy and red tape and we were turned away. So we changed our plan and found a close by hotel to drop our stuff off, park the bike and try our luck by foot.

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.