Dated: 05 June 18
In Azerbaijan bread is considered sacred and not to be wasted and it seems that they have found a solution to use up any unwanted bread crumbs, feed any extra to the tourists stuck on the Professor Gul. A mere croutons worth of the stale bread would absorb most of your meagre soup so I was relived to crossed the Caspian Sea, reach Kazakhstan and be released from the grasps of the ferry. Interesting fact of the day, the Caspian Sea is 28 metres below sea level, so the only way is up from here.
Customs came on board and it become apparent that I am definitely in Asia, gone is the Tartar heritage of Azerbaijan and Georgia, the Kazakhstan people clearly owe there origins to the east. Hello Asia and continent number three.
I am extremely behind schedule owing to the delay in Tbilisi which I should have foreseen and I also anticipate a hold up in Almaty when I apply for my Mongolian Visa. So I have some serious ground to catch up and need to average between 180 to 200km per day so call it one – ninety. That seems reasonable enough but I do have to cross the Pamir Mountain range which will certainly see me falling short of the daily mark. That being said I do not wish to miss out on exploring the ancient cities of Bukhara and Samarkand, nor do I want to rush through the Pamir mountains without taking a moment or two to enjoy this epic landscape and take a breath of the fresh mountain air. I am coming round to the fact that I may have to hitch a ride later down the line to reach my Russian crossing as I have been granted a small window to pass through its eastern territories. But in the mean time I will attempt to recapture a day or two.
Thomas, Charles-Henry and I set out from the ferry for what will be my first night ride; we are all eager to get back on the bikes, to eager it seems as I am sure we could afford to wait until morning. The street lights of Aktau flicker into life as we leave the city limits at sunset as we point our handle bars in the direction of the desert. This part of Kazakhstan is oil country, as we crossed the Caspian hundreds of oil rigs dotted the horizon, I literally counted over one hundred in a five minute breather on deck, many of the rigs were just rusting shells left idle once they ran dry. The mainland is refinery country and even has a well or two of its own.
We cycle into the darkening night, its peaceful and the Milky Way reveals its self as we leave the lights behind us. Around us the desert grows and so to does the nights shadows, we cant see it but my nose tells me its out there. The smell reminds me of my time spent in the Middle East, dry air rich with sand that you can almost taste as it subtly settles on the inside of your mouth and up your nostrils. Charles-Henry is a tad over loaded mainly due to his paranoia about the lack of water, he is practically camel shaped with the vast bladder of water he has strapped to his bike and this burden has killed him. At one in the morning we take a time out and he is spent; I have a lot less weighing me down. We chat and decide that I will plod on and part ways with the guys. It is always a pleasure to team up even just for a few short hours.
Thinking out loud as we sip a final cup of instant coffee I say that I will probably just continue until tomorrow afternoon to catch up one or to of those kilometres. Thomas doubts that I have this in me, now deliberately or not he has in sighted my competitive nature and I silently reside to prove him wrong. I leave them there at the petrol station to set up their camp for the night and off I go into the night.
It is rare that you get to whiteness the moon rise, it seems vast, at first I think it is the dome of a great mosque illuminated orange at night but it continues into the sky. I turn my lights off as I ride letting my eyes adjust to the moons pale glow, at first I think I might be dreaming but I swear I see a streak of murky white dash past, cant be seeing things I‘ve not been up that long, then I get a better glimpse – rabbits. As the hours pass by a thin strip of light lines the eastern horizon and growing slowly bringing about the day. It is coldest just before dawn and in the desert it seems freezing, I’m shaking a little despite the effort of riding, I’m yawning to. Perhaps Thomas was right.
A quick tea and an egg or two and I’m back on the road. Half an hour before all I wanted to do was curl up and sleep, I even eyed a bus stop up, but now the sun is up my body is tricked into resetting as if last night was but a dream, the legs are solid and the mind clear.
Deserts aren’t to everyone’s taste, the lack of amenities are a problem, gone are the fresh Georgian mountain streams, I’m lugging enough water for the day and food to boot, I would much rather have it and not need it than the alternative. It is truly beautiful in a parched sort of way. Bactrian camels lazily watch me pass, raising their heads and following me. They are a ragtag bunch and perhaps the most shambolic animals I have ever seen or smelled for that matter. Down wind and you can get a good whiff some twenty metres away, they pong. They look like they are all suffering from an en masse out break of alopecia for they are loosing their winter coats. Their thick, pungent wool hangs off them limply in great clumps, the scruffy buggers are in need of a good shampoo and a brushing. I don’t imagine that wool being particularly soft, one or two have a small Elvis Presley quiff of fur a top their heads or perhaps better a Donald Trump toupee.
Back to the cycling, I did not pick the best day for this endeavour, desert aside things aren’t good. A ferocious wind embassies my progress at every turn. Towering dust devils strafe across the road in front of me, stray to close and you are caught in their vortex and scoured by sand. It is a touch unpleasant as you are forced to see through squinting eyes and breath through pursed lips. If you have never seen a dust devil imagine the swirling plastic bags you might see down an alley behind a supermarket but a few hundred feet high swirl of sand and wind. They are like not so mini twisters and I’m not chasing them but dodging.
It’s not all bad though it seems I have a support team, Charles-Henry is back, looking as French as ever in his navy blue and white stripped T-Shirt. The French gang members watch each others backs and he hitched a ride with a few of the overlanders in a van who were on the ferry with us. I pull over to a mini round of jesting applause like a Tour de France finisher, its great. My support team grind me some fresh Rwandan coffee beans and we all have one last brew together and they kindly stock up my water supplies.
Over the course of the remainder of the afternoon, I’m passed by a few of the motor bikers and 4×4 drivers from the ferry who encourage me on with a honk and a wave. I’m sure many cyclists with their carbon frame bikes would find 200 miles a breeze (carbon-bike wankers) but add the weight of my gear, my easy to weld steel frame, the copious amount of water and food for the desert and things get a touch more weighty. Don’t forget the wind either, but I pitch my tent after about fifteen hours on the bike and four eating, drinking and stretching; I don’t even grown like an old man as I lower myself to the floor. That’s 322km and a new tour PB.