There have been way too many things that could have gone wrong recently, things that if chance had been against us, could have ended our circumnavigation adventure. We’ve had to grapple with the beurocrats to get the last of our visas, get a replacement for my broken frame and I had to cycle while trying not to cause further harm to my legs, having crashed a few weeks ago.
I managed to get my Iran visa pretty swiftly though, and did the initial part of the appliation for the Turkmenistan transit visa, so with that all sorted, I hopped on my damaged bike and pedalled with my swollen legs towards the fabled silk road city of Samarquand. Each time I bent my knee at the top of the pedal stroke, I would get a pain in my quad muscles which made the cycle a cumbersome affair. Normally in such circumstances, I would put ice on the swelling. Of course I had no ice packs, but nature provided suitable cold, with the air temperature dropping down to around -3 degrees C or so. The weather wasn’t great for my bike though, as on a pretty miserable rainy day, some water had managed to get into the bearings of my bottom bracket (the bit that allows the cranks to spin), and each time I stopped, the water would turn to solid ice which prevented the cranks from spinning. I had to stamp on the pedals to break up the ice and get the whole lot moving again. The water thrown up from my wheel also froze around the front chainrings and dereilleur which left me only able to use my big chainring, making the climbs a slow grind and putting even more strain on my knees. I arrived in Samarquand after an unplanned 165km days cycling, in the freezing rain, at night, and with the roads beginning to resemble an ice rink.
By then my new frame had been sprayed by KTM in Austria, which was then routed to Damian from Freewheel, where he popped in a lovely new Catlike helmet for me, my last lid being cracked after smashing my head off the road. The whole package was then FedEXed to Tashkent for me to collect when I returned to pick up my Turkmen visa. I was told the package would arrive on the 18th, but with my Uzbek visa expiring on the 22nd, I only had four days to get back to Samarquand, reassemble my entire bike and cycle the 350km to the border. It was very tight!
I met up with Fearghal in Tashkent where we both waited apprehensively outside the unnecessarily large and opulant Turkmenistan embassy. Fearghal had been up at 5 to put our name on the queuing list, which you would think is supposed to give some order to the proceedings. It didn’t though as the guard first let in his mates and the people who shouted the loudest and pushed the hardest. Eventually though, after 3 hours of waiting, we got in. I got a fright when a Japanese guy who was in front of us was told to come back in a week, his visa wasn’t ready. If that happened to us, we’d be truely stuck, as both our Uzbek visas would have expired by then. Luckily though, both of us got the required permission slips that had been approved by the ministry in Asgabat and we walked out with the last of our visas in our hands, we were both elated!! A serious celebratory piss-up followed, drinking a bottle of Champagnski and a litre of local vodka between us. We’re both absolute lightweights these days when it comes to drinking and so it was a loud, short and very messy affair indeed!
The good fortuned continued and my frame arrived in Tashkent on time, so I jumped on the first train back to Samarquand, put my bike together and headed off towards the border. It was a very boring cycle, the road was flat, the weather was grey and murkey, and the scenery was dull and monotonous. I enjoyed the last of the Uzek hospitality though, each night staying overnight in the restaurant where I had eaten, and in some cases not being allowed to pay for my food. The problem with staying in a restaurant though, is you need to wait until all the clients leave, and many of them enjoy the vodka too much. One local insisted that I drink some vodka with him and despite the resistance from my stomach that was still very objectionable to alcohol after the aforementioned drinking session, I managed to down a couple of big shots. It was only after hiding my cup in my handlebar bag and by feigning nausea, that the guy stopped trying to ply me with booze.
I made it to the border on the 22nd with my legs feeling much better, a new frame on my bike and the last of the visas in my passport. Chance was with us and everything had gone according to plan, I just hope our luck continues.