Six Months On…

25 Apr

Nearly six months on from packing my bike up in Ahmedebad, India and saying my goodbyes to Tom and Nye I reckon I’ve had a sufficient amount of time to reflect on the trip and pen a few notes about what impact spending six months cycling from Europe to Asia had on me.

Firstly, it is with great sadness that we learned of the death of Pete and Mary – a British couple cycling around the world. They were tragically hit by a truck in Thailand – the details can be found on http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/thailand/9874682/British-couple-killed-in-crash-on-world-cycling-tour.html
We met them in Kyrgyzstan and cycled with them for a few days before meeting up again in the capital where we swapped stories, relaxed and enjoyed each other’s company. I got an e-mail from Nye just after we found out and he replied saying ‘On a journey filled with rather odd people they really stood out as a great, fun, youthful couple who I would have liked to see again’. I think that pretty much sums up how I feel too and it is truly a great loss – as a couple they were full of life and adventure and both had such great, warm personalities. Our thoughts go out to their family and friends and I’m really grateful we got to meet and share the road with them. Their website is over at www.twoonfourwheels.com and is a really interesting read.

We, luckily, managed to arrive back on British soil unscathed and I spent an indulgent couple of weeks back home with an increased appreciation for the little comforts in life. After the trip I didn’t want see a bike for a long time but now I’m starting to daydream about future trips and different ways to explore the world.

I came across a quote from Mark Twain that ‘travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness’. It’s a beautiful statement and for me, being able to see the transition of culture, language and religion from place to place was definitely humbling. The beauty of travelling by bicycle is that you are forced to meet characters from all walks of life in places that many tourists don’t tend to flock to. Saying that, there were a few occasions when I did raise an eyebrow and think ‘hang on, something’s amiss here’. On reflection the journey made me more aware about how privileged I am and how lucky I was to have the opportunity to spend six months pedalling around.
Our overall experience of every region was totally positive and I don’t remember ever feeling remotely threatened. The generosity that we received in every country we visited was beyond our wildest dreams; from free lunches in Germany to places to stay in Nepal, I’m very glad that we were able to witness first-hand the best in people from all over the world. Sure, there were a few jobsworths as well but too few to name. The overwhelming majority of people we met along the route were extremely friendly, interested and accommodating.

It’s tricky to pick out ‘favourites’ but the three places that I feel deserve a mention are Turkey, Kyrgyzstan and Northern India.
Turkey is huge and we spent about three weeks making our way from West to East. Istanbul is immense and the Black Sea coast offers a real variety for cyclists – but it was the people that made the biggest impression on us. The Turks proved to be probably the most hospitable lot we came across.
Kyrgyszstan was a total surprise – I’d never heard of the country before we started planning the route. The roads were smooth and ran through untouched green valleys and over epic red rock mountains. We caught a glimpse of the nomadic lifestyle of some of the population still living in yurts and tackled some high mountain passes. Maybe it seemed so astounding compared to Uzbekistan where we had just spent a challenging three weeks making our way through.
And the Indian Himalayas just blew me away. Snow-capped peaks littered the horizon and the truckstops that provided accommodation and dahl along the route to Leh were full of charm. The Buddhist temples and prayer flags marking the summits together with the natural beauty make it really stand out and I’d definitely like to return.

All three of us acted like stroppy children at different points along the way but I think that’s perfectly normal when you spend every minute in close proximity to two others who are as equally as smelly, dehydrated and drained. We developed little routines and systems and for the most part got along brilliantly – pushing good miles whilst seeing the world and having a laugh at the same time. If I were to do it all again I wouldn’t change an awful lot (apart from maybe getting to Thailand). Cheers Nye and Tom – you were absolutely fantastic buddies to have on the road.

In his previous post, Tom did a good job thanking most of the people who helped us along the way but there is one more person I’d like to thank. It was mega-tough living without my girlfriend while I spent six months growing a beard and getting into sweat-stained lycra each morning, relying on dodgy internet connections to keep in touch. But now that it’s over and we’re back together, I’m glad I pushed off from London last May as I always knew we’d be fine. She’s an absolute saint for waiting for me and I’m very lucky – Thank you!!

A slideshow/video is up on http://www.thepedalcollective.com/video/cycling-to-thailand-nearly Which provides a glimpse of what living in a tent and riding a bike through twenty three countries was like. Enjoy!

I’ve also compiled some of my favourite photos from the trip below in chronological order. They are not necessarily the most artistic or most beautifully framed but they bring back fond memories:

‘Little Landmarks’
This is the border in the Alps between Austria and Italy. It was at quite a modest height compared to some mountains we would later tackle but it was a good confidence boost to ride up and over some mountains in the Alps with fully laden bikes.

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‘Tom’s had enough’
This was taken outside a supermarket in Bulgaria after riding for twenty eight days without a day off. I don’t think Tom was particularly struggling on this day but this opportunistic shot still sums up the cumulative tiredness of those initial long days on the bikes.

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‘Time trialling in Turkey’
On a newly built road running along Turkey’s Northern coast. The sun was out, the road was flat as a pancake and we hammered it for days until we arrived at the border with Georgia.

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‘Tent Life’
Taken in Georgia, this simple photo reminds me of the routine of the trip and the different habits we each picked up along the way to adjust to living in close quarters for months on end.

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‘Serious Nye’
Just a good shot of Nye in a beat up old vest, on a clear road in beautiful countryside cruising down the road to the Georgia/Azerbaijan border.

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‘Nonchalance’
The mother of all storms is raging outside and the tent is very close to be swept away down the valley where we pitched. The answer, stick out an arm and hope for the best.

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‘Can we stop yet?’
Tom eyeing up a campspot in Azerbaijan. Normally as soon as we were approaching our daily target, Tom would start looking for potential places to sleep – most of his suggestions didn’t involve more than a 15 metre detour from the side of the road.

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‘Happy Birthday’
My 25th birthday and we’re sleeping rough on a shift pattern in a restaurant garden by the port in Baku. Mosquitos bit both my eyes in the night and there were ants in my sandwich when I awoke. Nye looks particularly chuffed.

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‘Who Said Romance was Dead?’
Taking the cargo ferry across the Caspian Sea from Azerbaijan to Kazakhstan. We could write a book about that journey alone but this is weird moment of intimacy to the backdrop of the setting sun between Tom and Robinson Crusoe, I mean Nye. I don’t think either will be happy I’ve uploaded this.

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‘Camels… and man’
Our first night in the Kazakh desert and we bag this sweet photo of Nye approaching some camels as the sun goes down. Ker-ching.

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‘Sh*t Roads’
The desert roads aren’t really roads. Here, Tom emerges from a cloud of dust and sand on his way to our sixty mile per day desert target.

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‘It’s Behind You’
Tom, in Kazakhstan, getting the miles in before the heat of the day. A nap is scheduled for 12pm so we don’t melt.

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‘Water please… and a haircut’
Inhaling sand all day makes you a little parched. Truck stops were about 50km apart and our only chance to refill water bottles in the desert.

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‘Underfed in Uzbekistan’
An attempt to rehydrate in Uzbekistan. Our diet mainly consisted of Coca-Cola and very random cuts of unidentifiable meat at this point.

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‘Probably another UNESCO World Heritage Site’
Tom riding past an old fort (which we slept in the previous night) on the way to Khiva, Uzbekistan. In Central Asia there is an abundance of old monuments and architecture telling the stories of the regions past.

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‘The Greatest Photo Ever Taken’
This is clearly my favourite photo of the trip. Two Uzbek locals join us for a chat although there was no common language. One is so excited he produces a fish for the photo while the other uses it as an opportunity to get close to Nye.

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‘Uzbekistan Truck Stop’
A nice picture showing how friendly and snap-happy the Uzbek people are.

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‘…Yurt’
A Yurt at the side of the road in Uzbekistan where we had breakfast. A generous local gave us a free watermelon to share.

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‘Alone in Kyrgyzstan’
In the Kyrgyz mountains. Nye has the whole road to himself as he ascends in one of the most beautiful places we visited.

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‘Camping at 3000m’
Here is an aerial shot of our camp in Kyrgyzstan. We are with fellow cyclists Pete, Mary, Ramon and Hanne who we met on the road that morning. We were high up and it was bitingly cold when the sun went down. Nye bought some fermented Mare’s milk from a local which tasted like old milk mixed with vinegar and parmesan.

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‘Very Childish Behaviour’
On the descent out of the mountains to the Kyrgyz capital, Bishkek, Nye’s shorts slip off and Tom reacts as expected – with disgust and fury.

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‘Getting High’
Up at 5600m altitude on the acclaimed ‘highest motorable road in the world’ in Leh, Northern India.

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‘A Tribute’
As mentioned above, two friends who we met on the road, Pete and Mary, where killed whilst cycling in Thailand. We hope that road users everywhere heed this message and look out for each other. RIP Mary & Pete.

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One Response to “Six Months On…”

  1. aneurin rainbird April 25, 2013 at 1:57 pm #

    Nick this is so good! It really warms my heart to think of those days on the road, thanks man, it was a hell of an adventure!

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