The past 10, 000 kilometres have truly brought one challenge after another; from a broken bike, atrocious weather conditions, to having an ongoing knee injury from the punishing ride in Europe. Luckily when I was hit by a tractor on the Iranian/Turkmenistan border last week only a bit of welding was needed (but you will have to wait for my Iranian post for that story!). It’s with complete relief that I look back from here at the Silk Road city of Bukhara, and remember all the beautiful experiences the road has given me these past months. The following moments captured at each thousand reached on the odometer show just a glimpse of these experiences; a small milestone on the bike preserved through the lens of the camera.
I reached 11, 000 while descending from the Julian Alps in Slovenia. It had been an incredible ride to take me up to 1611 metres on the previous evening (my highest summit within Europe). The road had been built by Russian POWs in the First World War, and its tragic history was in complete contrast to the spectacular mountainside and river valley scenery. I had camped just three kilometres earlier between the Soca River and one of many road tunnels used for the seasonal avalanches. My two detours into the Slovenian Alps became one of my best decisions in Europe, and fed my desire for mountain riding!
I camped at 11, 999 km in a farmer’s field, bending over maps and reading various history books to try and work out whether I was in Bosnia and Herzegovina or Serbia. Soon after leaving Sarajevo the language of road signs became suspiciously different, yet my map showed just one country in the region. After traversing through the Croatian, Muslim and Serbian regions of Bosnia and Herzegovina I could feel the tension with the people, despite nearly twenty years since the end of the war; it was a peace that left no one satisfied. One author on the region describes the Balkan people from suffering from a kind of ‘narcissism of minor differences’, and between all the ethnic tension and childish political dramas nothing is really being done to heal the scars of war and conflict. So it turned out that at this moment I was in the Serbian region created at the end of the conflict, and in the afternoon would reach Sutjeska National Park. Sadly the picturesque national park was still littered with mines beside the roadside.
I’m here at 13, 000 with a Macedonian farmer, enjoying a moment off the bumpy road. My whiskers on the moustache had become just long enough to keep the taste from my last meal, and as I rode I could enjoy the flavours of my yoghurt and banana lunch mixed with the trickle of sweat running down my face. I had stayed five nights that week in Treskavec Monastery, enjoying long sunrises and sunsets and doing some volunteer work for the monk. I would later find out that for the third time in history the monastery had burnt down, destroying perhaps one of the most beautiful places in Europe.
In Patras after my bike frame snapped I waited anxiously for about a month for my new bicycle to arrive in the mail. It was mainly due to the kind and generous donations by people around the world following my charity adventure that I was able to continue the ride. After a month off I eagerly rode from the bike shop out of town, only to realise my bags wouldn’t stay on my front panniers. So I’m here failing to fit my old pannier, and it would take some creative alterations at a nearby garage to get me on the road before sunset. It wouldn’t be long before having incorrect positioning on the new bike and overdoing the mountain riding would lead to ligament damage in my right knee.
Riding into Izmir on the Turkish Aegean Coast I reached 15, 000; if I knew how to do Photoshop believe me I would remove this extra finger! Perhaps I was getting ahead of myself and had forgotten how to count…
This was taken at the summit of the highest climb on Turkey’s Black Sea Coast. It was only about two degrees, and with the thick fog it was the perfect time to try out my snow goggles for the first time on the descent. It was nevertheless a freezing descent on probably the most dangerous wet road surfaces of the trip. To celebrate the 16, 000 I guzzled down two Turkish pides, handfuls of baklava, and countless glasses of Cay in Zonguldak.
The endless Black Sea Coast had by now became my nemesis. Alone on the bike in awful wintry weather conditions I pushed myself on the pedals, and by the time I reached Tbilisi in Georgia I noticed that I had had only had one day off since Istanbul! In this image I had at last escaped the demanding mountainside ridges, and it was all flat sailing with beautiful coastal views and tea plantations. At night it became quite tricky camping as every surface was covered in tea plants, and for the first and only time on the trip I was forced to stay in a hotel the following evening due to an appalling combination of rain and wind.
Ancient Armenian wine was noted worldwide for its quality, particularly during the times of the Roman Empire. Needless to say I was anxious to take a sample, and before this picture was snapped I had drank at many of the roadside vino stores in the town of Areni. The apricot vodka was also quite tasty! As I pedalled through this gorge I was kind of all over the place. Ironically, by wobbling around a bit trucks give much more of a wider berth, making the ride much safer!
In the village of Buein Zahra in Iran I was left wondering why it had taken me 19, 000 kilometres to work out to write each thousand milestone on a sheet of paper! Just ten kilometres earlier I had spent hours eating lunch in an Iranian home, and on leaving the grandmother had filled my panniers with delicious chocolates and vegetables. Iranian hospitality reached sensational levels on nearly a daily basis, and was at all times spontaneous and unassuming. I like to think that improving the self is the ultimate aim of travelling, and I hope to retain the positive energy I experienced from countless strangers and friends in Iran.
I reached the twenty thousand kilometre milestone just east of the town of Davarzan in Iran. The wind was literally doubling the workload, and I had little to smile about here except my mad sprint and jump to reach the roof of this mudbrick building. To celebrate I overdosed on ice cream throughout the day, and to escape the wind I spent the night sleeping in a village’s Shiite mosque.
In case you missed my first 10, 000 kilometer post please click here, thanks!