Inagh to China Motorcycle Ride - Update – July 2015

The last time we caught up with Brigid and John Rynne, the unfortunate news had reached us that Brigid had taken a tumble and broken her leg on their mission to reach China from Southern Ireland.

Now the dust has settled, we caught up with John for a chat on his progress so far.

So, what went wrong in Western Russia?

Apart from the main transport arteries from Moscow and town centres, most roads in Russia are unsurfaced. Even apparently major roads in an atlas will most likely be formed from hard packed gravel bordered by soft sand on either side – not a problem for vehicles with four or more wheels (though cracked and broken windscreens are common), but any loose surface can be hazardous for motorcycles.

We had just crossed the border from Latvia and were pootling along merrily on the main A116 road to Opochka, when we came to a steep bend in the road where passing traffic had scooped up a barely visible ridge of deep sand. My steering kicked and the bike wobbled, but before I was able to warn Brigid of the imminent danger, her bike went down on the soft shoulder.

Was it an immediate showstopper?

No, not immediatley. Although in some degree of pain, Brigid quickly picked herself up and checked over the bike. Getting it out of the deep sand took a few minutes, but it was completely undamaged so she got back on and was able to ride the remaining 175km to the hotel. It was only when she got off the bike that it became clear that her injury was more serious than we had initially thought. In fact, Brigid had broken her left fibula and was taken to the local hospital, where her leg was put in plaster.

It was by now quite evident that Brigid would not be riding any further. This raised a number of unwelcome questions for us as she would need to be repatriated and, being more or less immobilised and unable to drive, she could not return to our home in rural Ireland by herself. What was obviously a bitter blow for Brigid was threatening to end the ride for us both. However, after a bit of soul searching, it was decided that the best thing would be for Brigid to fly home to the UK to stay with her mother, while I continued the ride to China.

So that changed your plans somewhat?

Yes, as a compromise, we agreed between us that, instead of riding back alone across Mongolia, I would end my ride in Beijing and would ship the bike back from Tianjin. The hardest part was saying goodbye to each other at Moscow’s Domodedovo Airport. Although it wouldn’t be the same, doing the ride without Brigid, at least I would only be completely on my own for three weeks until I met up with the GlobeBusters group for the ride into China. All I had to do was make sure I made the rendezvous in Kyrgyzstan.

How tough was riding alone for all that time?

Those three weeks turned out to be some hard riding. In Astrakhan, I changed my worn road tyres for the dual purpose GT201s, more suitable for the variable quality roads of the ‘Stans. The new shocks, electrics and luggage frames all took a hammering. Even so, the Triumph didn’t miss a beat. The most tiresome aspect of the road conditions being an oil spill in one of the panniers, rendering useless a full set of new brake pads and a couple of spare headlight bulbs, amongst other things.

Despite initial reticence, I quickly adapted to life as a solitary nomad. Google Translate eased communication and, whenever I found myself without a room for the night or in need of running repairs, help was never far away. Khiva and Samarkand were particular highlights of the Silk Road, whereas Almaty, where my camera and reading glasses were stolen in the hostel, proved to be a low point.

On 10th June, I met up with Kevin Sanders’ Globebusters group in Naryn and, together, we crossed into Western China. Although there were still nearly 5,000km to ride before we reached Beijing, technically, our ‘Inagh to China’ dream had been realised.

So, what of Brigid?

As soon as we contacted them about Brigid’s accident, GlobeBusters’ Chinese agents had applied to the authorities to have the exit permit for my bike changed from Erenhot, on the Mongolian border, to the port of Tianjin.

But the recent earthquakes that devastated parts of Nepal have left the Chinese inundated with permit changes for stranded tourists.
Even without this state of emergency, such requests, where they fall outside the normal time limits, require special government approval. Two weeks after Brigid’s accident, we had received no word at all about my exit permit. It was beginning to look as though I would have to exit to Mongolia after all. However, by a strange twist of fate, Chinese intransigence has given Brigid a second bite of the cherry.

With her leg now healed, Brigid will fly back to Moscow at the beginning of July to collect her BMW. However, now, instead of riding straight home to Ireland, she will commence her own Trans-Siberian adventure, riding 6,500km east to Ulaanbaatar, to re-join me on the return from Beijing.

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