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The big question everyone asks (as well as why)

To start this story lets go back to the first seeds that turned into the sapling of a trip that it is at the moment. We were both keen to do some travelling together for years now, but with the stress of university and finincial strains, we were never finding the perfect window to make it happen. We looked at various places to go, but we were getting disgruntled with the very nature of travel as we knew it – easy flights to far flung places which completely bipassed the sense of adventure and place that we wanted to experience as part of being away from what we see as so familiar – luxuries and lifestyles that are too easy to take for granted. We have both seen some of the world already in this manner, and were craving a greater sense of adventure.

The idea of long distance stemmed from much talk around us of endurance trips such as the Mongol Rally – the great race from london to Ulanbaatar. The thought of buying a old banger and pushing it through several thousand miles on a shoestring gave us many late nights of fantasy, mostly down to the dreams of adventure but also to how we could modify and build into the car a means to live (god damn architects)

The small fact that I couldnt drive was the beginning of the decline of the car fantasy. Julian was hesitant to the idea from the outset, as he felt the notion of driving would ultimately leave us disconnected from the environment we were passing through. Plus driving is boring. He instead suggested the idea of cycling, and I thought he was mad. ‘Surely no one in their right mind would want to cycle several thousand miles round the world!’ a small internet search proved very much otherwise, and the seeds were beginning to be scattered.

Once an idea gets in your head and it starts to grow, it can be a very difficult thing to purge… and here we are today, fully committed to cycle touring in the name of adventure. Many think we’re mad to be on a bike for so long – The very thought of the idea when I first heard of it was completely absurd – but when you think about it, it really isnt that rediculous. I calculated last week that in 7 months of commuting from Stoke Newington to Kings Cross I have cycled the equivalent of London to Vienna! Of course we’re planning to go much further than Vienna but it makes you stop and think for a minute.

For a trip like this it ultimately boils down to the state of mind you are in. While you are on the bike, that is your life. Every day is about cycling. There is nothing else to do except hit the road and aim for the next village / camping spot / meal / drink. When you adopt that mentality, I’m sure the miles will fly by. Of course that is all speculation, but its a good and encouraging thought.

So on to the route…

We always wanted to go to Asia. The appeal of the Middle East was strong for Julian because he had been there several times as a kid, and the chance to go back being older and wiser was exciting. India has always fascinated me, with its rich food and incredible history. I have been exposed to a lot of Indian culture through friends and kites and the opportunity to cycle there was equally attractive.

We intially planned on ending our trip in Delhi (big city, nice and easy / obvious place we thought) but reading into Delhi proves it to be anything but nice and easy. The prospect of hitting the crescendo of the adventure in an overcrowded and hectic city like Delhi became very unattractive, so we turned elsewhere, finally ending up at Kathmandu.

Inspired by the many accounts of great cycling in Nepal, the warm culture of the Nepalese and the great stories from Peter Gostelow, this became the perfect place to finish our trip.

Getting there however is fraught with unknowns and many dangers. Picking a route and studying it meticulously is key to our success.

In all the months of route planning, reading and preparation, I have broken the trip down into several stretches, of varying difficulty, that make it easy to understand and mediate:

Stretch 1: Western Europe

One of the best things about starting in the UK is the nice run in you get as you go East. The land is flat and the weather is temperate – the perfect stage to acclimatise to being on a bike and get the fitness levels up before it gets more challenging. We are starting from London, heading down to Dover before crossing the channel to Calais. Apparantly the stretch to Calais is quite tough, particularly if you do it in a day, but like I said its a good opportunity to get accustomed!

From Calais we head East through France and Luxembourg and into the German Bavaria. Nice rolling hills and green pastures (plus beer) to get us going. We aim to get to Vienna for a break, where I have family in residence, before we start stage 2.

Stretch 2: The Danube

From Vienna we head to Budapest, where we will spend some time securing some visas (Iran) before heading south to hit the Danube. According to Alastair Humphreys, this is some great cycling; we can follow the river all the way to Bulgaria, taking in its beuatiful meandering course as it winds through Hungary, Serbia (even Novi Sad, where I spend many a hangovers at Exit festival laying on its shoreline) and Bulgaria. We will stop in Sofia for a time before heading to the Turkish border and towards Istanbul

Stretch 3: Turkey and the Black Sea

This is a critical point in the trip, and one that can affect the outcome of where we may end up as a result. Istanbul is in a unique location as the centre point of many destinations. from here we can head East into Turkey and follow our planned route through Iran – we can also head north into Romania, Ukraine, Russia and Kazakhstan, or head south into Sudan, Jordan and into Africa. Depending on the political situation in the middle east, this will be the place at which we make the decision to carry on or change course.

Another factor affecting this decision is weather. We will most likely be in Istanbul around December, and Turkish winter is no joke. Crossing the Ukraine in winter is even less of a joke, so that effectively rules that out. Going south is a good option as its warmer, although southern Turkey is moutainous and extremely cold , particularly in the east where the ground is covered in snow from Novemeber to April. If we stick to our preferred route, we need to hug the coast of the Black Sea, where it is warmest (average temperature through winter in 7 deg C, whereas in Erzerum in the south it is -5). The cost of the Black Sea is also flat and beautiful so it should be some good, if slightly nippy, cycling.

Stretch 4: Iran

Once we get to the east of Turkey its time to cross into Iran. Hopefully we would have no trouble with the Visas and passage into the country will be smooth. Ideally we would head east and north towards the Caspian Sea, before dropping south past Tehran and towards Shiraz and Esfahan. This area is quite unknown to us, and one of the less researched stages at the moment. From what I do know however, it is very populated with lots of the prominant Iranian cities nested in the area. It is also very beautiful with a rich Persian heritage, with ruins and temples everywhere.

Stretch 5: Kavir Desert

Probably the most greulling section of the trip, crossing the mighty Kavir desert in the east of Iran. There is not much by the way of setttlement in this desert, and it was recently described to me as one of the most miserable places on earth. There is a road that crosses it, linking up small villages from Yazd to Mashhad. where there are people there is water, and where the is civilisation there is not so much misery. although it will be challenging, I cant help but feel it will also be the most rewarding stage (as we learned on our cycle to Dorset, the hardest parts are always the best)

Stretch 6: Turkmenistan

Still in the desert, but with the added pressure of time constraint, we will have to cross this quite vast and barren country in a matter of days due to visa constraints. Current visa restrictions depict that you can only obtain a transit visa of 5 to 8 days through Turkmenistan. With the Uzbekistan border being 800 miles away, that will be some tough and long cycling. We do however have terrain on our side, as it is completly flat. heres to optimism!

Stretch 7: Central Asia

Another section that needs some more research, but we will basically head for Samarkand and beyond to Dashanbe. Depending on what the situation is in Kyrgystan we will keep south, though not too south as we are in the territory of the Afghan border as well. Although this section sounds risky, these are former Soviet states and by nature very warm and friendly people. This should be one of the most rewarding and beautiful stretches.

Stretch 8: Karakoram Highway

One of the big reasons why we want to go through central Asia – The Karakorum highway (or silkroad) is a delivery road that connects Kyrgyzstan with Pakistan and China. It is widely regarded as some of the best cycling in the world (cycling the roof of the world). It is closed however for half of the year from November to May due to avalanches, so we are hoping to arrive at its gate in 1st May to see it newly open for the year. Cycling down this road will take us past (but not into) Afghanistan and into western China, then back out again and into Northern Pakistan.

Stretch 9: Pakistan and Kashmir

One of the most volatile sections of the trip. We will come off the Silk road before it descends into the NWFP and head west towards Jammu and Kashmir. This is of course an unpredictable area of the world, but there are many great stories of cycling through this area. However, if we find that it is not possible, we will head north towards Tibet or venture further south into Eastern Pakistand and around Kashmir into India. Or we can take a bus. We will see what happens

Stretch 10: India and Chandigarh

Once we are in India the first port of call is Chandigarh, Corbusiers city, which falls conveniently on ourr route to Kathmandu. From here we head south east and into western Nepal

Stretch 11: Nepal and Kathmandu

Cycling through the foothills of the Himalayas will be a sight to behold. we will be fit enough by then to cope with any rugged terrain as we make our final push for Kathmandu, where we will revel in the fact that we actually made it (provided we havent passed out from exhaustion) then catch a flight back to London to tell the story

according to google earth, the length of the trip would fall just short of 10,00m km. this would be fine if we cycled in a straight line on a flat surface, on a sunny day with perfect navigation skills! doubling the distance gives a rough estimate of what we should expect to cover.

18,000 km sounds like a long way when you think about it as one big number, but if you break it down it becomes less overwhelming.We are currently planning on attempting this trip over 10 months, so rougly 300 days. thats 60 km a day. there will not doubt be days where we wont be on the move or where we can only cover 5km, but there will also be days where we could do 140km.  its all swings and roundabouts, but tight planning will be crucial so we dont fall short and come home early!

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