Two Years Anniversary

From Dover to Shanghai by Bicycle – a photo essay

An 8,200-mile, 111 day trip across 11 countries, these images capture towns, villages, landscapes and people along the route

by Dale, Keith and LInford House

Introduction

We set off on our fabulous journey from Dover to Shanghai in the summer days of 2019. Looking back from its second anniversary it’s a trip that would be difficult to do now (in the Covid circumstances). Our aim was simple, to get to Shanghai in time to catch a ship across the Yellow Sea to Japan, and in turn to be in time to witness the 2019 Rugby World Cup.

We would naturally experience the transitions between cultures and learn more about what connects us along the way. But all that was ahead of us and mostly we would concentrate on the immediate concerns of the practicalities of getting it done. Everything else would be an exciting and unknown bonus.

Our first major stop was Kraków. The three of us: Dale, Keith and Linford, together with Carl & Cathal (who have cycled our previous annual 1000 mile challenges) rode from Dover to Kraków accompanied by the support van (driven by Roger). It was unfortunate that our mate Dave couldn’t ride with us this time as he’d recently had a bad crash. He was with us in spirit (and as an inflatable companion!).

Grand Depart at the Calais Hotel de Ville. l to r: Roger, Carl, Cathal, Dave, Linford, Keith and Dale

Our ride across France, Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany and into Poland followed our normal procedure of riding about 100 miles per day as we had done on our previous 1000 mile summer cycling tours.

Kraków has famous buildings in the Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque styles including the Wawel Cathedral, Royal Castle, St. Mary’s Basicilica and the Saints Peter and Paul Church as well as the medieval market square: Rynek Główny. We spent some time at the Juvenia Rugby Club and visited Schindler’s Factory in the old ghetto.

After a few days rest with wives and girlfriends the three of us then rode on to Shanghai without the van – this would take about a 100 days of cycling.

I was the driver and the most memorable part for me was the strength and determination of these guys especially after a crash on the awful road surface just as we got into Poland. Dale hit a lump in the road and crashed then Carl not having time to avoid him ran over Dale. We patched them up as best we could. Carl’s bike was damaged and had to be rode as a fixie, but they finished the day (an extremely long one if memory serves me correctly of 120+ miles ) in good spirits. Aylesham through and through !!

Roger
The original diary entries for the Calais to Krakow run are here.

Section 1: Ukraine and getting into Russia

Dale and Keith pass sunflowers on the Ukraine steppes

From Kraków we had a couple more days until we crossed into Ukraine. We’d been apprehensive about this but it was achieved by hopping a lift on the back of a truck and this got us through in about an hour. Now, as you probably now, Ukraine is a big country and it took us about 12 days to get across. As you may also know Ukraine and Russia are having some border issues and whilst we knew about this before we started we thought we’d be fine just ambling along to Donetsk and slipping over the border to Rostov on the Black Sea. However after a weeks cycling to Dnipro we had an exhausting day finding out the hard way that this wasn’t going to happen: we cycled a 100 miles there and back again!

The ongoing Donbas War between the pro-Russian Donetsk Peoples Republic and Ukraine meant we could not go that way. We were turned back at several checkpoints after numerous arguments and eventually met the OSCE (Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe). Their advice was clear.

do not wander off the road (landmines), do not use roadside toilets (booby-trapped) and do not take photographs. Be very careful!

Julian of the OSCE

We had seen the empty villages and towns, the walls raked with bullet holes and the scars left by a countryside abandoned by most of the population. We’d seen the roads empty of traffic except for armoured vehicles. We retraced our steps back to Dnipro and to make a bad day worse Dale got a nasty bee sting to his eye which swelled up to make him look monstrous.

the day we tried to cycle through Donetsk. Doing 100 miles and ending in the same town, Then on the way back Dale got the bee sting. And the hotel was a shit hole. Just felt like it was the beginning of a whole load of shit coming our way.

Linford

Of course not all Ukraine was like this. Before Dnipro we’d had some fun trying to fix the bikes when various parts of the panniers broke and also more fun later getting Dale some medication for his swollen eye. And naturally we did get across the Ukraine/Russia border by detouring north.

The original diary entries fo Ukraine and Russia.

Section 2: Crossing the Desert: Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan

Keith passes camels: Dromedaries, Bactrian and hybrids

It took about a month to cross the Stans: Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan. We’ll come to the story about why Tajikistan never happened later. Of course we now realised we were in Asia and we had crossed over from Europe: this quickly became apparent with the geography, the long flat roads, the desert and the heat. But things also changed in more subtle ways.

We came into the city Oral, the first place we stayed in Kazakhstan. The people were all really nice and welcoming and thats when I was told that the river Oral which flows south is the dividing line. Something I hadn’t actually thought about before (when Europe becomes Asia). We followed the river south crossing it back and forth a few times. This was also the start of when hotels became few and far between.

Linford

Trying to get a beer in Inderbor on the Oral River, beers becoming very scarce, just needed a bit more work.

Dale

And then it was only a few days after that we saw our first camel. And that’s when I realized how far we had come and how things were changing.

Linford

We crossed the Oral river in the evening and seriously thought about swimming from Europe to Asia.

Keith

Once when it was really hot some ice cold Red Bull was handed out of cars to us across the desert. Both Keith and I hate Red Bull but it went down a treat then. Another time a car stopped and gave me a cold beer in the desert. They then chucked the empties away which we obviously picked them up. One of my biggest concerns how much litter is on the Silk Road, we need to highlight this like David Attenborough does the oceans.

Dale

I remember our first taste of Uzbekistan food in a remote Russian area. The fire pit bread was amazing.

Dale

We had some fabulous homestays during this section of riding. Most of which which just happened by accident. We’ll never forget being invited to a local school to talk to the trainee teachers or sitting on carpets with a local family.


Everyone was so friendly and hospitable. A few times stand out for me though. the first real time was in a small village in Kazakhstan. We had been searching all afternoon for a hotel and had no luck so decided to bite the bullet and finally get the tents out. So we went to a little shop to stock up on supplies (beers) and whilst we were there I got talking to a guy (using mainly sign language) and he ended up taking us back to what I think was his parents house, where they welcomed us with open arms and before long the whole family had arrived and we ate dinner, played the guitar type instrument and let us stay in their kitchen in the out house. It was a really great evening. In the morning we tried to give the old man some money for his hospitality but he wouldn’t take a penny, and then he got in his car and lead us out of the village to wave us off.

Linford

We had some very long days in the saddle going through the deserts in these countries. The heat got unbearable and rose to 50c. And there would be no shade for miles and miles. That was bad and exhausting but sometimes it was made worse by relentless headwinds. That makes a hard day even worse.

I remember a really long period through the Stans where the wind and sun was relentless. It got so hot and exhausting. I remember drinking like 10 litres of water a day and not even needing a wee as we would just be sweating it out. Then we had some relief in the mountains but before long we were in China and the desert there was even worse, as the wind seemed to be always in our face

Linford

We had so many road-side encounters. In Kazakhstan we were pulled over by the police several times just for them to take a photo with us. Then the countless road-side melon sellers in Uzbekistan which were a blessing in the heat.

Linford
The original diary entries for Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan.

Section 3: The Pass into China: Kyrgyzstan

Heading towards the Pamir Mountains

This part only took three days but it was very dramatic geographically. Originally we were to have cut a corner and ride a day ot two through Tajikistan but when we arrived at the border it turned out that one of us had the dates wrong on the Visa. They wouldn’t budge on that or issue an update or a replacement so in the end we had to abandon that route and take a loop north to avoid Tajikistan altogether.

This route also included some dramatic climbs and over a huge pass of over 2000m between Angren and Kokand but the famous Taldyk Pass on the Pamir Highway was something else as it took us up to 3615m. It was spectacular. Later on in central China we would go over a pass that was even higher at 3817m (where we stayed at a lakeside and had the Yak rides). But that was more of a plateau than dramatic mountains.

We met a few fellow travellers along the way. Gavin stands out as we spent a bit of time with him. A really nice bloke with more Uzbekistan currency than we had. Few others to note the two girls we met coming the other way with bottles of cream soda instead of water. The same mistake we made in the local shops. Also the lad from Shrewsbury swearing and cursing at the wind, that was funny. He was on a Thorn touring bike and riding home from Tasmamia. Also we met Ben from Staple, a village next to ours back in Kent, what a small world it is sometimes!

Dale

I remember the northern bloke we met, who greeted us with “that fxxxing wind”.

Keith

I would say bumping into the guy (Ben) who lived in Staple (only a few miles from home) was the weirdest encounter with another traveller. We had met another English guy (Ted) beforehand that had cycled with him, and we were told he had gone ahead on a train but was heading in the same direction. So I followed him on insta. And a few weeks later as I was descending a mountain in Kyrgyzstan (our last day before entering China) he was coming up the other way, so I slammed on my brakes and had to turn back for a chat, and I got a picture with him.

Linford

I remember some bare foot school kids clapping us as we climb up one pass, and then an urchin throws a stone at Linny!

Dale
The original diary entries for Kyrgyzstan.

Section 4: Xinjiang: pursuit & chase

Linford and Dale take a break

This was all about dodging the police and being moved along by the police. It was all cat and mouse. But more like Inpector Clousseau. If you don’t know about the politics of this region and the way the Uyghur people are being treated then you should probably find out. The police in the region are very careful about what gets observed. Many cities have no hotels for visitors or tourists. In view of this we were moved along a fair few number of times. Sometimes we were ushered out of town and sometime physically driven to the next town. ‘Nothing to see here’ was the approach.

Nevertheless we still met many locals and these were always friendly and welcoming.

I remember we got up really early one day to beat the sun but we had a huge head-wind instead. Which turned out to be worse. We were only traveling about 6mph for the whole morning

Linford

In Yarkant, a very small town in Western China, some students brought us breakfast, including pickled egg things (dead chicken instead of the yolk, which was gross). The students were really chatty until the police came in and then an eery silence fell. We ended up being escorted out of town again.

Dale and Keith

Some really friendly things happened to us: some road workers shared their lunch with us in China – it made a pot noddle taste great. Another time we got mint ice lollies at a Chinese check point.

Dale
The original diary entries for West China.

Best and worst time with the police was probably the time we camped out behind a garage in the middle of nowhere. I’d only just gone to sleep when a few trucks arrived shining lights and shouting in Chinese. It was pretty scary as we didn’t know who or what they wanted. There must of been 4/5 trucks and about 15 policeman stood there shining torches in our face. Then we waited half hour for a translator before finally packing up and being put into the back of a van. We were then taken to the nearest city. Which was about a days ride away (in the right direction thankfully). We were taken to a hotel where we unloaded everything only to be told we couldn’t stay there. So they took us to another hotel and we finally got into a room at about 5 in the morning. It was a terrible night, and we were all exhausted but the shower and comfy bed made it all worthwhile.

Linford

Section 5: Rural China

Dale and Linford approach the mountains

This was all about the last 1000km with Rylan who flew in to meet us. The contrasts here were between the obvious technial developments in the cities and the infrastructure between cities compared with the still rural feel of much of the countryside. We saw both the old and traditional and the ultra-modern especially as we got closer to the huge conurbation of Shanghai. The ride was fun even when we lost each other or lost the main roads and had to ride on dirt. The people we met on the roadsides and at the hotels were as friendly as ever (not counting whoever it was that stole our charity bear – that was mean).

Memories of meeting Rylan being in the wrong airport terminal. We had no ability to contact each other with no phones. That was tricky. Then on our first day on the road together we had a rural meal at a roadside cafe-shed with mice running around the floor. Then Linny, Keith and I demolished the food with chopsticks but Rylan only had a fraction as he couldn’t use the sticks! At another place he ordered what the locals had and he ended up with a bowl of fish-head soup, he was not pleased. Welcome to China!

Dale

In the west of China we were like celebrities, people taking photos and getting all excited to see us.

Linford
The original diary entries for Central China, East China and Shanghai.
Fantastical countryside

All done: Keith, Linford and Dale. Congratulations on an amazing ride.
All done: Keith, Linford and Dale. Congratulations on an amazing ride.

All done: Keith, Linford and Dale. Congratulations on an amazing ride.

Rylan

Into Kazakhstan

Dale, Linford and Keith arrive in Kazakhstan
Dale, Linford and Keith arrive in Kazakhstan

How Far Have They Got?

Map of progress so far.

Charity Update

Many thanks to those that have donated.

 

20190720_CharityDonations

Week 5 Summary: Towards the Deserts

This map shows this weeks ride.

This week: 645miles, 8,161ft and 51:45 hours riding

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Percentage of the 8200 miles completed

Accumulated totals: 3284miles, 76,689ft and 239:36 hours riding

Day 31: Sunday July 14th: East is East

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Route Day 31 – July 14th

Fly-through video and Map of Day 31.

After a really nice meal in the Tokyo restaurant in town we all felt pretty good that we had sorted out our route: Option 2 carry on east to Oral [Uralsk: Ed], then drop down to Tashkent to pick up our original route (very close anyway) [this was Option 3: Option 2 was riding down the Ural river valley: Ed].

We had breakfast in out room from stuff purchased from the local supermarket: yoghurt, muesli, fruit and coffee – pretty good and all ready to roll at 7am. But Linney had a flat rear tyre. We had no inner-tubes left (Linney rides 26 inch wheels), so Keith and & I patched one each: all done in less the 15 min and we hit the road.

We only had a vague idea of where we where staying tonight: either a truck stop thing at around 85 miles or push on through and investigate a possible place at 110 mile, or we could camp. We are prepared for the camping as I am even carry a tin of sweet corn!

The roads are still very good. I have been very impressed with the Russian roads and more importantly how clean and tidy they are kept. The road we are on today (A38) had very few towns, villages or even petrol stations, though we managed to find a little shop open at around 40 mile mark and had a coffee. Linney and Keith had some sort of pie, both said it was nice. I was still ok from our breakfast.

Linney checked the map and said we had another place in 24 miles or so. We carried on in light traffic and on really good roads. Though the weather started to break up we were just in front of the rain until just before our designated stop, when it started to rain egg cups full. Somehow missing us: very strange.

We pulled into the petrol station and had a coffee, soft drink and cheese & ham toastie. I am still pursuing with the vegetarian diet as much as I can, so Keith & Linny share the extra ham. We set of again with about 20 miles to the first possible stay at 85 miles. The weather had improved and the road, though never ending, rolled in our favour and before we knew it Linney shouted out that there is the road-side café. The hostel should be around 2 miles away: and it was.

We pulled in feeling a bit apprehensive about the place, however it all seem clean so we had a coffee and beer in the adjoining café, while they sorted out the dormitory. The guy was really helpful and thanks to google translate gave us the downstairs dormitory with room to store our bikes: excellent result.

Linny volunteered to cook our supper, although I had to go out in the pouring rain (good job we where not camping) to get the water & beers. He made a great job of the starter, not sure if we are going to get the main and pudding though!

We have no WIFI so we will have to talk to each other tonight, with no updates to friends and family. [this was the first night that we’d had no contact – felt a bit strange – assumed they were camping: Ed]

Day 32: Monday July 15th: To the Volga

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Route Day 32 – July 15th

Fly-through video and Map of Day 32.

As we were staying in a truckers hostel on the ground floor it was fairly likely that we would get disturbed in the night, sure enough, so Linney and Keith say, a guy did come and made a bit of noise. I slept through it all. Also we had a bit of confusion on what time zone we where in, the phones had jumped forward an hour during yesterdays ride, but the garmins stayed as they were. We finally sorted it out, the clocks had gone forward.

A bit of bad planning or lack of planning meant we only had dried cereal for breakfast, hence we set of quite early around 7am, with nothing on the route until the 30ish mile mark. We headed for that and it turned out to be some sort of bus terminus. Anyway we had a coffee and bite to eat.

 

Keith takes a roadside break
Keith takes a roadside break

We then carried on to Stavotol along the same road that was getting a bit bumpy in places: very little along the way. We stopped again at a little petrol station for water and refreshments and then pushed on until we came to a restaurant. We went in ordered the food and then realised we did not have much cash: however we managed to get together just enough to cover the bill.

I also had a slow puncture on my front wheel, so I just put some air in it and off we went. I had to stop around 8 mile from Stavotol to put a bit more air in my tyre for the final push to the hotel. We’d booked it in one of the petrol stations. I also found out we had won the cricket world cup by the most slender of margins – but still a great result.

When we got to the hotel, Keith and Linney booked us as I changed and then repaired my front inner ready for the morning.

 

We then showered and were ready to eat and plan the next day.

Day 33: Tuesday July 16th: Heading East

Once again Linney came up trumps with the restaurant choice, though the waitress must wonder what has hit them when we come in, ordering things all over the place and having no idea in which order the food will come out. One thing for sure though everything is eaten!

We went to the supermarket before making our way back to the hotel, but only got some pasta and fruit. We therefore decided to wait until the morning to get what we needed for camping.

Around 6am in the morning there was a little knock on our door. Obviously Keith & I are up like a shot as breakfast is ready directly outside our room: porridge the food for cyclists, a fried egg and a plastic frankfurter, followed by pancakes and condensed milk. All quite nice.

Off we set around 7am with no particular end. We have planned a double days riding 180 ish miles, with possible stops at 85 miles (doubtful), 106 mile (even less doubtful) , then 112 mile as a possible or camp!

Linford crossing the mighty Volga river in Saratov, Russia
Linford crossing the mighty Volga river in Saratov, Russia

Steam Train, Russia
П 1578 Soviet Locomotive, Saratov, Russia

Linney navigated through the city of Saratov with ease, though it still took as an hour to get out of the city limits, after crossing the huge Volga river. Then we turned into a head wind. It was brutal with no respite, just head down and pedal which we are all pretty good at. I noticed my front tyre was going down again, but pushed through to the next stop. I took the tyre off again – it was a new inner tube, and Keith & I once again checked the tyre but could not find anything.

A lonely road in Russia
A lonely road in Russia

After we set off again within 20 mins the tyre was going down again. On these rough roads you cannot ride like that, so I swapped the tyre for the spare and away we went again. It was still a fierce head wind. All we had to do was carry on pedalling: nothing can go wrong.

Linney was at the front by about a mile (perfaps further) he does not get to much involved in the mechanical issues, he is more for the map reading and restaurant and hotel finding jobs. He waited for us at the next petrol station with the good news that there is another petrol station in 24 miles, then nothing for 28 miles until a small café and then a possible hotel in another 6 miles.

That’s what it is then, so we pushed on into the head wind with clouds building up behind us. On we went, then we turned a bit more eastly, thankfully the head wind turned with us, what a result! Then the road got really bumpy for the next 20 odd miles, making us wonder what was worse – we are all not sure!

We stopped at the petrol station, filled up the water bottles and carried on to the next place on our map a very little “café”. All it takes is will-power. On we went through some of the worst roads we have met. Before we knew it you could see a few little houses and farms in the foreground but still it was 2 hours riding to get there!

Dale and Linford
Dale and Linford

Linney led us into a little shack, the lady came out to greet us told us where to park our bikes and seemed really welcoming. I was last in and Keith had already ordered a coffee, and asked me if I wanted one, I looked at him with a smile and said I am having a beer!

Normally we have not had a single beer when we have been riding: my excuse was we either have 6 mile to go or we are camping-  good enough for me! They had fresh bread baked in an outside oven and some great rustic food. We later found out they were originally from Uzbekistan. The hospitably was excellent as was the food: rice with vegetables. Noodle soup and kebab, with fresh baked bread.

They told us there will be an hotel down the road in 10 km, with a friendly farewell we set off for the last 6 mile. Rolled into the hotel and the girl on the desk could tell from my eyes that I need a room, she duly obliged.

It had been a really tough day up there with the Pyrenees, the rocket launcher and Dumbledore forest rides to name a few from our past rides.

Day 34: Wednesday July 17th: To Another Border

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Route of Day 34 – July 17th

Fly-through and map of Day 34.

Hotel for the night, Russia
Hotel for the night, Russia

After yesterdays epic ride, we had a little lie in as breakfast was not until 07:30. We used the time to do a little bike maintenance. Breakfast was the standard Russian fare fried eggs , plastic frankfurter, tomatoes and bread.

Linford on the road
Linford on the road

We set off around 8am, a little bit apprehensive, not knowing what the roads and wind would be like. As it soon transpired: not very good with a massive head wind and really bumpy torn up roads. We carried on like this for 30 odd miles at a really slow pace.

Alternative travel on the road to Kazakhstan, Russia
Alternative travel on the road to Kazakhstan, Russia

A friendly herdsman and dog
A friendly herdsman and dog

We had a drink and left – we all knew we just had to grind this ride out. Just before we were due to stop we met this cowboy guy herding his cattle, he seemed very contented. Keith took a photograph. We then stopped again at a rustic transport café where Linney and I had some cold soup with bread – it was ok – Keith had a meat soup.

A strange monument, Russia
A strange monument, Russia

We worked out that we had another stop in 18 miles, then another with 28 miles to go. Another thing we were running out of Russian rubles although we all had cards etc. We stopped at a little village with the most moody shop keepers in the world and even told me off for putting my plastic bottle into her waste bin. We could only afford two bottles of water and dry biscuits. Living the high life again.

With 28 miles to go we all got going, the first 10 miles was not to bad, the wind had dropped a little and the road was bearable. Then it all went a little pear shaped, they were rebuilding the road, we just had to ride along beside the tippers, dumpers and transport lorries, it was pretty hectic stuff. This went on for around 12 miles of difficult riding to say the least.

Linford gets a ride to the shops
Linford gets a ride to the shops

When the road works finished we were just glad to get back on to the bumpy road for the final 6 miles, with no hotel booked the plan was to ride into the own, get to a café/ bar use their WIFI and find a place to stay. The first part was OK, found a shop had a beer and ice cream – but no WIFI. We rode on a little and then met some kids and asked them if they knew where a hotel was (we use google translate). The next thing we knew we were in their house! It was a bed and breakfast place, the kids took Linney to the nearest ATM and we all got sorted.

Showered and ready to find an eating place.

Day 35: Thursday July 18th: Into Kazakhstan

All the best and Happy Birthday to our sister Joanne and good luck with all the wedding shenanigans in Italy coming up. Have a great day and a fabulous holiday.

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Route of Day 35 – Jul 18th

Fly-through and Map of Day 35.

We nearly had a disco experience at last nights restaurant! We were the only other people in the restaurant with two Russian ladies who wanted a dance. Obviously I was up for it but the other two only wanted an ice cream – so I went for an ice cream too and the opportunity passed.

All set for the border crossing to Kazakhstan
All set for the border crossing to Kazakhstan

With the supermarket shop still open we added some pot noddle stuff to our camping store as we were all still not sure what we had to eat.

We had breakfast in the room: fruit, muesli, fruit and coffee – all good. Then we all had the normal ablutions in the eastern fashion which is hard on the legs – Keith then pointed out that the next door lavatory was in the European style!

We were on the road around 07:30 with a view to going to the local supermarket to pick up some water but it did not open till 08:00 so we moved on to the local garage.

Then we started the ride to the border on rough un-made roads. With 80 miles and a border crossing this could be a long day. We were soon passed by the guys who stayed at the same place as us – they waved and tooted us ‘good luck’.

Dale and LInford find the 4 hour border crossing tedious
Dale and LInford find the 4 hour border crossing tedious

Before we knew it we were at the Russian border. All went well and we then passed on to the Kazakhstan border control with a mile ride between. We queued up behind about 20 cars and then a nice girl came up and said in perfect English ‘have you got a problem?’. Keith said ‘are we in the right queue?’, she said ‘go to the front’, so we did and they let us through. On we went through an open gate when the shout went up ‘stop!’ Linney and I turned around and the guard just said ‘wait here’.

So we had to wait there. We showed are passports to the guy, and then waited and waited for around 3 hours. The border control guys were all quite nice and had a chat and a laugh with us. One even had a go on Linney`s bike, it was just so slow. Then they waved us through, and after another little wait we went through the passport control procedure. All done in around 3 ½ hours – not too bad.

We had a little snack and then set off on clear flat rolling roads. The best we had seen since Germany which seems long ago. The quality of the road and the tail wind made our minds up to head for Oral [Oral (Kazakh: Орал, romanized: Oral), Ural’sk (Russian: Уральск) in Russian, formerly known as Yaitsk (Russian: Яицк, until 1775): Ed].

Grass Snake (Natrix natrix) in Kazakhstan
Grass Snake (Natrix natrix) in Kazakhstan

After another 60 ish miles, with a decent speed and a few little breaks we were soon on the outskirts of the city. With Linney in full map reading mode we made our way to a hotel. The guy was really helpful, but they had no rooms. He made a few calls, but the hotel was too far away. The next plan was to find a bar with WIFI, have a beer and find a place to stay, the plan worked and the beer was excellent (a bit like the end of the film “Ice cold in Alex”.

Linney booked an apartment and we spent the extra £1, we tried to phone the guy but got into some language issues, but thought we had to meet him in 10 mins at the apartment just around the block. Keith went to the ATM as this place will break the bank!

Linford chose his own room for his last night in Russia
Linford chose his own room for his last night in Russia (or was it the first night in Kazakhstan?)

As Linney and I were waiting this guy came out of a bar and with a smile introduced himself as an English language teacher – result – we got him to talk to the apartment owner and it was all sorted in 10 mins. We arranged to meet the guy in the bar after we had all showered and cleaned up. It took Keith & I about 5 mins but Linney, naturally, a bit longer. The teacher guy (Kanat) was really keen to chat with us and then invited us to his school the next day. We arranged to meet him at 10:30 the next day, all quite convenient as we had arranged to check out of the apartment at 10:00. The guy then walked with us past his School (Number 7) on to a fancy restaurant, we really are living the high life today. We all had a great meal washed down with a few beers, then went back to our apartment.

Dale, Linford and Keith arrive in Kazakhstan
Dale, Linford and Keith arrive in Kazakhstan

The last few days in Russia have been really tough. Long days on shitty tracks, with no sign of improvement. But we made it into Kazakhstan after a 4 hour wait at the border and what a difference it has been already. Lovely smooth roads, and the people have been so friendly, beeping their horns, waving and stopping us for photos. Even pulling over in their cars/lorries for a selfie with us. I can only hope it continues. Looking forward to a more relaxing morning tomorrow and then possibly our first night under the stars as we go go further into the wilderness. [Linford]

Day 36: Friday July 19th: South with the Oral River

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Route of Day 36 – July 19th

Fly through and Map of Day 36.

We all thought we had a little lie in this morning, though we were still confused with the time zone! Anyway Keith and Linney went out to the supermarket and bike shop to get some breakfast things and get more inner tubes at 26″. I stayed behind and repaired my two inner tubes. They were back in 20 mins as it was still too early for the bike shop, but they had the breakfast stuff. After breakfast they tried the bike shop again to no avail.

We checked out of the apartment with no problems and then made are way to Oral school number 7 to meet Kanat and his pupils. As we arrived at the school gates and walked in we where all a bit nervous – not sure what to expect. Linney phoned Kanat and he duly came out with a big smile on his face and walked us into the school and the classroom.

Our first surprise was that they were all adults! It transpired they were trainee English Teachers. We sat down in front of the class and introduced ourselves, me first, then Linney and Keith. At first is was all a bit weird with the two lecturers asking most of the questions and me with my speech impediment getting all the countries mixed up! Then it all opened up with questions flying everywhere. We were like celebrities and then the selfies started. Obviously Keith & I were not in the same demand as Linney. He was signing autographs like a really big cheese. We finished off with a couple of group shots and even the class next door got involved.

We finally got on our bikes around 11:30, with a rough plan of doing around 80 miles then trying our luck at a truckers hostel or camping. We soon hit the road out of the city and started to roll. At around 20 mile mark Linney got a bit scared that I may sail past a truckers café so he pulled out all the stops and made sure we stopped. The locals were again very hospitable and we had a salad, soup and coffee before setting off again. We were making really good time.

Even a Police vehicle waved at us and Linney gave the driver a ‘high five’ as we rode past. Also all the fruit sellers and drivers were honking their horns and waving at us. I must admit it does spur us on. Before we knew it we were closing in on the truckers hostel.

Well when we got there it was the polar opposite of last nights apartment: four in a room on bunk beds and we had a guest in our room. Then had to pay extra for a shower! This is not what us celebrities are used to.

We had a few beers in the café and then showered as best we could. The water smelt like it came from the ditch outside. Anyway the guests all seemed very friendly and we sat and had a chat and a beer with them before we made our way to the other café.

After a slow start the owner started to open up and said she had a friend who worked in London. Before we knew it we had a video conference with her via WhatsApp and then a photograph with the owner to send to her friend. We are still living the big ‘I am’ life style.

Then it was off to our prison bunks. I felt sorry for the guy sharing with Keith and I: well he should have spent the extra £1.

Day 37: Saturday July 20th: From Europe to Asia

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Route of Day 37 – July 20th

Fly through and Map of Day 37.

We all got up really early, Linney’s alarm went off at 05:30 – he must have really wanted to get going, but I think he did not have a clue on the time-zone. Anyway up we got, breakfast in the café (not the good café, it wasn’t open): custard roll two meat and potato fritters for Keith & Linney and a couple of mugs of coffee.

We set off at around 07:15 and it was getting hot already. The plan, stan, was just to ride until we couldn’t ride anymore. We had suppliers for camping and just needed to make sure we had enough water. Linney had looked at the route: stops were few and far between but we had potential places at 45 miles, 90 miles then a town on the river at 126 miles – which seemed too much!

Off we set keeping a steady pace and with the Steppe marmots in abundance, jumping around the side of the road and keeping us occupied. Before we knew it we were at the first stop where we had a coffee and soft drink. We then moved next door as it seemed better. Keith was a bit late as he got involved with some locals with selfies.

Keith commandeered a table and ordered for me as I was trying to sort out a solar panel charger. My spare tyre is getting in the way and I need to rearrange it. Anyway, I come in to three fried eggs & bread: it seems pretty standard fare in these parts. They they have meat pasta and it’s all very friendly with a few photographs

Linney gave us the good news – the next stop in 46 miles, so off we set, the road was still pretty good but not as smooth as yesterday although we were still getting the horns blowing and people waving at us, which really boosts our morale. As the stops are few and far between we have started to carry extra water and break the sections up with a little rest every now and again.

As we had one of these little breaks, we noticed a Police car go past. About 10 miles down the road they pulled us over: for speeding? They just wanted to know want we were up to and we had a little chat and a few photographs. We were soon back on are way.

We hit the 90 mile mark in good time, stopped for some drinks and then pushed on to Inderbor town with the bridge across the Oral (Ural) river – the bridge that crosses from Europe to Asia.

We all felt smashed especially as Keith had had a mad hour coming from the last stop, pushing hard at high speeds. I for one was glad when he pulled up and said ‘carry on I need to tighten my front pannier’. The speed came down to a more reasonable pace.

With 10 miles to we all started to feel the strain and then we had a head wind for a couple of miles it was like riding in treacle! But as you do we pushed through and sailed into Inderbor and Asia.

We found the only hotel in town and settled in for the night after a few beers and food.

Worryingly though the beers are becoming a little bit more difficult to source.

Overland To India

See how Ben and Jess are getting on as they take a more southern route across Asia to India.

They are currently crossing from Europe to Asia as they arrive in Istanbul, Turkey.

You can follow them here: https://jezzlejournal.tumblr.com/ and here is a taster …

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Ben and Jess arrive in Istanbul

Into Russia

Charity Update

Many thanks to those that have donated.

 

20190713_CharityDonations

Week 4 Summary: To Russia With Love

This map shows this weeks ride and the route options for continuation.

This week: 529 miles, 15,148ft and 39:58 hours riding

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Percentage of the 8200 miles completed

Accumulated totals: 2639 miles, 68,528ft and 192.07 hours riding

Day 24: Sunday July 7th: Heading North

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Route Day 24 afternoon – July 7th

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Video, Map & Photos from Day 24: here and here.

Breakfast in the hotel room this morning, as Linney and Bingo went on a shopping spree last night: bananas, fruit bread, coffee and juice. All pretty good. We nare all in a pretty upbeat mood considering yesterdays adventures.

Dale and his bee stung eye
Dale and his bee stung eye

My eye has completely swollen up, and I’ve taken the first pills of the tour for me so far, anti-histamines. We are all ready to go until Linney decided to put some air in his rear wheel and loses the swivel seal pin: so we replace the inner tube no problem. Still left before 8am.

Once we got out of town the roads where surprisingly good for the first 20 or so miles. Then we hit some pretty rough roads, which we where expecting. We pushed on through to a little shop for our first ice cream of the day. We then carried on as the road improved for a 10 mile section. It makes all the difference to our moral and speed, though the surface soon returned to normal.

We stopped at Krematorsk for a picnic lunch, then picked up the original route. Linney is very good at re-routing on the go. The last 40 miles were big rolling hills into a little head wind: all good training. We then went through another check point Linney thinking we were we still in the the war zone, but the police controlled this one, so hopefully not.

The wheat fields of the Ukraine steppe
The wheat fields of the Ukraine steppe

Then we stopped at a little shop with the normal characters who loved our adventure and seemed really interested in our ride: we were chatting using google translate. Once again the final 15 miles was very hilly with big long drags. The touring bikes seem to cope with these with remarkable ease.

As we arrived at the hotel with a grain lorry overturned on the steep hill into town. As usual we were welcomed by a shouting hotel owner. Getting very used to this.

Day 25: Monday July 8th: Up to Kharkiv

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Route Day 25 – July 8th

Video and Map of Day 25.

Getting used to all three in the same room now. Unfortunately my eye had got worse overnightand  the swelling is all over the left side of my face. We located a local pharmacy that was around 400m away and opened at 7am so off we all went.

A very stern chemist admired my John Merrick face [Joseph Carey Merrick, usually and erroneously called John was the ‘Elephant Man’] and gave me a little package and said a lot in Ukrainian. It was a syringe and vial? Keith asked her if she would inject it. ‘No’ came the stern reply, then Keith asked her where should it go. ‘Bottom’ she said even sterner.

 

Back we went to the digs, Linney and Keith in front me behind thinking how is this going to work. We watched a Youtube video. Obviously “nothing can go wrong“. It’s all about getting it in the right quadrant. With Linney on camera, Keith on syringe and me with my pants down, in it went.

We then got on with breakfast and were on the bikes just after 8am. We rode through the town then onto a decent road with me thinking and hoping that the injection works!

After around 30 miles we stop at a little petrol station for coffees and snacks. I felt that the pain and swelling was easing although I did not get any good vibes from the other two: just weird looks and quips.

On we pressed until we came to a truck stop for lunch: Linney and I had the soup (full of meat) – my vegetarian diet is struggling. Keith went for the hamburger probably the best option.

Hotel in Ukraine
Hotel in Ukraine

At 18 miles form our destination on we pushed as the rain was getting heavier. As we entered the city the roads deteriorated again and we had to ride the last 5 miles in flood waters covering the pot holes. Good fun and we made it.

Also my eye is getting better: a little better anyway.

Day 26: Tuesday July 9th: Across the Border

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Route Day 26 – July 9th

https://ridewithgps.com/trips/37011807

Video and Map of Day 26.

Here we go again: another attempt to cross into Russia.

We are all up fairly early with breakfast in the apartment: dark bread, cheese spread, salami slices and coffee. We have about a 30 mile ride to the border, so the plan was to get there as soon as we could. The first 10 miles where through the city, though Linney did guide us well. The roads were good going towards the border, though it was very busy. The traffic got lighter the closer we got to the border, which was a bit concerning.

Within 400m of the border you could see a couple of cars queuing, so we joined them at first but then took the pedestrian route. We passed the first guard with no problem, and got through the Ukrain side in about 10 mins. Then it was onto the Russian side. We kept the same strategy by going in with the pedestrians, got to the first guard, he told us to stop, then came over to us, checked our passports and gave us a immigration form and made a little joke about needing money to cross! We filled in the form and joined the queue, which had only around half a dozen people, nothing like the other day, it all seemed a bit relaxed.

Keith went through first and handed in his passport and documen. The border guard asked in perfect English could he speak Russian, Keith answered ‘English only’, she never said another word, made a phone call and then let him pass. It only took 5 minutes.

Linney & I followed with no problem, just a quick look in some of the panniers and we where in. Retrospectively we all thought we should have routed this way in the first place, however trying to reduce the mileage made us choose the other route: lesson learnt.

On the road in Russia
On the road in Russia

We had a bit of a lunch break in the border cafe, andthen pushed on to Belgorod about 24 miles away. The roads where good, even through the road works, and we soon hit the city limits and cruised in, with Linney leading the way. We found the location of the apartment, had a coffee and cake, while waiting for the owner to turn up with the keys.

Keith and Linford. First day in Russia
Keith and Linford. First day in Russia

Our first impression of Russia is really good, and a few people stopped us to ask where we are from and what are we up to.

All in all a good day.

Day 27: Wednesday July 10th: Heading NE

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Route Day 27 – July 10th

Fly through video and map.

We really do need to research these digs better: bikes up and down threes flights of stairs again! We still had a good breakfast in the room: rye bread, cheese , ham, fruit and coffee, living the high life. On the road just before 08:00, through the city then on to the open road. The roads where very good with a nice wide cycle lane, and as we had had a reasonably good breakfast we pushed on for a few hours, before Linny said shall we have a coffee.

We went past the best place, ended up stopping at a petrol station for an ice cream and soft drink. The weather had clouded over making it very comfortable to cycle in. We were soon up in the 60 mile mark, and we stopped again for chocolate, not warm enough for ice cream. The weather was cool and the landscape turned very industrial rather than the farmland we had before.

 

We rode through a town with numerous chimneys, open cast mine workings and pit head gear. As we got nearer our destination the weather changed. It was the first time I had had wet weather gear on since the first day of the Krakow section. It really belted it down for about 10 minutes.

Linford and Dale doing bike maintenance
Linford and Dale doing bike maintenance

We arrived at the destination town – Stary Oskol, only to find we had booked into the the second worst hotel in living memory: the Lemon Hotel in Belgium still rates as the worst.

Day 28: Thursday July 11th: Crossing the Quiet Don

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Route Day 28 – July 11th

Fly through video and map.

Breakfast in the hammer house of horror hotel. No hot water in Linney’s room. Keith & I had hot water in the grumpy old ladies room across the dingy corridor: all a bit weird. Hence on the road about 07:30.

 

Our first call was a photo-shoot under the statue for Armed forces and workers collaboration. When we set off we realised we had definitely stayed in the wrong part of town: it was bigger than we thought!

We all soon got into the stride and pushed on through quite decent roads, until about the 30 mile mark, then we hit some road works. Not too bad and nothing like as bad as the Ukrain roads, but I did lose  a retaining bolt from my front pannier. I need to source some longer 6mm bolts, but made do with a long 5mm one with washers.

'And Quietly Flows the Don'. Crossing the Don river at Volonezh
‘And Quietly Flows the Don’. Crossing the Don river at Volonezh

After that we had a quick stop at a petrol station, and then moved on. We are seeing a little bit more wild life now, though not as much as I would have thought, a few buzzards and kites, virtually nothing else. Had another little stop. Keith wanted some food, but the lady from Mrs Brown (or the Russian shot put team) said ‘no!’ So we made do with a coffee then moved on, stopped about 6 miles later and Keith got his toastie then.

Russia aircraft near Volonezh, Russia
Russia aircraft near Volonezh, Russia

We only had about 16 miles to go so we just rolled into a busy city. Linney had booked the hotel and therefore we have gone a bit up-market tonight. A very helpful lady on reception let us clean our bikes. This was just as well as Keith noticed he had two more broken spokes! Fortunately he had bought half a dozen spokes last time. He replaced the spokes, but the wheel will be ditched if the spokes keep breaking as we have been on reasonably good roads, Keith is 5 kg lighter and they should not be breaking.

WW2 Tank near Voronezh, Russia
WW2 T-34 Tank near Voronezh, Russia

Day 29: Friday July 12th: Anna, but not Karenina

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Route Day 29 – July 12th

Fly through video and map of Day 29.

We spent last night in the city of Voronezh. Our first job was to visit a couple of bike shops to find a new back wheel for Keith. The first shop were very helpful but did not have the correct wheel, however they made a phone call to another shop about 10 mins walk away who did have the correct wheel. When we arrived the wheel was waiting for us, however the guy who had the tools to swap the cassette and brake rotor over had left. But they called the guy back who duly done the business, Keith was quite happy to do the swap himself, but we did not have a cassette removal tool.

By this time we where all starving. Linney found a restaurant close by on the 4th floor of a shopping mall. Our first impressions where very good, but the service was appalling and the food mediocre at best and we where all glad to get back to the posh hotel.

At breakfast the next morningwe a great spread, to Linney’s deligth, with boiled eggs and rice pudding. After a good feed we were soon on our way. As today was a relatively short day (65 miles) we were all relaxed.

This didn’t last for long as we made a little mistake. Linney, our expert map reader, said ‘no problem go down this road it will join up’. The road was downhill like Slip Lane!, then across another road and uphill like another Slip Lane! That’s all you need to start the day. [Slip Lane is a steep road out of Alkham towards Lydden, near Dover, Kent]

We soon got onto the correct route heading out of the busy city. Once again the roads are really good. We soon hit the 30 mile marker for a little rest and some ice cream from a miserable women who did not want to open the ice cream freezer. We needed the fuel so we held our ground and eventually she relented and we had our ice cream.

We got on our way again through a tree lined road, all very nice, but still a lack of wildlife to be seen. Soon we arrived at our hotel in Anna: a very small town – it was only 13:15. We had plenty of time for cleaning the bikes and researching a new route into Kazakhstan – we are a lot further north of our original route due to our peregrinations in Ukraine.

Day 30: Saturday July 13th: Which Way To Go

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Route Day 30 part 1 – July 13th

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Route Day 30 Part 2 – July 13th

Fly-through and Map for Day 30 part 1.

Fly-through and Map for Day 30 Part 2.

After yesterdays relatively easy ride we had an meal in a rustic restaurant and an evening trying to sort out our route options.

Basically we have three options:

  • Option 1 follow the Vulva [he means the Volga river: Ed] means turning south east on Sunday and following the Volga river down to Volgograd and Astrakhan.
  • Option 2 carry on East to Oral [Uralsk: Ed], then down the Ural river valley to Atyrau and drop onto our original route.
  • Option 3 continue after Oral [Uralsk] into Tashkent on a road through the desert.

Currently it looks like we will be going with option 2 for the moment, mainly due to the sexual connotations of the names!

We had breakfast at the hotel: poached egg on toast with beans, very English, tasted ok though! It was really easy to get out of the town and soon we were on decent roads.

Linney had a blow out on his rear tyre around the 30 mile mark, it was new tyre he fitted yesterday, so we put the old one back in, but the inner tubes he has are too big. Need to go to a bike shop and get the right size!

Soon we were back on the road, and had a picnic lunch outside a supermarket in Listopadovka. The locals seemed to enjoy our company and two young lads sat with us for a while. After deciding to defer our ice cream we rode onto a stop about 16 miles away for our ice cream treat.

Keith seemed to up the pace as we left Listopadovka, and Linney & I thought it was an ice cream deficiency, any as we came to the designated stop Keith was nowhere to be seen. Linney and I carried on up a hill, and waiting at the top was Keith. Linney said ‘whats going on? I want my Ice Cream!’. Keith just said there was no way I was stopping just before that hill and anyway I needed a call of nature (sh** [too much information: Ed]), so that was the end of our ice cream hunt for the day. May be he is trying to wean us off them.

We carried on to our destination of Borissoglebsk. The lady at the hotel was quite pleasant and let us store the bikes in the garage. So it was a quick shower and then out for something to eat,

I find a discotheque as it is Saturday night.

Overland To India

See how Ben and Jess are getting on as they take a more southern route across Asia to India.

You can follow them here: https://jezzlejournal.tumblr.com/ and here is a taster …

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Jess & John: Overland to India

A little correspondence with Ben and Jess …

20190710_JessBen20190713_JessBenRace to RWC

RaceToRWC
Ron Rutland and James Owens

Ron Rutland and James Owens are embarking on a remarkable quest: cycling 20,093 km across Europe and Asia – from London to Tokyo – and arriving just in time for Rugby World Cup 2019™. This extreme expedition will take them through 27 countries over 231 days. Details at the website. And a newspaper article.