It was a difficult decision to come home over winter. I tossed and turned in my tent at night for months and I wrestled over it during long days in the saddle. Even at home I have struggled with the feeling of unfinished business, often feeling like my mind is still out there on the road. Ultimately however, the choice to delay gratification and come home was right. With just over a week until I’m back on the road; I can finally begin looking forward to continuing the adventure. If you read my last blog post, you know I won’t be alone! Here’s the plan!
In April I fly back to Tbilisi and (hopefully) collect my bike from the friend of a friend of a friend I entrusted it to. This stage is clearly fundamental; if it goes wrong, I’ll be walking around the world!
From Georgia, Sus and I pass into our first dictatorship, Azerbaijan, and make a bee-line for Baku, the oil-rich capital city stretching along the shores of the Caspian Sea. Here we will experience the infamous logistical and bureaucratic obstacles involved in the treacherous Caspian Sea boat crossing.
‘[The boat] is an ageing relic of the Soviet era and one of seven rusting hulks pressed into service to bridge the gap between the Caucasus and Trans-Caspian railways. As much as I relished the idea of leaving Azerbaijan, the sight of the ferry made me worry that the corrupt police and the slag heap behind me may be the lesser of two evils. The ship was barely afloat. The Dagestans weren’t designed for open water, their topsides too high to survive the violent storms of the Caspian. Even moored to the groaning linkspan the ship looked unstable, rolling against the dock bumpers as the rail cars shunting into the hold upset its balance.’
Better hope the sea is calm then, eh? 17 hours and one perilous journey later, we will dock in Kazakhstan for a few days partying with Borat, before pedalling into Uzbekistan. Here we trace ancient footsteps through the desert along the famous silk road trading route passing nonchalant camels and ancient cities built to accommodate the weary traveller. It will be a bit of a desert dash though with unforgiving visa constraints and ex-soviet rules looming over us!
From Uzbekistan, we head up into Tajikistan and along the Pamir Highway, as it winds its way through the mountains less than a stone’s throw (literally) from the Afghan border. I am stoked for this part, as the unpaved road regularly climbs to 4,000 metre high legs-burning, jaw-dropping, fist-pumping high mountain passes. It is renowned as an EPIC route among bike tourers.
It will be a joy to reach the luscious Kyrgyzstan which has embraced tourism and removed much of its red tape. We need no visa, and face no tight time constraints. In short, everything should run smoothly, so long as I don’t describe their national dish as being like ‘horse penis’.
Next up, country number 22 is China. Think it’s big? Imagine trying to cycle across it! While the east of the country is densely populated, recalling memories of school lessons about China’s one child policy, only 2% of citizens live in the rugged western half, meaning we can expect remote wilderness and long distances between civilisations. It will also be searing heat. Oh, and as if that wasn't hard enough, we only have two months visa to cross the entire country requiring an average 100+km per day, every day, for two months. This has come to be known as the China Challenge and is going to be really, really difficult cycling!
South East Asia
Having crossed China in two months, or been deported trying, crossing into South-East Asia will begin to feel more like a holiday and I expect to zigzag slowly across, experiencing everything that South-East Asia has to offer, hopefully reaching a warm beach in the south of Thailand in time for Christmas 2016. If you're expecting to be anywhere in South-East Asia between November 2016 and April 2017, send me a message; we might be able to meet up!
Australia (and beyond!)
Originally Australia was the final destination, but now I’m hooked, and I can’t see myself not going further. After crossing this enormous country, and avoiding every dangerous thing that wants to kill me, I’ll check out Tasmania and New Zealand. But from there… who knows? South America? Africa? Alaska? A nice warm bed and a shower in England?
The future is so exciting! Are you coming along for the ride?