Archive for August, 2010

Day 185

Saturday, August 21st, 2010

The road is not hard.
You are hard.

Still alive :)

So much to write but to document it in such a short period of time with kids screaming in a sauna of an internet cafe..? So bullet points I am afraid…

- the president of this country has spent all his money on a nice palace and not the roads. we asked if we should take the north or south route, we where told the north had asphalt and was good the whole way. The man who told us this lied and i would like to hunt him down. I do not even want to call it a road, it was truly shocking (and dangerous; 7 people went into the river last night in a 4×4…..) Riding 50km a day and thinking you are doing well is not fun at times. Neither is dirty water and its side effects…

- Or the food. Go in a shop here and it is just biscuits, a tin of sprats (bulging as it is 2 years over date), a tin of condensed milk, some water melons if you are lucky and rice or pasta. Maybe even a rusty can of mountain dew if you are really lucky…

- So aside from the bad roads and the bad food the country (excluding the crazy man who threw apples at us) is wonderful. Beautiful kids (and women) come and give you fruit as you cycle past. The children run behind and push your bike up the hill and the views… holy xxxx

- seeing two bare footed men lever slabs of rock off a rock face with nothing but a metal pole and a rope, 50m up… as the people of afghanistan sun bathed and played football on the opposite side of the river… There are moments when the scale of the scenery, the waterfalls across the road, the river crossings, the little lush green fields farmed for hundreds of years sheltered by the geopgraphy leave you wondering why not just stay here?

- it is a common view amongst the people passing through this country. for which there are many. the mongol rally is flying past and we have met some great people, the irish that gave us a MOD 24 hour ration pack when we ran out of food and water (thank you lads) then warned us of bombs going off back up the road, the guy from south wales taking photos of a soviet tank who was about to walk in to the grass completely unaware of the land mines… and emma from the UK who is the only solo female attempting to get to Ulan Battar, and probably the only contestant with chicken wire across the front of the car :)
There is also a 50 year old french woman on a tricycle (yes you read that right) ahead of us by a couple of weeks, a guy on a recumberent which is just nuts and the Italian on a Harley Davidson… maybe the most stupid choice of all…?

- So one pass is over, 3200 odd metres which was harder going down than it was going up due to having drop handlebars. Riding down a mountain for two hours unable to brake is sketchy to say the least…
Quite a few more to go and now they start at over 4000m which means light heads all round…

- D has split and is doing the south route on his own, which leaves Christof, xavier and myself. The spanner in the works is that my visas for the xxxxing country that cannot be named does not start till the 13th, so it was either sit here in khorog for 10 days or start cycling and sit in the mountains for 10 days… There is a lake up near the border with a homestay and some yurts so I plan to rest there before two days in that infernal country then the road to Kashgar starts and the rumour is that not only is it sealed…. it has kerbs!!!

- So back on the bike, more cycling, more hills, more potholes, more washing in waterfalls, more (donkey) meat soup, hunting for food and hopefully lots more nights spent sleeping under the stars with the tent left unopened on the bike… and most importantly more writing Malte’s name on the top of every pass….

Fingers crossed again…

Day 174

Tuesday, August 10th, 2010

DU-SHAN-BAY!

So I made it to dushanbe with D the Japanese cyclist who started in Cape Town after 26,000km…

Tajikistan is like nothing else. I have to be quick as I am just about to leave with D, Christoph and Xavier so I can not put down everything that has happened over the last few days but suffice to say this country is beyond special. Come here before everybody else finds out.

The happiness in the childrens faces, the 5500m mountains that loom over you in the morning when you crawl out of your tent, the cold crisp air being blown off the mountain rivers as you ride past, the Anzub tunnel (of death), 76km downhills, meeting up with friends again and hitting the 5000 mile mark.

There are strong negatives like the roads which are beyond a joke. Death on a stick comes to mind. Try riding next to the edge of a 250m sheer drop with cars at the bottom testifying that you do not want to make a mistake.. tarmac is used occasionaly but for the majority it is unpaved, rough as hell and the risk of rock falls and land slides help to concentrate the mind and lead to the constant worry of
(a) the wheels collapsing
(b) the luggage coming off (now strapped down with a washing line)
or (c) my fillings coming out

So off into the unkown once more to try and get over the Pamirs. A number of warnings about closed sections due to land slides, a number of high altitude passes over the 4000m mark, a 120km section without water and the section next to the Afghan border all being land minded.. well it should be interesting to say the least.

I will be off the grid until China, so no more updates until the start of September. Roll on Kashgar….

Wish me luck…

Day 167

Tuesday, August 3rd, 2010

I believe in luck: how else can you explain the success of those you dislike? Jean Cocteau

Writing this after a few beers some details may get lost but I may as well document it now as later well, procrastination is a disease is it not..

I left wonderful company in Tashkent after I finally managed to get the last piece of expensive paper placed into my passport. The highlight was the consular begrudgingly switching off the movie he was watching to do it. Hard hats on soft heads…

The run up to leaving was not marred but how should I say disturbed by the reappearance of a book. Malte bought a book in Vienna in a little English book store I took him too.. the book survived a lot of abuse including being dried on the back of my bicycle after it got soaked in Greece when sleeping on the steps of a church. Lo and behold Mitchell the South Korean that was in Mashhad arrived in Tashkent holding it oblivious to its history… A sign, a stroke of luck or just one of those things? I know not. I took it as a sign not to chase tail and to concentrate on the cycling.

So back on the bike after a brief respite and I was hit by waves, smiles and a loaf of bread passed to me by a couple in a car. All this and a puncture before I had even left the outskirts of Tashkent.

Police check points every twenty miles interrupted the rhythm as I was stopped by bored policeman wanting to know where I was from and to try and cadge fags off me. Only a couple asked for dollars but at this point I play the dumb I do not understand your language game which is quite fun as it sends them into crazy charades as they try and mime what they want to extract from you.
That night I slept in the garden of a café cutting the days cycling short at fifty miles as I was suffering from a headache exacerbated by the roads which are an utter joke. I eat in the café only to have the man alongside pay for my dinner… Free Manti. Score. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Manti_%28dumpling%29 or if you want to make the Uzbek ones… http://annasrecipebox.wordpress.com/2009/01/01/manti-an-uzbek-dish-%D0%BC%D0%B0%D0%BD%D1%82%D1%8B/ Links are not coming out due to the crazy keyboard but google them and you should find it. Ignore the bit about using only the choicest cuts of meat. They put anything in them here and they still taste good….

Morning and an early start only to ride along roads that are even worse with a head wind with a truck ladling tar onto the road as I cycle behind unable to overtake. If somebody could please explain the purpose of standing on a truck with a broom and flinging tar onto the road as you drive along then I would love to hear. For those of you with hair on their legs imagine pulling the tar off…
Coca cola, ice creams and countless stunted conversations with friendly people who can not comprehend why I do not speak Russian. They also can not understand where to find their town on a map it would seem. They do not go in for road or street signs here… you are expected to know where you are and where you are going. This makes navigation an utter nightmare at times. I think it is down to the simple reason that most people have never seen maps of the area. When I get out the large scale map that Adam gave me in Tehran which covers all the silk road countries they stare with curiosity until I take it away from them.. Not as funny as the Turkish guy I met in Iran who was travelling through the country with a map he had made himself, on tracing paper with just the locations of the cities marked on and the main motorways penciled…

I try and push through to 90 miles but my legs are gone, I have not eaten enough and I bonk as a Lada stops and the family pile out to interrogate me as to where I am from. Seeing that I am not in the best of states they very politely get back in the car and drive alongside shouting that food is not far away. Another Lada screams past with a huge Versace sticker on the back window and laughing at the juxtaposition I admit defeat and stop and have dinner at a small little family restaurant.
I leave buzzing after downing a litre and a half of coke and a soup that was 90 percent sheep fat. I cycle 5km out of town and end up asking some guys in a field if I can pitch my tent there. They point me over to the farmer in the field and I walk over to be met by a man bounding across the field smiling with a mouth completely full of gold teeth.
He walks me round the edge of the field and indicates that I should sleep on the raised bed with him, the type favoured by the kids that sell melons on the side of the road here. Just some wooden poles in the ground and a mattress made of saplings straw and mud. I decline and indicate I have a tent but after prolonged insistence and my tiredness I think ‘what the hell, it saves putting up the tent’. This leads me to spending the night under the stars sleeping next to an Uzbek farmer, then being woken by a goat and getting washed in a concrete irrigation ditch.
And yes to answer the thought that I know that you are having I did fear that he might start spooning me but it was all perfectly innocent I assure you.

Another early start and I stop for breakfast at a restaurant. Coffee that is asked for turns out to be tea but they give it to me for free so no complaints there. No food other than meat means I stop again further down the road in a pattern that is repeated for the rest of the journey. Oh there is a girl selling apples. Get an apple. Oh there is a boy selling extra large snickers from a box by the side of the road… Get the picture? The perfect place to cycle in many ways.
Added to which was the discovery of a camp site. Well not really a campsite but a surreal holiday resort and the meeting with a young Uzbek that had won a national competition to be educated in the states for a year. Perfect hospitality, wonderful English, a paddle in the river and a tour round the restaurant and surroundings made the little holiday chalet I slept in with water literally spraying out of the toilet onto the dirty floor with an empty condom wrapper left blocking the drain more bearable.
Eating melon and drinking beer with him he explained about how proud he was to be an Uzbek and how he felt that whilst Uzbekistan was lacking many things he wanted to stay living here to help its development. It is scary in a way to meet somebody so young that is very sharp but it is also humbling to be on the receiving end of such help and kindness.

The bike had been making ominous noises over the last day and I put it down to the hub being loose and hoped that it would all be ok. Sitting on the floor of the chalet taking it to pieces with a spanner borrowed from the cook and a second spanner borrowed from the cleaning lady, I found that the bearings had how can I put this? Shat themselves, scoring the bearing surface to the point that the hub was destroyed. With a large amount of profanity, an allen key set that kept on falling apart and a swiss army knife I manage to reassemble the hub put it back on the bike and go to the bar to sit and drink after rejecting the offer of the cleaning ladies phone number who actually forcibly took the phone out of my hands to insert her number when I returned the spanner…
With 5 days left on my visa there is no way I could get bits sent over, I could not go to Tashkent as there is nothing there, I can not get a 26 inch wheel as the brakes will not work, I cannot get a wheel off a local bike as they are all single speed coaster braked hubs… Nice thoughts to have in your head no? Sat under the trees with a group of men softly singing, the rest asleep heads on the table, beer half drunk, I decide to go for it.

So with fingers crossed I disconnect the rear brake to allow the wheel to revolve and gambled with my luck to ride the last 70 miles to Sammarkand. The music turned up as loud as it would go on my mp3 player to drown out any noises from the bike and feet down on the ground to try and stop when going down a hill….
Astoundingly the little bit of the bearing surface that worked was sat in the right place and I made it here eventually after getting hideously lost and getting very very scared when witnessing the snowcapped mountains in Tajikstan lurking in the distance.
Going for a ride the next day though with Christof; a Belgian cyclist, to find a bike shop the wheel decides enough is enough and I end up walking the last 500m to the shop. At the shop they have Chinese parts so nothing fits and anything that you would think of buying is made out of what looks like pig iron. We try and explain the problem and they tell us that a guy they know will be here in five minutes. After 4 minutes a lad arrives on a giant mountain bike worth at least 1500 dollars. He tells us to go to Tashkent, I explain this is not feasible so he then makes a series of phones calls cumulating in telling us to follow him to his house.
Nursing the bike along we ride into a huge run down housing estate only to have the shock of our lives when he opens the lock up garage to reveal the best part of five grands worth of bikes… So with his friend that looked like the spit of Robert Carlyle in looking after jo jo they took the hub out, relaced the wheel on their homemade jig then went round the rest of the bike making sure everything was ok. 55 dollars and a 5 buck tip and I can leave for Dushanbe.

They say that luck is spread evenly its just what you do with it.. I do not know, the chances of finding this guy, the chances of him having a 36 hole rear hub… I am a very very lucky boy. All the luckier for the support I am getting from home who are pulling strings left right and centre to get a parcel sent to Dushanbe to keep me going. Without you this would not be possible. That simple.

So quick mentions in no particular order to the following people as I do not have time to write individual emails:
– Dave you are getting married and you can not pronounce her name?! I will send you a proper email asap re eta etc..
- Sam, enjoy the sights in Belgrade , hope to catch up with you again when I am back in Europe . Thank you for getting the cash back to me.
- Louisa, hope London is not getting you down. You want to get back to Tashkent yet? There are lots of nice men with gold teeth here who would have you get up at 5am to throw water on the floor….
- Kris, mate, you want to swap…? Seriously we have the same bike just lower the saddle and you can come and ride it and I can go to Goa …
- Bahrom Gafurjanov thank you for everything. You are a credit to your nation.
So off to Dushanbe on the fifth when my visa starts. There is a 3750m pass in the way and a tunnel that is about 6 or 7km along I have been told. Cycle through it and you will die due to the smog. So take the pass. Yay another xxxxing pass… Keep your fingers crossed eh?