I am still in the process of assembling gear and while this can be fun, it is also quite exhausting. And expensive, at least when looking at the sum total. Based on recommendations by other long-distance cyclist, I am trying to set priorities of which things I need in excellent quality (many parts of my bike), which can be ok quality and which ones can be cheap knock-offs.
Bike shoes were in my middle to last category. Yes, I want to be able to pedal well and have shoes that are comfortable for walking stretches inbetween. But not at any price. After a long search all over Berlin, I finally slipped into a pair that fit really well. And was really not in the price range I wanted them to be in. There was another pair at a reduced price which fit well, but not as remarkably well. The vendor had peppered me for quite while with questions about my trip (most of them in utter disbelief about why on earth I would do this). When I mentioned that these shoes were actually not in my price range, he looked at me sternly: ‘Listen, if you are crazy enough to go for this trip and do so alone, I want you to have the best-fitting shoes that can be found’. Said this and handed me a voucher for a discount. There are some very kind and helping people out there. Thanks so much! My feet already love you for this!
It has been a rough couple of days… Essentially, I am getting into that part of the preparation phase, when you realize that you do not have many fallback plans anymore. Things work out in time. Or they don’t. For some journeys, it is actually quite doable and not a big deal if you forgot an item – simply get it at your country of destination. For this particular journey, this is not an option – once I am on my bike in the middle of nowhere in Central Asia, I will have few possiblities to make up for anything I forgot. This is particularly true for the Pamir mountains, where I will rely heavily on everything I brought. No chance to get anything beyond that. If I forgot something, I won’t have it. If it fails, it fails.
This morning was ruled by panic mode. The kind of ‘why on earth did I not take care of this and that a month earlier? why does this have to be such a close call? what if…?’. Not helpful, in particular when time is scarce. But then, a friend of mine reminded me that this is part of my trip. I am mentally already on my way. If I panick now, this is a good excercise. Right now, I still have resources at hand, friends who help me out, shops and fast internet around that can help me solve things. I will certainly have those break-down moments up in the mountains, when I will have to rely on my self to sort things out. In rational. non-panic mode. And I will.
Another aspect of panic phases: they have to happen. I have rarely had a long journey, when this did not occur at some point. There is no point in ignoring it, as it will just pop up again. I usually give myself a time limit. 12 hours of self-pity or drama. Usually, I am sick of that a lot earlier and can move on. It worked this time as well, fortunately. Back into working mode. Keep your fingers crossed for me – still an awful lot to do!
PS: I took the photo in winter 2014 during my last visit of Prague, Czech Republic
Holy cow – I just booked my flight! A decision long postponed, long debated (which airlines transports bikes? where to fly to?), and then delayed by more than an hour due to the complications of the booking service of the airline. BUT: I now have a flight for starting my expedition! Hurray! This already feels a gazillion times more real than anything else I have done so far (except getting my bike).
In the end, I decided not start in China, but in Kyrgyzstan – still an important silk road country, a lot easier and cheaper to reach and a lot less restrictive in terms of visa. Plus, I do not have to start my expedition crossing one of the most hostile deserts of this planet. Learning from experiences – be nice to yourself :-). In particular, be nice to yourself when you are getting yourself into an adventure which is a complete novelty for you. So I will start my trip in the mountains of Kyrgyzstan and not the deserts of China.
Leaving for Central Asia on September 2nd. Unbelievably excited!
Where will I cycle EXACTLY? Route planning – something, I believed I could put off until late. Until I realized that quite a few gear questions depend on factors that are determined by the roads/paths I take: At which altitudes will I be? Which temperature range? Which chance of snow in the mountains? Is rain more likely or dust?
- On the upside: I learned a lot of quite critical facts in the last days, saving me from making wrong gear decisions. On the downside: Going throughthese questions made me feel slightly stupid and naiv. Some of the lessons I learned:
- Some electronic hardware will be prone to fail at these altitude.
- I will face more 4,000m (13,000ft) passes than I ever thought I would tackle by bike.
- I am likely to face snow at some point (and also potentially some wolves, if I cannot avoid it)
- Getting any internet connection in Central Kyrgyzstan and through most of Tajikistan will prove… interesting ;-).
If any of you has advice on how gear copes with altitudes above 4,000m (kindle, smartphone, camera, etc), do let me know.
PS: I took the photo on a journey from Dunhuang to Golmud (China) a few years back. Yes, the roads I will face now won’t be as nicely paved most of the time…
Small absurdities of travel planning…
If you are travelling solo in remote areas, you have a certain need (and your family & friends as well): having a big, red rescue button that you could press when things go very wrong (picture a broken leg somewhere off the road in high altitude wilderness.. there are more pleasant ways to die, I guess). Now, there are very powerful devices for exactly this, called PLBs (personal locator beacons), which are relayed to local search and rescue teams. Great technology, based on a network of military satellites, that has already saved more than 30,000 lives!
Now, this sounds like a device I should be getting, right? Well, it needs to be registered in your country of residence. And the German authorities decided that Germany has no wilderness nor very remote regions without cell phone coverage – so no registration is needed. Fantastic! What about citizens who travel abroad? I have spent quite some time calling ministeries, the German army, several shops concerned with rescue devices. The answer seems to be: Germans do not need to be rescued. I COULD register, if I had an airplane or boat (aka search and rescue for air traffic and sea). Bikes are not on the agenda. And I have no intentions of buying a boat for that (maybe a canoe??).
Now, I will have to search for a country that is kind enough to let a poor German cyclist register. Or maybe I can convince the German army… (option A is more likely, I guess… ;-)).
Well, well… There was this gorgeous idea, that spontaneously popped up: European championships of ultimate frisbee are happening this week in Copenhagen and a lot of very good friends of mine are playing there, many of them for the German national teams. And those are doing really well, each on their path to winning a medal. As you can imagine, I would have loved to be there to watch games, particularly finals.
So, when I did not get the lifestream to work two days ago, a friend of mine and me spontanteously came up with the idea ‘why don’t we simply cycle to Copenhagen to watch the games live?’. What an electrifying idea! Combining my trial tour with viewing European Championships!
A day filled with whirlwind action and last minute planning later (plus a visit to my physician), I had to face the truth: even though I could have pulled this off in terms of quickly getting the missing gear, there are too many urgent things on my todo list now which cannot be postponed. After all, this whole trip (including stretches by train) would have taken almost a week. Plus, as my physician told me yesterday, I injured one of my joint capsules in my latest accident. Which explains why I cannot walk without pain. Well, cycling roughly 600km might not have been that much fun… In particular since this has to heal well before I head off to Asia.
Sometimes, the truth is a lot less fun than spontaneous actions… But I am there in spirit, dear EUC-playing friends!
I am sure all of you had had situations with parents or loved ones who were concerned about what you were doing at some point of your life [If not, maybe they were good in concealing their feelings, or maybe you have not dared greatly enough. In the latter case, you could think about which project you always deemed to crazy to try – and then go ahead and realize them :-).]
In any case, telling my parents about this trip was an important milestone. It was a long process (6 years!) for me to step into my fears and dreams, to dare making this real. So who am I to expect my parents to fully play along from the first moment I told them? My mother’s first reaction in April was to question my sanity. She told me that she had always thought I was joking when I had mentioned the idea of this trip earlier. I had not gotten such a reaction ever since my first journey to India when I was 20 (i.e., quite some time back)… well, this adventure now is also quite a step ahead from all the previous adventures I have taken.
Last week, I was visiting my parents. And my mother handed me some bungee cords she had bought, telling me that I might need those for my bike ride. That was a really emotional moment for me, the manifestation that she had accepted that this is going to happen. In a way, also a manifestation of how my family works together: a lot of personal freedom, but even more mutual support, no matter whether we fully dendorse every one of our projects or not.
Hurray for changing visa regulations! And hurray for Kazachstan! I was biting my nails to see whether they would change their visa regime again – and the embassy announced that the decision would be made on July 15. And guess what? From today on till Dec 31, 2017, German nationals can enter the country for 15 days without a visa :-).
Visa applications can be a hassle for any journey. But in particular for longer overland trips, the timing of all the visa is somewhat of an experiment… Trying to estimate when I enter which country, filling out a lot of forms, getting even more passport photos, … Now I have one item less on my todo list- brilliant!
In fact, quite a few of the countries along the Silk road have eased the bureaucratic burdens of visiting in recent years. Nowadays, you can spend up to 60 days in Kyrgystan without needing a visa (as a EU citizen, at least). And the visa for Azerbaijan is issued by e-mail. So overall, I surely cannot complain :-).