- NPR駐中國的工作者 Rob Gifford 沿著中國的 312 道，從上海到新疆與哈薩克斯坦國界處的旅遊采風
- 美絲的朋友 Colin 騎乘雲南和四川的遊記
- 作家 Peter Hessler 根據他在中國幾次自駕車長途旅遊的經歷，寫成的 Country Driving 一書
我感性上比較偏向美籍教師和 Colin 的旅遊走向，因為他們到的地方，比較偏遠，非常有冒險精神，很合我的口味。理性上，則贊同其他計畫的記述，他們相當細膩地描述當地人的生活，反映了很多當代的中國問題。
我躺在床上，被這些五光十色的綺麗計畫擾得睡不著，乾脆翻身起來，把這些想法連著我亢奮的情緒都發給美絲：「我們可以從大陸的最南端出發…然後造訪 56 個少數民族…為西部故事的小朋友籌學費…這樣，有個能讓人津津樂道的大冒險，還可以幫助需要幫助的孩童！」
很顯然地，環繞中國一圈不是我們最後決定的路線。在構思上來說，可能是個不錯的第一步，等到冷靜下來，發現如果真要做到我們想完成的規模，數月、數年可能都不夠。行遠必自邇，這是我們第一個長程摩托車計畫，要一步步來。再說，我對於騎摩托車還是有些保留的態度，我想著重在地理、人情、歷史、文化，交通工具的選擇倒不是那麼重要。如果時間不是個需要考慮的因素的話，也許我就憑靠著我這兩條腿，慢慢走，可以和路上的老人、小孩、工人、女實業家一個一個聊，深入了解他們的故事。環繞中國一圈也許在里程數上看起來嚇人，但是，我相信我們可以想出一個更感動我們，更切入人心，更激起共鳴的路線。（幾個禮拜後，美絲寄給我一個連結 MKride ，這是兩個美國青年騎著寶馬環遊中國一圈的故事，我們很高興我們沒有成為另一個複製品）
直到一月下旬，我還是在腦力激盪的階段。在同一時段，我和 Dave 正巡迴東岸，為宣傳我草創的 LittlePo Adventures 執行為期兩週的多媒體說明會。車窗外，是美東近幾年來最大的大風雪，車窗內，我卻為我的腦力激盪筋疲力竭。
「古道有故事，也有話題性」 Dave 再次強調。一開始我還有點質疑，等到開始做研究之後，才不能不承認古道的確是吸引人。我不也是在 1995 年重走絲路？認識了茶馬古道之後，就對茶馬古道一路上的景觀和故事深深著迷，不可自拔嗎？再說，「古」這個字，還真有神奇的魅力。
大方向一定，點點滴滴就漸漸地被拼湊起來。「連接」這兩個字成為奠基的柱石。地圖上看來，這條路線連接兩條商貿古道，我們的靈魂想和野地的靈氣互相連接，我們的心則想要和該地區居民的純樸連接。原本， Dave 指出個疑點：「茶馬古道和絲綢之路似乎沒有接得那麼緊密？在青海處似乎有個缺口。」再深入研究後，發現青海在絲綢之路中佔有相當重要的地位，問題豁然而解。
愈想就愈對這個路線感到深深的使命感和歸屬感。愈研究就愈發現更多深藏在稗官野史、口耳相傳的動人故事。決定路線不久，我在 LittlePo Adventures 發表了一篇「中國兩商貿古道的昨日與今日」，我想知道這兩條商貿古道的明日會如何發展，是否我也可以在其中扮演個好角色？
I like to think big.
I believe that in order to accomplish something extraordinary, I have to imagine the unimaginable. As long as I immerse myself long enough in “impossible” ideas, my brain will eventually join the dots from the repository of my past attempts, both successes and failures, to turn the impossible into possible. As for how long is long enough? I don’t have a definite answer. It’s that kind of thing one can only resort to faith – a very spiritual process.
Christine suggested, “let’s ride in China.” The first question to answer seemed to be the route selection. We could easily just ride wherever, with no particular destination. We’d flip a coin at every junction, and abandon our bikes when we ran out of money. It sounds romantic and perhaps borderline irresponsible; however, it’s really not practical because I would get bored at some point wandering without a guiding principal. I need a route I can connect with and I am passionate about. It is going to be a long ride, I need all the elements to help maintain a positive attitude.
It’s time to think big.
Christine threw me some findings from her initial Internet research:
- Three American teachers rode from Harbin to Urumqi;
- The journey of Rob Gifford, a NPR correspondent, on Route 312 from Shanghai to the border of China and Kazakhstan in Xinjiang;
- Her friend Colin Flahive’s ride across Yunnan and Sichuan.
I also know of
- The “Man Zou” project documenting four Seattle bicyclists riding from Beijing to Shanghai post Olympics; and
- Peter Hessler’s northern China road trip detailed in his book, Country Driving: A Journey Through China from Farm to Factory.
My heart echoed more profoundly both on the ride of Harbin to Urumqi and the ride of Colin’s for their remoteness and the sense of adventure; my mind pondered on the remaining three for their demonstrated intent of observing local lives and reflecting on many focused issues in China.
I first threw the idea to Christine of a circumnavigation of China, visiting four utmost cardinal points of the mainland. I still remember those foreign sounding landmarks I acquired from the geography textbooks of my elementary school.
The west-most point of China is located in Pamir mountain range in Xinjiang which I longed for visiting in childhood and have been day-dreaming of first ascents after I became a climber. Both the east-most and north-most points are located in northeastern provinces neighboring Korea and Russia. The mountain ranges there are not high, but the wilderness area is known for its harsh cold temperatures and precious ginsengs and minks. The south-most point of China is located on a set of islets in South China Sea. I guessed the south-most point of the mainland should be either in Yunnan or Guangxi where sharp limestone rules and indigenous people occupy the land.
Perhaps we could raise funds for village kids such as the philanthropy project, West China Story, I have committed myself and my guiding business to.
I was lying on the bed when I was picturing this glorious project and couldn’t fall asleep. Finally I followed my desire to jot an email to Christine, “we can start at the southmost of the continental China…and somehow visit all 56 ethnic groups…and raise funds for West China Story for education…So we have some adventure people can talk about and a cause to support.”
“OH my gosh. Your thoughts are like mine.” Christine responded.
Obviously we have put aside this idea. It was a fantastic first attempt but this project could easily take months to research and years to implement. “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” We need something more manageable for our pilot project. Besides I still had a conservative attitude towards riding motorcycles. For me, I am more attached to the land, the people, the history, and the culture, rather than the way of travel. If time is not a factor to consider, I might prefer walking, so I can take my time interviewing every elder, every kid, migrant workers, and young women entrepreneurs. This project is big in terms of its scale in mileage but we could come out with something greater, something more connected and rooted. (Weeks later, Christine discovered the MKride in which two American brothers circumnavigated China. We were glad that we were not another “me too!”)
It was about the end of January, I was still in the brainstorming phase. In the meantime Dave and I were doing a slideshow tour in the East Coast to promote LittlePo Adventures. Outside of the car window, it was one of the worst snow storms, inside on the passenger seat, found a consumed me continuously hit by brainstorms. “How about trade routes?” suggested by Dave, who is an expert of re-tracing significant expeditions. He and his team members retraced the Frozen Passage to Zanskar in 2003 and the Long Walk from Russia to India in 2004.
“Trade routes always interest people.” Dave again stressed. I was skeptical at first but I was more than convinced when a simple google search popped out overwhelming results. Besides, how could I forget that I retraced the Silk Road myself and was immediately drawn by the Tea Horse Trail when I learned it? To put a cherry on top, the word “ancient” has a mysterious spell.
Everything started to fall in place. I wanted “connections” to be the tone of the ride – physically the route connects two ancient trade routes, we connect our souls to the wilderness atmosphere, and we connect our hearts with the underprivileged indigenous people. Originally Dave pointed out that the gap between the two trade routes might be too big to claim a realistic connection; however, later research demonstrated that a side branch of the Silk Road crossed the major part of Qinghai, which solved the problem.
Both Christine and I were very excited about this new plan, because Western China is just beautiful and untapped. While many people know of big cities in the Eastern China, and people who care about global issues are well aware of China’s farms and factories, few people realize how rich Western China is both in scenery and culture, or how poor Western China is in term of living conditions and infrastructure.
This route also passes some areas I traveled or guided before so I could visit some old friends. Two towns I want to visit along the way if the road conditions allow are Wenchuan and Yushu which suffered from devastating earthquakes in 2008 and 2010 respectively.
The more I think of this route, the more passionate I become. After we finalized our route choice, I published an article on LittlePo Adventures talking about the past and the presence of the two Chinese ancient trade routes, and I have realized this project will pull me back to uncover more hidden treasures in the days to come.
This project, we name it the Great Ride.