Virtually since the inception of this trip, it is the exotic and unknown lands of Central Asia that I have been most looking forward to. I’ve read countless tales of friendly, inquisitive locals, and incredible, adventurous landscapes. I knew when I left for the trip I would be arriving at winter, a problematic time, with chilly mountain passes up to 4,000+ metres covered in snow. I thought that if I went fast, I would be able to just avoid the beginning of winter and sneak into China.
3 things have happened over the past week that changed my plans.
Since leaving Slovenia it has become amazingly clear I have left Western Europe and am approaching Asia; there is more liberal use of the horn, prices have dropped rapidly, and people seem to live a more simple, purposeful, hard-working way of life. Currently in Bosnia, I have passed close by minefields, been greeted by friendly locals, and seen a man drive by holding a 8 metre plank of plywood onto his roof with his left hand out the window. It really is a different way of life.
I have had to get to Istanbul, and then China quickly. I’ve been on the main roads, pushing the miles, with little chance to explore. I want to get to know these areas I am passing through, and don’t want to miss out on so much!
In Croatia, I cut my thumb with my penknife, very deep. Thankfully I bumped into bike trousers, one of
whom happened to be a nurse (the road always helps you meet the right person at the right time!), who bandaged it up. We went to hospital, who cleaned it and bandaged it up, before refusing to accept any money. It would however need fresh bandages everyday for 5 days. The bike tourer said I could stay with them on a campsite for a few days and they would help re-bandage it. And thus, I fell further behind schedule.
Two Crazy Germans
I met a German couple cycling back from Singapore, along a very similar route to me, and they encapsulated the bike touring lifestyle for me; so friendly, full of life, taking it slow, choosing the adventurous backroads and savouring the places they were passing through. Like everyone, their tales of Central Asia were exciting, the highlight of their trip, and their pictures beautiful. They recommended I get on a bus/train immediately, or I would miss out on so much, or even find many roads impassable.
Some of their photos which helped my decision!
I knew they were talking sense, and I didn’t want to maintain my current pace until January, but I didn’t like the idea of getting a bus or train to Istanbul. I was slightly worried many would view it as a failure, even though that’s not something I should be worrying about, but also I’d still be late in the season and have time pressures, and I also didn’t think I’d feel the same sense of achievement upon reaching Istanbul, having skipped much of Europe.
I tossed and turned all night considering the alternatives, even considering abandoning Asia for now, and turning south and heading for South Africa (still an option!). I thought about whiling away winter with a job in Turkey, but these were both problematic.
I reached a difficult decision:
I will cycle along my route to Turkey, at a more relaxed pace, really exploring and following an indirect, adventurous route, before leaving my bike there in October/November. I will then change the mode of adventure and (maybe) give it a shot hitch-hiking back to England, where I will get a job. In April, I will restart the adventure from Turkey, hitting everywhere at the best time, and hopefully with the money to extend the trip, into Australia, New Zealand or who knows where!
I found it an incredibly hard decision to make, particularly splitting the trip up in such a way. I had fallen in love with the idea of cycling from my front door, and returning year(s) later a wizened and new person, but this plan makes more sense and enables more adventure. I’m so excited for what lies ahead!