We are now half way through our ride around the world. Since leaving our teaching jobs at Tashkent International School, we have cycled over 12,000 kilometres through 11 countries.
Not the entire 12 months have been spent actually on our bicycles, it is just not that simple. Over a month was spent in certain cities waiting and resting, normally for visas or extensions. Two weeks were spent in sick beds in Northern Laos, a month off to see our families at Christmas, and really our one year is more like nine months on the road. I think this is quite typical, and we still consider ourselves successful in crossing much of the biggest landmass in the world.
A friend asked me the other day whether this trip is proving to be all I had hoped it would be. Looking back, I was disappointed with the brief answer I gave, so here are some more considered answers –
i.) If I answer that question based on the experience of a year touring this part of the world on our bicycles, then yes, pedalling in a mainly easterly direction from Uzbekistan to Lombok, has indeed been wonderful in its truest sense. It has also been adventurous and therefore rewarding; passing from high plateaus and densely forested islands, to featureless deserts and climbing between snow-capped peaks. There have been dangers such as busy roads and violent provinces, but measured consideration of the safest routes and most sensible riding time gave us an inner-peace that we are grown-ups and responsible for ourselves.
ii.) If my friends question was more about the places and people rather than the ride, then I think my preconceptions of Asia; that it is heavily populated, polluted and runs at a frenetic pace, were correct. But there have certainly been some pleasant surprises.
Kyrgyzstan’s sublime mountain-scape, it’s winding rubble roads up and down mountain passes for instance, were unforgettable.
Cycling near much of the Mekong river from China’s Yunnan province, through Laos, Cambodia and southern Vietnam was special too. It was as if the river became our friend, not only confirming that we were heading in the right direction, but also provided some reassurance that we were getting closer to our goal of Ho Chi Minh. The river slowly widened from a cascading body of water, not much more than a stream, to what looked more like an ocean towards its delta.
iii.) Perhaps my friends question was less about the geography and more about the physical challenge. In which case – we have done well. We have dealt with the dry bbq-like 50 degrees celsius desert heat of the Kyzl-kum and Taklamakan deserts. As well as the boiling, dripping, shrivelling humidity nearer the equator. We have had a wide range of physical human experiences too, from feeling fit as fiddles and strong as oxen, to faint, weak and disorientated.
I recently wrote about our trusty steeds in another post (link). They have been fantastic but also like dead weights sometimes. I have been reminded, more frequently than ever, that much of the challenges we face in our lives can be overcome by a positive mindset. Our pace has been good overall so we have been able to take time in places we loved and have blasted through those we did not.
The next stage in North America will be the penultimate in my 18 year attempt to circumnavigate the planet. 40,000km is the goal, and with about 10,000km left as we prepare for this long next leg, we are looking good to achieve this by summer 2019. Administration waits should be less of a problem on this next stage so our Christmas breaks with our families should be our only significant pauses, allowing for plenty of pure pedalling. We are also considering Cuba and the Caribbean in the new year, perhaps even some of central America, but right now the distance is the goal, and of course we will want to leave some parts of the world for exploring in the more distant future.
It is definitely the case that we are now living with a new rhythm. It used to be a rather busy beat, with long awaited silences to get our breath back in school holidays. Now, it seems we are both more easy going. I have noticed that I have become less worried about things, less edgy and stressed, and the need that I lived with for the last 10 years of dealing with everything immediately, has at least a little bit, abated. I feel calmer in myself, having had time to think, and good about my health as I enter the latter part of my 30’s. We have both enjoyed the experience of riding through foreign lands immensely. Sometimes different cultures and their ‘normal’ is a little bit hard to accept and deal with, so yes, from time to time we have felt a little bit travel fatigued, but nothing a good bike ride the next day couldn’t solve. I am sure that all of these little niggles will be the basis for many a daydream when we look back and chuckle in the future. Our relationship is stronger than ever. I think the sense of accomplishing this together added something that we were not expecting and we are both in a wonderful place mentally about our breaks with family and the dream of cycling through prairies on traffic free routes, camping in meadows and breathing fresh air.