Surely over 15,000km deserves a pint?

Speedofile - 15,000km

15,000km wasn’t just a another number on the digital display of our speedometers. It signified the half way point of our homeward odyssey- 15,000km of the 30,000km that the Guinness criteria demand of a bicycle powered circumnavigation of the globe.

Each one of those 15,000km is significant. They represent, burning lungs at 4,300m in Peru, arse jarring mud tracks in Bolivia, numb fingers in the Spanish pyrenees, coasting winding country roads in Uruguay, or darting between air conditioned shade in China. Added together, if we do say so ourselves, they represent an impressive achievement. Something we’re very proud of.

We recon that if you met us in a pub in Dublin, just after having cycled 15,000km halfway around our fair planet you’d buy us a pint? Surely all that sweat grit and tears deserves at pint?

So, why not buy us a virtual pint by donating 5 euro to Aware, or a little more if you can. Your cash will help Aware make Ireland a happier place.

Follow this link to donate… Cheers.

The good, the bad and the ugly.

Speedo file 15,000km

self portratit at 15,000km- half way point to Greystones

Fearghal

Bishkek-Kyrgistan

I left Almaty on Tuesday and arrived in Bishkek yesterday. My time in Almaty was mixed. I enjoyed being in the familiar surrounds of an almost western city was surprised by the level of violence, and frustrated and reminded that this was not yet Europe by Bureaucratic efficiency.

As Si mentioned a few posts ago, Almaty is a thriving well designed and affluent city. Its planning and architecture feel European, maybe its just that after three months of swooping eaves a western angled apex feels like home, or maybe its the bread, and simple un-spicy food that gives it a familiar feel. But I think its the chocolate. If there’s one thing I’ve learned during the last year, its that good chocolate is hard to find, and its absence leaves a gaping home shaped hole that’s difficult to fill. Kazakhstan has chocolate in spades. Lion Bar, Twix, Lindt, even Ferrero Rocher.

It also, like most big cities has an ugly under belly, which I saw up close. In my first three nights, I saw two beatings, one with a metal walking stick, which was broken over the back of a customer in a cafe by the patron, for some reason that I didn’t care to ask. After the table beside us noted our shock, they motioned us to join them and help them polish off a few bottles of vodka, shrugging that “iz Almaty, iz normal”. Then they refused to let us pay for our meal, offering to take us hunting and fishing for the weekend. Bad impression/good impression.

Unfortunately, I had to decline the offer. Instead. I had to sit outside the Uzbek embassy for a day to be told that could only pick up my visa in Bishkek. So I spent $120 on a Kyrgistan visa, so that I can pick up my Uzbek one!

The second beating I witnessed was pretty sinister. I was walking home alone after another night of revelry when I encountered a group of “lads” on a dark avenue. I put my head down and walked on through them, putting on my best mike skinner “out there, I don’t care glare”. I walked on 50m, and heard a commotion behind me. I half heartedly turned to see the 6 or so “hard men” kicking a guy on the ground. They held nothing back, jumping and kicking like animals. It lasted about twenty seconds, all I could do was watch. After they felt they’d done enough damage they fled like meerkats. I ran to the guy on the ground who lay unconscious on his back, gurgling blood, and put him in the recovery position and checked that he hadn’t swallowed his tongue. As I was doing so, one of the hard men ran back, and stole his phone! A throng assembled and eventually the guy came to, I’ve no idea the extent of his injuries, and the those that stopped to help him didn’t take to kindly to me either, one saying that ” …this nothing to do with you, you not from Almaty, shut up…”. Nice.

Cutting up a Cow

I don’t want to give the wrong impression though the Kazakhs have been eh “VERY NICE”. For example; on the road to Bishkek, I cycled past a family butchering a cow. So I stopped and said Hi. They gave me some meat, and asked if I was hungry. I was fed some freshly fried cow and bread. I say cow, as the flesh was still warm, and the blood not yet congealed so, although dead, the meat had not yet made the transition from cow to beef. I ate with the tasty beast’s head rocking at my feet.

Armed with a ripper tailwind I made great time, and beat my own personal speed record breaking the sound barrier at 67kmph. Evil Si Knievel’s record of 72kmph is safe, as I don’t intend breaking 60kmph ever again. Unfortunately the tailwind blows from Siberia, and is the same one that will bring the snows to the Tian Shan mountains if I don’t get a move on. So I’ll be picking up my Uzbek visa later today and off again on Saturday.

Blog Archive – Catch Up

Sunrise

Fearghal

Almaty- Kazakhstan

Its been a while, three weeks or so, since I’ve had access to the internet, alot has happened, too much to catch up fully in a blog post.

I won’t recount my journey in detail, as Si as already covered the route I took in his post. Desert, mountains, desert mountains and a big push to a border crossing on the last day of my visa. I had some awesome evenings camping beneath diamonte and black velvet skies and was treated to the same peaches and cream starts and burnt orange rose finishes to my days.

The desert and an ocassional tail wind but mainly benign crosswind made for big distances, and I managed to break 200km on three ocassions.  It also made for some pretty boring periods, one flat stretch en-route to Hami an oasis on the edge of the Taklamakan desert, was so uneventful that I managed to watch an episode of Fawlty Towers on my ipod while riding.

I was holed up in Urumqi for a week, as I waited my kazakh visa.

It dawned on me that my freind Dave’s description of Chinese as sounding like a cork person trying to speak french was possibly the most accurate linguistic observation ever.

En route to the border I had an interesting if a little random, evening with EarTie a Chinese Kazakh, and his two freinds, in an oil refinery town called Dunshanza they cooked me goat’s leg stew, and did their best to get me pissed,
which isn’t too hard after 120km in the saddle. It was a surreal meal, the goat was lovely and the bread was the best things since er, sliced pan. The conversation was, predictably, a little stunted. It revolved around the lads saying names of Western celebrities like Micheal Jackson, or David Beckham and then me giving the thumbs up if I recognised then. One of the guys, his name was Choddle, was pretty drunk and prone to spontaneous riffs on his air guitar which to he expected acknowledgement for. Cultural sensitivity aside, its hard look impressed by a thirty second,closed eyeair guitar solo to Guns and Roses by a grown man but I did my best. When it came time for some photos one of the lads held my hand and the air guitarist attempted to nuzzle me like a cat might. I assumed this was a cultural thing and thought nothing of it.

Touchy Feely Kazakhs

After dinner I stayed in Eartie’s place, moved my bags into my designated room and laid out on the plint like bed and went to sleep. An hour or so later I wake up suddenly and he has hopped into bed next to me and is nodding off. This unsettles me quite a bit. I’m in a strange country miles from home and there’s a Kazakh man in the bed next to me! My options were pretty limited, as my bike was in a lock up two blocks away so I couldn’t bolt. I’ve been trying to maintain cultural relativistic view point on the lad’s effeminate gestures and touchy feelyness, reassuring myself that some cultures just don’t require as much personal space as we do. To anyone reading who may think me homophobic, try to imagine yourself in my position, alone in a flat with three strangers of any gender and imagine trying to repel possible advances and extract yourself and your four bags walk and navigate the four blocks in the dark to the lock up where your bike is hopefully still chained to a post.

My rational voice was telling me that everything was fine, so too was my spidey sense which I trust the most, its the sense that tells me whether to trust a situation, person, place. But there was still a little voice saying ‘ferg a guy just hoped into your bed, get the out of here.

Soon, my host was snoring so I decided to try and get some sleep too. But before doing so sweated over how I would sleep. I couldn’t decide on whether to turn my back to him, might that bee taken as an invitation? or face him, again,
how might that be interpreted? so I lay on my back and tried my best to sleep. As soon as the alarm went off I was out of there like a hot snot’, and cycling west again by 6,oclock. The whole experience was reminiscent of a certain mustachioed cheap suit wearing character who’s been haunting Kazakhstan’s image for the last few years.

Providence smiled on me allowing me to cross the Chinese border during the short window that it was open. According to an official I spoke to it would be closed for the following week, and it was closed for the previous week due to the National holidays. I was lucky enough to catch the four day window that this crossing was open.

The Chinese are super paranoid at the moment, as it’s the 60th anniversary off the birth modern China. From
what I can gather, in 1949 China began its cultural revolution and transformation into it’s current red star monster state with Mao at the helm. The government feels that now would be a perfect time for a terrorist attack from one of the many minorities that have been trampled on for the last 60years, specifically the Uighurs in Xinjiang province. though, given the ferocity with which they dealt with the recent riots in Urumqi, and the current military prescence in the province, its highly unlikely that anybody of sane mind and full control of their body would even fart upwind of a party cadre lest it be misconstrued as a dissident act.

RIght now I’m playing the visa game in Almaty. More about that in the next blog.

Update from Kyrgyzstan: Distance Since Greystones – 15,555km

Schoolkids

Simon

Bishkek – Kyrgyzstan

Before reading this, you might want to read this previous update first.

As I write this update, the sun is shining but the air is cold and crisp. The leaves on the tree lined avenues of Bishkek are turning a soft golden colour, winter is definately on it’s way. China is now seems a distant memory, and Shanghai feel worlds away from Kyrgyzstan, it’s hard to believe we left there just 3 months, and 6000km ago.

We spent a week in Shanghai, waiting around for our first visa extension, and spent the time catching up on sleep, sampling the local food and to splash out we had a cocktail in the tallest building in the World. After getting reacquainted with our bikes after 6 weeks out of saddle, we ran the gauntlet of the chaotic Shanghai traffic, trying to avoid the colossal concrete overpasses and highways. We cycled for some 70km before getting out of the Shanghai metropolis and were led by a local to a deserted park in which to camp. We frequently had to pass through Shanghai’s satellite towns, each of around 5million inhabitants. On a cold and rainy day, we were meandering through the streets of one such town, when the sky gradually began to darken until it was pitch black. Eventually we stopped to don our headtorches, and only then did the penny drop, and we realised that it was the solar eclipse that everyone had been talking about.

While looking for directions to the town of Hefei, we asked a young Chinese chap and he pointed us in the right way, but 10 minutes later he caught up with us and said he’d show us to it, and spontneously cycled the day and a half ride on his rickety shopper bike.  While still with the chap, named Joe, we were invited to meet a group of Chinese school kids who were learning English, who giggled at our rather scruffy appearance. One day while casually chatting to a friendly Chinese girl, she told me bluntly that I “look terrible“, and event which both Fearghal and myself still chuckle about.  
Chinese Flag Bearer

On the road from Nanyang to Xi’an, we drank icy cool soft drinks with the locals, and swam alongside water buffalo and a few butt naked Chinese chappies, keeping our clothes on in order to clean off the built up sweat and grime. We climbed over beautiful lush green mountains and I nearly fell over with laughter when I was overaken by a guy with two goats lashed to the back of his motorbike.

Fearghal had to return to Ireland briefly to attend to a family matter, but with my Chinese visa running out, I had to keep going so we decided to cycle through Central Asia solo, and meet up in Turkey around Christmas time. We each toyed with the idea of cycling the Karakoram Highway to Pakistan, but then found that it wasn’t feasible.

Tian Shan Mountains

Cycling by myself, I camped at the Great Wall of China, and witnessed a 3 wheeler careering out of control down a steep mountainside, and seeing it crash into a muddy bank. I then helped get the trapped driver out, and was invited to dinner by one of the locals. From there, I entered the desert where I spent the best part of 3 weeks surrounded by sand and rock, playing my mind games, and being blown about by the strong wind. Back in China, and around 1000km behind me, Fearghal took the train to Lanzhou where he had left his bike, and set off behind me. He was paid a surprise visit by the Chinese police, as they have security concerns following unrest in the Xinjiang province of China.

We are both now in Central Asia, also known as “visa hell” and are spending lots of time in cities, trying to get the paperwork sorted for the next country. All things going to plan, we’ll fill in the right forms, get the right stamps, and make our way to Turkey where we’ll rendez-vous, and make our way together, towards Ireland.

Boratstan

Zenkov Cathedral, Almaty

Simon

Bishkek – Kyrgyzstan

I’ve just crossed over into Kyrgyzstan after a brief 2 week stint in Kazakhstan. After a mad dash across the Xinjiang province of China, I was looking forward to a day off in the small border town of Zharkent. I had checked into a tatty hotel and was preparing for a lazy day, but the beurocrats had other ideas in store for me. I was walking along the street when a policeman, in the typical rediculously wide brimmed Kazakh hat, which I figured must have some anti-gravity device installed; being perched right on the back of his head. In the usual cliché of countries from behind the Iron Curtain, he asked in a thick Kazakh accent “your papers po-lease”. I thought of the the KGB characters in James Bond films and tried not to laugh at his perfect reenactment of this stereotype.

Grim and straight faced, he flipped through my passport, twice, and then told me I needed to get my migration card stamped in a police station. Fine, where do I do that? He took me to a dark Soviet style police station and talked to the officer behind the recepton desk who just said “niet” and showed me to another police station. They didn’t have the stamp there either, so I was given directions to another, third police station. I walked up to the guard stationed inside the gate, he told me to wait outside then stood back at his post, and after what seemed to be an unnecessary wait, he led me in. Three more people flipped through my passport, took it away, gave it back, passed it around, and finally one said, “we cannot do here, you must go to Almaty”, “you can take a taxi”. Now, Almaty is 300km from where I was, and it seemed crazy to me that they thought it perfectly reasonable for someone to spend about $100 and over half a day, just to get a stamp on a piece of paper!

As I needed to head to Almaty anyway, I decided to decline on the taxi, and instead I hightailed it out of there, packed my stuff and headed off. The first part of the cycle was glorious, rolling through a green and auburn tunnel made by the old deciduous trees, their leaves turning golden in the crisp Autumn air. The low sun was sending thin rays through the leaves and lighting up the lovely white cottages by the roadside, their window frames painted in a patriotic, and pretty, Kazakh blue. I then turned off onto a minor road that took me past miles of wheat fields, then into a familiar territory, the parched rocky sandy desert.

I camped just off the road behind a large mound, where a huge swarm of mosquitoes were waiting in ambush. With Fearghal the insect attractor, my insect repellant, still in China, they attacked my arms, legs and face with vigour and so I hastily put up my tent and literally dived in, closing the door before any of the little vampires followed me.

The following morning, my odometer flipped up to 15,000km, half way around the World. I was delighted to be over the hump. Any distance remaining now, will be less than that already cycled, which is a huge morale boost. I was still in the desert though and hadn’t bought any celebratory refreshments, so I had to save the festivities for later in the evening when I had a beer and shashlick kebab in triumph. As I rolled away from my half way line that I made in the sand, I cried. I don’t know if it was happy tears or sad tears and I have no idea why I cried, I just couldn’t stop myself.

Unfortunately, the road didn’t celebrate with me, it was terribly bumpy with large pot holes and the occasional tarmac mole-hill waiting to catch the off guard cyclist. At one point I decided to cycle in the gravel runoff which was smoother than the road, but fell off when I hit some loose sand while drinking from my water bottle. With few towns on the route, I had to carry lots of water, about 10 litres, which made the uphills a slow effort. It was hot too, really hot, and on a steep 12% (1 in 8 ) climb out of a huge gorge, the sweat was dripping off the lenses of my glasses. I had big white salt stains on my shorts, gloves and top, and they became crispy as the salt solidified. I wondered how many days sweating it would take, before my jumper would stand up by itself!

After a long downhill through a beautiful grassy valley, and getting reacquainted with the tree lined avenues I made it to Almaty. It is a charming city, with parks everywhere you look, trendy cafe’s, classic Soviet architecture and generally feels cultured, very different to the homogeneous cities of China. Following visits to two more police stations, form filling, stamping, photocopying, waiting etc, I managed to get registered with the police, but not until the following day, and paying in that queue over there!

I spent the time in Almaty chilling out in parks, eating lots and went to the baths to relax my muscles. I made the mistake though of entering the ferociously hot sauna with no sandals. After a few steps on the searingly hot tiled floor, I lept onto a nearby bench. I was stranded, with burning feet, that would later blister and make me limp about town. The men and women have separate bathing areas and it’s de rigueur to go naked, and the starkers plunge into the cold pool quickly soothed my burned feet.

Odd Cloud Front

I also sorted out my Kyrgyz visa and with that in hand, I left town and aimed towards the border. It lashed rain the following morning and was really cold, I can feel winter coming. Following 2 days of cycling with the thick grey cloud blocking any warmth from the sun, the clouds suddenly parted in the strangest way. I could see the edge and tops of of them forming a straight line right into the distance. It was as if a huge glacier was floating in the sky. I decided to stop and enjoy the evening and camped on a grassy knoll surrounded by small pudding shaped hills, like in The Hobbit. The mountains of Kyrgyzstan were in the distance, silhouetted by the setting sun. I decided to sleep under the stars and got into my bag to watch the sunset. I heard a dull rumbling and looked around to see a huge herd of sheep and goats only 20 feet away, and coming for me!! I called out to the shepherd and he steered his batallion before they stampeded a dozing Irishman.

Once I sort my Uzbekistan visa here in Bishkek, I’ll be climbing up into the mountains, I can see them clearly now, with snow covered peaks and troughs. I’ll probably be cycling above the snow line where I reckon it will get mighty cold, which is what I was dreaming of when in the hot and humid climate in Shanghai.

Heads or Tails – Q & A

Camping, Xinjiang China

Simon

Almaty – Kazakhstan

On my recent blog heads or tails, there were a fairly broad array of questions that you guys bought up in relation to stats. Q & A’s below…..

Q – Pete said: Thanks for the stats…so that must mean you’re approaching half way round. Time for another bottle of Bubble Brothers sparkly I think!

A – Yes, I’m now just over half way round 15300km on the clock with about the same left to go. Fearghal should be about 1000km or so behind me. Now any distance remaining will always be less that I’ve already done. It feels great to be over the hump, mentally, it’s a really great boost. Unfortunately at the time I didn’t have any sparkly, so I settled for a sashlik kebab and a beer!

Q -Richard asked: what have you thrown away as being useless and what have you picked up along the way as being useful beyond belief (a plastic bottle, and old toothbrush for the chain?)

A – After snapping our trailers in Bolivia we jettisoned a fair bit of stuff to save bulk and weight, mainly the solar panels, sat phone, some casual clothes, spare pot, water purifer. We only kept things that we used on a regular basis or things that we’d be fu*$ed if we didn’t have for emergencies, tools, spare chains etc.

As for things we picked up: some tupaware tubs for food storage; a shower net soap foamer thing, which is great for both washing clothes and scraping weeks of sweat off; old inner tubes to wrap around our frames to protect them from dents and scrapes, and to make the bikes look less flash. For me though, the best thing I picked up was a small bag which I fixed to the side of the trailer, in which to store my MSR stove. When we began in Ireland, I had been keeping the  stove in my food bag, but when we got to Bordeaux, all my grub stank of the particularly smelly French petrol. I would have thrown away biscuits, chocolate and bread, but then Fearghal stepped in and ate the whole lot, he’ll eat almost anything that lad. : )

Q – Emma asked: What about body stats? Inches lost or gained?! I mean from around the waist, legs, beards etc! Any saddle sores still?!

A – I think my weight has fluctuated the most out of the two of us. Thanks to the cheeses, cassoulets, confit duck legs & lardons in France, chorizo sausage in Spain and parilla’s in Argentina and Uruguay, we both had pretty sizeable bellies (Fearghal actually popped the buttons off his shorts!) when we hit the Andes. With the dodgy food in Bolivia and Peru though, we each had bouts of sickness that returned us to normal, then I had another visit from the stomach monster in Cuzco, and lost a good deal of weight. My belly hasn’t returned since. I’d imagine that I’d easily have gained a stone, and would have lost about 2 inches off my waist.

As for beards, they were probably longest in La Paz, just before we got them trimmed. Our legs are pretty toned to say the least, on mine, I can see every specific muscle quite clearly as there’s absolutely no fat on them, I feel like a racehorse. I still get saddle sores and rashes every now and then, but to an extent, I’ve just gotten used to it.

Q – Colman and Adrian asked – How was the bike at 73.4 k/hr?

A – It felt pretty cool, I had got to 65km/hr on a steep downhill in Peru, then the road flattened out a little and I just pedalled like a madman in my hardest gear to get up to the 73.4km/hr. I was just concentrating on estimating the stopping distance required before the tight hairpin ahead (disc brakes help). The weight makes it pretty stable although you have to watch out for bumps, as if the trailer hits one at a funny angle, it can try and fly off in some other direction, pulling you with it.

Q – Anne asked: How many calories do you think you need per day and how many on average are you getting?

A – I know that Mark Beaumont who currently holds the record for fastest cirumnavigation of the World by bicycle (194 days 17hrs) had to eat around 6000 calories per day. He was doing 160km a day and at the moment, I’m averaging about 140km a day, so that would make what I need to eat at around 5200 calories (about 2 times the RDA).

It can be quite difficult to eat that many calories when you’re not passing towns regularly. For example, when crossing the desert in Western China, I was usually passing 1 town a day, and tried to eat a big meal in a “restaurant”. It can be tricky trying to cram lots of food in at one sitting, but my trick is to eat as fast as possible, get it down the hatch before your stomach realises that it’s full! For my other meals I’d usually just eat plain noodles, perhaps with some peanuts, dried bananas etc. In a country where people prefer to eat chickens feet than chocolate, snacking is difficult.

Q – Al said – I love the fact that there are only ever headwinds. You don’t notice tailwinds, you just think you are cycling like a bit of a legend that day!

A – Absolutely, on days that there are tailwinds, you feel like a cycling maniac, Lancey boy, eat your heart out!!

A Windy Journey

Si and Bike, Gobi Desert, China

Simon

Almaty, Kazakhstan

Phew, what a rush. I’ve just arrived in Almaty, Kazakhstan after a pretty hectic time crossing the Xinjiang province of China and getting across the border. When I went to get the last extension for my Chinese visa, rather than the standard 30 day extension, the grumpy policeman only gave me 20 days. In that time, I had to cycle the guts of 2000km, sort out my Kazakh visa in Urumqi, and get across the border.

My route took me skirting the southern edge of the Gobi Desert, and through part of the Taklamakan desert. It was mainly flat, windy, and baron with little to stir the senses. Occasionally I would see Bactrian camels or cycle across small mountain sections, but generally it was flat as a board. For the first few days, the wind was very strong, happily it was generally from the back or sides. At times, all I would need to stand up, and the wind would push me along without pedalling! On one particular day, on a smooth road, I broke nearly all my own records. I managed 66.3km/hr on the flat; averaged 38.9km/hr for the whole morning; did my longest ever non stop stint, 64km; and the longest distance between meals, 120km!

But while the wind was good for cycling it was bad for setting up the tent. After a decent days cycle, I spotted a small niche in a sand dune that I figured would give me some shelter from the wind. I put down my plastic ground sheet, then the outer, and pegged it down. Just as I fixed the waterproof topsheet onto the frame, a huge gust of wind came, pulled out the 2 windward pegs, and the tent tried to fold itself in two pieces. Then the other pegs came out, and the ground sheet blew away, but I couldn’t chase it as I was stuck holding the rest of the tent, which was now above my head and trying to get airborne. For a decent few minutes, there was a stalemate between myself and the wind, I couldn’t take the tent down, but the wind couldn’t carry it away either. I was stranded there, in the middle of the desert, at night, trying to stop my home from blowing away. Eventually though, the wind relented for long enough for me to take down the tent which I quickly bundled up and threw into my dry bag. I searched around for another more sheltered spot, and luckily came across my runaway ground sheet that had snagged on some brush. My second attempt went slightly better than the first, I had placed my bags in the tent to stop it from flying away, but I still managed to snap 2 pegs and had to weigh down the rest with big piles of rocks. After that episode, I tried to refrain from using the tent, and instead opted to sleep directly under the stars, under the fine mist of the milky way.

Another mornings events made me recall when I first told people back at home about the cycle, some of the responses were “isn’t that lovely”. I had camped near a small road underpassage that I used to shelter from the strong crosswind, to my surprise I woke to find it raining outside. As the desert was flat all around, people had used this underpassage to do their “business” in private. I sat, eating my noodle breakfast, surrounded by little dried up human “jobbies”, with both sand and rain stinging my face and thought, this definately isn’t “lovely”.

Bactrian Camels

After 10 days cycling in the desert, I got to Urumqi where I was to sort out my Kazakh visa. The mood was tense there, and the military had a strong presence, with armed patrols at street corners and driving the streets in huge open back trucks. From Urumqi it was purely a matter of burning to the border before my Chinese visa expired. I whacked out a few 175km days, then a 140km day with about 3000m of climbing up to this gorgeous lake where I camped for the night. The following morning was, for me, the most beautiful cycle in the whole of China. The sun was out and it’s rays glistened on the calm deep blue lake. The surrounding mountains were covered in a lush soft grass on their lower slopes, and snow near their peaks. Men on horseback rode about, some collecting mushrooms and others herding sheep and goats. I descended down the green valleys, on towards the Kazakh border, happy to end cycling in China on a high note.