It was now after 4 pm and we had 349 km to ride to Wulanchabu/Ulanqab and it gets dark at 1830. This is to try and keep to what we have found to be the overly ambitious itinerary we have.
These cameras will be everywhere!!!! BUT they are for front plates only 🙂
Leaving the city there are several km of dinosaur statures.
About 50 km out there is a police check point where you must get off and walk over to the office where they take a photo of your passport, Chinese plate card, and Chinese drivers license. There are a lot of officers here with big guns. The place is high tech and each officer has a iPad like device to scan Chinese ID cards. Now to get onto the G55 toll highway.
All major roads here are user pay and toll. Bikes are illegal on the highway here. At the first booth there were no other vehicles and they could see us coming for 400 m and so the guy in the booth was out and blocking the lane. We had been told by the guide to go to the far right lane and “ride there”…He did not specify before this that we would need to hide behind the van and stealth our way to storming the gate. He did not say that you just ride and don’t stop if they come out…they will not do anything to you, but must make some attempt to stop you as they are constantly watched by CCT. I’m not sure if we knew this ahead of time we would have agreed to this, but there is absolutely no way you can get anywhere here if you do not use the highway system. Our itinerary would be impossible.
The first toll attempt was thus an epic fail. We backtracked and then went about 5 km to the next entrance and had much better luck now that we knew the game. The guy did still hop out of the booth, but he was not quick enough to stop the first bike and once one is gone they do not try to stop the rest. The only issue was the sun was so low in the sky and blazing in our eyes that Trevor who was the last bike did not see the gate (that the rest of us went to the right of) and it nearly took him off his bike. The terrain here is like the south of Mongolia of course we are in “inner Mongolia” and it is mostly flat semi desert. There was however some sand drifting onto the pavement at times. We had made it about 200 km and the sun had just set and it was now 10 degrees and we all needed to put on a few more layers. Now we had 140 km to go still in the dark. It is a bit more hilly as we go farther south and east. There have been almost no other vehicles on the road and this was true until about 60 km from the city. The traffic in the city center was a bit hectic, but sedate compared with Tehran.
We finally reached the hotel at 9 pm riding in the dark day one. We managed to find a decent Chinese Bbq/grill place and again our driver ordered up some interesting and delicious food.
Chinese hotels are interesting and different. Only some are “available” to receive foreigners. When you check in you must pay a cash deposit that is up to twice the room rate, but usually less and 100 RNB (20$). Because we checked in “late” or after 6 we had to pay more for the rooms as well. Breakfast is included about half the time. The cleanliness of hotels here is below NA standards (its hard to have clean carpets when you use a broom and not a vacuum). The general wear and tear is evident from the about of use they see. It is not unusual to have your breakfast in a dining hall half filled with stacks of piled up furniture for example.
This morning we did have breakfast in the hotel and paid about 5$ for the buffet. They did have Nescafe and at least a few food items we could identify. Today we will try to get back on track with our itinerary. This means 486 km from Wulanchbu/Ulanqab to the Great wall at Mutianyu to get back on schedule and make up for getting such a late start yesterday. This will not be achievable in day light!
We were out of the hotel by 845 and to our first Chinese fuel station. Getting fuel in some districts especially in a city can be challenging. We pulled up to the pump and the women refused to put gas into the tank of a motorcycle. We had to park in the designated motorcycle parking and then fill a old dented leaking rusty kettle with a rubber tube attached to the spout with 4.5 L of gas at a time. This is so stupid and gas is dripping all over the place. Not to mention that you have to refill the kettle numerous times for each bike. Apparently on the highway (where motorcycles are not allowed they will refuel with the pump…..go figure). We needed 11 refills for the 4 bikes and so this took a while. We had 3 litres left from Trevor’s gas as he went first and put it into Dan’s jerry can. The attendant started yelling at us and said that if we did not stop doing that she would not sell us anymore fuel. You need a special permit in China to fill a jerry can.
We managed to get back on the highway with no issues today and past 4 tolls today. They are so much easier when they are busy and especially with large trucks as we can pull up along them and pass on the far right. Today only one girl tried minimally to stop us at one exit gate. This is a bit stressful and Dan and I don’t feel all that great about breaking the rules, but how else can you get around when the choice is roads that are “toll highway” or secondary roads with lines of trucks.
We stopped after 100 km for a rest and met some Chinese bikers doing the same toll gate running as us. It is very convenient at every service center on the highway there is a “boiler room” to get hot water to make coffee, tea, or a noodle soup. They all also have free bathroom and usually a buffet restaurant.
After lunch at one of these places we still had 140 km to go at 130 or 3 hours according to the guide to get to the Great Wall. The scenery gets even more hilly as you get closer to the capital. There is more and more traffic as you approach Beijing.
We had to stop for 30 min at the police check so our driver could get a permit to drive inside the Beijing city limits. You have to have special licence plates to drive in the city centre. The police on the road and here at the check did not even give us a second look, which seems strange since we are not allowed on the highway.
We had views on the distant hills of the Badaling section of the wall that is about 50 km from the centre. This is where we think the guides made their next mistake. We drove right past the Badaling section of the wall (which I think is the nicer), “because the itinerary said so”. If we had changed plans here we would have avoided the rest of the issues of the day (almost missing seeing the wall, issues getting gas, and driving in the dark DAY 2). They did not communicate to us actually how far it is to access the Mutianyu wall and how long it would take to go so few km.
We had to go into the 6 th ring road and then back out 50 km on the very busy windy secondary road to the Mutianyu section of the wall.
We arrived to the parking at 420, changed, and rushed over to the ticket office to buy wall tickets, shuttle tickers, and gondola tickets…..35$. You then have to walk 400 m to the bus that drives you up and drops you 300 m from the gondola station.
Then you walk up the stairs to get there gondola. Time is marching on and the last Gondola down is 6 pm. We finally were on the wall at 5 pm and so after all this riding to get here we had 45 min visit. We did have very few people and a beautiful evening light.
We got the last of the gondolas down, but had to wait 20 min for the bus to go down again. Its rapidly getting dark. The initial plan had been to ride another 60 km to a hotel near Honda at the 5 th ring road of Beijing and stay 2 nights, but that distance will take about 2 hours. We decided to change hotel plans for tonight and stay much closer to our current location. In Beijing city you can gas at the pumps and so this made getting fuel tonight easy. We left the parking at 1830 and had 11 km to the gas station and then 10 km to the hotel in Huairen, which is located between the 5 th and 6 th ring road. They have unique numbering systems here in Chinese hotels.
We had another amazing dinner ordered by Mr. Tang including a very delicious squid dish and a tasty donkey stew. They have these prepackaged dish sets in all the restaurants.