SHANGHAI (Reuters Life!) - Circumnavigating China's vast landscape on motorbikes was never going to be easy.
But being stuck 4,800 meters above sea level in a remote part of central Tibet with altitude sickness and an empty gas tank was one of the last things Ryan Pyle expected to happen.
Pyle, a Canadian-born freelance photographer, along with his 29-year-old brother Colin, a former forex trader in Toronto, set off from Shanghai in mid-August on a trip aiming to showcase China as a destination for motorcycle tourism.
But during their 19,000-kilometre, 65-day journey that passed through Xinjiang, Inner Mongolia and Dandong, near the border of North Korea, the unexpected became part of their daily routine.
Despite traveling on sturdy BMW F800GS motorbikes, the terrain and freak weather made it often impossible to cover the 200-300 kilometers needed per day.
"It was so much harder than we expected," said Ryan Pyle, who spoke to Reuters after arriving back in Shanghai in mid-October.
"We traveled through several hailstorms, a blizzard and sub-freezing temperatures on the border of Pakistan, altitude sickness at 5,200 meters near the border of China and India, then torrential rains in Southern China," the 32-year-old said.
A documentary film is in the works about the brothers' epic journey, with a book to follow early next year. See www.mkride.com for more details.
"The Western world is hungry for information and stories about China, but these days I feel there is a lot of repetition in the kind of coverage we are seeing," he added.
Pyle said the trip revealed how empty China really was, with times where they were able to ride all day in places like Gansu and see no one.
Constant military interference and official checkpoints made it hard to ride freely, particularly in the more developed parts of Eastern China.
"It doesn't matter if you are riding an 800cc motorcycle or a scooter, rules are the same for two-wheeled vehicles in China. They don't allow you on the toll-roads, expressways, most bridges and even some ferries."
The brothers were often required to backtrack as much as 400 kilometers, while on the remote 219 highway from China's northwestern Xinjiang province down into Western Tibet, guards would routinely search through all baggage at frequent military checkpoints.
"If you are white, black or brown, you are often banned from remote border areas, only Chinese are permitted, but that is where the best roads are," Pyle said.
So is China ready for its branding as a destination for motorcycle aficionados? Not any time soon.
"There are thousands of people like me who would love to ride their motorbikes freely around China, but right now the government is not very motorcycle friendly," Pyle said.
"Which is really too bad, because there is amazing potential here for adventure riding."
Writing by Farah Master;editing by Elaine Lies