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One lost lonely night on a motorcycle in China

by Carla King

Page 1 Annica Carla King

One Lost Lonely Night on a Motorcycle in China
Our wheels scatter a blanket of golden aspen leaves across the
road as we crest the mountain pass and then a long stretch of The
Great Wall of China comes into view. It’s lit by a cold, stark sunlight
and the big round watchtowers loom over an endless sea of mountains
soft with autumn colors. A wild pheasant with bad timing flies directly
across my path. I brake and stiffen in readiness for a hard blow to the
helmet but its tail-feathers only brush against my visor.
We all ride Chinese Chang Jiang motorcycles with big sidecars
full of gear for our ride from Beijing through the Heibi Province
Mountains to Inner Mongolia. Following me is Teresa, a diplomat from
Michigan I met here on my last visit a decade ago, and Diny, a
Dutchwoman who’s just moved to Beijing with her hotelier husband,
who brings up the rear.
At the last town we were told that our destination was only about
eighty kilometers and one hour away but they were wrong and our
maps are clearly out-of-date. We ride slowly along this twisty mountain
backroad lined with small lakes and streams and wooded groves. At
dusk I long for the miracle of a lodge where we can stop for the night
and a trailhead where we might hike for a few hours in the morning,
enjoying the clean cold air and the untouched wilderness. But this is
not the Colorado Rockies or the Swiss Alps. This is China.
Darkness falls and it’s a long, cold, tedious, ride. We should have
tried to find a hotel in that last small town, now too far away to turn
back. There might have only been a luguan, no frills bunk beds and
maybe no hot water. We would have brought sleeping bags, tents, if
we’d known we were going to pass through such wilderness.
Shoulda coulda woulda…
Teresa moves to the front. She’s fluent in Mandarin and, more
importantly, can read the signs that are no longer in both Chinese
characters and Pinyin. Not that there’s an overabundance of road

Page 2 Annica Carla King

One Lost Lonely Night on a Motorcycle in China
Diny rides too close, her headlight in my left mirror nearly blinds
me as we curve around the mountain. Maybe she’ll back off if I slow to
a crawl and then accelerate, but no, she hangs on, probably immersed
in the kind of internal dialog monotony encourages. Finally, in
frustration, I wave her ahead, then immediately regret it as she races
up to tailgate Teresa. I race up to tailgate Diny for a minute, my
headlights in her mirrors, then drop back, hoping she’ll see that she
needs to create more space, but she doesn’t.
Shoulda woulda coulda…
My body is stiff from sitting in the same position for so long in
the cold and being jarred from the vibration of the engine and the
thumps in the road. I catalogue each ache and pain, each shoulda
woulda coulda and then realize that I really must stop this before I
spiral down into a useless misery. I remember the lessons of a
Vipassana meditation course I took a year ago and give it a whirl,
beginning the slow, tedious exercise of scanning the body, noting
sensations from the top of the head to the tips of the toes and back
again, ignoring itches and pains that are not in the proximity of my
immediate attention. It is not as easy as it sounds.
The results are surprising. The crown of my head is warm, my
hair is plastered against my forehead, my left ear is bent backwards
inside my helmet, there’s a leak in my jacket zipper that’s letting in a
pinhole of icy air, elbows are good, fingertips are freezing and numb,
my rear end aches, both knees are stiff, one little toe tingles, a big toe
is jammed hard against my boot. I scan, become aware, resist
assigning a value to these sensations—pleasure or pain, it will always
Anicca is a Sanskrit word that means impermanence. More than
that though, it implies the state of inevitable change so there’s no use
assigning a value, a judgement to a sensation or a situation because
it’s going to pass. Somehow, sometime, it’s going to pass.

Page 3 Annica Carla King

One Lost Lonely Night on a Motorcycle in China
“It’ll pass when you die,” my inner voice taunts.
“Shut-up,” I mutter, fogging my visor.
I love motorcycling because it puts me in the environment I am
passing through and not sheltered from it, but in this kind of situation I
wish for a nice warm car with a heater and some good music. The road
rises in long sweeps through woodlands I wish I could see instead of
just sense. The countryside we passed through earlier in the day was
spectacular. We stopped for a long time at a farmers market, gorging
ourselves on persimmons, Asian pears, and plump purple grapes. We
paused to photograph the Great Wall, yellow and jagged against the
deep blue sky, an arrangement of dry yellow corn on a windowsill, a
group of men immersed in a game of Ma Jong. On the first long, empty
straight stretch of road we gunned our engines, testing the horsepower
of our machines, the cold autumn sun in our faces. We raced up the
first set of switchbacks, the sidecars tilting up on the right turns,
bearing down on the left. We are free and light-hearted in the daytime.
At night, everything is different.
Vipassana is a meditation technique invented by the Buddha.
With it, if you’re sufficiently motivated and tired of being reincarnated
you might achieve such complete realization of the concept of anicca
that you no longer experience clinging or craving or aversion, which
can lead to a profound state of acceptance and a peace that is
I don’t expect to achieve enlightenment on this road in the dark
in the mountains of China, but it’s a good practice for controlling
emotions gone awry. I’m riding, exploring, adventuring, freely roaming
the world. But the road to freedom is riddled with traps. Where does
true freedom exist?
Scanning: Cold, numb, cramp, vibration, pain, warmth, stiffness.
A truck barrels down the road, flashing his brights, blinding me.

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One Lost Lonely Night on a Motorcycle in China
My ear is going to crack off.
How much further is that damn town?
An hour later the town throws down a four-lane road and we ride
toward a cluster of brightly-lit highrises through a welcoming chaos of
cars and stop lights and people just walking around as if this isn’t a
terrifyingly lost place but normal and warmly familiar.
The manager of our hotel leads us to a restaurant where we take
a private room and warm our hands on cups of hot green tea before
ordering dish after dish of food and bottles of beer and tiny cups of rice
wine. Locals peek in to get a load of their first foreigners—the three
dishevelled, clearly crazed foreign women who arrived on motorcycles.
I tell the story of the pheasant who nearly flew into my head.
Teresa nearly ran over a man carrying two buckets of water on a stick
across his shoulders. “I was so bored,” Diny says. “You know, I was
thinking about so many things, I was doing my Kegels…” We dissolve
into laughter, drunk on beer, rice wine, and relief. Now we wouldn’t
trade our bikes for a car, a bus, even a limousine with a driver. We
raise our glasses and toast to whatever may come tomorrow. Anicca. §

Page 5 Annica Carla King

One Lost Lonely Night on a Motorcycle in China