In mid-August, brothers Colin and Ryan Pyle took off on a motorcycle ride across all of China. The MKRide trip was meant to to raise funds for SEVA, a charitable foundation that finds solutions for health problems in lower income communities around the world. After a couple of breakdowns, a lot of beautiful scenery and one really, really long traffic jam, the guys are finally back in Shanghai!
We got Ryan to tell us about how the trip went overall, and share some of his favorite moments.
So the trip ended up taking a little longer than you originally thought it would… what happened?
Ryan: The trip turned out to be less of a vacation and more of an expedition or odyssey. The word “tough” doesn’t even begin to describe some of the challenges we had to deal with on a daily basis. Originally my brother Colin and I had planned to complete our counter-clockwise circumnavigation around China in 60 days. We finished just five days later than expected.
The biggest issues we encountered was that I burned out my clutch on my BMW F800GS in a remote part of Central Tibet, and we had to fly in parts and do the repairs ourselves. That put us back about 7 days. We were also not granted permission to ride through Eastern Tibet, because of “disturbances” in the region. So we had to load our bikes on to a truck and ship them to Zhongdian (Shangri-la), then fly and meet them. But the truck took much longer than it would have taken us to ride; so that put us back another few days. Those were the two biggest setbacks on an otherwise very well executed trip.
What do you think was the toughest part of riding around China on motorbike for you?
Apart from being away from my family, the toughest part of the journey was that amazing variations in weather that Mother Nature threw at us on a daily basis. Weather would change by the hour; one moment it would be 22C and sunny then next it would be 5C and raining. Add a bit of hail, freezing rain, sand storms, altitude sickness, sunburn and heatstroke; and issues like falling off the bike or having the bikes breakdown where really afterthoughts. Each day we just had no idea what kind of weather conditions we would encounter.
Do you think there was anything you could have prepared better for?
I don’t think there is anything we could have done to enhance our preparation for this trip. We had a plethora of spare parts and had our course mapped out. We had support vehicles and local fixers meet us at several stages of the trip to assist us. Everything rolled along pretty smooth.
While I don’t know how we could have made our trip better, I can say with confidence that the single most important thing we did prior to our trip was do a two-day “Off-Road” Motorcycle course hosted by BMW in Hechlingen, Germany. That intense two-day training session really gave us a strong foundation for the thousands of kilometers that we ended up covering in sand and thick gravel through Gansu, Xinjiang and Tibet.
What was your favorite place amongst all the locations you went to?
Colin and I have discussed this a lot over the last few days and we both agree that the 219 Highway from Kargilik, Xinjiang to Ali in Western Tibet was the absolute highlight of the trip. It is said to be the highest and most remote road in the world. The average altitude of the highway is 4500m (14,800ft) above sea level, which makes the very physical off- road riding unbelievably challenging. The most amazing thing about this
highway is that there is nothing there; just a few villages and the odd pack of wild camels. A good example of the remoteness of the 219 Highway is that on one day we had to ride for about 14 hours (300km) above 5200m (16,400ft) between two villages and there were no gas stations, no truck stops, and no villages. There was just emptiness. It was really amazing.
How about your weirdest moment?
I think the weirdest moment of the journey was when I blew out my clutch at 4800m above sea level near Zhongba in Central Tibet. Colin andI managed to flag down a truck and transport the bike to the next village where we worked with a local mechanic to make repairs. All of that was fine and well, but the strange bit was that after we rolled in to town with our BMW F800GS motorcycles the word got out among the local residents that
two foreigners had arrived with big bikes, and as we made repairs to my motorcycle we had a crowd of several hundred people watching our every move for the entire two hours it took us to make repairs. I’ve never had the attention of an entire village before, very weird indeed.
Clearly there was nothing decent on television that night.
Obviously, Colin probably had a lot more to learn about China – not having been here before – but do you think it’s changed your perspective on the country as well?
I actually circumnavigated China in 2001 by bus, train and truck. That was my maiden voyage in China and it was a life changing experience. This most recent journey by motorcycle changed my perspective about China a lot. When you travel by public transportation (bus, train, plane) you tend to get the impression that China is a busy, crowded country; but when you travel by private transportation (car, motorcycle) you tend to feel the
This journey around China by motorcycle really showed me how empty China really is. There were some remote places in Inner Mongolia, Gansu, Xinjiang and Tibet where we could ride all day and not see another person, and then have to camp because there were no towns. I know that is hard to imagine, but it’s true. When I work as a photographer I often fly places and then work on the ground for a few days and then fly home; but this trip really introduced me to the places “in-between” and that has really
changed my perception of China in many ways, which I can’t even begin to describe in this space.
What’s next for you guys now that this is over?
I think it’s fair to say that Colin and I are both completely exhausted. During the last few weeks of our trip we were running on pure adrenalin and now that we’ve completed our journey that’s all disappeared. Colin and I will take some time to re-connect with our families and rejuvenate our bodies and minds. We’ll use the next few weeks to collect our thoughts and start the book writing and film editing process. We kept excellent journals during our trip and we’ll be publishing a book early next year.
We also had videographer Chad Ingraham (www.chadingraham.com) join us on our journey and he skillfully filmed all of our highs and lows in High Definition, and we’ll have our documentary film out next year as well. Anyone interested in our journey can join our mailing list at: www.mkride.com, we’ll post regular updates and news about the book and film there. Our website is both in English and Chinese.
Would you ever do anything like this again?
Yes, Colin and I both agree that a journey like this could be done again in the future. Though we have no firm plans at the moment. I can only hint that a complete circumnavigation of India looks very tempting, perhaps in 2012.
If you could impart one piece of advice to anyone who was also to attempt a giant trip through all of China, what would it be?
I think my advice to anyone interested in a journey like this is that you need to make sure you are physically and mentally fit. The off-road riding in remote parts of Xinjiang and Tibet is extremely physically punishing and the variations in weather and bike breakdowns will leave you in tears some days; but no matter how bleak things get you still have to have the resolve to wake up every morning, put on your helmet and try to get to the next town or village. To some people that sounds like hell, to others it sounds
like the worlds greatest holiday. Know thyself and execute accordingly.
**Charitable Partner** – The Middle Kingdom Ride is riding to raise funds for SEVA, a charitable foundation that has, for more than 30 years, served people around the world who are struggling for health, cultural survival and sustainable communities. Learn more about SEVA at www.seva.org, and make a donation today.
**Corporate Sponsors** – The Middle Kingdom Ride could not have happened without our wonderful corporate sponsors: BMW, Touratech, The Tomson Group, Airhawk, Pelican, Kodak, Oakley, Cardo Systems, Lowe Pro & Mandarin House.
You can follow MKRide on Facebook, Youtube and @MK_Ride on Twitter