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Xining, China to Lhasa, Tibet


Hank Terrebrood

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Hank Terrebrood

The trip was on BMW's enduro style bikes: Dakar 650, GS1150 and 1200 and 1200 Adventures. . The 650 is a single cylinder and the 1150 & 1200 A are opposed twins. I was riding a GS 1150

 

In one particularly bad 36 hour period: We got bad dope Thursday, June 25th from a Tibet guy on the state of a road through a fairly high mountain pass. The company that was leading our tour had been sold a story by the Tibetan guy that he could lead us through a detour encountered just before the China/Tibet boarder. At about 2pm the conditions deteriorated on the road from the highway to the boarder. It was under construction, slippery with mud and had huge craters in it where small streams had run through or under the road. We wouldn't realize that this was he best part of the road until almost 8 hours later.

 

At 2:00 we stopped and ate spam, canned corned beef, bread rolls, baked beans, canned tuna and Oreos in preparation for the expected long ride ahead.

 

At the end of the hardpack and about at the crest of a small mountain, where construction and planning was obviously still underway for the future road, we came upon a construction crew that was vehemently arguing against the ability of our bikes to complete the section of unpacked, unmarked road ahead. Our Tibet temporary hire convinced everyone that it was possible and we were allowed to continue. We wound down the backside of the mountain and through a valley floor that went on for about 12 kilometers before coming to a stream that marked the end of the best of the road.

 

The stream was only about 10 meters wide and 1 meter deep at the worst but several riders did not wish to attempt the crossing as the rocks were sized between softballs and basketballs and made the crossing a bit difficult as the front wheel attempted to free the handlebars from riders that were anything less than determined. A couple of guys went down in the stream and had to have their bikes rescued by a couple of guys. After a couple of other guys and I got across we helped those that fell and then walked the stream to ride the bikes over that had been left on the approach side where riders that hadn't tried had left them sitting. This was the start of a 6 hour period in which I was to help up many riders and their bikes as well as pick my own machine up twice.

 

After getting across the stream the road worsened into a muddy, swampy mess with only short stretches that were easily ridable. Around 150 yards from the stream there was a bog off to the left where the ground looked to be firm and grass covered. Three bikes went that way and sunk past their frames in a muddy hole. I stopped about 100 yards in front and walked back to help the guys get out. The 650 Dakar I grabbed by the front forks and lifted while pulling in order to let the guy walking beside the bike get a bit of power to the back wheel - it came out the 20 yards to harder road in 30 seconds or so. The 1150 and 1200 A weigh a heck of a lot more and took more time pulling and lifting. By now we had only gone around 500 yards from the stream and I had already picked up 4 fallen bikes, unstuck 3 and ridden 2 others through the stream or the swampy area directly ahead. This short area took 25 minutes to get through.

 

I got on my machine to start the next stretch and hadn't paid much attention that I was in a mud field that was slick as snot. Starting out the bike went right out from under me falling on its right side. I picked my own bike up and started out a little muddier. The next 1500 yards or so were through similar conditions. The smart way to ride is when you come to a set of ruts made by previous bikes or trucks is to hit what looks like the deepest parts and push forward while keeping your head and eyes up while keeping up a bit of speed and momentum. If you start trying to ride the ridges, the back end of the bike will slide off and send you to 90 degrees of the road direction in an instant.

 

We came to a part that was difficult to get our chase van and chase truck (two wheel drive Mercedes goods six wheeled truck) through. I stayed behind to help push the van and watched as the truck driver managed to get up the slippery hill. I left the area last with more crappy road in front of me.

 

The problem was that it was getting cold and riders were getting tired so they began to avoid the deep water sections of the ruts in the road and started trying to ride the higher sections. More bikes went down and riders had to be helped. I had just helped a guy up and caught up with another rider that went down. I watched him fall and nearly cried realizing that I had to stop and pickup one more.

 

We made it to the end of a valley and came to a road with very sharp, muddy, slippery switchbacks. Another experienced rider and I took out for the top of the mountain and made these switchbacks look easy by carrying speed through and using the mountain side of the sharp turns as a bit of a berm. The sharp turns stopped just as we came to a stretch of around 250 yards that was very deep water and mud. I made it through to within 20 yards of the end and stalled the bike. I sat there for several minutes catching my breath (we were just a shade under 15,000 feet at 4,550 meters) before starting her up and wallowing out the rest of the trail.

 

At the top was a wood and rope shrine that had prayer flags all over it - looks just like a used car lot back in the states without the used cars under the flags.

 

One guy went forward and looked at the downhill section of road. It was just as bad going down as it was coming up, only now it was 11pm and the prospect of missing a corner and driving off the edge of the mountain did not appeal to anyone. We decided to wait for all the vehicles to make it to the summit and spend the night where we were. As I was cold, wet and muddy from helping everyone throughout the day, the group voted me into the chase van. It kept the wind off but was cold as the outside. The driver was convinced that there was an issue with a belt and he would only start the van (diesel) throughout the night in order to get some heat going. At around 2 C or 36 F and wet it was one of the most uncomfortable nights I have ever had.

 

We got started the next morning at 07:15 and went down through identical conditions as those through which we had come up. It was about the first 1/3 way down the mountain that I helped a bike and rider up. Riding on to about 2/3 down the mountain the road went into a very deep mud and water stretch with a trail leading left that went much steeper but looked dry. I saw that there were bike tracks down the steep left and so decided to take that route and spare me the wet experience. Mistake.

 

The GS1150 does not do a good job of engine braking and the pace downward at closed throttle began to quicken immediately. A slight back brake got my rear end parallel to the front end so I let up quickly. As speed increased I decided that I needed to ride the brake and deal with the consequences. Those consequences came almost immediately as the back end passed the front end and I couldn't keep the shiny side up any longer. The bike went down pretty hard and on top of me. As I was sliding down I reached up with my free leg and kicked the bike off of my trapped leg, fearful that a rock that may be encountered during the slide would break my ankle or leg. The slide only lasted about 30 yards. As I tried to pick the bike up it just slid away from my efforts the first two times. I finally positioned the bike perpendicular to the decent line and righted the machine. Now I have a bike upright but on the side of a mountain that is too slippery to walk down. Touching the front brake would just send the front wheel out from under and there is no way to walk next to the bike while attempting to apply the back brake.

 

I decided to wait until a few more guys came down the mountain so that they could walk on either side of the bike while I walked with the bike to go head down and off the mountain. The same guys that I had picked up the previous day came and went. I spent an hour and a half alone on the mountain until someone got in touch with a four wheel drive chase vehicle, a rope and three willing helpers. The guys tied a long rope to the back of the bike and walked behind me as brakes while I walked the bike down. It took only about 20 minutes to get off the mountain with a little help.

 

During the fall I had burst a fuel line so I waited at the bottom of the mountain for our support truck. While there the company owner, Lam Wah, rode up and said, "Hank, you take my bike, PLEASE, while I wait to see if we can fix yours." Lam Wah had been suffering from the altitude and had dropped his machine a couple of times already. The time was around 10am and I was at the back of the pack.

 

I caught up with another rider and he and I spent the rest of the day following the bad roads to better roads and finally to pavement at around 120 kilometers ahead. All day the previous day and that morning our guide and the locals kept saying, "another 5 kilometers until pavement." When we hit pavement, I had made it to the front of the second group. The first group consisted of two guys riding mostly by themselves the entire trip.

 

One of the guys in the second group missed having a basketball size boulder fall of the side of the mountain and into his cranium by a split second. As it was, the boulder smashed through his fairing, headlight and into the left tube of his front fork. Riding just a tiny bit faster and it would have been his, or his son's, head that caught that rock. When we all were at the pavement junction, I took point and led the group through a fairly slow 52 kilometer run into the town where we would spend the night.

 

The funny part about the preceding 24 hours of bad road is that Monks were coming and going all day, sometimes 2 up, on mopeds. Skinny tired things that they just dragged their feet along side and went on impossibly skinny dry strips of land here and there.

 

We arrived around 7pm and I needed a constitutional moment after dropping off my bags. I checked in, did my thing, washed my hands and headed out with my two way radio in my hand looking for the group that had ridden in with me and their dining location. At each restaurant that I approached I opened the door or held back the curtain while speaking into the radio, "anyone on the air?" The funny thing was that in every restaurant guys that had been sitting with their feet on chairs or leaned back suddenly sat up straight and avoided looking at me. When I found my group they said I appeared a little intimidating with a radio, a boot held together with tie wraps, a face covered with mud and a shock of blonde hair. Several agreed that "Russian Hitman" came to mind as I opened the door quite clearly looking for someone. I told them the story of looking for them over the prior 15 minutes and they understood why everyone would "act normal" when some crazy looking guy flings open the door/curtain of a local restaurant while talking into a two-way radio. Everyone laughed. Later I got back to the hotel and saw my face. Nobody had told me that there was a centimeter or so of dirt and mud caked to my skin from the neck of my t-shirt to just below my hairline.

 

My boot was held together with tie wraps as during the day my left foot hit a rock in the corner of the road. The impact somehow ripped most of the sole of the boot away from the welt. I stopped and used two nylon ties to put it back under my shoe. That night in town a guy on the sidewalk restitched a new sole and gave me two new heels while I waited. The cost was US8.00 and that was probably the "rip off the foreigner" price.

 

The hotel that night was one of the worse of the trip. There was crap on the carpet and on the floor of the bathroom - literally. The next day the hotel management had the gall to ask for a few guys to pay for the mud that they had left in their towels. Nobody paid as several said that the mud in the towel was crap cleaned up off of the floor of their bathrooms or bedrooms. Truely heinous.

 

A few pictures from the trip here: http://picasaweb.google.com/Hank.Terrebrood/China_Tibet_Motorcyle_Trip

Full sized originals are here: http://whitebalance.smugmug.com/gallery/8796134_tJuH2

 

The final destination was to be base camp, Mt. Everest. I, however, had a flare up of a chronic osteomilitis in my right tibia and the swelling and fever made me beat feet back to Hong Kong and doctor's care. I left from Lhasa two days before the group was to arrive at base camp.

 

It would be difficult to plan a better, more challenging on-road/off-road adventure. We have already discussed a possibility for next year's route.

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Stephen Ball
And so, what part of this adventure was fun? :(

 

Did you see the pics? Beautiful! I'd love to do this ride.

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Nice n Easy Rider
And so, what part of this adventure was fun? :(

 

Did you see the pics? Beautiful! I'd love to do this ride.

 

I was referring to the 36 hr adventure he described. The pics were indeed great.

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WOW!!! I would still have done it!! This is one of those trips that sounded like a good idea at the time!!!!!!!

 

Osteomyelitis is a baaaaad thing....hope it clears up soon.

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Great report Hank. Must have been difficult coping with the altitude as well as lifting bikes throughout the day. Thanks for sharing.

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Hank Terrebrood

Anytime one can overcome obstacles the experience is one of growth and excitement in general.

 

The views along the way were amazing - the "foot hills" of the Himilayas contain more than 100 mountains higher than 7,200 meters. Amazing considering the next tallest mountain outside of Asia is in the Andes at 6,962 meters. The area is also the birthplace of many major rivers including the Mekong, the Yangtze and the Yellow (Huang He).

 

I can understand that adventure riding is not for everyone. Some prefer asphalt or concrete from A to B - I have completed several of those as well, most of those rides included folks that would not be able to participate in this type of riding.

 

Adventure riding a totally different enjoyment factor.

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Hank Terrebrood
And so, what part of this adventure was fun? :(

 

Did you see the pics? Beautiful! I'd love to do this ride.

 

Watch this space. Around December I'll announce the schedule for next year's ride. We are talking about starting on the Silk Road in Kashgar (near the China, Pakistan and Kyrgyzstan boarders).

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Nice n Easy Rider
Anytime one can overcome obstacles the experience is one of growth and excitement in general.

 

The views along the way were amazing - the "foot hills" of the Himilayas contain more than 100 mountains higher than 7,200 meters. Amazing considering the next tallest mountain outside of Asia is in the Andes at 6,962 meters. The area is also the birthplace of many major rivers including the Mekong, the Yangtze and the Yellow (Huang He).

 

I can understand that adventure riding is not for everyone. Some prefer asphalt or concrete from A to B - I have completed several of those as well, most of those rides included folks that would not be able to participate in this type of riding.

 

Adventure riding a totally different enjoyment factor.

 

As long as you enjoyed it, that's all that counts. You answered my question. Thanks for sharing. :)

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