Day 19: Qiqihar to Yakeshi

We had a beautiful drive today on the brand new G10 expressway through scenic Inner Mongolia. My map (which I purchased in the U.S.) depicted secondary roads for the rest of the trip, but it turns out that the G10 was completed from Suifenhe to Manzhouli (Eastern Russian Border to Western Russian Border) in the past year. The new road took more than a decade to build due to the short summers here.

We departed our hotel in Qiqihar about 9 a.m., but not before doing some troubleshooting on the brake lights again.


Brake light problems again

Brake light problems again (Eileen Bjorkman photo)

I also spotted two turtles on leashes outside our hotel — I’m not sure if they’re pets or if ingredients for soup is in their future.


Turtle in Qiqihar

Turtle in Qiqihar (Eileen Bjorkman photo)

Leaving Qiqihar was easier than arriving, although we still had to go back through the mud bath from yesterday. Here’s picture of the road on the way out:


Leaving Qiqihar

Leaving Qiqihar (Eileen Bjorkman photo)

We stopped for gas about 10:30, and the station had an overhead walkway connecting the service areas on both sides of the road, so I climbed up and took the shot below. You can see Manzhouli, our destination for tomorrow, listed at the bottom of the road sign in the distance.


The G10 Expressway

The G10 Expressway (Eileen Bjorkman photo)

The scenery in Inner Mongolia is spectacular, as you can see from the picture below — rolling green hills with forests and lots of rivers and marshes. We also had blue skies for the first time in more than a week.


Scenery in Inner Mongolia

Scenery in Inner Mongolia (Eileen Bjorkman)

Unfortunately, we also learned that because the G10 in Inner Mongolia is so new, the service areas aren’t open yet. The Roadster was running low on fuel, so we got off at an exit, but the toll booth attendant said it was another 25 km into town, and we would have to drive another 25 km back to the expressway. The area around the toll gate was deserted, except for a truck apparently taking a break, so we pulled over and John added some fuel from the emergency cans that he carries. It was enough to get us to Yakeshi, about 150 km down the road.


Toll gate where we stopped to refuel

Toll gate where we stopped to refuel (Eileen Bjorkman photo)

Emergency refueling

Emergency refueling (Eileen Bjorkman photo)

About 30 minutes after we got back on the road from the emergency refueling, we crossed over the railroad line that used to be the Chinese portion of the Trans-Siberian Railway. We’ve been paralleling the track for some time now, but this was the first time we’ve seen it since we left Vladivostok. The original racers weren’t on the railway at this point in the race anymore, but they were following a nearby road, so we may have passed by some of the same scenery they saw more than a century ago.

Right after crossing the railroad, we ran into a downpour, and John had to stop to install the window panels in the Roadster. I appreciated the storm because it washed all the bugs off the windshield of the Envoy!

We arrived in Yakeshi about 3 p.m., taking only six hours instead of the nine hours we would have needed if we had taken the original route (the G301) the entire way. Part of us wishes we had been able to drive the old highway, but we really appreciated the smoothness of the new highway.

Yakeshi is much smaller than Harbin and Qiqihar, but Mir Corporation still managed to find us a very nice hotel!

At the hotel in Yakeshi

At the hotel in Yakeshi (Eileen Bjorkman photo)

Tomorrow: Manzhouli, on the Russian border, 265 km.

Day 18: Harbin to Qiqihar

At this geographic point in the original race, it was already June 13, and the American team in the Thomas Flyer was past Harbin and gaining so quickly on the German Protos that the New York Times expected the Thomas to arrive first in Chita, Russia. Beginning in Harbin, Schuster and the Flyer abandoned the railroad tracks and took on a Manchurian guide to help them until they were past the Khingan mountain range. At the same time, the Italian Zust had just left Pogranichnyy. For the full New York Times article on this portion of the race, click NYT_19080614.

The racers encountered good roads west of Harbin and flat land that was almost a desert along “the route of Genghis Khan.” We encountered similar conditions in our drive to Qiqihar today, which turned out to be one of our more relaxing days — only about 180 miles. However, before we could get started, we had to get past the tangle of cars that littered the street where the Envoy was parked. The white one in the picture below blocked us from backing out:


Parking woes in Harbin

Parking woes in Harbin (Eileen Bjorkman photo)

The parking attendants came to the rescue and we were soon on our way. Getting out of town was like driving a country road at midnight compared to our arrival on Saturday, and within about 20 minutes we were back on the G10 heading to Qiqihar. We stopped for gas after about an hour, and the Roadster was mobbed by the riders of three buses also stopped in the service area:


Three busloads of onlookers encountered at our first gas stop for the day

Three busloads of onlookers encountered at our first gas stop for the day (Eileen Bjorkman photo)

While John and Leo got gas, I checked out someone’s lunch,


Fish hanging out at a gas station

Fish hanging out at a gas station (Eileen Bjorkman photo)

and bought some popcorn.


Vendor selling popcorn

Vendor selling popcorn (Eileen Bjorkman photo)

We took the Q10 exit towards Qiqihar at about 12:45, and immediately encountered a mini-flood that probably resulted from a water main break. John and I both managed to avoid the water, and then we turned left onto the road into Qiqihar, which turned out to be almost as bad as the dirt road we took on Saturday; the Qiqihar road was paved, but in such bad shape that I feared the Roadster might be swallowed up by a pothole. After about 20 minutes of jerking along, we came to a better road that led us straight to our hotel. However, we did have to pass through one more area of mud even on that road — there seems to have been an epidemic of water main breaks in Qiqihar today. The mud pit was so bad that a passing car sprayed mud inside the Roadster and onto John.

We arrived at our hotel, shown below, about 1 p.m.,

Jun Hui Hotel in Qiqihar

Junhui Hotel in Qiqihar (Eileen Bjorkman photo)

just in time to miss a downpour.

Downpour in Qiqihar

Downpour in Qiqihar (Eileen Bjorkman photo)

After a lunch of noodles and soup, John, Luke and I did some exploring around the hotel. We found an endless underground shopping area and a seven-level shopping mall:

Shopping mall in Qiqihar

Shopping mall in Qiqihar (Eileen Bjorkman photo)

We did have one more casualty on this leg: John banged his left front hubcap on something while maneuvering around some cones at a tollbooth. Ow!

The distressed hubcap

The distressed hubcap (Eileen Bjorkman photo)

Up tomorrow: Qiqihar to Yakeshi, 420 km.