24 – part 2

Stormy Sunset, Bolivia

Simon

Lanzhou – China

I’ve spent the last few days in the lovely town of Chengdu, Sichuan province, where I had hoped to get my Pakistan visa. With butterflies in my stomach, I walked into the small consulate in the glitzy 30 story Western Tower and was greeted by the Assistant to the Consul General to Pakistan who told me flatly that they no longer do visas for foreigners; or Aliens, as the Chinese call us! My heart sank. With a lump in my throat, I managed to explain that I had come very far to get my Pakistan visa and that I was cycling around the World and he needed to make an exception for me. After a lot of charming on my part, he told me to come the next day to meet the Consul General for an interview.

Upon returning the following day, I was told that the Consul was at an important meeting, and would not be back until Monday. That would have been too long for me to wait around, as even if they granted it (which I don’t thin they would have, for reasons below), I wouldn’t get it until Tuesday. I would still need to get my second Chinese visa extension and do the 4000km to the Pakistan border before my visa runs out at the beginning of October, quite a tall order.

I asked the Assistant Consul about my chances of getting the visa granted and we discussed my plans and onward route through Southern Iran. He talked rather plainly, not as a politician, in his words “I am talking to you as a brother”.  He said that as the Pakistan/ Iran border is currently very dangerous, and while he would love me to visit his country, he did not think it was wise. I met some Austrian cyclists in Chengdu, who had passed through Northern Iran to Central Asia and they told me that even the locals wouldn’t go to Southern Iran.

My last revelation came from the same Austrians who also told me that the 200km of the Karakoram Highway (KKH) between the Chinese town of Tashkurgan and the Pakistan town of Sost, is closed to cyclists, which would mean I’d need to get a bus. This was the final nail in the coffin for my KKH plans, as to do the circumnavigation we need a continuous trail across the lands. So far we have a lovely unbroken line from Greystones to China, and to do this we have blagged our way across closed off dams, risked arrest on city motorways, and retraced our steps when we’ve had bike trouble

I will now revert to cycling to Urumchi in North Western China, then Kazakhstan, Kyrgzstan and Tajikistan where I’ll hopefully get to do the Pamir Highway before it becomes impassible in winter. Following that I’ll head to Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan and into Northern Iran. Having explored the Karakoram option, I am happy doing the Central Asia route knowing that I tried my best to do the KKH, but with timing and circumstance, it didn’t work out.

In fact, after meeting these Dutch and Austrian cyclists who just came through Central Asia from Europe, hearing their stories and seeing their photos, made me very excided about my onward route. I’m looking forward to getting back on the bike tomorrow morning, turning my pedals, and pointing West, towards home.

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Explore 2009

 

RGS November 2007

Fearghal

In November 2007 myself and Si attended the Explore conference in London. I remember the weekend well, Autumnal Kensington- posh England and slippery leaves.

Attending the conference; listening to the advice and stories of experts and meeting like minded people gave us an enormous confidence boost. It made us realise that what we were planning wasn’t actually that fantastic, and that if we kept working and stayed committed we could see it through.

This year’s line up of speakers looks equally as good, if not better. The weekend is organised by the Royal Geographical Society, and there’s something for the academically inclined and the adventurous alike. There are seminars on expedition medicine, photography, field research, logistics, communications, pr and marketing and more.

There’s also an “Inspire Me!” workshop if you’ve got bundles of motivation but aren’t sure exactly what type of expedition’s right for you.

Its a pity that there doen’t seem to be anything like this in Ireland : (

So book a cheap Ryanair flight and get inspired.

Be careful though, you might wind end up being really inspired and do something like this guy

from a distance

Fearghal

Greystones-Ireland

Last Wednesday, I was in Lanzhou; a nondescript town in Central China. I phoned home and was told that Traolach (we always called him pop) my Grandfather had passed away just minutes before. This was not unexpected. He was 86 and his health had been failing. Before leaving I had told myself that I wouldn’t go home if he passed away. I’d stick it out and mourn him in my own way, wherever I was.

My rational resolve faded with that phone call. Hearing Dad tell me the sad news I realised where I should be. Un-emotive contingency crumbled in the face of uncontrollable feeling. I sobbed alone in a shabby hotel room in Central China- remembering a great man, great in both stature and presence, and his unerring support of this little boy’s dreams and ambitions.

Death has a way of bringing things into focus, a stark reminder of the scarcity of life, and thus its value. Learning of my grandfather’s laid bare my isolation and distance from my girlfriend and family- the knot in my stomach a physical manifest, of how important they are and how wrenching it is to be so far removed.

So I began the three day journey home, taking a plane to Shanghai, then Paris, then Dublin. Drifting vaguely through the characterless and placeless limbo of the departure and arrivals lounge- barely conscious of whether I was in fact coming or going. From time to time choking sobs, and wiping salty drops; as memories of my childhood hero bubbled up- he was opinionated, patient, principled and incisive, generous and careful, to me he was all those things but primarily an intriging gentle old man.

Tears flowed when I thought of him sitting in his chair, reading the Irish Times, with his elevenses sitting on the coffee table, and the clock on the mantel ticking the clockwork metronome of his time.

It seems cruel that I’ll never see him again, unfair that its so final, that its over abruptly. But that’s life, and what makes it precious; That’s the catch… there is no forever…

I should just be thankful that our lives overlapped for so long. I shared the last 28 years of his, he the first 28 years of mine.  And be glad that I could come home and say goodbye.

Pop…My Hero…is gone, but won’t be forgotten.

24

View from the Summit

Simon

Lanzhou – China

It’s crazy what can happen in 24 hours. Yesterday, Fearghal recieved news on a family matter in Ireland and immediately set about returning home for a couple of weeks. Fearghal going away put a cat among the pigeons and made us really re-think our plans. Up until yesterday, we were planning to go to the west of China into Kazakhstan, then down to Iran via Central Asia. But we both felt that since arriving in China the adventure had been lost from the expedition somewhat. If we were a shampoo bottle, we’d read: cycle, eat, sleep, repeat. While this is grand for putting down distances it’s not the most inspiring way to travel for us. It was a case of just spinning the pedals, and there was no doubt that we could both keep spinning for the next 8 months and thus there was little remaining challenge.

But now that Fearghal is away for two weeks, we’ve re-thought our strategy. We’d both read a great book recently called “3 Cups of Tea” that was set in the Karakoram mountain range in Northern Pakistan. The Karakoram Highway (KKH) runs through the Karakoram mountain range, which is home to the second highest mountain in the world, K2. The KKH runs from Kashgar in Western China, over the Khunjerab Pass at 4693m, then descends to Islamibad in Pakistan and is the highest paved road in the World. So now we’ve set our sights on cycling the KKH to Islamibad, then through Iran to Turkey. And for an added bit of adventure, we plan to cycle to Turkey independently. I will lead the way, then when Fearghal gets back from Ireland, he will follow the same route.

The prospect of cycling the KKH is really exciting, it may be a bit more risky, and time will be of the essence, as I’ll have to sort out my Pakistan visa and rush to get across China before my visa expires. But, if all goes to plan, it’ll be well worth it!

Stand By Me

http://vimeo.com/moogaloop.swf?clip_id=2539741&server=vimeo.com&show_title=1&show_byline=1&show_portrait=0&color=00ADEF&fullscreen=1

This cover of Stand By Me was recorded by completely unknown artists in a street virtual studio all around the world. It all started with a base track—vocals and guitar—recorded on the streets of Santa Monica, California, by a street musician called Roger Ridley. The base track was then taken to New Orleans, Louisiana, where Grandpa Elliott—a blind singer from the French Quarter—added vocals and harmonica while listening to Ridley’s base track on headphones. In the same city, Washboard Chaz’s added some metal percussion to it.

And from there, it just gets rock ‘n’ rolling bananas: The producers took the resulting mix all through Europe, Africa, and South America, adding new tracks with multiple instruments and vocals that were assembled in the final version you are seeing in this video. All done with a simple laptop and some microphones.

Check out the Playing for Change website for more info

In Memory of a Friend

Rob Stringer - A Friend

Simon

Xi’an – China

I just received the terrible news that my friend Rob Stringer was killed in Tanzania last Friday. He had been volunteering with the Camara charity and was on holidays on an island off the coast. It is believed that he was mugged, as his wallet and shoes were missing.

I suddenly feel really isolated and far away, being unable to pay my personal respects to his family and can’t even post a message on facebook (as it’s blocked here in China), as I understand many others have done.

Rob was a truly great guy, whose smile and cheerful demeanour allowed him to make a friend in seconds. I remember many good times with him, particularly a very rowdy fancy dress New Years party a few years ago.
He will be sadly missed by his family and many, many friends.

The Road Ahead

We are only chasing happiness

Fearghal

China- Xi’an

On Tuesday we join the G312, the road that we’ve been following since Shanghai, and head west again. I’ve been reading an account of our mates Conor, Paul and Mark’s experience on the same road over a year ago. Looks like it will be fun…

He’res an excerpt from Conor’s thoughts on Gansu Province, just up the road from where we are now.

…that night i got into my sleeping bag wearing my full cycling gear as i knew in all likelihood I’d have to get up in the middle of the night.
as the night wore on the winds grew stronger and stronger. and the tent got more and more battered. sleep wasnt happening. the two sides of the tent were being whipped by the wind creating a storm inside tent and beating a tattoo on my temples. nothing to do but lie there in the cold and alternate sleeping on your side for 15m mins till your back gets cold and wakes you from that halfasleep stage and roll back onto you back until the same thing happens with your legs.
then the rain arrived. thankfully it was not too heavy as we were in prime location for flash floods, baked mud being the only surface we could hammer our pegs into. i cant desribe the isolation or that feeling lying in the tent. we could do nothing but lie there and wait for the situation to worsen sufficiently to get us out of the tent and out into the storm. thankfully it didnt and with dawn came action. it took us an hr to get the tents down. the wind had gotten stronger and we were now finding it difficult to stay upright ourselves. we’d have to hitchike. the wind tore the warmth from us as we tried to get a truck to stop, alternating who thumbed on the road and who got to huddle down behind a rock sheltering. after an hr or so an empty bus picked us up.

As their site got hacked by cyber terrorists in the Caucasus, they blogged on Bebo for much of their expedition.
The full account can be read here