A reflection on being 2/3rds of the way home!
Loveliest campsite: Ureki, Georgia. After cycling 161km I found a grassy area right next to the black sand beach on the coast of the Black Sea. In the morning the family who were camping nearby brought Jaye and I coffee after a swim in the sea. Bliss after being landlocked for 4 months.
The view from the loveliest campsite
Number one country to return to: So far it is Kazakhstan. After spending 5 days in Almaty waiting for a visa, I really want to visit Astana, the capital.
Most challenging circumstance: China. Being lost at 13,000 feet when Jaye’s brakes failed on a 34km gravel downhill in the pouring rain late at night. We were both freezing cold and had no idea where the next town was as my map was crap. The sun went down and we ended up pushing our bikes in the pitch black and then wrestling with the undergrowth in torch light to put up the tent a few metres from the road. We were both suffering from altitude sickness and extreme exhaustion but had no food to eat and very little water. The sounds of the forest and my imagination kept me awake most of the night, scared, tired and nauseous.
Tastiest local food discovery: Beer cheese in Kazakhstan. Stringy, smoked cheese which is pan fried and then you squeeze lemon over it and eat it with a cold local beer.
Best country for cycling: Georgia, apart from the head-winds and the drivers! This is a country that I would highly recommend to cycle tourers for its incredible hospitality, good roads, diverse scenery and cheap wine.
Good roads and lovely scenery
Worst country for cycling: China due to the bad roads, terrible pollution and unfriendly drivers.
One thing you wish you had in your panniers: Prescription sunglasses, chamois cream, electrolytes and a hip flask!
One thing you wish you had left behind: I could probably live without my Thermarest camping chair!
Worst border crossing experience: China to Kazakhstan. It was late in the evening and I had already cycled over 100 kilometres and there were big queues at the border. The police ushered us through narrow gates and ordered us to remove all bags with haste. Then, they announced that my bike and me had to board a bus, yes a bus! There were about 500 people waiting for buses and I couldn’t communicate with anybody and none of the police wanted to help. Finally after 2 hours a couple of men helped to shove the bike into the coach and after 10 minutes I was in Kazakhstan.
Most memorable moment so far: It was one day in China and I had been climbing almost solidly for 3 days, I had been sick for 6 days prior to this day and was just generally totally knackered. I could tell I was reaching the top of the pass and as I got closer to the tree line at 3000 metres, I heard such a loud noise. As I turned into the last switchback all I could see around me was bright, beautiful Tibetan prayer flags, just like the ones I used to have in my bedroom(!) The wind picked up and the sound of the flags in the trees was deafening. I felt so alone and so small but so invigorated, I had never imagined I would be on a mountain like this, in a scene straight out of a photo in a coffee-table book.