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 Kyrgyzstan and out again

Rest in a corner and call it a day
Or be like a beacon and show us the way

Wherever it leads you, follow your road
Freedom will feed you and carry your load

Ben Viatte

How Far Have They Got?

 

Map of progress so far.

Charity Update

Many thanks to those that have donated.

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Week 9 Summary: Uzbekistan, Tajikistan (Not!), Uzbekistan (Again!), Kyrgyzstan and China

This map shows the weeks ride.

Through the 5000 mile barrier. This week: 377 miles, 23,687ft climbing and 34:53 hours riding

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Accumulated totals: 5046 miles, 109,215ft climbing and 390:28 hours riding

Day 59: Sunday August 11th:  Trains, Dogs, Prayers and the first tough climb

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Route Day 59 – August 11th

After camping in some rough ground behind a petrol station we were woken around 5ish with freight trains rattling along, incessant dog barking and the call to morning prayers.

Overnight camp near Almalyk
Overnight camp near Almalyk

Overnight camp near Almalyk
Overnight camp near Almalyk

So it was an early start, with a bowl of museli and yoghurt, and on the road just after 6. We were heading for Kokand around 105 miles away athough this may have to be amended as there is a lot of climbing today.

Approaching mountains
Approaching mountains

Approaching mountains
Approaching mountains

Double-headed train
Double-headed train

The first part was just a steady climb going through little villages and towns. We stopped at the small town of Angren for a coffee and water. Once again we were short of Uzbekistan Soms. We located a bank but it was closed (Sunday). Fortunately, this time, we did have US dollars.

Riding past the Akhangaran Reservoir
Riding past the Akhangaran Reservoir

Riding past the Akhangaran Reservoir
Riding past the Akhangaran Reservoir

As we went further the road ramped up a little but nothing too serious. We stopped for a photo-shoot with some Chinese students by a dam on a lake. We exchanged contact details which may come in handy when we enter China next week.

Sunflowers and mountains ahead
Sunflowers and mountains ahead

As we got closer to the major climb we stopped at a tiny shop and sat in the shade. We chatted with the owner and managed to exchange some US dollars for Som. At least we could eat! The owner wanted to take us fishing in the river below, but we had no time so we said our thanks, done the selfie, and moved on to the infamous hairpins.

Into the mountains
Into the mountains

On the road to Kokand
On the road to Kokand

Keith and Dale on the road to Kokand
Keith and Dale on the road to Kokand

As we started climbing the signs just repeated themselves; ‘12% for the next 2km’, then again and again. We just got into the rhythm and rode. We stopped for water and ice cream when we were about a third of the way up. After the normal photo-shoot on we went, up and up through some terrific scenery and horrendous hairpins [Switch backs!: Ed], everyone waving and tooting their horns and cars and lorries breaking down as we carried on climbing. On we went Keith leading the way with me and Linney at the back. Linney of course was only lagging because of the photographs; both taking and being taken of!

At the top of the pass (2178m) between Angren and Kokand
At the top of the pass (2178m) between Angren and Kokand

As we waited at the top there was a tunnel with an army patrol guy who made a cross with his arms. Keith went over to see the guy while I was busy taking photographs. Keith was thinking were not allowed through the tunnel, but it transpired we were not allowed to take photographs in the tunnel. No problem.

We went through this tunnel and the next one before starting the decent. However we stopped for lunch before the descent really got going and discussed our options.

We decided to go for Kokand and book a hotel. I said ‘no problem we will be there before 7’. It was already 4 :30 with over 40 miles to go!

We started the descent and it was worth all the climbing with a wide road and a fairly good surface. Linney did hit a pot-hole which made his handle bars drop a little. After less than 45 minutes we had covered half the distance to Kokand. The shout went up ‘do we want to stop’. ‘Carry on’ was the reply. The road flattened out after the descent but we still kept up the pace, riding hard.

As we enter the busy city Linney switched into overdrive trying to skip lights and jump the queues as normal I tend to hang back then which nearly caused a pile up between me and Keith, but with good skills he managed to avert the danger.

As we pulled up to the Silk Road Hotel, it was 6:59. We’d done it easily. I went through the booking-in process as they assured us we could pay by MasterCard in the morning. They also gave us a complementary beer.

It was a really nice hotel so after a good shower it was down to the restaurant for another well earned beer and some good food.

Day 60: Monday August 12th: Bike Repairs (Again)

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Route Day 60 – August 12th

Fly-through Map of Day 60.

We had a really good meal last night and a great nights sleep. It’s amazing how much you like a bed after camping. I don’t think I’m designed to sleep on the floor.

Breakfast was at 7 and we were all ready to attack the big spread. We were not disappointed, though the waiters were fussing around Keith a bit more than he liked. I left Linney and Keith as they were on their 3rd sitting to go and start the palaver of paying the bill. We thought the card machine was out of action but the hotel manager phoned me and said no problem he would take us to the bank! Well in Uzbekistan it’s never that easy but eventually we found an ATM that had US dollars not Som. The deal was done!

Then we a big photo-shoot outside the hotel before we could get going around 08:30. With a plan to ride about 80 miles to Andijan. From the profile it looked like up-hill after the first 20 miles but with no major climbs.

We got out of the city pretty quickly and soon hit a good pace; it must have been the good breakfast. We kept the pace up for a couple of hours on surprisingly good roads. Keith gave a shout to say he had a problem with his back wheel so we pulled over adjacent to some melon sellers. Keith had his back wheel off and tightened a few spokes and got the wheel as true as he could. Linney really helped out and got a free melon from the guys and bought two extra ones for later.

Wave from a fellow cyclist
Wave from a fellow cyclist

Around the 40 mile mark we stopped for a cup of tea, like all English gentlemen should. It was green tea of course but we are getting to like it. We discussed what we could do about Keith’s wheel. The plan was to nurse it through to Osh tomorrow and then see if we could purchase a new one there.

As we moved on with a planned lunch stop in a town called Shankhrikhan. We soon arrived and passed two bike shops. We had no luck in them, but one of the guys took us to a bike repair place around the corner (just like Dad’s back garden back in the day). Sure enough the guy managed to repair the wheel; the rim has split, so he reamed the spoke-hole out with a file, put a washer on the spoke nut and trued the wheel up all for the princely sum 10,000 Som! We gave him 15,000 Som, which is about £1.50. We will still need to replace the wheel ASAP, but least it will get us through the next few days, we hope.

Bike repair shop in Shankhrikhan
Bike repair shop in Shankhrikhan

Bike repair shop in Shankhrikhan
Bike repair shop in Shankhrikhan

Bike repair shop in Shankhrikhan
Bike repair shop in Shankhrikhan

After the customary photo-shoot, and an extra one with Linney’s new Mum [Dale is determined to get Keith married off: Ed], we moved around the corner for some peace and quiet and to have a bowl of Yak soup and bread.

Chairs on tricycle
Chairs on tricycle

We then just rolled into the surprisingly big city of Andijan located a hotel (which was not as nice as yesterdays – we do have a budget!). We showered then went to the ATM again and found a restaurant for a few beers and a meal.

Day 61: Tuesday August 13th: Into Kyrgyzstan

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Route Day 61 – August 13th

Fly-through Map of Day 61.

For the first time on the Tour we slept untill 08:00. Not intentionally; we forgot to set the alarm. We still made time for breakfast as it’s going to be a long day, with a border crossing and some serious climbing.

We got going just after 9 through the busy city of Andijan. It was a relief to get out.

The border was around the 30 mile mark just before the City of Osh. Keith’s front pannier completely broke off just before the border and he ended up strapping it to the back of the bike as we all rolled into the border crossing.

The Uzbekistan side was the normal chaotic queues and hustle and bustle, but we got through pretty quick. Then came the Kyrgyzstan side; it was the worst border crossing ever as fighting broke out in the queues with children crying, shouting and screaming. As we were tourists we go to the front, but that really makes you feel guilty, with all the others pushing and shoving. It was horrible to see.

We finally got through and rolled into Osh, first to the market, as Linney had located some bike repair places. Once again it was chaotic, one guy seemed to understand what we wanted and took the pannier around a couple of repair places. They ended up fixing it with torx self tapping screwsso we’ll see how long this lasts. We also managed to stock up nuts, bolts, jubilee clips and tie wraps – just in case.

We had lunch and managed to find some Kyrgyzstan currency, before we made our way out of the busy hilly city. Keith and I had a run in with a driver at a roundabout, and then Linney nearly got wiped out by a taxi driver. After that we met a couple from Estonia who were cycling the other way; had a nice chat with them before we set off again.

On the road
On the road

We then started the climbing. With over 50 miles to the town of Sary Tash we had decided to camp after getting as far as we can. Linney had identified a potential site. It looked like a lovely spot for camping and the 50 miles seemed do-able.

With the road steadily getting steeper we just kept going through little villages. It was very rural with young guys on horse-back herding cattle, all the children waving etc. We stocked up on provisions where we could and carried on. The campsite Linney had chosen was up a track going steeply up the bank; it looked good, but not worth the extra work! Just down the road we found a shop selling beer, so bought a few each and decided to settle for a nice spot in a cow field overlooking the mountains.

Linford and Dale at the campsite
Linford and Dale at the campsite

Camping near the Taldyk Pass on the Pamir Highway
Camping near the Taldyk Pass on the Pamir Highway

Camping near the Taldyk Pass on the Pamir Highway
Camping near the Taldyk Pass on the Pamir Highway

Linford camping near the Taldyk Pass on the Pamir Highway
Linford camping near the Taldyk Pass on the Pamir Highway

We didn’t cook but just had a tea and a few snacks with the beers and then early to bed.

Day 62: Wednesday August 14th: Towards the Taldyk Pass

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Route Day 62 – August 14th

Fly-through Map of Day 62.

It was a good nights sleep considering we camped. We got up just after 6 and had a breakfast of jam, Nutella and bread washed down with coffee; not bad at all.

Cows and cowboys on the road
Cows and cowboys on the road

High Fives
High Fives

Linford at the first pass of the day
Linford at the first pass of the day

We were on the road just after 7 knowing we had a big days climbing. The first part was just a steady climb for 10 or so miles, then it ramped up with switch-backs every so often, it took us around 2 1/2 hours to reach the summit at about 2340 metres. We stopped for photos and admired the view, with the knowledge that we had another massive ascent either later today or early tomorrow depending on progress.

The plan was to enjoy the descent and take as many photos as possible then have lunch in the town of Gulcha. We all enjoyed the ride down. Many touring motorcycles passed us with a cheery wave and before we knew it we were outside a cafe with WIFI in Gulcha. Just outside we met 3 German cycle-tourists going the other way; once again we swapped stories and chatted about the forthcoming climbs etc.

After a nice lunch we discussed the options for the rest of today; we decided it would be best to go about 70 miles, camp out again, and then do the final push to the Kyrgyzstan border town tomorrow.

We carried on following the Gurda River, going through the strange sensation when it looks like you are going downhill when it fact you are climbing.

Just before we thought about stopping, we met a guy walking pulling a trolley (Forrest Gump!) [His name is Ben Viatte and he styles himself the Global Pilgrim: Ed], he seemed pretty happy. We stopped in a shop about 200m away and Forrest came bounding in, said hi and wanted to know what we were up to, he turned out to be a really nice guy, from the Czech Republic but with Swiss parents. He had been on the road for 3 years picking up the languages and dress-code as he went. [I added some pictures below: Ed]. We left him in his own little world. Really nice guy; a bit bonkers, but everyone to their own.

With around 20 miles to go it was just a matter of riding it out and choosing a decent campsite and getting an evening meal. We sorted the meal out and had the standard lagman (noodle broth) with melon for afters. Sadly though no beers. We found a shop and my eyes lit up when they came out, but to no avail; it will be a dry night tonight.

Pamir Mountains
Pamir Mountains

Linford and the Pamir Mountains
Linford and the Pamir Mountains

Campsite in the mountains
Campsite in the mountains

With the sun setting and the wind getting up it was time to find the site. Within 5 mins we were setting up camp. I was dispatched to find some rocks to knock the pegs in. Keith had forgot to pack a mallet.

Looks like being a windy night and cold nightand I’m actually in the sleeping bag for the first time . Early night; if you can’t have a beer go to bed.

Day 63: Thursday August 15th: Over the Taldyk Pass

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Route Day 63 – August 15th

Flythough Map for Day 63.

Beautiful views from the campsite
Beautiful views from the campsite

Another nights camping
Another nights camping

Settling down for the night
Settling down for the night

Morning at the camp-site
Morning at the camp-site

As we camped again last night we were up early though as we had gone through another time-zone it does not get light until 6am. Breakfast was the same as yesterday; coffee, bread and jam except without the Nutella; we finished that yesterday.

Horses grazing in the valley
Horses grazing in the valley

Fabulous sculpture on the Pamir Highway
Fabulous sculpture on the Pamir Highway

Traditional Yurt
Traditional Yurt

We were on the road just after 7 and rode through the first village as the sun was coming over the mountains. Very nice but then some dogs chased us and a stroppy teenager threw a stone at Keith; brave lad! We just smiled and gave him the normal “hello” and rode on.

Looking back on the hairpins up to the Taldyk Pass
Looking back on the hairpins up to the Taldyk Pass

The last leg of the Taldyk Pass
The last leg of the Taldyk Pass

The Taldyk Pass at 3615m
The Taldyk Pass at 3615m

Keith at the Taldyk Pass (3615m)
Keith at the Taldyk Pass (3615m)

Dale, Linford and Keith at the Taldyk Pass (3615m)
Dale, Linford and Keith at the Taldyk Pass (3615m)

Within 10 miles we started the ascent of the Taldyk Pass which rising to a height of 3600 metres or so. This was really tough going  and it took us nearly three hours to reach the summit. Very ,very tough riding. Of course we had a little bit of a photo-shoot at the top, then a little descent, then another climb to the summit on the other side of the mountain, another photo-shoot with some locals and then, finally, a well earned descent.

View of the Pamir Mountains
View of the Pamir Mountains

Enjoying the descent
Enjoying the descent

Enjoying the descent and burning out brake-pads
Enjoying the descent and burning out brake-pads

Dale, Ted (from Staple, Kent) and Keith on the Pamir Highway
Dale, Ted (from Staple, Kent) and Keith on the Pamir Highway

Very early into the descent Linney noticed a lone cyclist coming up the other way. It only the guy from “Staple” [a village about 3 miles from Aylesham, Kent, UK: Ed] whose name was Ted. Gavin had mentioned him earlier [probably a week ago: Ed]. We stopped and had a chat and a few photos. We all promise to meet up in the Black Pig in November, then we are on are way again.

We stopped in Sary Tash for a bowl of soup, and fill up with water and chocolate bars: these are our replacements for melons and ice-creams.

We then started the next steady climb. The first 15 miles were all very good,with the sun shining and the snow-capped Himalayas to the right of us. [directly south they can probably see the mountains of Kashmir: Ed] Then the second climb of the day started and with weary legs it was difficult to get the muscles going but we soon got into the swing of it.

Keith, Linford and Dale at the Alay Pass
Keith, Linford and Dale at the Alay Pass

This climb was a lot more exposed than the last but luckily we did have a bit of a tail-wind. As the road got steeper up our Garmins sent us down a track (marked yellow on the map and probably the old road). It was a bit of a no-brainer with the state of our bikes, so we took the high road!. This was tough but the scenery was unbelievable. Now it is behind us it seems well worth it – half-way up you may have got a different answer! This was actually higher than the Taldyk Pass by a couple of hundred metres.

Looking back on the climb
Looking back on the climb

Then it was the descent accompanied by a massive cross-wind; I was sure I would have been blown off my road bike! We all enjoyed it tough and we stopped often for great photos.

Dale on the Pamir Highway
Dale on the Pamir Highway

Heading towards the Pamir Mountains
Heading towards the Pamir Mountains

Linford admiring the view
Linford admiring the view

I noticed Keith’s back wheel was buckled again and he said his brakes were not working, so we stopped and changed the pads on his rear wheel. We then took it easy for the rest of the descent and we still had one little climb left as well.

A traditional Yurt of the horse herders
A traditional Yurt of the horse herders

We managed to get to the border town of Irkeshtam which apparently is built out of old railway carriages and lorry containers. We booked into the hostel; In retrospect our tents would probably have been better and cleaner. We were now ready for our border crossing into China tomorrow.

Keith put the temporary “Kevlar spoke” back on to his rear wheel and changed the pads in his and Linney’s brakes.

Day 64: Friday August 16th: Border Crossing to China

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Route Day 64 – August 16th

We had stopped in a hotel/shack about 50m from the first Kyrgyzstan check point,  and although the place was dirty and a bit of a tip, we were just as dirty, so it all worked out. As a bonus they had decent WIFI and the young guy spoke a bit of English.

We had breakfast at the shack; fried eggs and fritters, and then packed our bags onto the bikes ready for the border to open at 08:00. We made ourway to the first checkpoint, showed our passport and visa to the guard, who then instructed us to go to the building over the road for the formal checks. We sailed through these and rode the bikes for a 2 miles to the first China checkpoint.

It was the same again; all passports and visas checked, then all the bags off the bikes and scanned, then physically searched. Everything had to be out of the panniers and saddle bags. It was all very polite and civil but surprisingly they were not interested in the phones or laptops.

They then explained that we would need to go through another checkpoint about 50 miles away but with the proviso that no cycling was allowed between them. We had heard about this so we were not surprised. So all the bikes, with luggage and u spiled  into the minibus for the hours drive to thenext  checkpoint. Basically it was in the middle of nowhere. Once again our passports and visas were checked and our bags scanned. Then it was back in the minibus for another 20 mins to another checkpoint.

We arrived at this checkpoint about 13:45. The driver explained that they would be closed for lunch and would re-open at 14:30. Not too bad we thought. Well 14:30 came and went and we ended up waiting until 16:30 before they finally opened the gates and let us in for yet more passport, visa and baggage checks. This time we also had to fill out a tourist form. All this took at least another 2 hours before we were finally out of the search area.

With the clocks moving forward 2 hours and the time it had taken to get through all the checks we decided to get a taxi to Kashgar. We rode out of the search area and then came to a car-park. I asked the first guy I saw ‘how much for a ride to Kashgar’, he said ‘400 Yen’   (about £45), so we loaded the bikes and baggage into his pick-up truck and set off for Kashgar. We thought it’s be about an hours drive. After two extended police checks we finally made it to the outskirts of Kashgar where the driver dropped us off. It was a bit of hassle paying him as we tried to tell him we needed an ATM but ended up paying him in $US after he had got someone to verify the exchange rate.

Well the plan was to ride into the bustling city of Kashgar and find a hotel. This certainly did not go to plan! The hotels were either fully booked or could not let foreign nationals stay. It was getting very late about 10:30. We even had a local couple doing their best for us. To no avail. They finally suggested a place where we could camp for the night again!

park benches for camping
park benches for camping

As we had not eaten properly since breakfast we decided to eat first then locate the campsite the local couple had suggested. With the fully loaded bikes we had to find a place to eat where we could also look after the bikes. We soon located a suitable place and order a massive Chinese meal. It was gone midnight before we finished our meal and we made our way to the so called site which was under construction. We ended up sleeping on benches and the floor. After four nights on the road we were all filthy dirty and tired. We just need some proper rest.

Day 65: Saturday August 17th: Rest day Kashgar

[Some Kashgar information, it’s ancient history and the ‘muslim’ problems of today: Ed]

After the worst nights sleep in living memory we wearily discussed our options; find a place to stay, clean ourselves up and locate a bike shop. We managed to drag out leaving the park benches until just before 08:00 and had a bit of a wash with a garden hose. Then Keith had a cunning plan! He tried to smarted himself up a little as he was going to be our first point of contact should we locate a place to stay.

The streets were pretty deserted as we cycled into the city and after about a mile Linney spotted what he thought was a hostel. While Linney and I hid outside, Keith went in. It was a hostel and they had a 12 bed dormitory available for tonight though we could not book in until 10:00 at least we could get a shower and clean up. We had one more possible option; a 5 star hotel on the edge of the city. So we decided to see if we could get a room there. We rode on to this place which was a massive 15 story block. They must have room here so with Linney & I hiding around the corner Keith made his way in. He come out and said they only had one luxury suite available at £120 the night for all three of us. No brainer: “let’s have it”. We have only spent a shilling on accommodation for the last four nights.

We must have looked a right sight as we wearily loaded up all our baggage onto a trolley. Even the porter was reluctant to come near us. Keith then came back from the front desk and said they had managed to find us a slightly cheaper room. I think they felt sorry for us.

We all had a great power shower, shave and felt a lot better, then went down to a 5 star buffet breakfast. It was difficult to get Linney out of there but we needed to find a bike shop.

We found the two bikes shops next door to each other. The first one did not seem very helpful but the second one could not do enough for us. We ended up buying a wheel off a brand new bike after a little bit of bargaining and pleading. They also trued Keith’s front wheel up.

After this, over lunch, we decided to have another rest day on Sunday to sort out the SIM cards for our mobiles.

Everyday and ALL the Details

The Hermit Crab

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“My name is Ben Viatte and I’m just like you: I’m not quite sure how I got here.

My search started 9 years ago, when I closed my eyes for the first time: I saw that I was free. So I started travelling the world in search of a new mindset. My current pilgrimage is bringing me on foot from Europe, through Northern asia, to holy India.”

Overland To India

See how Ben and Jess are getting on as they take a more southern route across Asia to India. You can catch up with them here. An excerpt is below.

They have now reached Georgia (the country not the US state obviously) and have cycled 3000+ miles.

20190818_JessBen

Samarkand and Beyond

Linford at the Bibi-Khanym Mosque in Samarkand
Linford at the Bibi-Khanym Mosque in Samarkand [Used without permission: Ed]

The Bibi-Khanym Mosque is one of the most important monuments of Samarkand. In the 15th century it was one of the largest and most magnificent mosques in the Islamic world. By the mid-20th century only a grandiose ruin of it still survived, but major parts of the mosque were restored during the Soviet period

After his Indian campaign in 1399 Timur (Tamerlane) decided to undertake the construction of a gigantic mosque in his new capital, Samarkand. When Timur returned from his military campaign in 1404 the mosque was almost completed. However, Timur was not happy with the progress of construction, and immediately had various changes made, especially on the main cupola.

From the beginning of the construction, problems of structural integrity of the structure revealed themselves. Various reconstructions and reinforcements were undertaken in order to save the mosque. However, after just a few years, the first bricks had begun to fall out of the huge dome over the mihrab. The scale of Timur’s plans pushed the building techniques of the time to their limit, and the building’s integrity was not helped by the rushed nature of its construction.

In the late 16th century the Abdullah Khan II (1533/4-1598), the last Shaybanid Dynasty Khan of Bukhara, cancelled all restoration works in Bibi-Khanym Mosque. After that, the mosque slowly deteriorated and became a ruins gnawed at by the wind, weather, and earthquakes. The inner arch of the portal construction finally collapsed in an earthquake in 1897. During the centuries the ruins were plundered by the inhabitants of Samarkand in search of building material, especially the brick of the masonry galleries along with the marble columns.

A first basic investigation into securing the ruins was made in Soviet times. Late in the 20th century, the Uzbek government began restoration of three dome buildings and the main portal. In 1974 the government of the then Uzbek SSR began the complex reconstruction of the mosque. The decoration of domes and facades was extensively restored and supplemented. During these restorations, a band of inscriptions revealing Surat Al-Baqarah (The Cow) of the Quran was added to the main sanctuary iwan (a vaulted portal opening onto a courtyard) of the mosque. As of 2016, work on the mosque restoration was ongoing.

How Far Have They Got?

Map of progress so far.

Charity Update

Many thanks to those that have donated.

20190811_CharityDonations

Week 8 Summary: Waiting at Samarkand

This map shows the weeks ride.

This week: 412 miles, 5,367ft and 33:10 hours riding

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Accumulated totals: 4668miles, 85,528ft and 355:35 hours riding

Day 52: Sunday August 4th: Ride & Paddle

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Route Day 52 – August 4th

Fly-through Map of Day 52.

We spent a pleasant evening site walking around the City of Bukhara looking at the temples and Mosques. All very impressive. It was good to look at some architecture rather than the desert and the contrast between the modern city and the old city was amazing. Later we choose an authentic Uzbekistan restaurant and had a great meal. Linney & I are feeling a lot better and Keith is nearly there.

Had a bit of a lie in in this morning: breakfast at 08:00 though we were all up just after 6 after a really good nights sleep. The phone rang a just after 7 saying that breakfast was ready. It was a really good spread; best we have had since we left Europe so we all had a good fill and filled our pockets up with the fruit and biscuits.

We were on the road just after 08:00 although we knew we had to stop fairly early to fill up and water. With Linney’s expert map-reading skills and picking a hotel on the right side of the city we were soon out on the open road. However the road was bad and we had a fierce head-wind. We knew we would face this for the first 25 miles or so. We stopped after about 18 miles as it was pretty hard going for tea and soft drinks. The guy did try and sell us everything in the cafe and he even came out with a tray of kebabs; we politely said ‘no thanks’.

Hay-cart probably on the wrong side of the road. Not bothered!
Hay-cart on the wrong side of the road. Not bothered!

We still rode into the head-wind but thankfully the road was getting better. We had heard that when we turned east the wind would be in our favour; no chance! We rode on all feeling the strain but just pushing through. Then we came to an avenue of trees and some welcome shade. It was like someone turning the power back on, it gave us a boost. Before we knew it we stopped at a little cafe for samosa, soft drink, a local chilled fruit drink and the new ice-cream and water-melon (probably the most refreshing fruit in the world).

Dale and Keith get wet inside and out
Dale and Keith get wet inside and out

Linney informed us we had roughly 32 miles to go. With the road improving and the wind finally coming into our favour, the shout went up ‘do we want to stop!’ All of us were nearly out of water so it was a ‘yes’. Keith spotted a paddling pool in a cafe over the other side of the road, so it was a no brainer, we had to stop there. Before I had got the water and soft drinks, Keith was in the pool. I quickly followed but would not be photographed in there till I had a beer. That was soon rectified when Linney said we have less than 10 miles to go and it’s a Sunday; happy days.

After the refreshing swim we lounge in the water with a beer. Soon we rolled into Navoi and quickly located a hotel. Again we had a bit of a problem paying, but the owner took us into the city to get some dollars and we were all sorted.

Day 53: Monday August 5th: “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”

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Route Day 53 – August 5th

Fly-through Map of Day 53.

Last night we ate adjacent to the hotel in a bar restaurant which had pretty good food and it was just a short stroll back. It was good to have some good quality WIFI, so we all made good use of it.

With breakfast at 7 we were all ready to roll by 7:30. We got out of the city quickly and soon we were on the highway to Samarkand. We were unsure if we would go all the way today as it depends on our planned spares delivery. We knew they were in Uzbekistan but not sure where.

Water-melon stop
Water-melon stop

Linford in new shirt
Linford in new shirt

We had a little stop at 20 miles for a cup of tea and then rode on against an ever increasing wind. We stopped for a bowl of yak soup and tea for lunch. Still no news on the delivery so we just took it easy until the 80 mile mark.

We had another bowl of soup (nicer this time), with bread and chips washed down with a couple of cold beers. Then on to the fun! There was a possibility of a hotel about a mile away. So we went for it. As we turned into the lane all the fruit-pickers made a big fuss of Linney: he just rode through smiling. We came to some big gates where gate-keeper let us through, then on into the grounds through a vine covered avenue. It all looked very weird. One guy stopped me and asked what we wanted. When I said ‘a room’, he seemed to understand. He took us inside. We all looked at each other. Was it some sort of hospital  or asylum?

At the asylum
At the asylum

Dale, locked in for the night
Dale, locked in for the night

The guy in charge said it was not a hotel, but we could stay. He instructed Jack Nicholson to take us to another building. We parked our bikes and handed over our passports to a nurse! Then we got shown to our room. No mention of costs yet.

We all had a shower and then went out as Linney thought he had noticed a shop earlier. He did but it was closed, so we just bought a fresh water-melon and borrowed a knife from one of the inmates who followed us to make sure she got it back. We had an early night after our melon feast with a view to getting away sharply in the morning though we have to get our passports back so that may delay us.

Day 54: Tuesday August 6th: Samarkand

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Route Day 54 – August 6th

Fly-through Map of Day 54.

Well we all survived! We were up at 6 and then spent an hour trying to to get someone to locate our passports. May be we were not going anywhere. Eventually we  found a guy who was the “English teacher” (bit of a theme going on here) and he said ‘room 35 at 7’. It turned out to be more like 7:30. No problem. For a free nights sleep beggars can’t be choosers.

Escaping the Asylum
Escaping the Asylum

We quickly got away. They were lovely people but the place was eerily weird and we’re still not sure what was going on.

On the road to Samarkand
On the road to Samarkand

Arriving in Samarkand
Arriving in Samarkand

Once on the roads we knew we had only 22 miles to Samarkand: just a little pedal. When we were far enough away and brave enough to stop we pulled over to a nice little cafe, for dougnuts, fried eggs and coffee. We also booked a hotel in Samarkand whilst we were stopped and then completed the final 16 miles with ease.

We booked into the hotel, showered and freshened up, and then went into the city for a bit of sightseeing and parcel tracking  with a haircut also on the agenda.

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The Bibi-Khanym Mosque in Samarkand. Built by Tamerlane in the 15thC, destroyed by an earthquake in 1897 and restored by the USSR.

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The Bibi-Khanym Mosque in Samarkand.

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The Bibi-Khanym Mosque in Samarkand.

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The Bibi-Khanym Mosque in Samarkand.

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The Bibi-Khanym Mosque in Samarkand.

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The Bibi-Khanym Mosque in Samarkand.

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The Bibi-Khanym Mosque in Samarkand.

We all look smart in our new haircuts! We had already had a little look around the Registan Square so we headed west to look at the other sights and the architecture.

Dale gets a haircut
Dale gets a haircut

Day 55: Wednesday August 7th: A Day Off

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A day off cycling around Samarkand

Fly-through Map of Day 55.

First day off the bike today since 23rd June. The plan was to have a lazy breakfast, do a bit of bike maintenance, go to the local bike shops, and then do a bit of sightseeing. We still had not heard about our spares arriving.

Cycling around Samarkand
Cycling around Samarkand

It did feel a bit strange, getting on the bikes without all the baggage, and I also noticed that the drivers do not give you so much room! We cycled up to the first bike shop it was in the local football stadium. We found the stadium OK but no sign of a bike shop. I spoke to some players hanging around and they said he was having a day off today, same as us.

So we moved on to the next one, with Linney doing the map reading, through the centre of the city. All good fun, horns blaring, tyres screaming, us smiling. After the city centre we found a group of “bike shops”; none had the stuff we wanted, though one did have a front pannier bracket on a new bike, I tried to buy it, using all my charm, but I think my charm has left me since yesterdays haircut!

We went next door to the bicycle repair man (Monty Python sketch)! It was a bit like Dad’s back garden. It was a free for all! We ended up with some stuff we could strengthen our brackets with.The guy even drilled a few extra holes in some for us.

Pilov lunch in Samarkand
Pilov lunch in Samarkand

Later we had a meal out off the city communal bowl of Pilov (a local rice dish a bit like Spanish Paella). It was really nice. Then bit of sightseeing, a tour of the market and back to the digs to fit the supports to the panniers.

Wandering around Samarkand
Wandering around Samarkand

Day 56: Thursday August 8th: Distant Mountains

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Route Day 56 – August 8th

Fly-through Map of Day_56.

We were back on the bikes today after our rest day. Unfortunately the spare parts did not arrive in time [other theories: they rode too quickly, they run out of patience or they assumed the postal services were run by camels: Ed], apparently the pannier stuff is in Moscow and the tyres are in Tashkent! So we have had to make do and mend: nothing can go wrong.

With the bikes all ready we had breakfast at the hotel then set off around 08:30. Like always it was a bit difficult getting out of the city, but we were soon heading for Jizzakh. We stopped on the outskirts for water top ups and a bit of chat with the owners.

Water-melon stop
Water-melon stop

The road was pretty good but we knew we had a head-wind for most of the day so it was just a matter of pushing through it. The scenery was changing: first through fruit orchards, apple trees mainly [this is the part of the world where the apple was first domesticated: Ed], it made a really pleasant change from the desert and, in the distance, you could see the mountain ranges through the hazy sun: all making for different riding.

Distant mountains
Distant mountains

Irrigation water-wheel
Irrigation water-wheel

Into the mountains
Into the mountains

Into the mountains
Into the mountains

Hotel? With camel statues.
Hotel? With camel statues.

We stopped for a coffee and a soft drink, Keith said ‘No coffee? What sort of cafe is this?’, the guy just smiled at him and said we have char, so thats what we had. The head-wind was getting a bit stronger but we were making reasonable progress and with the knowledge that within the next 10 miles or so we should be finished with the climbing.

On the road
Dale, on the road

On the road
Linford, on the road

WhatsApp Image 2019-08-08 at 13.20.04
Linford in the hotel pool – training

Day 57: Friday August 9th: Another Border Approaches

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Route Day 57 – August 9th

Fly-through Map of Day 57.

After yesterday’s swim training in the hotel pool and a relaxing meal in the hotel restaurant we retired to bed pretty early.

Breakfast was at 7, but we were up checking the bikes before hand (obviously not good enough). Had breakfast then tried to pay the bill, its never that easy in Uzbekistan, had to pay in Som, not dollars, so it meant a trip to the bank after all. It took me nearly half an hour to go through the passport hotel checks, I thought the guys would be waiting for me, however they had Linney front wheel off to change the inner tube. We then went to the bank, never easy even in the UK, we did not get going till 10:00 but at least we had some cash.

Once we got going we started to make good time on relatively good roads and with a nice tail-wind. We stopped for lunch after 3 hours of good cycling and had a nice meal in a rustic place. We all had the rice dish and tea.

Just after we left Linney spotted a small cycle shop and he managed to get another spare inner-tube so that was good. With a late start and over 80 miles to do we pushed on Keith taking the front. Before long he was nowhere to be seen. Linney and I kept a reasonable pace but could not see Keith in the distance. Before long the road forked; the left hand side going to Tashkent and the right side heading towards Bekobod – our intended destination. As the junction was a bit tricky Linney & I were unsure if Keith had taken the correct route.

As we pushed on with less than 15 miles to go we were sure Keith would have pulled over, but there was no sign of him. We even got stopped by some army patrol guys in the border zone. We tried to ask them if they had seen another cyclist but could not get them to understand.

With less than 5 miles to go we pulled over at a junction and decided to wait, just got our ice cream when we received a pin drop from Keith at the hotel; good stuff so we rolled in behind him, pretty good really as it meant Keith did all the booking stuff.

We had a quick shower and then out on the bikes to the local restaurant about 2 miles away for a few beers and a well earned meal.

[Sadly no photos were forthcoming for this day – I think they fell foul of copyright regulations: Ed]

Day 58: Saturday August 10th: Trouble at the Border

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Route Day 58 – August 10th

Another border crossing day. We broke with tradition and went with Dave’s kit, more about that later. [wtf: Ed]

Once again we are celebrities as we are the hotel’s first tourists. It’s only been open 6 months and it’s been mainly contractors from the new factory. Therefore we had the customary photo shoot before leaving. Keith had also done the due diligence on the border crossing – all good – more about that later also.

Approaching the Tajikistan Border post
Approaching the Tajikistan Border post [probably: Ed]

So we left in good spirits, knowing the border crossing was about 5 miles away. We threaded are way through the town and market and then we had guys saying ‘no you will not be able to cross’, but on we went, only be told we could not go through; ‘only locals not tourists’. It was not what we wanted to hear. We showed him our visa with a smile but it was still no go. Bit of a theme going on here. We had a little bit of a re-think on the side of the road. It’s 27 miles to the next border. Let’s go!

Sluice!
Sluice!

On the way Linney was riding no-handed as he re-routed us. It’s a big day but we may be able to manage it depending on how the border crossing goes. So we just went for the crossing full steam ahead. The roads weren’t so bad and we hit the border in good time.

We had a drink and then started the well-rehearsed process. We were soon through the Uzbekistan side and into the Tajikistan side. On we went. It was really chaotic. We did meet a local tour guide in the queue and he told us they let the tourists go first. In truth it’s just a free for all and we just stayed close by him.

Keith was first at the check and after about 15 mins they told him to go and take a seat. We were about four persons back in the queue. I went next and sailed through. Then Linney was through after a comment about how nice his hair was; he has admirers at every crossing!

We waited for Keith. Eventually the tourist guide came over and said there was a problem with the date on Keith’s visa. He gave Linney his number and said give him a call if we need an interpreter. Keith came out and said they will not let him through. We had a little chat. Not an option; all through or none through. I gave it one last chance and went back and asked to see a border crossing guy. I explained we had a typo on the visa which was a wrong date; it looked like he might buy it until the original guy came over and said ‘No’. We will have to re-route. [apparently Keith’s visa had an entry stamp dated the 16th, not the 6th. Wait 6 days and it’ll be fine. Fortunately the geography is kind and it was simple to re-route and avoid Tajikistan altogether and stay in Uzbekistan – see the map above: Ed]

So back we went to Uzbekistan. Within half an hour as we were riding we had a plan; ride till as late as we can, camp, then another big ride tomorrow and we’ll be back on track. Nothing can go wrong.

We stopped around half three for a bowl of soup, soft drink, and a quick beer; it was hot. We then pushed on, Linney doing his research no-handed said we had a possible hotel at 75 miles but that made for a massive day on Sunday. We said let’s just see how we feel, so we carried on.

Cows approaching
Cows approaching

Cows and Cow-Herders
Cows and Cow-Herders

Just outside the town of Almalyk I hit a massive pot hole and got a double puncture. With Formula 1 speed we had them done in no time (naturally accompanied by the normal swearing and cursing); no sheep were to blame this time [see the Durness tour: Ed].

We stopped at the first hotel Keith noticed but it was not a hotel but a wedding venue. We sent Linney in but we still could not get a room. Then we went to the only proper hotel in town. This was also fully booked with the weddings.

Plan B: eat then get a some food for the morning and camp. By the time we had eaten and got our stuff from the supermarket it was dark. So it was lights on and find a place to camp. We did about another 9 miles through the town of Ohangaren, picked some cold beers up and selected a lovely site on the outskirts of town. We set up camp, had the beers, and then bed. It had a tough day.

Barking dogs, trains and prayers theme for tomorrow. [I think Dale was raving by this point: Ed]

[Also I totally blame the border failure on a) the wrong shirt and b) the Slide Away bear not wearing the Tajikistan badge: Ed]

Everyday and ALL the Details

Overland To India

See how Ben and Jess are getting on as they take a more southern route across Asia to India. You can catch up with them here. An excerpt is below.

They have now reached Georgia (the country not the US state obviously) and have cycled 3000+ miles.

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Jess and Ben on the road from Turkey to Georgia

 

Into Uzbekistan (Update)

[The blog yesterday went out accidentally before I’d collected all the information from the boys on the road. They’d been out of contact for 3 days! This is an update. More photos, updated maps and diary entries. Apologies: Ed]

How Far Have They Got?

Map of progress so far.

Charity Update

Many thanks to those that have donated.

20190803_CharityDonations

Week 7 Summary: Desert Camping

This map shows this weeks ride.

This week: 588 miles, 3,923ft and 43:33 hours riding

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Accumulated totals: 4255miles, 80,161ft and 322:25 hours riding

Day 45: Sunday July 28th: First Camp

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Route Day 45 – July 28th

Fly-through Map for Day 45.

Fair play to Linney his chosen camp-site was excellent, free from camel poo and gerbils Ed will check the correct collective noun but we went for a sentry of gerbils. [A sentry sounds fine: google goes for horde: ED]

After a pasta meal expertly cooked by Linney  and with Keith keeping a vigil on the portions it was time for bed. Keith had put the 2 man tent up with all the fly sheet stuff, Linney had just the mesh tent. I only lasted 10 mins in the tent as it was too hot, so I took my sleeping-bag and liner outside under the stars nothings – could go wrong.

It did get cold so I sacrificed my sleeping-bag pillow and got in the bag. Then it rained! In the bloody desert! I expect the camels loved it. Linney and I just covered our faces and  slept through it. I quite liked it.

We all slept quite well. Breakfast was cornflakes and coffee after which we packed all the gear up. Just before we left Keith changed another bolt on his panniers.

We were on the road just after 7am, and as we are getting used to the rough roads we just took it all in our stride. Our main concern was water as we could not see anything along our intended route. With no WiFi it was just a case of carrying as much as we can.

After 4 hours of riding we did not come across a single shop, truck stop or anything. Not even shade, though thankfully we had been riding at a reasonable pace. So we sat down on a sand dune with warm water, peanuts and sunflower seeds – budgie food – Trill! Living it up and dreaming of Ice Cold in Alex.

With around 25 miles to go we rode on. As a lorry passed Keith waved and lifted up his water bottle. The lorry stopped and replenished all our bottles – good man. As we closed in on our destination Keith tried his luck on a building that looked like it was a cafe, in fact it was some sort of customs post, though the guy was really helpful and directed us to the hotel about 3 miles up the road. However lo and behold the water-seller across the road also had some chilled beers, obviously I had planned this, so we sat on the wall with a beer with the plan to ride to the hotel, eat, book a room and shower. and then plan the next few days riding. Think as it is a Sunday a few beers will do too.

We have no WiFi so we will try and and source a SIM card tomorrow. Linney will need it.

Day 46: Monday July 29th: Hitching

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Route Day 46 – July 29th

Fly-through Map of Day 46.

It was a bit of a quiet night last night mainly due to the road stop being miles away from anywhere. We just cleaned all the camping gear had a meal then went to bed.

We planned on an early breakfast in the morning, though the place was pretty busy at 6 in the morning. As we have nearly 70 miles before the next shop we stocked up on water and food (sadly, as it turned out, not enough) and set off just after 7am on roads that were on the whole pretty good. More importantly we had a bit of a tail wind.

After about 4 miles Keith’s back-pannier fell off. We all hoped it was not too serious as the road was pretty smooth. Luckily it was just not clipped in correctly. We were making pretty good time, when in the distance a could see a lone cyclist coming towards us. We pulled over and waxed lyrical on how mad we all were. He was from Shrewsbury (Jimmy Ritson counrty). After 10 mins we were back on our way.

Linney called a stop at around 40 miles where we sat on the edge of the road and had a drink and a Snickers bar. Linney is in charge of the biscuits so he gave Keith and I a couple each. We moved on after 10 mins happy that in the fact that we only had 30 miles to a small village with a shop and then another 14 miles to our hotel.

Within 10 mins the familiar shout went up. Linney had a blow out on his rear tyre. The tyre was split in two places. We managed to to patch the splits with bits of rubber and started off again unsure how long the tyre would last.

 

 

We did manage another 15 or so miles when the tyre blew again. Linney was all for patching the tyre up again and pushing on, but as we were taking the tyre off Keith flagged down a car. In fact two cars stopped full to the brim we people and luggage. We explained the situation and before we knew it Linney’s bike was on the roof rack of one car while he was squashed into the other car with his knees around his ear against a 40″ TV.

Off they went. Keith I carried on the remaining 17 miles to the hotel – with no biscuits! As the roads were good this took just over the hour including an impromptu stop in a workers canteen for a cup of tea.

When we got to Kunkhodzha Linney was already into his 1st beer. I also noticed two Surly touring bikes outside the restaurant. We eventually got chatting to the couple and they had started from London in May on the way to China. They seemed like a nice couple as we exchanged route information etc. It looks like we will probably bump into them along the way.

Day 47: Tuesday July 30th: Crossing the Oxus at Nukus

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Route Day 47 – July 30th

Fly-through Map of Day 47.

We all decided to have an early start in the mornings at dinner last night. So Keith set his alarm for 05:00.

Well that did not work, I got up just before 6, all I heard Keith say was FFS why did my alarm not go off, Linney quietly sniggered, I think he may have altered Keith’s alarm.

Anyway we were up and had the normal fried eggs and an extra treat of rice pudding for breakfast. With Linney’s new tyre we were full of confidence: just hoping the tyre lasts. On flat clear and smooth roads we smashed the first 30 miles, stopped for a camels milk coffee and then carried on until just outside Nukus had a little break and a bowl of potato and yak soup, while we decided on the plan for the night.

The Amu Darya (Oxus) river
The Amu Darya (Oxus) river

The Amu Darya (Oxus) river
The Amu Darya (Oxus) river

Arriving in Beruni
Arriving in Nukus

We roll into Nukus and stop at a bike shop and get a spare tyre and inner tubes for Linney. Then we go to a phone shop for a Uzbekistan SIM card and a bank. Well we managed the SIM card, the ATM at the bank did not work and the cycle shop was not there!

Cycle-Plasterer fully loaded
Cycle-Plasterer fully loaded

Linney had chosen a hotel on the right side of the city for tomorrow, so we just took our time rode to the centre of the city had a nice meal in an air conditioned restaurant and then set off for the banks and bike shops.

The National Bank in Nukus
The National Bank in Nukus

We had no luck with the bike shop and the bank was a bit of a palaver, none of the ATMs would work, in the end a kind bank lady directed us to the national bank, in parliament square, all a bit daunting. Anyway we manged to change some money into the local currency Som & get some US dollars as they seem to work best.

 

We just had the final couple of miles to go to the hotel and some well earned beers. Without wanting to tempt fate it was a good days riding with no mechanicals. Happy days.

Day 48: Wednesday July 31st: Following the Oxus

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Route Day 48 – July 31st

Fly-through Map of Day 48.

We had a meal In the hotel last night. Just a little meal as we had eaten quite well throughout the day, still no ice-cream so we had a water-melon.

We arranged to get up at 5:30 with a view to getting going around 6. Linny not to pleased as we’re going out without breakfast or water, though we stopped after about 2 miles for water and chocolate. The guy was really good and gave us three extra bottles. Great! Just a bit difficult to put on our bikes, but we managed it, and it cheered Linney up.

So we carried on the road which was a bit weird as it was a dual carriage-way but traffic was going both ways on each side! We carried on for a while on the correct side of the road, but the road seemed better on the other side, so we changed over.

We also met up with Hanna and her partner (will get his name later). At our first stop, they were having a coffee and soft drink as we pulled in and we had a nice little chat as we ordered our breakfast. Then they moved on. After the normal fried eggs and bread we moved on too.

Desert features
Desert features

Riding a long lonely road through the desert
Riding a long lonely road through the desert

The road was not great but least the wind was in our favour. We knew we only had about 50 miles left so we were in no real hurry. As we pulled into the next stop Hanna & partner had just ordered their meal so we had another little chat as we had coffee and chilled water. We knew we would be bumping into them all day, which is quite nice.

The road did not improve throughout the day, but thanks for small mercies, the wind stayed in our favour although the temperature crept up to the mid 40`s humidity was not that high so all was good.

Amazing hotel
Amazing hotel

Strange rock formations - like the Wild West
Strange rock formations – like the Wild West

Linford on the road
Linford on the road

Linford on the road with hat
Linford on the road with hat

Long roads and small hills
Long roads and small hills

Long roads and small hills
Long roads and small hills

My front pannier came adrift again so a quick replacement fixing was needed. It seems like we will have replacements in around 6 days time so hopefully we can manage till then. [They got posted today: Ed]

As we carried on riding we missed the stop we had arranged to have a meal in, so we just carried on to the outskirts of the town. Linney spotted some umbrellas so we stopped a few miles from the only hotel in town.

No beers! So we made do with an ice-cream, then a young guy came over who spoke really good English and offered his parents place to stay, though it did sound a bit crowded. We ended up going to the hotel and arranging to meet him for dinner later.

Ancient motorbike and sidecar
Ancient motorbike and sidecar

Ancient motorbike and sidecar
Ancient motorbike and sidecar

After we had showered, sure enough he was there (Zafarqrek) he took us to a restaurant which was OK, but not really good for me, ended up with a bag of peanuts, crisps and tomorrows cake.

Day 49: Thursday August 1st: Mosquito Camp

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Route Day 49 – August 1st

Well a bit of a disappointing meal last night. We had met a young Uzbek lad who wanted to practice his English, at first he offered us to stay at his house, but his shower was broken. So we booked into the only hotel in town and arranged to meet him for dinner. We just went over the road nothing special, but least he tried.

The room was baking hot, so I slept on the sofa outside of the room with the A/C on. This did actually cool the room down to.

We had breakfast in the room but I had my first dodgy stomach of the Tour. I just had a bit of bread and water.

We left just after 7 with the plan to crack 20 miles out then have a coffee and more breakfast. The road was really bumpy and uneven and it made it even worse as it was rush hour and market day in the town of Beruni. We stopped at the first place but it was not open we so moved on and eventually found a mini-market so we had ice tea and a Snickers: living the dream. We knew we had another stop in 25 miles and then a long stretch with very little showing on the map

The road did not get any better but thankfully the traffic calmed down and we had a bit of a tail-wind: thanks for small mercies. After another coffee and cold drinks and we moved on. Linney was a little concerned that the ‘Maps Me’ app he had downloaded did not show this road! We soon found out why! The road was virtually brand new, smooth as silk with a tail wind: happy days.

We soon hit the lunch stop where we met Hanna and her partner. Keith and Linney had a plate of meat, I just had a drink and dry bread and a lie down. My front pannier was playing up again so I replaced the tie wraps and tightened it all up. It did seem better. As it was so hot we had an extended stay at the restaurant and we finally moved on around after a couple of hours. With the plan to carry on for just over 25 miles, have something to eat, and then find a place to camp. Within 15 mins of setting off Linney had a puncture and we all had a go at fixing the inner tube but it was so hot the adhesive just evaporated. We ended opening the valve hole up on the wheel and putting an inner tube in with a schrader valve rather than a presta valve.

We soon completed the 25 miles once we got going. We stopped at the first place  and Linney and Keith had a coffee while I had a chat with some guys repairing the Armco barrier. I managed to get a 6mm bolt from them for my panniers.

Mosquito camp
Mosquito camp

Sunset from the camp
Sunset from the camp

We moved on a few mile down the road, had a meal to save us cooking and a few beers and then set of to find a place to camp. With a view to camping before we came to some shops about 5 miles away. We settled on a half built house, not a good idea as we found out that it was infested with mosquitos and it was red hot. Just before we settled down for the night we spotted a lone touring cyclist, we shouted out, but he just waved at us.

Day 50: Friday August 2nd: Meeting Gavin

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Route Day 50 – August 2nd

Fly-through Map of Day 50.

We were up really early mainly due to the mosquitos: never seen Linney move so fast in the morning. We were going at 6,and  in fact it was quite a nice bit of a tail-wind and cooler. Within a mile Linney spotted the touring cyclist from last night just packing up his camping gear. On straight smooth roads we were rolling, but fair play within 15 miles he had caught us up. He introduced himself as Gavin from Plymouth. A nice guy and we ended cycling all day with him and owing him some money for beers! Bit of an Aylesham trait. We had dollars but not enough Uzbekistan Soms.

Sunrise at mosquito camp
Sunrise at mosquito camp

Flat desert
Flat desert

On really nice clear smooth roads we did over 100 miles. No mean feat on fully laden touring bike in 40 degrees plus heat and high humidity.

We finally pulled into a truck stop with a hostel and shower. Gavin expertly haggled the price down to 45 dollars for the four of us, but it was hot. A cold beer and a shower was calling.

Scratch and sniff. Is he Superman?
Scratch and sniff. Is he Superman?

We had quite a relaxing evening sitting outside in the shade talking about the experiences we have had on our travels and what we would be going through in the next few months.

Then to bed: it was not worth the $45 bunk beds as they had a wooden mattress. Hey ho probably means another early start in the morning.

Day 51: Saturday August 3rd: Skint in the Desert

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Route Day 51 – August 3rd

Fly-through Map of Day 51.

Four of us shared a room (Gavin joined us) but it was a pretty crap place: no mattress. We may have been better off camping again. We were up at 06:00 and on the road by 06:30, good to get out of the place really.

We did have a bit of a cash flow problem this morning we had 50,000 Soms, sounds a lot but it’s about 5 quid! So we had to be a bit careful with our spending.

The road was really good for the first 5 miles and then we hit the bad roads again with a bit of a head-wind. We stopped after about 20 miles, for water bread and some tomato stuff we had in our panniers: once again living the life.

Watch out! Incoming!
Watch out! Incoming!

Travelling in style
Travelling in style

It was pretty tough going on with the road getting worse and it was just a matter of pushing through and enjoying the scenery (desert). We stopped again just after the 40 mile mark. We could only afford water, but Gavin did get us a snickers bar each, top man. I also manged to blag 2 bottles of ice water from the shop owner, once again top man. The ride was getting a bit harder as the day wore on, especially as we had not eaten very much.

With the final 24 miles to go we stopped again. I tried to change a 20 Euro note, but the Russian guy (truck driver) tried to rip us off, so we said no. Though I did blag another small bottle of ice water. On we went to Bukhara. We blew the rest of our money 10 miles out on 5 litres of water and a water melon. Really good how little things please you.

Sites in Bukhara
Sites in Bukhara

Sites in Bukhara
Sites in Bukhara

Sites in Bukhara
Sites in Bukhara

Sites in Bukhara
Sites in Bukhara

Rolled into Bukhara, sorted an hotel out pretty quickly, and Linney also sorted out the money and SIM card so hopefully we should be ok now, well as best we can.

Everyday and ALL the Details

Overland To India

See how Ben and Jess are getting on as they take a more southern route across Asia to India. You can catch up with them here.

20190803_JessBen

Deserts and Camels

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Dale plays a dombyra (a long-necked Kazakh lute)

How Far Have They Got?

Map of progress so far.

Charity Update

Many thanks to those that have donated.

20190726_CharityDonations

Week 6 Summary: Ural River & Caspian Sea

This map shows this weeks ride.

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This week: 448miles, 3,224ft and 39:32 hours riding

Accumulated totals: 3667 miles, 76,238ft and 278:52 hours riding

Day 38: Sunday July 21st: First Camels

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Route Day 38 – July 21st

Fly-through Map of Day 38.

After we found a little hotel/hostel in the town we were unsure if the deal included any food but sure enough the lady knocked on the door with a couple of trays of food. Excellent! It was quite good rice and chicken with salad, Keith and Linney were pleased as I could just lift my chicken off the bowl.

Then we thought we had ordered a couple of beers each, though it turnedout to be tea!

We did manage to find some beers later.

In the morning it was a gamble again as we ordered breakfast at 07:00. Nothing turned up so we dug into our supplies, and then hit the road just before 08:00.

On the first section we had to retrace our route back over the river,where we stopped for water and then hit the road proper. Linney had done his research: a breakfast stop at 16 miles, then a 34 mile section and then a 24 mile section to finish with one possible place to stay. But we were not very hopeful of this.

Keith picks up the skull of a cow. Dale is not amused.
Keith picks up the skull of a cow. Dale is not amused.

We cruised the first section and stopped for breakfast. After this the road had started to get a little bit rough. Linney spotted a rotten cow carcass in the ditch by the side of the road and Keith went down and salvaged the skull and horns for some pictures. Not for me!

They have Camel Crossings in Kazakhstan!
They have Camel Crossings in Kazakhstan!

As we put on the miles Keith spotted the first camels by the side of the road, I had noticed two on our side of the road but thought they were horses! We stopped for some pictures and then pushed on. Further on we saw a shepherd with his herd of goats driving them across the road.

There really is not much on this road, so we carried on nearly to the end point. We stopped at a petrol station for an ice cream – Kazazh petrol stations do not do ice creams, much to Keith disgust! He settled for a chocolate bar, then was dismayed when the girl behind the counter tipped herself with a chocolate bar rather than giving him the change. A bit of a mistake on her part, she soon relented and gave him is change, or we would still be there.

With around 2 miles to go we pulled over and chatted to some local young lads. They said there was an hotel about 3 miles down the main road, but also made a few laughs and giggles, hence we decided to stock up on supplies in the village supermarket first.

As we came out of the shop a shady guy approached us, asked us where were heading and staying, we told him what we were doing, then he said come back to his house, we could camp there. So we followed him home. It later transpired that it was his parents house. We arrived at the house all hot and sweaty and then we were ushered into a large shed with seats and a basic kitchen.

Within minutes they were serving us with a bowl of yogurt drink “kumys” not ideal but we all tried it, then homemade bread, jam and sugar. Keith politely ask the guy how to eat it. He just picked up a lump of bread stuck it in the jam then put it straight in his mouth – pretty easy really. The came the tea “char” which was really good.

We then started to ask were we could put up our tents and went out into the garden and decided on two pitches. Linney & Keith started to get the tents ready while I tried to look busy. I did strike a little bit lucky as I was talking to the older guy and he said why not sleep in the big shed were we had just eaten. Result all around – so the tents were put away for another day.

Now it’s shower time! It was a wooden shack at the bottom of next doors garden with an 80 gallon plastic drum on the top. Though I must say it did work and we did feel a lot cleaner afterwards. We asked the guy where the local ATM was and he offered to walk down with us. Unfortunately it did not work so he flagged a passing car down and they gave us a lift to the next one. It seems to be a local thing that you can flag cars down and ask for a lift. We also got some beers for our host and us and then made are way back, via another flagged down car.

Beers and salted Perch
Beers and salted Perch

Salted Perch for dinner
Salted Perch for dinner

Keith tastes the salted Perch.
Keith tastes the salted Perch

We later found out it was an anniversary party for the guys parents over the weekend, we sat outside on an old hay cart chatted and shared the beers. Then the old guy got some dried salted perch out to go with the beers. I quickly reverted back to vegetarian and offered Keith up to taste it. Later I saw him throw it in the long grass!

Family dinner - crossed-legs on carpet.
Family dinner – crossed-legs on carpet.

Family dinner - crossed-legs on carpet.
Family dinner – crossed-legs on carpet.

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Dale plays a dombyra (a long-necked Kazakh lute)

The party just kept on going with all the men sitting on the old hay cart, guys playing the guitar and dombyra (a long-necked Kazakh lute) and singing partisan songs all very lively. More food was served: meat soup with fresh bread, fruits and more char, all served up by the ladies but they did not join in. We eventually was able to go to bed around midnight, a really long, but great day.

Day 39: Monday July 22nd: Home Cooking

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Route Day 39 – July 22nd

Fly-through Map of Day 39.

We woke up pretty early considering how late we got to bed last night and had to go through the none European ablutions test again in the morning, well I did! I walked around the shed three times, then went for it, really scared I would fall in and then that would be that last they heard from me! Linney & Keith decided to wait.

We slept on the kitchen floor here!
We slept on the kitchen floor here!

Breakfast at home
Breakfast at home

As we were getting our kit ready breakfast was prepared: porridge, bread and jam and char. Very nice! We had to drag Linney away. The older guy explained the best route to Atyrau was out of the village then over the river, not what we had in mind, but he assured us the road was better that way, he even hand drew us a map. I wrote a thank you note to them with a gift of English money. We did not want to offend them but really wanted to show our gratitude. After the customary photo shoot and handshakes the older guy escorted us out of the village to the new bridge a distance of about 5 miles in his 4 wheel drive Lada. We said are final farewell to him as we carried on.

Dale saying farewell
Dale saying farewell

We have planned a relatively steady day in the saddle around 55 miles with a plan of getting to a bike shop in Atyrau. With no real urgency we just ghosted through the miles and stopped at a little truck stop for a coffee. The proprietor and her family were really nice so we went through the photo shoot routine again, the lovely lady came out with bottles of water and coke for us, we took on the water but thanked her for the coke and said we had no room.

Then Linney said he needed to clean his teeth, never seen it before but he managed to open his front pannier bag, get his wash bag out locate his tooth brush and paste and clean his teeth all on the go. Keith and I can barely manage a wave!.

The Ural River
The Ural River

As we go closer to Atyrau the traffic built up. The waving and horn blowing stopped as a good will gesture, now it just meant ‘get out of the way’. We tried to find a bike shop. Found one but it did not have the gear we wanted so we made our way to the hotel that Linney had booked. We booked in no problem and I went to the bar to order a beer – no alcohol, he has only booked a dry hotel!

We went out later to locate the last cycling shop on our list. The Hotel receptionist ordered us a taxi and told us how much to pay. She even gave us her number in case we got into trouble. We went nt to the shop and managed to get some inner tubes but not pannier brackets. We got a taxi back into town where, as anticipated, the driver tried to rip us off. We phoned the lady from the hotel who managed to sort it out. The taxi driver was not happy.

We had a meal then went back to the hotel to rest up and start to plan the next few days.

Day 40: Tuesday July 23rd: Salt Pans and Snakes

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Route Day 40 – July 23rd

Fly-through Map of Day 40.

Linney and Keith went down for a coffee in the hotel around 21:00. I was busy catching up on the blog stuff, then the hotel dished out another meal for them chicken and rice, still no beer so I was OK with that.

Dale. Bear and Gnome
Dale. Bear and Gnome

We were up at the normal time just after 06:00.  After getting ready we went down for our fried egg breakfast. It had a little twist today: fried bread not fresh.

We were just about to hit the road when we noticed Linney’s back tyre was a little flat, which is a little concerning as his spare is very dodgy too. We gave it a bit of air and we’ll see how we go.

Linney expertly got us out of the city in under 20 mins, mainly because we were on the dry side of the city! Then on the road to Dossor against a bit of a head wind which looked like it would stay with us all day. Hey ho!, just have to pedal a little harder.

Keith with a dried up salt-pan behind
Keith with a dried up salt-pan behind

We stopped at little truck stop for a coffee and cake. Well I had the last bit of cake and pulled the vegetarian card again. Keith and Linney had a potato fritter (it’s a gamble what is inside them), then went next door to the garage to see if we could get an ice cream – no luck. We filled up with water and took on some extra water, as the next stop, looked like it was just a picnic stop, in around 24 miles time.

Smooth Snake (Coronella austriaca), beside the road
Smooth Snake (Coronella austriaca), beside the road

Smooth Snake (Coronella austriaca), beside the road
Smooth Snake (Coronella austriaca), beside the road

Salt-Pans
Salt-Pans

Still pushing against an ever increasing head wind we pedalled on, looking at the dried out salt lakes. Then Linney made a little bit of a girlie dance on his bike – only he can do that. Then he shouted snake! Keith was on its trail like a flash, jumping off his bike and handing it to me. All I could see was bloody desert but then finally a spotted it. Keith chased it down the bank, then dangerously back up the bank towards me, clicking madly on his camera. I was ready to ditch his bike if it came any closer to me, luckily it went down a hole about a metre before it reached us. When it all calmed down Linney identified the snake as a fast slow worm or “tardum velox vermis” we will have to wait for the editor (Dale’s gone all Boris with his Latin: Ed) to confirm this exciting discovery.

European mantis (Mantis religiosa) - probably
European mantis (Mantis religiosa) – probably

Before we knew it we were approaching the second stop: not the picnic site we thoughtbut  a little café, with some very pleasant girls serving. We had coffee and the normal fare: a meat goulash thing for Linney and Keith and rice for me – all very good. We all had a really good rest as the head wind was taking its toll a little. Keith made the effort to say come on “lets go” (the only phrase the Kazakhi’s know) so Linney and I followed, though Linney stalled at the entrance spotting a Praying mantis or “Orantes mantis” once again the ED will confirm the species (Dales got the hang of Google Translate: Ed).

Dale and Linford, with Eagle
Dale and Linford, with Eagle

Keith and Dale and a boundary marker. The Eagle has landed!
Keith and Dale and a boundary marker. The Eagle has landed!

Just as Keith and I were pulling out onto the road we heard a shout from Linney ‘I have a flat!’ Back we turned. His tyre is worn out. Keith cut up a plastic bottle to cover the two worst wear patches on the tyre, fitted a new inner tube and off we set again. Within a mile, another puncture.The plastic had rubbed on the inner tube. We tried Linneys spare tyre that does not sit correctly on the wheel, still no good, so went with the worm tyre at a lower pressure hopefully that will work. On we went for the last 18 mile. Thankfully it lasted!

On the way to Dossor both Linney and Keith cut up some old truck inner tubes to patch up the tyre when we get to our unknown hotel/camp tonight. We stopped just outside Dossor. Keith ordered a coffee, I quickly done the maths we were less than 5 miles from the town, so I had a beer. In the end we all had a beer.

We rolled into the town with Linney at the helm guiding us to the hotel/hostel which we duly found with ease. We managed to book in easily: the guy and his wife were very helpful and gave us a bucket and sponge to clean our bikes down. Linney had a plan to line his tyre with the old truck inner tube so he started on that. I cleaned and serviced my bike as best I could. Keith did the same to Linneys and then went down to the supermarket and bank with the hostel owner.

I cleaned Keiths bike and then when he returned told him he had loose spokes on the back wheel and a broken spoke on the front wheel – not good, but repairable, which Keith easily managed.

Kazakh food. Delicious.
Kazakh food. Delicious.

The place didn’t have a shower but I manged a bucket wash before the water ran out, so we just went out as we were. Eventually we found a place that was open athough it was only traditional Kazazh food which was good for us.

Then it was back to the hostel for some well-earned rest.

Day 41: Wednesday July 24th: Flats and Markets

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Route Day 41 – July 24th

Fly-through Map of Day 41.

Happy 60th Birthday to Ray Skelton: a true athlete and a valuable member of many of our Tours. We were all stirring in our beds, Ray would have been doing star jumps or some yoga pose, but as laid back athletes, we just laid about knackered!

Breakfast in style
Breakfast in style

The owner knocked on the door to say breakfast was ready. We had to go over to the annex and Linney was impressed with the ceiling detail: he is getting right into his architecture. We were more impressed with the breakfast: three fried eggs, home-made bread and biscuits and char – all good.

Linford, ready to leave
Linford, ready to leave

We set off about 08:15 with cloudy skies, and as it is Ray’s birthday Keith did the weather report: sorry Ray not raining, but overcast until the afternoon. We soon made our way out of the small town into a bit of a head-wind, with the knowledge that there is not a lot going on this road today, just a matter of riding through the head-wind. Easy – really better than working for a living.

After a couple of hours of riding we did spot a small truck stop where we managed to get a coffee and replenish our water supply. There was another stop about an hours ride away and that’s were we planned to have our lunch stop. On we went into the head-wind again. We are getting used to these Kazazh stops. I had the fried rice, with Keith and Linney having the pasta and dumplings.

Lunch in style
Lunch in style – lie down and have tea

After lunch we knew we had about a 40 mile ride with nothing between. Allegedly the wind was going to die down, according to Keith’s weather App. Just after this stop Linney had the first of his back tyre incidents, with a really worn out back tyre, in which he had glued strips of an old truck inner tube onto the inside to try and protect it. Well this did not work: the patches rubbed on the tube causing punctures. We tried Linney’s spare tyre again, with no luck as very soon half of it had come off the rim again. So back to the old tyre, with less pressure than normal. We still had around 20 miles to go before we hit Kulsary, even then we did not know if we could get a replacement tyre there.

Railway tracks. Soviet Gauge 5' or 1520mm
Railway tracks. Soviet Gauge 5′ or 1520mm

Triumphal Arch arrival for Dale
Triumphal Arch arrival for Dale

With a bit of luck we were soon at another truck stop 10 miles from the town. Keiths app was correct, the sun was out and the wind had died down so we made good progress. We had the normal coffee, soft drinks and photographs with the locals before we headed to Kulsary.

The local market
The local market

Keith buying tyres and inner tubes at the local market
Keith buying tyres and inner tubes at the local market

As we entered the town it was the normal chaos: cars and buses everywhere. Linney was leading the way and then he stopped and said he’d just spotted some cycle tyres in a market over the road about 50m away. I could just about see the entrance to the market stalls, never mind the tyres. Sure enough there were a couple of stores selling tyres and such. I looked after the bikes while Linney and Keith investigated further. They came back with two tyres, quality unknown but 100% better that what we currently have, another great result.

Dinner in style. I think that's tea in the long tube.
Dinner in style. I think that’s tea in the long tube.

With still no hotel booked we carried on into the town chatting with the locals via their open car windows – all good fun – then found the hotel. Within 20 minutes we were all sorted. With a plan to find a place to eat, and sort the tyres out in the morning. After a quick shower we set of for the restaurant, for some well-earned food.

All in all a pretty frustrating day in the saddle, but all’s well that ends well.

Day 42: Thursday July 25th: Fellow Cyclist

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Fly-though Map for Day 42.

Breakfast at the hotel was not until 08.00, so it was up at the normal time, then sort the bikes out and replace Linney’s tyre. With that done and all the bags loaded we went for breakfast: cottage cheese, fried eggs, yoghurt, bread and char tea.

Ready for departure
Ready for departure

We were on our bikes rolling just after 9. This was not a problem as we only had 60 odd miles to do today (easy!). We stopped just of town to stock up on water and the normal photo shoot. We soon made it out of town on a long road with a little head wind.

Once again we get pulled over by some security guys who want the customary photos and a telephone conversation with their friend who spoke English. Off we went again, with both the temperature and wind rising. Next the familiar shout went up Linneys rear tyre had disintergrated – it only lasted 12 miles. Obviously it was made in the same place and same quality as the cleats Dave Austen once brought on a previous tour.

We swapped the rear tyre for his spare, thinking and hoping this one is better. Off we went again at a slow pace into the ever increasing headwind. We were following a railway line and after 2 1/2 hours riding we had only covered 24 miles.

Keith and Dale meet a fellow cycle-tourist from Belarus
Keith and Dale meet a fellow cycle-tourist from Belarus

LInford and Dale meet a fellow cycle-tourist from Belarus
LInford and Dale meet a fellow cycle-tourist from Belarus

Linney spotted a railway halt and tried to knock on the door to get more water to no answer, so we had 10 minutes in the shade. We then heard a train come, we all had the same thought let’s jump on it, unfortunately it was going the wrong way! Though the guy did come out with his flags, shooed the camels of the track and then waved the train through.

We asked if he had any water and he just pointed over the track and gave us a bucket with a rope on. We found the well and lifted the cover and lowered the bucket. The water was cold and looked OK but we ran it through our water purifier and drank it no problem. After filling all our water bottles up we set off again. The temperature was rising now,  and this coupled with the head wind made for extremely difficult cycling.

The temperature soars to 42 degrees
The temperature soars to 42 degrees

We limped along to the next truck stop. Had lunch and I had a power nap: Linney obviously captured it on his phone. When we came out the heat was unbelievable – 40 plus degrees so we decided to lay in the shade for a while. About 45 mins later we set off with the knowledge that we had around 30 miles to go. On we went pushing against the head wind in soaring temperatures. We thought there might be a truck stop in 12 miles and this took us over an hour and half.

Oil Country
Oil Country

Here we filled up on soft drinks and snacks and rested up with the final 18miles left to go. We also stocked up to camp if required. It was still tough going but we pulled through. A car stopped and offered Keith and I water, which we thankfully received and he ended up giving us the 5 Litre bottle.

As we pulled into the stop pictures of kebabs, chicken and pizza were on the wall. Linney said I don’t think this is the stop but Keith and I just looked and said ‘we are eating’. The only other people in the place are a load of mums, grandparents and children having some sort of party with really loud music. I was too knackered to join in.

After we finished eating we cycled down the road about a mile and came to the hostel that Linney had pin-dropped earlier. They had a room, so it was literally a cup of tea (no beer), shower and bed.

We had arranged for an early breakfast at 5 in the morning in an attempt to beat the heat.

Day 43: Friday July 26th: Plains and Trains

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Route Day 42 – July 26th

Keith set his alarm for 04:45 and it was a bit of a shock to the system when it went off, but we all knew it would be a lot cooler riding in the morning. When we went around to the eating area you could tell we were all thinking the same thing: that wind seems worse than yesterday.

After breakfast we packed up all the gear and set off and sure enough the wind was worse and we were struggling to ride above 6 mph. We just toiled along using every bit of energy we had. Linney and I stopped and waited for Kieth and he explained that his crank was making a horrible noise. He stopped and tightened it up but the noise was still there.

Great Gerbil (Rhombomys opimus), possibly
Great Gerbil (Rhombomys opimus), possibly

We finally made it to our first stop at 36 miles and had lunch and took on loads of fluids. When we were ready to we realised that Keith’s crank needed to be stripped down and cleaned out. We tried to carry on but to no avail. Linney checked the mapand it looked like there was a train station further on, so we limped to the station and found out there was a train to Beyneu in 3 1/2 hours time.

Dale and Slide Away Bear waiting for a train at Korkol Railway Station
Dale and Slide Away Bear waiting for a train at Korkol Railway Station

Linford at Korkol Railway Station
Linford at Korkol Railway Station

The Slide Away Bear at  Korkol Railway Station
The Slide Away Bear at Korkol Railway Station

Loading the train at Korkol Railway Station
Loading the train at Korkol Railway Station

We all sat down and took stock and finally decided to take the train for the last 20 miles and use the time to service the bikes etc. Obviously getting three fully laden bikes onto an already over crowed train was a bit of a nightmare but we managed it. Tt was the same at Beyneu station – but all part of the journey.

We eventually got out of the station and found an hotel in the city chao. We settled down with a beer and this always seems to make thing right.

Day 44: Saturday July 27th:

[No word from the team for a couple of days. Assuming wifi issues. Ed] [we heard from them on the Monday: so I’ve updated below: Ed]

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Route Day 44 – July 27th

Fly-through Map of Day 44.

We met up with some interesting guys last night they were from Portugal driving a beat up Renault from China back to Portugal. The car broke down 3 yrs ago and they had only just picked it up! Then we also met some Italian guys on motorbikes riding the Silk Road: they were in the same restaurant as us. Hence we are not the only crazy souls, just a little bit madder than them for doing it on a bicycle.

We had a border crossing today so we were all in out clean kit. Breakfast was at 08:00 so we had a bit of a lie in. It was a bit convoluted getting out of the town: we went all  out of the town the wrong way then over the railway line and then back the way we came!

Our a road was still being laid so the first ten miles was like swimming through treacle. when we came to the finished section it was music to our ears. The forty miles flew past at speeds we had not achieved for a good four days. We had a little stop just before the border to stock up on supplies.

We got through the Kazakhstan side with ease though coming out of a country is always easier. Then it was on to the Uzbekistan side. To be perfectly honest we sailed through there too. We also met two USA travellers on motorbikes, one of them got stopped for some reason.

We had a little bowl of soup and a beer in the border cafe, though we were pestered by the guys wanting to change currency. We changed what we had of Kazakhstan money about a tenner: bit of a mistake as we should have changed more. We were soon on our way on a quite good road and with only 14 miles to go so we were there in less than an hour.

The town was nothing more than a village with a garrison and custom centre. We had a cup of tea just before the village and had to be careful with our cash. We rode into the village and out of the desert came this guy on a beat up old bike with a flat tyre. He wanted it pumped up. I could see Keith wanting to say get lost, but we needed the karma so we duly obliged.

There was a bank but it was closed. We tried the little shop but they did not take a card. We then met up with an Army guy and some Customs guys who arranged for us to exchange Euros to Uzbek things [Uzbekistan Som: Ed]. We celebrated with an ice cream from the shop and decided to ride on a little bit more and camp.

Just before we rejoined the main road we stocked up on water and bought 2 beers each for the night. I had the bright idea to drink the beers in the shade while they were cold, rather than carrying them and having warm beers. If I say so myself: one of my better ideas. After we drunk the beers in the shade of a bus shelter we rode on another 12 miles until Linney decided on the camp site. On his head be it!

Overland To India

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

Actually we’ve had no update from them this week. It’s possible they stayed the whole week in Istanbul.

But here’s an excerpt from a previous blog.

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