Hi, welcome to the road. To find out what is going on, please click on any of the markers and this will bring up the blog post for that day. Once the trip has finished there will be a story post below picking out our favourite bits from the trip. I hope you enjoy, and if you have any comments or suggestions please contact me 😄
Our team of 9 dedicated students cycled from Xi’an to Tashkent in July and August 2015. We followed the northern Silk route on the outskirts of China, across the borders of Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan into Uzbekistan for 3000 miles, while also supporting two charities - the Elnura Foundation and Fauna & Flora International. The Elnura Foundation provides aid to children and the elderly in Kyrgyzstan, where there is little support from the government, through education, healthcare and financial relief. Fauna and Flora International addresses environmental conservation work and we will be working with them to support their protection of the heavily endangered Snow Leopard that inhabits the areas we’ll be visiting. If you're interested in what we're doing, want to find out more, or want to help us out, then email STAAG at firstname.lastname@example.org
Off the Road Story
Tough, hot and long sections but all worth it for spectacular scenery, fascinating culture, and friendly people. A route that I would highly recommend to do either by bike or by car to learn more about the cultural history and see the geographic wonders of the area. If you are thinking about cycling it, you will need to be prepared and have a reasonably good mechanical knowledge for if things go wrong as you can be quite remote at many sections of the journey.
Another big challenge of the route is that it is linguistically diverse, starting with Mandarin moving to Russian, with many local languages in-between. English will not be understood in a large amount of the areas, so have a translation app or a good old-fashioned vocab book with you to help. A point book or flash cards are invaluable to communicate simple, common ideas. Here are a few anecdotes and things we learnt from our trip.
Problems do happen
A running theme of the trip was health problems. One thing to remember when on a large expedition like this is that it is temporary and if you miss out on places due to illness you can always come back to a place if you want to. Taking a break from cycling and finding alternative transport for a couple of days early on may save your trip in the long term rather than struggling and no longer being able to continue the trip entirely. Being in a foreign country with a strange climate, eating an unusual diet can make you feel funny at the best of times, but when you put 10 hours in the saddle on top of that it is not surprising that the body might protest a little. This unfortunately manifested mostly in one of our team members.
We started off with no problems really, little loss of appetite from different members and getting into the rhythm of cycling took a couple of days, but nothing that was unexpected. This all passed over the first rest day and we were able to power on straight after, but things were about to turn. The diet of noodles and stew is not a common one to us coming from the west, and with heavy exercise it is very easy to become dehydrated so upset stomachs were inevitable. The severity with one member meant that we had to try the local hospitals but the language barrier was too much, so we used antibiotics from the UK, which we had training in prior to our trip, but this only provided temporary improvement. Finally we made it to the city of Zhangye where the hostel, Home Inn, had a receptionist that spoke excellent English. He took us to the local new hospital where they couldn't find the specific problem but were able to prescribe medication. They were able to tell us, however, that she had kidney stones.
We tried rest days and splitting the group to allow as many of us to continue on the road as possible, but eventually it became clear that continuing on the road was not an option so she had to drop out. This is probably the most difficult decision that you can make on an expedition. Months of planning and expectation to be cut short, but damaging your body too much will mean that greater future opportunities will be missed. This doesn't mean that when things get tough quit, but know when your body gives you a month of constant diarrhoea and kidney stone that cycling may not be the best option for that time and it is something you should revisit.
People are great
With all of my trips, I like to reflect on the people we met along the way. As always there were far too many kindhearted, helpful individuals to go through each individual story. We were lucky enough to meet up with the Elnura Foundation who were so kind to accommodate and show us the great work they do. Please visit their website to find out more.
When travelling you expect to meet the locals but there are many other explorers dong the same thing as you with large multinational communities on the road. We were fortunate to meet a few on the road but I was able to join a rag tag group that I had met on the road. After Tashkent I continued to explore Uzbekistan for a little solo trip as I had graduated and had no time restrictions. I had made it to Samarkand and the hostel I was aiming for where it turned out there were a few other cyclists: Stephen Fabes, Kay Makishi, and Charles Brands. They had all been travelling across Asia taking various routes, with Stephen having been on the road for nearly 6 years on his epic Cycling the 6 global adventure (click to find out more). As we were heading in the same direction we decided to join up for a couple of days, however Kay didn't have her bike with her so she bought some roller blades.
Only on the road does pulling someone with a fully laden bicycle over 300km between Samarkand and Bukhara seem like a sensible idea but we set off making it all the way despite the roller blades being stolen before the last day (Kay was put on Charlie's pannier rack and his bags were put on my trailer). The camaraderie between the four of us, who had started as individuals and met by chance, meant that we were willing to help to make once in a lifetime memories.
If you are interested in seeing more from the trip, click on the tags for daily summaries or visit the gallery. Also, let me know about your own trips and experiences in the comments.