November 5th, 2016 in Xining, China
WE'VE CYCLED TO CHINA!!!
How awesome doesn't that sound? With a few short exceptions, we've pedaled all the way from our front door in the Kingdom of Sweden to China, the Middle Kingdom. We've crawled through deserts and climbed over mountains. We've sweated away under the blazing sun and fought against mind numbing headwinds. It both sounds and feels just a bit crazy. But we've made it; we've cycled to China!
But this post isn't about China; we just had to get that off our chests. Before we could get to China we had to go through Kazakhstan. Not a huge chunk of the country but a chunk to be crossed nevertheless. To be perfectly honest, our knowledge of Kazakhstan didn't stretch much further than… well Borat.
But that has never stopped us before and Kazakhstan was business as usual; just another normal day. And that got us thinking. What have “a normal day” come to mean to us over the last seven months? What is our typical day at the office? Well, it usually goes something like this:
Much like old people, our alarm clock is usually set to go off around the same time as it starts to get lighter outside. (We simply don't have it in us to start our day in the dark if we don't have to.) We wake up… in a sense…
After half an hour of snoozing we gather our strength, unzip our sleeping bags and get dressed for the day. While Robin packs our sleeping gear, Ida prepares brekkie.
Breakfast (outside the tent if the weather allows it and inside if it's cold or moist) often consist of overnight oats (which Robin is starting to despise). If we have been able to get our hands on some bread or yogurt the day before, we might have that instead/as well. Honey, Nutella, jam and peanut butter have become standard spreads.
We pack our stuff, brush our teeth and lastly take down the tent in hopes that the morning sun has had enough time to zap away the condensation that has built up during the night.
We emerge from whatever hideout we've made our home for the night, get on our saddles and start cycling!
We continue cycling...
If the shoulder is wide enough or the traffic sparse enough, we ride side by side, chatting about everything and nothing. If we are forced to ride in a row we usually turn to audio entertainment in the form of music, audiobooks and podcasts.
While we pedal along we keep our energy levels up by stuffing our faces with snickers, fruit, nuts and cookies… or whatever else is available.
You guessed it…cycling
When snacks just is enough and we start feeling the need for some proper food we stop and eat at a restaurant. Or we wish it was that simple… If we are lucky there is a nearby restaurant/café and we eat whatever they serve. If there is no such nearby restaurant we keep going until one appears. Or if there really is no restaurant nearby we cook ourselves. However, cooking our own lunch is something we try to avoid as it takes time; time we would rather spend cycling (or doing basically anything else)…
With recharged batteries, we get back on our saddles and continue cycling.
Surprise surprise, we do some more cycling!
If we pass a village or petrol station in the afternoon we tend to stop for snacks. During the hotter parts of our trip this often meant ice cream but these days it's usually coffee and cookies. This is also a good time to stock up on groceries for dinner.
Trying to make the most of that sugar high, we cycle some more.
About an hour before dusk we start looking for a place to set up camp. Preferably we want to find a spot that is well hidden and some distance from the road. We therefore tend to look for a small track leading away from the main road. But sometimes we don't have any choice but to put up the tent too close and too visible from the road. In Central Asia this was never a problem as they have a strong history of nomads. In Iran however, if we were not hidden we were always disturbed. This made finding a good spot problematic as it is hard to hide in the desert…
Once we've found a suitable spot we do the obvious thing and pitch the tent. If the ground isn't suitable for tent pegs we simply tie each end to a bicycle.
Doing the dishes on the road is somewhat different from back home. With no running water we usually settle for wiping everything down with toilet paper… not the best but it works. Just for the record, we do clean our gear properly once we reach a hostel.
If we are having overnight oats for breakfast we prepare that in our thermoses.
Ida writes down the distance and climb we covered during the day in our log book together with a short description of the day at large. Robin enters our GPS coordinates in our map-app.
Once again, just like old people, we hit the sack. If it's been a hard day (read: headwinds or uphill) this is also when we fall asleep. If the day hasn't been quite as draining we might watch a tv-serie, a movie or do some light reading on our Kindles.
And Kazakhstan was a lot like this; just normal days. This doesn't make it especially memorable or interesting when you try to write about it but our experience of Kazakhstan was generally good nevertheless.
The people were kind. We got the usual free food from lovely restaurant- and shop owners and stray fruit and snacks from people we met on the road.
Almaty delivered coffee shops and restaurants at every corner with a western vibe we haven't felt since Istanbul.
We had the usual weird events like (maybe) being interviewed by Kazakhstan TV. (We'll get back to you if this proves to be true.)
We saw a horse-mounted brawl over a headless goat blasting by us on the road (We think this must have been kokboru).
And of course we had photo sessions with random strangers on the road.
But mostly we prepared ourselves both physically and mentally for the challenge to come. We looked forward, bracing ourselves for China. More on that next time…