‘Don’t forget to look up!’ cheered Marina as I cycled away from her ancient tumbledown family home nestled among majestic maple trees on a hill above the medieval city of Telavi. I’d arrived in the principal town of Kakheti with the intention of visiting Tusheti and the Caucasus Mountains for a spot of hiking. Meeting Marina on a hot Friday afternoon had changed my mind.
We approached the Uzbek border, full of trepidation, in the knowledge that a full and detailed search would be made of our entire luggage. An ‘illegal’ item, such as codiene, or a topless snap of a girlfriend, would result in a ‘fine’, or more plainly, baksheesh, a bribe. I was in company with Jonas and Emma, having left Dushanbe together, early on Tuesday morning. We were already nervous, since an earlier mishap at the Tajik border post; I’d forgotten to get my GBAO permit extended, consequently, the guard threatened, several times, to send me back to Dushanbe to get the necessary stamp; a 160 kilometre round trip I was loathe to entertain. I repeatedly shouted and pointed at the dates in my passport until, some 20 minutes later, the guard relented, allowing me to join Jonas and Emma on the short cycle to the Uzbekistan border crossing.
”Well this is all about my problems to get out of drugs,
cause I had enough of that,
I’ve had the college,
I’ve had the earning the money,
and the material trip,
I just decided I was going to find a new way of life
And so I took off on my bicycle…”
I was alone, one week out of Khorog, on the edge of madness through exertion and hunger, when this song came on my little portable sound system. It reminded me of university. The lyrics, the sentiment and the cheerful riff – the memory – made me smile at my immediate situation. I had indeed taken off on my bicycle; I was certainly finding a new way of life; eat, sleep, cycle, repeat. It was one of those moments that I’ll always remember. If you can, put that track on now, as you read all about the Pamir Highway Social Club.
Before I crossed the bustling, semi forested no mans land from Banbasa to the Nepalese border patrol office in Bhimdatta, I joined the masses of locals taking a dip in the Sharda Mahakali river. It was a sunny Sunday afternoon. It was nearly summertime. The fast flowing river felt deeply cleansing as it powered it’s way downstream. A fitting end to my four months in India. Nepali/Indian borders are porous which means both nationalities come and go, seemingly, as they please. This made the remote far western crossing a busy trade hub for the locals on both sides.
The cycle from Kalka to Rishikesh was hot, dusty and very hilly. My welcome back to the bike after six weeks of train hopping around India (Kolkota to Goa to Kalka) was exactly as anticipated; really hot and really hard. I tried to trick myself that it was good to be back on the bike but it was no use. The ride out of Kalka was a steep ascent headed for Shimla. I tried in vain to get my bike on the toy train, I stopped repeatedly for chai, hoping the bike might ride itself up the hill, it didn’t. The day grew hotter, my legs grew tired and the bike remained heavy and unwieldy. Fuck this! Just fuck it. I sat at the side of the road on a low wall and had a nice stretch and looked out over the wide valley. That’s when I met Dan. Dan was cheerfully pedalling up the road towards Shimla in the height of the day’s heat. He pulled over to chat.
High up above the town of Kiphire we were given an ominous warning; ‘you can’t go that way’ said the hulking mass of man in charge of the guest house, ‘it’s too dangerous, many rebels, insurgents, the road is blocked’. We thanked him for his concern and went to bed. We were committed to that route, since it was the only direct road to Mon and we’d crossed 134km of rutted dirt track to reach our present location- returning the same way was, in my mind, absolutely, completely out of the fucking question.
Greetings from Hanoi!
You may well l ask how the heck did I get from London to Vietnam so quickly? Allow me to explain. After 56 days, 5 hours and 27 minutes in the saddle, 357 litres of water and 124 bowls of pasta I arrived in Istanbul. For those of you interested in statistics, here’s a few for you; I’ve cycled 4,554km crossed eleven countries and it’s taken 70 days including 14 rest days, some of which were leisurely, some more city break. I’m seven kilos lighter, two inches taller and I’ve grown a beard.
Leaving Tirana I headed once again for the coast; the lure of simple navigation, keeping the ocean to the right hand side, the relative ease of camping on the beach; the guarantee of a swim morning, noon and evening and the promise of boundless sunsets made for an easy choice.
It was three o’clock in the after noon when Alan and I crossed the border at Koptik to pass from Montenegro to Albania. We had just cycled what I believe to be the finest road since departing the UK. After a relaxed lunch on the beach at Petrovac we began a two and a half hour ascent from the coast into the clouds of the searing hot mountainside.
Having crossed the Alps in some pretty cold weather Kyle and I agreed to spend a few days at Lake Bled to rest our legs and enjoy the scenery. Slovenia is a very beautiful country and Lake Bled is the centre of attention, popular with tourists from across the globe. We arrived on Friday evening to a busy lake and expensive campsite. Chatting with a few folks on the grass down by the water we learned that the hostel over in town would cost less and provide much more. So with our new friends Lauren and Kendall we set off to check in at the Castle 1004 hostel.