While stopping in a restaurant in a remote village in central China, we were cause for much staring by the locals who peeked through the blinds to have a gawp at the foreigners, only the elders had the courage to come up to greet us, this man included.
11am and already our clothes were sticking to us, drenched as they were with sweat. It was July in Shanghai. We found a park with a good view of the craned pocked skyline and set up the shiny new video camera, the old one somehow got contaminated by melted chocolate in Peru, for a brief video diary and stated our destination Greystones 20,000km and one continent west. Then we were on our way.
Three hours ago, we pulled out the same camera, its not new anymore, and told it that we’ve just crossed a continent. Shanghai to Hoek Van Holland(just west of Rotterdam) 19,000km and 9months cycling west. I’m writing this on a ferry en-route to the Islands where they speak English, and Irish and Welsh, and drive on the left of all things.
A lot has happened in those 9 months, we met some amazing people, saw some impressive places, almost went nuts in deserts and were challenged by mountains, we had to bribe corrupt big hatted border guards, were almost shot at on the Kazakh/China frontier, we both could have been killed in central Asia, were treated to inside glimpses of unusual cultures, drank tea with nomads and shepherds, ambassadors and business men, slept rough(usually) and on Egyptian cotton sheets(once), drank home brewed schnapps from chipped cups and fine Cognac from crystal.
There were times I cried; alone and grieving my grandad in the desert, times I laughed hard; sharing jokes over Vodka and russian “tapas” with sharp jawed Russians and gold toothed Kazakhs who five minutes previous had been dodgy strangers. At times the world seemed so simple and sometimes it seemed like a indeciferable riddle written with a word from each of its languages. Some days I loved the people I encountered; felt kin ship with humanity, some days I couldn’t bring my self to once again tell my five lined story… “yes all on a bicycle… yawn…” and yearned for home; to be in my little part of the world with my tribe.
Eurasia was exactly what I signed up for, adventure and personal exploration and the bicycle did its job, facilitating hardship encounters and adventure in appropriate measures.
When cycling in remote desert areas, ascending up some never ending climb, or on those inexplicable mornings when you just don’t feel like cycling, I find music to be a brilliant motivator that gets me into the groove. Music can also heighten many experiences to spine tingling levels, if the right song comes on at the right time. I remember one such instance, climbing into an isolated part of the Kyrgyz mountains at sunset, surrounded by the colossal rugged mountains that were cast in a lovely orange glow. I was feeling great and enjoying the moment, when my iPod switched to a beautiful melodic track by the Icelandic band Sigur Ros which was like putting the icing on an already incredibly tasty cake.
Being on the road for 18 months requires a lot of music so you don’t end up listening to the same stuff over and over, so after lots of deliberaton and research, we plumped for the iPod classic 120Gb. This has a brushed metal body with chrome back, small screen and can take weeks worth of continuous music along with lots of videos and photos. It’s brilliant being able to store an entire music collection on one device so there’s always music to fit your mood. On days off or in the tent at night, the video is really appreciated for a little escapism. I love being tucked into my cosy sleeping bag with a load of sweets or cakes, and relaxing into a good film or one of the many Fawlty Towers or Blue Planet episodes I have on my iPod.
The main drawback with the iPod over other mp3 players is that you can’t transfer music from it to someone else’s mp3 which is quite limiting. But for the sheer quantity of stuff you can get on there, ease of use, and lets face it, cool styling, the iPod can’t be beaten.
Follow the Rhine to Rotterdam, grab a ferry to Harwich, cycle to London, then Cambridge, then Sheffield, then Stranraer in Scotland, then hop a ferry to Belfast skip down to Blackrock, pick up 200 or so cyclists and roll out to Greystones. That’s the sum total of what’s left of Revolution Cycle: less than three weeks and a little over a thousand Km.
No visas to sort, deserts to cross or mountain’s to worry about(except for Bray head).
On Tuesday, I was in the process of buying a bottle of olive oil. I hesitated. And put it back on the shelf. Not sure why, I continued my forage though the RhineLand Aldi. As I got to the checkout I remembered the oil- I had found two pork chops to fry for dinner with bilinger marked on them in red letters which I think means bargain. “Feck it, I’ll use butter”.
Two hours later we’d pitched our tents under darkness in the town park, on a soft lawn near the slides, under cherry blossoms and crystal stars, just next to the Rhine. Watching the barges chug slowly upstream we munched our chops, potatoe salad and buttered veggies, and I realised why I didn’t buy the oil.
Its a prosaic, and possibly boring reason for you, our patient reader, but for me it was significant. We won’t be on the road long enough to finish a bottle of olive oil. For the first time since November 08 we have to start running down our provisions- who wants to use oil from a grubby Kazakh plastic lemonade bottle or stock cubes stored in a greasy crisp packet inside an a smelly Argentinian tupperware box at home? Fine for the road, but not for a domestic kitchen.
Not buying the olive oil means we’re nearly there. It means that soon we’ll stop moving, Soon we’ll put away our bikes and other childish things. And that will be that.
Its not just oil that we’ve changed our attitude to as the last grains of sand trickle out on this, the time of our lives. Much of our kit is on its last legs too- Si’s shoes are held together with tape, my pump has developed an astmathic wheeze, our socks are holed, and the backside of one of my cycling shorts is so thread bare and transparent that you could be forgiven for thinking that it came from a Victoria’s Secret catalogue. A few months ago this would have been cause for concern but now we just need things to hang in there for a little longer- if not we tape them and make do.
We’re hanging in there. And hanging on to the last morsels of this little adventure.
We were promised a tail wind by cyclists who’d travelled this bit f highway on the peruvian coast. The wind would pick up around lunch time and get pretty strong by early afternoon. Sometimes it was benevolent sometimes, like the day we took the photo it wasn’t. Nothing to do but clothes eyes and mouth and pedal on. That evening we found sand everywhere
For 35 years, MSR’s XGK-EX multi fuel stove has made a name as being THE stove choice for high altitude mountaineering and cycle tourers alike, being lightweight, compact, dependable and tough. It can burn a multitude of liquid fuels including kerosene, petrol and diesel, a necessity when going further afield where gas canisters may be hard to find. I’ve been using petrol in mine most of the time, and it’s been consistent in spite of the cruddy petrol is some countries.
The stove consists of the compact body with it’s 3 stable foldable legs and a short braided metal hose that leads to the separate fuel canister. The canister is pressurised using the small pump which forces the liquid fuel into the stove body. Once set-up, all you do is prime the stove by letting out a little petrol and lighting it causing the large orange flame as in the photo above. Once the flame’s settled down, you just start the petrol again which causes a very hot, powerful and loud blue flame. The standard canister size is 500ml which is enough fuel for about a week’s dinners, and handily fits into a standard water bottle cage, so you can keep the petrol separate from your clothes and food supplies.
The flame is exceptionally fast and powerful, and can bring a pot of water to the boil in minutes (a litre in 2.8 minutes to be precise), though this intense heat sometimes causes thicker stews to stick to the bottom of the pan (if you don’t stir sufficiently, that is). If you fancy a stove with more adjustment, and are willing to sacrifice a little power, the excellent MSR Dragonfly stove is for you. The XGK requires minimal maintainance, in 18 months, all I’ve needed to do is clean the hose and fuel nozzle which is a very easy, tool free process.
For sheer reliability and power, the XGK is the stove for you, I love to hear the loud roar of mine as it get’s going, it means dinner is on the way!!