Toshkent – Uzbekistan
On my first day of cycling in Uzbekistan, I was cycling from Andijan on my way to the Uzbek capital of Toshkent on an open 4 lane main road. There was lots of space, no traffic, the road was flat and smooth and I was rolling along nicely at around 30km/hr, having fresh legs after a couple of days off in Osh. I saw a car coming out of a small dirt road, then pull up to the junction and stop. “Fine” I thought, he’s seen me. Indeed, there was no reason for him not to see me, there was a clear view all along the road. But then, just as I was about to pass him by; he pulled out.
I slammed into the side of the car, the sudden stop catapulting me over the bonnet. I slammed my head against the tarmac, followed by my hands and knees. I lay there on the road, now on my back, taking care not to move a muscle. I was seeing stars, even though I was wearing my helmet, but it definately saved me from having major head injury. I did a quick self diagnostic to check I could feel everything; feet – check, legs – check, fingers – check. The driver reversed off the road, leaving me stranded in the middle by myself. I saw a car approaching and had to wave at him to make sure he saw me, I didn’t fancy being run over too! Pretty quickly there was a load of people around me, they all thought I “was broken”. Luckily I wasn’t, I’ve broken a finger and toe before and it wasn’t the same type of pain. I’m so glad I’ve been blessed with big knees, if I had smaller bones, the locals would have been right, I would have been broken. Someone splashed water over my face, it was fizzy and burned my eyes. After re-gaining my composure, I managed to gesture for them to move me off the road. They lifted my arms and slid me off to the verge where, with help, I was able to stand up. The driver of the car was fretting that I was injured and later I found out why. He had no insurance and no drivers license.
I inquired about finding a hotel to stay, but this was a rural area and there wasn’t anything for another 100km, so one of the locals, a passenger in the car I hit, invited me to stay in his house. A few hours after the crash, my knees were swollen so much that I couldn’t see my knee caps. As I couldn’t bend down, I had to get one of the guys to help me put on my fleece trousers. I didn’t take them off for the 3 days to save me from suffering from the indignity and embarassment of having another man fiddle with my trousers, though at least he was pulling them up, not down! My host, named Kobol Iche (next to me in the photo above), was incredibly hospitable towards me, taking me to drink tea and have lunch with many of the villagers. He even took me to a wedding party, but I’ll write more about that in a separate blog.
The town I was in was small and had no internet or international phone service, and with my Uzbek visa counting down, I couldn’t hang about, so as soon as the swelling in my knees went down enough for me to cycle, I headed towards Toshkent. After only a few minutes on the road, I had the feeling that something was amiss on my bike. The back end felt funny and the gears were making a horrible grinding sound. I hadn’t been able to cycle it before so didn’t get a chance to check it properly, though I did check most of my frame for cracks. I looked down at the back wheel and to my absolute horror, I saw that the rear triangle was bent out of shape, and so much that the tyre was almost touching the chainstay. I did a more thorough check for cracks and when I lifted off the rubber that ironically I had put on to protect the frame, I found a crack through one of the seatstays. I returned to Kobol Iche’s house where he got the local “master blacksmith” to screw on a L shaped piece of rusty steel over the crack. I winced as they drilled into my beautiful KTM frame as if it was a chunk of old timber.
The 350km cycle to Toshkent was difficult, my legs were still stiff and I was still limping when I walked. I was pretty shocked too. When I got to heavy traffic I was scared, really scared. I had lost my confidence and I kept second guessing what a driver might do. I hesitated, doubting myself. Stopping in the middle of roundabouts and junctions, and that’s even more dangerous than just going for the gap, pretending I’m a big car, as I normally do. When I got into the countryside and away from people I broke into tears. In the traffic I was petrified, but I think that it’s important to face your fears and just get on with it. It reminded me of when I was BMX jumping in Cambridge. Any time I had a crash off a jump, I used to always try to get back on the bike and try it again. Otherwise I’d put it off, and the fear would build up and before long, in my mind, the jump would be impossible.
Still, it was with a huge sense of relief when I got out into the mountains, despite the prospect of climbing up to 2100m altitude on sprained legs, at least there were no busy junctions to worry about. Having climbed for half a day, I wasn’t even able to enjoy the steep downhill, as I had to go really slow, taking care to choose the smoothest lines through the lumps and bumps, so as not to damage my frame further. I felt like a bird minding a fragile egg, thinking that every jolt could enlarge the crack on my chainstay. To the cool 70’s sounds of the Forrest Gump soundtrack, I finally made it to the suburbs of Toshkent, where I’ve got to sort out my Turkmenistan and Iran visas, rest my legs, and unfortunately, sort out a new frame.
I sit here now and think of how lucky I am to have done a superman over a bonnet of a car at 30km/hr, and suffered no more than sprained legs, a burst lip, and cracked frame. It could have been much worse. I’m just glad I was wearing my helmet!