The Blog

Day 251

So here's the deal. I just need to leave China and then reenter in order to get a fresh 3 months on my visa. It doesn't matter how long I'm out of China, just need to leave and return. So I hopped on a flight, got into Manila at 4 am, and then flew out on a late night flight tonight, back to Shanghai.

Arrived in the middle of the night off the red-eye and found that my old favorite place to sleep in the Manila airport was still nice and quiet. Fell asleep on the floor, slept great, but then was startled awake by a fast approaching floor buffer at 8 am. Got some cash and headed out into the city. Its funny how different things are here. Hot as hell, inadequate and crumbling infrastructure, lots of beggars - there's no doubt, Manila is a mess. But I love it here. This place has so much character, and its quite refreshing to take a break from the somewhat stale and monotonous Chinese cities. The people here are much more approachable, both because they're friendly and outgoing and also because, they speak English! Oh man. The second point can't be stressed enough. It is soooooo awesome to finally be around people I can communicate with!

Manila also has something that's nearly impossible to find outside of the US, root beer! Picked up some Dad's, got some adobo, found a newspaper, and chilled in Rizal Park remembering all the good times I've had in years past in the Philippines and reflecting upon the bike trip.

Day 250

The day I enter Shanghai. I didn't get a lot of sleep last night. Two reasons for that. First, I was incredibly nervous that something might delay me today and cause me to miss my flight out to Manila. A broken spoke, cracked freewheel, or even just a flat tire might make it impossible to reach Shanghai in time to find a place to leave my gear and get to the airport for tonight's flight. If I missed that flight I was in some seriously deep trouble with Chinese immigration. Second, I was VERY excited. Just absolutely ridiculously ecstatic. After 9 plus months of biking, I was finally getting into Shanghai, the last city! Can't remember the last time I was this excited. I had been dreaming of the day I rolled into Shanghai, now I was here! Today would be the day I would get to Shanghai, today would be the day I NEEDED to get to Shanghai.

People on top of people and highways on top of highways for almost all of today, as I aimed right towards the center of the biggest city in China. Lots of new roads too. As with the outskirts of Nanjing, I found myself biking on a lot of brand new highways which still weren't open to cars. In many spots I was biking on roads still under construction, and I would have to swerve around steam rollers and bulldozers to get through. Occasionally the road would just end. Figuring out what to do when that happened was always fun...

As I got closer, I got more anxious. I just wanted to get there already! The the typical signs of a entering a metropoltian area - a huge mall, then the first subway stop, then the first ring road. The streets started getting busier and busier, filled to the brim with buses, vespas, electric bikes, rickshaws. I was getting close.

After hours of fighting through traffic I finally saw out in the distance what I had been waiting for -The innermost ring road - the official entrance into the central business district of Shanghai. I WAS HERE!!!!!!!

Now hold on. I'm not done yet. If anyone actually clicked on that "rules" tab on the top of the page ^, you'd know I have a very specific rule for where to start and end the trip. I'm biking across Eurasia.  Asia doesn't end in the middle of Shanghai, it ends at the Pacific. Ocean to ocean. Those are the rules. Today is not my last day of biking. Still one more short trip left to make this official, and that's a trip I'm not making for another couple of days, when my friend Charley gets here to bike over with me.

After I got into the town, the excitement of being soon gave way to getting down to business. I needed to find a place to put my bike and my gear, then get over to the airport. Luckily, I was able to stash my stuff at the hotel I'm planning to stay at here, and I even had a little free time to explore downtown and find a place to take a quick shower. Hopped on the subway over to the airport, and it became obvious I had plenty of time to catch my flight. Anxiety vanished and I was just left on cloud nine as I walked through the airport on my way out to Manila. Life is good. Really couldn't be any better in fact!!!

Suzhou's CBD

Brand new roads

I finally found FoxConn!

Was riding with a new-found friend for a couple miles

This is what the 6-lane highway turned into

The beginning of the subway line

Couldn't have said it better myself

Day 249

Today: start in Changzhou (5 million people), quick lunch in Wuxi (6 million people), and then stop for the night in Suzhou (11 million people). I'm sensing a trend as I get closer to Shanghai... The ride was exhausting! Large parts of the were spent riding on 6-lane highways, built underneath another 6-lane freeway... Lots of people, lots of skyscrapers, but surprising also still some areas which could have been marked as semi-rural (as long as you took a picture at just the right angle...).

Spent tonight in Suzhou, the so-called "Venice of China." As you can probably guess, the city has a lot of canals... They were cool, but I had to cut my sightseeing short when I realized I had a really big urgent problem I needed to deal with...

You see, I have a one year visa for China. One year, that's a long time, more than enough time to complete my entire Eurasia trip, let alone the Chinese portion. The problem is, you're only allowed to stay in China consecutively for three months on any given stay, then you need to leave the country and reenter in order to get another three months. I knew this. Problem is, I had erroneously dismembered the day I had entered the country. If I don't leave the country in the next few days, I will overstay my visa, and that would be bad. I've been told its at-least a 100 dollar penalty per day you're not supposed to be here, as well as the possibility of being banished from China for up to 10 years. Overstaying my visa is NOT an option. I need to leave the country on a visa run ASAP, a fact I was oblivious to until tonight.  I don't know how I was stupid enough to do this.

Spent hours tonight trying to figure out the best option. Hmm, whats the cheapest and fastest way to get out of the country? I could take a bus to Hong Kong, a train to Russia, a boat to Taiwan, a flight to Seoul, Tokyo, Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, Jakarta, Guam, fucking Delhi... Then of course there were all the combo options, like the train to Beijing, then the flight out from there... I was drowned in options. After careful thought, I decided the flight to Manila was the best bet. Only problem is, it leaves tomorrow night from Shanghai. No room for error now, I NEED to get to Shanghai tomorrow.

The highway on top of a highway, very popular around here.

Still following my faithful G312

A canal in Suzhou, the "Venice of China"

Day 248

So here we go. The final push. The last stretch. Whenever the scale of Eurasia has started freaking me out along the trip, I always just concentrate on getting to the next rest stop. I've been trying as hard as I can to break this trip into dozens of smaller trips, and just thinking about things leg by leg. Lisbon to Madrid, Istanbul to Samsun, Kyzylorda to Shimkent. Bit by bit. Well now I'm officially on the ultimate leg. The final 350 kilometers of a 17,000 km journey.

From Nanjing to Shanghai should be crazy. Not just because I might actually finish this ride across Eurasia, but because there are so many fucking people here. From Nanjing to the end, I'll be going through at least two cities per day which have over 3,000,000 people - leading towards Shanghai, the most populated city in the most populated country in the world. I keep thinking back on the desert in Kazakhstan, where it was quite the event when I was lucky enough to get to a city big enough for a supermarket. Funny how things have changed. Should be fun!

Traffic was heavy out of Nanjing, but then subsided surprisingly quickly. Found myself on freeway with not a car in sight. Then I realized the road wasn't open to traffic yet. So weird, the road had all the street signs, and sidewalks, and trees, and separately graded roundabout intersections, even a BRT system all set up  - but no one around. Then a few miles down, I started to pass row upon row of empty skyscrapers lining the empty highway. Its like the government was just waiting to flip a switch and open everything up... It was great, essentially a 50 foot wide bike only road! Then the road suddenly ended and turned to dirt. Just when I worried about all the crowding in this part of China... Haha didn't take long to find some more people though. Tonight into Changzhou, regional population of 5 million, and a city most people have never heard of.

Vacant skyscrapers seen from an empty freeway. One of China's many "Ghost towns."

My favorite highway in China. The old road which goes all the way from where I entered the country from Kazkahstan to Shanghai!

Day 247

I have a problem with my bike. The nuts on both my front and rear axle keep coming loose, causing the wheels to swag side to side and jam up against the brakes. I suppose the biggest problem with this problem is that there's an easy temporary fix (just screwing the nuts back in), which has prevented me from actually trying to fix the real problem (stopping the nuts for continuously coming loose). I'm soooo close, I just want to keeping kicking this can down the road until I get to the end. But this is getting worse and worse, very possibly contributing to my sluggish performance lately. Today I took my wheels apart to try to figure this out. I'm still not sure whats going on here. I noticed there's' a slight bend in the rear axle, don't know if that's to blame, but I replaced it to be safe, and cleaned and re-lubed everything. Come on bike. Don't crap out on me now!

Besides from working on the bike, I didn't do much else today - got some laundry done, went out for a bit at night with some "instant hostel friends."

My old rear axle

Day 246

Nanjing. My last rest stop before the 3-day run to Shanghai. They just had the youth Olympics here, an event that I honestly don't really care about at all, but the city went all in. Huge banners all over the place are still hanging, advertisements everywhere, they even use painted the roads with the official "Nanjing Youth Olympics" symbol. Crazy amount of energy put in to this...

Today I went to the Nanjing Massacre memorial museum. Obviously, its dedicated to the Nanjing Massacre, an event during the Japanese occupation of Nanjing before WWII. Not necessarily a "fun" experience, but very fascinating. I  have to admit, after visiting similar museums in South Korea, the Philippines, and Singapore, it seems like there's a bit of a trend here - lots of east Asian countries really hated the Japanese haha.

Of course part of the fun of visiting a museum in China, or anywhere else where I don't trust the impartiality of the government, is trying to figure out what really happened and what is being propagandized. No doubt something terrible happened here, but there were some questionable displays, most notably the entire room about the Japanese surrender after WWII, which didn't once mention the atomic bomb... Interesting place.

Still trying to dry myself off from the rain that soaked all of my stuff on the way into town yesterday.

Day 245

Bit of rain, bit of hills, but into Nanjing I went. Spent about half the ride just getting through the metro area and trying to figure out how to get across the Yangtze River. As I got to the center of town, got hit by torrential downpour. Despite my rain gear, I got soaked (along with half of my stuff...). Hard to navigate, as my phone was soaking wet and kept malfunctioning.

Eventually found a hostel. They had a hard time checking me in as I couldn't give them a flight number for my arriving flight into China. I stood wet and shivering in the lobby for quite some time... This place is full of internationals, felt weird, but nice to be able to talk with people.

Day 244

On the bike again, 100 km ride into Chuzhou today. It feels like the rides are going in slow motion. But whatever, set myself up well for an easy ride into Nanjing tomorrow.

Day 243

One thing that's really nice about this bike trip, is that I get to be my own boss. That said, I'm taking today off. I'm tired. I've been biking for a long time. Things are going slowly, quite possibly because of my mentality; I'm constantly thinking of getting to the end, touching the water in Shanghai. So when I woke up to rain today, I decided to take it easy.

I'm in a small town out here. Smallest place I've taken a rest stop in who knows how long. I like it here. In two days I'll be in the huge megalopolis of Nanjing, and from there until the end, I except to be biking through city after city. This may very well be my last time I get to experience small town China. So why not chill for the day.

Day 242

Another long, sluggish day. Grey skies, pollution, and dust. What else is new. Rural, but decently busy roads. Lots of honking, coming out of the air horns on the buses and trucks. It's so loud that sometimes it makes me jump and momentarily loose control of the bike. I've mentioned this before. Don't care, I'll mention it again. The honking is killing me. Every single vehicle seems to be laying it on when they pass me. Have to keep the bike together. Have to keep my mind together.

Day 241

I'm close. I'm really close. That thought keeps going through my head, sometimes obstructing my ability to think of anything else. Torturing me. The past several days have passed slowly, the riding has been really sluggish. Its not windy, its not too hot or too cold, and I'm not going through steep mountains or barren stretches of desert. No. Whats slowing me down right now is mostly mental. Well, that and maybe the bike, which is less than idea shape after 10,000 plus miles of riding.

Day 240

The day I was supposed to be done. 240-day trip. That's what I kept telling myself. That what I told everyone else. Yep, 240 days to Shanghai...  Even though its completely intentionally planned that I'm going slower than scheduled, I still felt a bit disappointed. Day 240 was bitter sweet; I'm not at the end, but biking through the anticipated last day means I am damn close.

Day 239

Today's 100 km ride into Shangqui felt slow, but got to town at a decent hour and, after dealing with the usual bullshit in trying to find a hotel that would accept me, found a cheap place. Walked around town tonight, found a street full of carts and kiosks with incredibly great food. Went from vendor to vendor, ordering lots of food. Great stuff, ate well.

Day 238

Its funny how much a ten day break can get you out of shape. In some ways, today felt like day 1 all over again. But it was nice to be back on bike and progress was made' albeit slower and more painfully than usual.

Its great to be back on traveling through my own terms. No waiting for buses, subways, and trains. No more visits to crowded stations to figure out intercity travel plans. The bike is slow but it goes where, when, and how I want.

Days 228 to 237

Don't freak out, I know I've never bunched multiple days together before. I'm not getting lazy, I'm not cheating, its not a new trend. I'm in Beijing, hundreds of miles away from the bike, and my time here hardly feels like its part of the bike trip. In fact its really kind of a vacation from my trip. Ten days, that's a long time. Lots of stuff happened. There was also a lot of down time where I really didn't do anything except for hangout in the hutong where I was staying and drink a lot of Tsing Tao with fellow travelers. Can't remember the last time had nothing I needed to do for 10 days, also can't remember the last time a drank that much beer for 10 days... Of course this place is very international compared to any of the other places I've been in China, and it was full of foreign travelers. That was a good thing and a bad thing. Saw lots of stuff, made some new friends, then took the train back down to Lanzhou. Vacations over, time to get back to work.

Soccer game

Best sports stadium name ever

The old Water Cube

Inside the Birds Nest

Of course I had to stop at the Urban Planning Museum

Day 227

Today's mission: find a way to get to Beijing. It felt so weird buying a ticket. Even though I'm just doing a spur trip and returning to Zhengzhou before biking on, I still felt like I was being lazy or something. But down to the station I went, long distance buses and trains of all speeds and comfort levels, it was actually incredibly confusing trying to figure out how to get what I wanted. Super crowded as well. Packed ticket offices with huge lines. I immediately started the miss the ease and simplicity of traveling by bike haha. Anyway, got a ticket, heading out tomorrow. The hostel graciously is allowing me to keep my bike and gear here free of charge. Sweet, that's nice of them. Just hope everything is still here when I get back.

The train schedules

Definitely not KFC

Another guy doing a bike tour through China that I met in the hostel

Day 226

On the road to Zhengzhou. Long day today, especially since I took a wrong turn which led me up a big mountain on a crappy road, and added about 30 km to today's ride. I found myself needing to pick up the pace to try to get to town before dark fell. Well, actually didn't really need to get to town before dark, just needed to get close enough that the highway was covered with street lights. Just made it. Actually turned out perfectly, as entering the city of Zhengzhou at night was a really fantastic experience. Neon lights everywhere, people out and about after their work day, playing traditional instruments in the parks and dancing to Chinese disco in the squares. All of the overpasses were also super futuristic looking as they were framed by colorful, changing, flashing fluorescent lights. Felt like I was at Disneyland's tomorrowland or something. Took forever to find the one hostel in town, was about 5 miles from where it was put on the map and buried on a random floor of a residential skyscraper with no signs and no room numbers. Literally took me about 4 hours to get here, super proud of myself for finding it haha.

So here we are, Zhengzhou. I'm going to be here for a loooong time. Well, at least my bike will be. As mentioned before, I have a lot of time to kill before I meet up with my friend in Shanghai. So I've decided to go on a spur trip up to Beijing for a week. Leaving the bike here, hope to find a train or bus up to the north capital, and then return in about a week to continue down the path towards Shanghai, finally finishing off the bicycle trip across Eurasia. Knock on wood...

My couchsurfer

I've been trying forever to rescue my clothes that got covered in tar when I crashed in Kazakhstan. I used a whole bunch of oil to try to get rid of the tar, but now they're just covered in tar and also super oily. Finally gave up and threw them away today...

Day 225

Day off today here in Luoyang. Just one day off. I met up with my couchsurfer and her friend and we got some great breakfast. Then I went with one of them to see the sites. We went over to the Longmen Grottoes, which unknown to me was a hugely important archaeological site. Foreign heads of states had visited several times, and I realized that this is where all those shots for Chinese tourism commercials on CCTV were coming from. Sweet. Also the couchsurfer's friend was really knowledgeable about all of the things to see, it was like having a personal guide. Nice day.

The couchsurfer's friend

Day 224

Everyone always talks about how bad the pollution is in China. What can I say, other than ya, its true. Its starting to get really bad around here. There's also a lot of material in the air, especially on the road where the trucks drop dirt and sand as they pass through. Sometimes it can be hard to differentiate between what is bad pollution and what is just crap getting dumped and kicked up by trucks. Either way, its getting hard out here for the measly biker. Recently, I've been ending most days looking like I just slid down a chimney, black dirt all over my skin and clothes. I have to wash everything all the time...

Today I entered Luoyang, a pretty big place. I biked into downtown to meet up with a couchsurfer, who told me it was pretty far to their place and I should get in their car. Of course, this is against the rules, so I elected to bike behind them. She was in a hurry, it was starting to rain pretty hard, and she told me it was pretty far away, but rules are rules. So she started driving, I followed behind her on my bike. I was sprinting as fast as I could go because I didn't want to slow her down from getting back to work.  I hate riding behind cars - you need to bike really fast to follow where the car is going which often leads to dangerous biking. I always seem to hit more potholes and almost get hit trying to swerve around traffic.Anyway, it was a looong trip, as we went all the way out into the suburbs. Must have been approaching an hour. I was exhausted, but couldn't stop to drink some water until we reached our destination. My stupid rules...

Instead of taking me to her house, as every other couchsurfer has ever done, we checked me into a hotel room. What!? Haha I was so confused. Anyway, she was really nice, and we went out to get dinner and see a bit of town.

Day 223

Another nice day out on the old G310. Not too much to report, which can be a really great thing. Rode all day with my new friend, then we split ways at a junction. Great guy, but never did quite figure out his name... Back to being solo.

The guy I was biking with

Day 222

Biking down the road, minding my own business. I take a water break when another long distance biker comes up behind me. Its funny, I've been out here 8 months and I've seen a lot of bikers going the other way; this is the first time I've ever met one going the same way I'm going. This presented some social awkwardness. After we talked for bit, I started taking off down the road, as did he. Then I stopped a while later to get some more water, he stopped too. Then I stopped to get lunch, he did too. All of the sudden I was no longer biking solo. Now, I don't want to paint the wrong picture here, I was happy to have him along. He was a cool guy, but it was a bit weird because he spoke no English, and I speak no Chinese... But ya, he certainly made it easier to get a hotel room and find some good food. He was heading back up towards Beijing to his hometown, so we weren't planning on riding on the same route for more than a couple of days. So looks like I have a riding partner for two days.

Day 221

Walked around this super small town. Realized there is not a single bike shop. Fuck. This might be harder than I thought. I went to some motorcycle shops, nobody had the part I needed... Then I tried my luck at a cart and wagon repair shop (not a lot of these left in the US...). Sure enough, they had it! The hotel didn't really have a lot of space, so I fixed up my bike on the sidewalk, which brought a lot of attention. Even a passing funeral procession didn't take away the interest in me. Anyway, bikes fixed up, good to go, but I never did figure out exactly why this happened. It was a brand new freewheel, which definitely should not have broken. Hope whatever caused the problem isn't still lurking around, I don't want to get stranded out on the road again like I did yesterday...

Day 220

Rainy day. Got pretty wet. Then something shitty happened.

I was biking up a hill when I suddenly heard something weird coming from the back of the bike. Then my pedaling started to get really easy, and I realized I wasn't moving. Turns out my freewheel snapped apart, and was no longer connected to the wheel. I suppose you could say it was free of the wheel... Basically this meant I couldn't pedal until I replaced the freewheel. Freewheels are heavy and are not supposed to break, two excellent reasons for me not to be carrying a spare one. No replacement meant no biking, which was a bit of a problem because I was out in the middle of nowhere. This was the worst case scenario. So I did the only thing I could do, I walked. Walked for hours. Finally got back to the last town I had passed. emergency stop here until I can fix this freewheel, see the extent of the damage, and figure out why it broke.

Day 219

On the road again, got a late start. Got a bit lost out of town which resulted in unnecessarily climbing a huge hill. That took up a lot of time. Then I got a flat tire, that took up more time. Then it started to get dark while I headed down the road. Not to worry though, there was nice cheap hostel just down the road, right at the base of the famous Hua Mountain. Or so I thought... Turns out there's a huge difference between Huaxian and Huashan. Now, before you start thinking, ya of course those are different, no shit. They are pronounced almost exactly the same, and transliterations oftentimes vary quite a bit from map to map. Tonight was not one of those times though... So I climbed up this big hill where I though the Hostel would be, only to find miles of untouched forest... I  ended up biking in the dark, without any real working lights for several hours trying to find this hostel, until I finally realized my mistake. Felt pretty dumb about that one. Spent the night at rest stop hotel, not the cool hostel at the foothills of the mountain I was searching for. At least my hours of searching did result in pretty good distance covered today.

Day 218

Walked around with a friend from the hostel and one of the employees around the city. Over to some interesting buildings, including Xian's famous bell tower. Ate some more food in the Muslim quarter.  Think I'm ready to head out tomorrow.

Day 217

K, time for the mandatory trip over to one of the biggest tourist traps in China, the Tomb of the Terracotta Warriors. Interesting place, as long as you can get over all the touts and overpriced food. Lots of warriors, pretty cool...

Day 216

Went with my friend as he looked for some Muslim prayer beads in town. Turned into a multi-hour search. Good way to inadvertently see the city.

Day 215

Xian is famous for its Muslim quarter, which basically feels like a mini Xingjang province all over again. Cool place, great food, nice atmosphere. This entire city is pretty cool, big place, but its core is still completely surrounded by its old fortress wall. Also finally got to city that has a subway system! Haven't seen that since Almaty, Kazakhstan.

For the first time on the trip, I'm starting to think seriously about logistics for when I get to Shanghai. I am excited about that. I had a couple of friends express interest in riding with me on the last day into the Pacific Ocean, but everything seemed to be falling through. Then my friend Charley contacted me a couple of days ago. He's now officially in. Only catch is that he can't make it to China until almost two weeks after I was thinking of finishing up. So that means I have two weeks to kill between here in Shanghai, hmmmm so many possibilities. Now more than ever, I am in absolutely no hurry! Anyway, things are shaping up, today I finally booked a flight home out of Shanghai.

Day 214

I know I've said this before, but I'll say it again, I am in no hurry, and it feels so good. I'll be in Xian for a while here. Some things I want to see, also the opportunity to take a couple of days off to just do absolutely nothing.

Day 213

Today to Xian. Semi-tough day out on the road, lots of people, lots of traffic, especially farming stuff. Still, entered the walls of Xian feeling great. Nice hostel, nice people, and a great employee, named Miracle, who in a strong Chinese accent very enthusiastically used the phrase, That's so fantastic! waaay more than anyone ever should in casual conversation. I give it to here though, she never made a single grammatical mistake when speaking English... Anyway, really nice to be here.

Day 212

There have been a handful of days in my life where I was ridiculously dead after a bike ride. One thing those days all share in common is that I didn't touch my bike the next day. I fell asleep last night thinking there was little chance I was going to want to ride today, but I'm going for it. Granted, a nice easy 60 km day, progress towards Shanghai nonetheless. Got into town early, still kind of phased from yesterday. Spent most of the afternoon finishing the TV show Dexter on the computer in the hotel room.

Another Biker Out on the Road

Day 211

Its funny how sometimes the days you have been dreading for weeks turn out to not be so bad, and a random day you didn't think twice about can be terribly exhausting. Today was the latter of those two. Today seemed innocent enough, destined to become another small paragraph entry on this blog, but that just didn't happen. I knew I was going through hills today, but the map kind of led me to believe I going to be following a river down though a valley. That ended up not being entirely true. I did go down hill by about 500 meters through the course of the day. But for every 100 meters down, there was seemingly 99 meters of up. Up and down, up and down, all fucking day. Still, whatever, I did this all the time along the coast in Turkey.

What really made this day hard, was that it inadvertently ended up becoming a double day. I got to my location for the night, was not impressed by the town, and decided to keep going just a little bit more in search of greener pastures. Plus I had finally reached back up with the freeway, and figured the ups and downs of the small roads wouldn't be allowed on the interstate. Well, I was right about that, but a nice flat road came at the expense of a huge sloth of dangerous tunnels and bridges. In fact, there was barley an inch of this road that wasn't either a tunnel or an aerial structure. I was exhausted already, and being on this main interstate connecting Lanzhou to Xian now required me to basically sprint the entire time for fear of my life. I was incredibly uneasy the entire way, but, I was making really great time. It didn't take long for a cop to pull me over, and insist I use the frontage road (which was much calmer but also much longer and full of steep grades).

So back to the slow road I went, and I soon realized, there wasn't really going to be any good place to stop until I got all the way until my planned stop for tomorrow, which was still several hours away. By this point I was exhausted to the point where it was starting to get hard to put thoughts together in my head, and I was pretty dizzy. So I stopped to eat a bit, but my food supplies where running low as was my water. Ok, lets go. The frontage road went off on a tangent, as I spent hours climbing a mountain that the expressway bypassed with a big ass tunnel. When I finally go to the top of this mountain, I felt like shit. I could barely stand, had to take a break. I rested my head on the handle bars, closed my eyes, gripped the bike. Every time a car came past I almost fell down because I was so tired and off balanced. I was exhausted to the point that I was starting to get scared. Only one thing to do though. Keep going. Get into town. Down the hill, the city came into view, and I started to feel a small bit better. Then I started to get chills. Come on, get to town....

I finally entered development, but as with many other cities, it was all either vacant buildings or industrial stuff. Still things were starting to shape up. Then, I let my ego get in the way, some kid wanted to race me, and well, no kid can be allowed to beat the guy whose been riding across Eurasia for 211 days! This happens all the time, and I haven't lost a race yet. But, today my impeccable racing record was tarnished with my first loss. That's when I knew I was really spent. I finally found some hotels, but I was really worried about checking in, I felt like I was about to throw up, pass out, or maybe both - it was hard to just walk into the hotel. And of course this had to be the night when the clerk found it necessary to spend 20 minutes explaining all of the hotel policies and amenities to me... Finally got into the room, thank god. That bed looked so tempting, but I knew if I decided to lie down, I wouldn't be able to get back up, and I desperately needed to eat before I fell asleep. I was incredibly nauseous, and the last think I wanted to do was go back into public to buy food. I soon found myself squatting over the toilet, throwing up. Then I took a shower and headed out, getting the tamest thing I could find on the menu of a local restaurant, and passing out.

I have felt similar to this after some other long rides, especially that one time my friend Blake insisted that we ride 300 km in one day back home, but I have never in my life felt quite this drained after a day on a bike, or doing anything else for that matter. Today was, by far, the hardest day of biking in my life. Ever.

Day 210

Back on the G310 for today, again, with the nice views but hard riding. Nevertheless, ended the day with a pretty good downhill, so I decided to just ride it out past my original stop of Tianshui, into a smaller town about 20 km further down the road.

I saw peach farm after peach farm today, so I figured this was the place to get peaches. I stopped at one of the million tents selling peaches on the side of the road and the people there were awesome. When they saw I was biking, they told me not to waste my time with the peaches on their table, and a guy ran over to a nearby orchard and picked a whole bunch of fresh ones for me, then refused to let me pay. Great peaches great people!

Awesome peach farmers

Day 209

Out if Dingxi, finally riding 100%. Out of the G30 corridor and onto the G310, which I'm sure means a lot to you... Nice road, still a toll road, so in really great shape, but only one lane in each direction and not a lot of traffic. Large rolling hills made for great views, but also sometimes difficult riding. Only about 80 something km today, then stopped in a really small town for the night.

Day 208

I am not leaving this town until I fix my chain problems. I need a new chain, and a new freewheel, and possibly a new crank-set as well. I walked down to the market and found some street vendors selling bike stuff, but nothing that I could use. Then I went to the one bike shop in town. If they couldn't help me, I was going to need to go all the way back to Lanzhou, the ultimate defeat and act of shame... The bike shop was really small, and no one working there seemed to be over the age of 15, I was kind of worried... Luckily for me, they were able to help. Well, they had all the parts I needed at least... I guess I'm becoming a bike snob or something, because when they started working on my bike, I noticed all sorts of things they were doing which I thought were a bad idea. It didn't help that they accidentally knocked over the bike stand halfway through and messed up the brakes and the front basket... It was nerve-wrenching watching these teenagers fix my bike, I really hope they know what they're doing here. After a new chain and freewheel, the chain was still jumping, and I knew they had to replace to crank-set too. The crank-set is the gears in the front of the bike, and also includes the connections to the pedals. Its a big piece, an fundamental part of the bike, and something which I have never had to think of replacing before. I guess even these things aren't designed for biking all the way across Eurasia...

The bike shop ended up getting everything running pretty well, and even included a cleaning and a tune up. Plus they were really nice. The owner called his wife (guess he probably was over 15 haha), who used to be an English teacher and she was excited to talk with me.  After I told them what I was doing, they all insisted on taking pictures with me, and wanted me to pose by the shop's sign. Hahaha, willing to bet if anyone goes and visits the lone bike shop in Dingxi, China you just might be able to spot my picture hanging up on the wall. Successful day, on the road tomorrow.

My new friends at the bike shop

Day 207

The day I failed to plan...

K, I'm leaving today. Didn't make that decision until almost noon today though, so it was really late going. As soon as I hit the road I noticed a problem. As mentioned before, there was a huge laundry list of things that I knew were up for maintenance, and I was hoping they would last me through this stretch until I entered Xian. Just seemed like that's how these things usually work out; after all, the rims I was losing sleep over not replacing in Istanbul still haven't cracked! Turns out that this auspicious thinking was not going to hold water this time. As soon as I left town, I could feel my chain start jumping. The cogs were too worn down, or the chain was too stretched out, or possibly both. This didn't prevent me from riding, but it did mean that I lost the ability to apply lots of force to my pedaling. Basically I had to go really slow all day, especially on the uphills. And there were a lot of uphills today as I winded out of the valley housing Lanzhou. Sooooo slow. I should have fixed that when I had the chance. Usually leaving a big rest stop I always have the bike in good shape. Now I had mechanical problems to deal with out on the road without any scheduled days offs. I feel pretty stupid about that one.

To add insult to injury, my painfully slow day was also met with a freak hail storm. Out of nowhere, the sweltering temperatures disappeared and pieces of ice started falling down. I was totally unprepared, and didn't have any of my rain gear on. After all, it hadn't really rained in months. The thing about this rain gear is that if I want to put it on in the middle of the ride that means I have to stop, undo all the straps and ties on my bike, take off all the auxiliary bags of supplies, dig through the basket to get the tarp bag, and then put everything back together again -  a process which can take up to 20 minutes. I figured this storm would just blow through in less than 20 minutes, so it didn't seem worth my time to do that. Well, I was wrong about that one. Then the hail started melting, and the road lost its pavement, resulting in huge puddles and lots of mud. The rain gear is actually most handy in preventing mud and other random things from spraying up on my bags, not protecting from the actual rain. So I found myself in a position where I was getting really dirty. By the time I realized this storm wasn't just going to blow through, I was already way too late to put the rain gear on, as my bag was already soaked and covered in mud.... I was fucked... I desperately looked for a shelter to wait out the storm. After a long search, I finally found a warehouse off to the side of the road. I was so excited to finally find a place with a roof that my haste made me fishtail in the mud, and I got about as close to wiping out as you can get without actually doing it, all in front of a dozen warehouse workers who were all staring at me. I felt really rude as I just entered their building, without even asking if it was ok, but they didn't seem to mind too much...

The storm never did clear completely, and I found myself going at a ridiculously slow pace through muddy roads with a bad chain. I can't wait until Xian, I need to fix this chain immediately. Tonight, another crazy town, where over half of the high-rises are seemingly completely empty. Got into town very late and exhausted. As with lots of other places, it was a huge pain in the ass trying to find a hotel that would accept me. Finally did find a back ally place that, after some convincing, agreed to look the other way and allow me to stay there. Tough day, at least I didn't get any flat tires...

That truck had a lot of hey

Day 206

Hmm, I'm having a nice time here, might just stay an additional day tomorrow, not sure yet, see how I feel about it tomorrow. I found a really awesome breakfast bakery place I've been going to every morning here in Lanzhou, fresh stuffed pastries, including what are essentially Egg McMuffins. Really great stuff. Between the dinner with David's cousin, the noodles last night and these pastries, Lanzhou has been a great place to eat. Add to that another great dinner tonight, albeit, a food not really associated with this region. Boudzha (I'm not spelling that right), great dumplings, like 50 of these things for a couple of bucks, great eating with some friends from the hostel.

Day 205

Hard to get out of bed today. I was a little worried I made a fool of myself last night when I got back to the hostel... Oh well, things seemed fine haha. Took the bus down to a part of town full of dozens bike shops, felt like a kind in a candy shop down there. Found a new tire for the rear wheel, sold to me by a super friendly and super elderly store owner, who's daughter was excited to have the chance to practice her English.

There's a lot of things that kind of need to be replaced sometime soon: the chain, the freewheel, the brakes, the gear cables, the front basket, the list goes on and on.... After 205 days on the road, almost everything needs to be considered for replacement. But, I'm only about a week outside of Xian, my first truly huge Chinese city where I plan to spend some time. I'm hoping I can defer all that maintenance until at least there. Fingers crossed.

Checked out the Yellow River area with a friend today, and then fortuitously stumbled inside one of the best noodle shops I've ever been to before. Big line of people, workers tossing slabs of dough up in the air, and making handmade noodles by twisting it through their fingers. I still don't get quite how that works. Anyway, great dinner.

Day 204

Its incredibly nice not being a hurry; I don't have to rush to get the bike repairs done as I have all the time in the world to get into Shanghai and fly back before grad school starts. Knock on wood. Three days here in Lanzhou I think.

So I have a good friend from college who was born here in Lanzhou, David Li. Before I even left on the trip he told me I had to go find his cousin who still lived here. Challenge accepted. It always seemed so far off, but now here I am. David's been following the blog along and I've been talking to him a lot, especially as I neared his hometown. So tonight I met up with his cousin, and his wife. Neither of them spoke any English, but David found a translator for me, his Dad's friend's brother's coworker or something like that. As David pointed out, its hard to find people who speak English in Lanzhou haha. Anyway, we met up for dinner, and wow we went to a dope restaurant. Amazing hot pot food, with the Lanzhou lamb, the best lamb in the country, or so I'm told at least. I'd believe them, it was great, possibly the best meal of the trip (hard to say, there are some other really ones). Things were understandably a little awkward at first, as I, the translator, and the cousin had all never met, but alcohol soon fixed that. After dinner we went over to a bar and kept drinking, playing this Chinese dice game, which was both fun and incredibly alcohol intensive. Really, awesome, night. Thanks David, one of the highlights of the trip.

David's cousin

Day 203

Getting to Lanzhou is a big deal to me. The city marks a milestone for several reasons:
-Its the official end of the desert
-Its the beginning of the area of China where lots of people actually live, the end of the Frontier
-It is the end of "Central Asia"
-Its the "halfway point" for China
-Its the spot where I finally reach back up with my original route and schedule (which got super fucked up as a result of my Torugart Pass fiasco in Kyrgyzstan)

I have been looking forward to getting to Lanzhou for a loooong time.

Ate well today on my way in, especially since I accidentally ordered two meals at the lunch restaurant. Road was scenic at times, but soon got congested as I approached the city. The Yellow river was nice, but there was a lot of industrial areas surrounding it, which meant a lot of truck traffic and shitty, cracked up roads. I tried to stay off the freeways today both because of the traffic surrounding Lanzhou and because I think the metallic debris from the blown out tires on the freeway shoulder is to blame for my recent flat tires. Well no luck with avoiding those flats. Two more today! That's five flat tires in the past 48 hours!!! Fuck man. You can imagine how much this sucks. The second one was incredibly agonizing, because it happened about 800 meters from my hostel for the night. Of course, I figured I'd just walk the bike the rest of the way and deal with the flat later. However, the tube came out of the tire and got tied up around the axil, making it impossible for me to roll the bike. The only way to to move it was to carry it. Slowest half kilometer of my life... If there was any doubt before, I now know I definitely need a new rear tire.

Quickly made friends at the hostel and had good nice out. It was so weird to see all the yuppies at the club and comparing them with the people I had just met out in the small towns in the desert. I had a really fun time, especially since random people in the bar kept giving me free drinks. Wow, dude so many free drinks...

Day 202

I'm almost to Lanzhou, and with that, the end of Central Asia and the sparsely populated desert. Before I get there however, I've got some climbing to do. Its funny how this worked out. I spent months before the trip started looking at every detail of the passage through the mountains of Kyrgyzstan. Studying the topography, the weather, road conditions... I took that shit very seriously. Well, turns out, today's mountain was actually taller than basically anything I had to bike through in Kyrgyzstan...

To the mountians we go, cold, wet start. The two flats yesterday provided that uneasy feeling that comes from distrust in your bike. Another flat followed today... Beautiful scenery, light traffic. The climb actually wasn't so bad, but it did just keep going and going and going and going. Also, tunnels were in style today. A LOT of tunnels. It seemed like half the ride today was inside tunnels, including my new record breaking, longest tunnel of the trip. In fact, the longest tunnel record was broken multiple times today. Several of them were so long that I actually stopped and took snack breaks while I was inside. Interesting experience, but very scary at times. Was glad when it was over. Another flat tire today, what is going on here?! 

Tonight I'm staying in another Ghost City, filled with buildings, sprawling for miles and miles, but with only a handful of residents. From the highway this place looked huge, possibly a few million inhabitants. Biking through scores of empty high-rises and vacant 6-lane roads painted a different picture. After about a half hour of biking past the uninhabited buildings, I did finally find a small city core where a few people actually lived.

Fixing a flat tire

Day 201

It has been months since I got my last flat tire. I'm honestly not even exactly sure where the last one was, somewhere west of Shymkent, Kazakhstan, before I met up with Blake. Well today I got one. Then, a couple hours later, I got another one... None for months and then two in the same day, what are the odds... The second one was particularly heart breaking because it happened on the front tire - the first flat on the front tire the entire trip!! All that pristine Portuguese air, finally leaving my tire after 7 months on the road. Damn, I really wanted to get all the way to the end without a single flat on the front. Oh well...

I'm really loving these towns up here. Both last night and tonight have been fun places to walk around. Not sure if I could really tell you why, they're just cool places to be.

Day 200

Day 200!!! I've been looking at the riding for this week and spending most of my time getting ready for the 12,500 ft mountain range I am going to need to get over about 100 miles before I get to Lanzhou. I spent so much time worrying about that pass, that I more or less completely forgot about the 8,000 ft mountain that I was hitting today. So I felt pretty stupid when I started riding this morning, only to realize a couple hours in that today was going to be tough, the equivalent of going across the Rockies. Lots of climbing, into different zones of fauna and into freezing temperatures before I finally got over the peak.

Staying tonight in Youngchang, small town China. Out in the middle of nowhere, one freeway exit, one oversized center square full of people dancing to Chinese disco. The type of place you would never feel the need to go visit unless you were forced to, such as myself. Suppose that's the point of this trip right? I rather like it here.

As With Day 98, this is Definitely not Burger King

Day 199

I spent today on a small desert road biking alongside the Great Wall of China. Tonight, I randomly stumbled upon the nicest hotel room I have stayed at in the past 199 days, and there was an awesome festival going on in town. Probably the best birthday I've ever had.

Day 198

Met some German travelers yesterday at the hostel who convinced me to go with them to the "Rainbow Mountains" outside of town today. Have to say, I was not disappointed, the mountains do indeed like like rainbows, pretty crazy. Equally crazy, I met a random Chinese girl today who has never been to the United States but speaks perfect English and is going to be an exchange student at the very same university I'm planning on attending after the trip. To top it off, everyone at the hostel decided to surprise me at midnight with a birthday party. Lots of really cool people out here in Zhangye.

Day 197

Day off. Spent much of the day taking a nap next to the town's bell tower, really tranquil spot.

Day 196

I don't know exactly why, but I struggled to get the miles in today. Maybe it was the heat, or maybe I was dehydrated, or malnourished. I'm not really sure, but I just felt very sluggish today. Also, the honking. I know it seems like a small thing, but it actually diminished the enjoyment of today. A lot. I realize that complaining about honking may make me sound like a high maintenance, ignorant traveler, but I'm telling you, there is something especially bad about the noise pollution around here. First of all, the convention here is to honk any time you are approaching an intersection of passing someone on the road, even if there is absolutely no danger of collision. As a guy on a bike, I get passed a lot, by everyone really, and every time a car overtakes me on the road, they honk. More or less every, fucking time. That's a lot of honks. Also, the trucks and buses here all have bull horns, like the type on a train, which produce a very loud and discorded sound. Alright, anyway enough bitching about honking.

Made it to Zhangye, a small town, but with an international hostel. Even ran into some Americans.

They really sold me with this description

Day 195

Ok, I'm now officially inside Great Wall of China, inside "China proper," inside the area that the ancient Chinese actually thought was worth defending. A bit of a symbolic milestone. The end of the untamed wilderness, the beginning of civilization. So the story goes at least. Out of Jiayuguan, and passed through its westerly sister city, Jiuquan. Its one of China's ghost cities, looks huge on the map, has lots of buildings, but the roads are empty, except for the occasional local bus (which were empty too...). Over a river and through the (artificially planted agricultural) woods, to the desert again we go. Awesome landscape today, biking along the foothills of a small mountain range. Off the road for another night of stealth camping.

Day 194

I shaved a day off yesterday, and in the process, exhausted myself, so took today off. Also, lets be honest here; I'm really not in that big of a hurry. So glad I did take the day off here, because Jiayuguan has something I have always wanted to see, but didn't know where it was, the beginning of the Great Wall of China. The very very beginning! I've always wondered what happened at the edge of this thing. Why didn't people just go around it? Well, today I got to see it. Sweet.

The Western End of the Great Wall of China

Day 193

The frontage road started out of town today in great, newly paved condition, so I figured I'd take it. Past miles and miles of windmills, through the desert, I ran into yet more bikers out on the road. Usually I just waive and keep doing my thing, but one guy today was very instistant in his arm flagging. He was really curious to what I was doing, and wanted me to wait for his English speaking friend who was biking with him. Sounded great, but ended up waiting about an hour, really kind of put a damper on my progress. Interesting guys nonetheless.

The road soon turned to shit, and I found myself stuck on the crumbly road for miles until it met back up with the expressway. To make matters worse, the Chinese government once again provided me with another obstacle. Getting the visa, crossing the border, and finding hotels had all been met with governmental road blocks. Now I faced a literal road block, in the form of a military convoy. And I may add this was not your average convoy. Quite literally 1000 vehicles, all moving at a snails pace down the crappy road. I have no idea what the hell was going on out here in the middle of nowhere that required so much stuff. Anyway, I was stopped by a solider and ordered to wait until the convey passed. I was stopped for about 65 minutes...

The original plan was to take my time and get into the next city, Jiayuguan tomorrow. Well, the open desert was windy and damp from recent rain, and I decided to be really picky about find a nice, dry camping spot. So just kept biking and biking, and biking. When it got dark, I decided to just keep going until I got to the next town. That took a looooong time. Way past midnight, starving, and exhausted I finally entered Jiayuguan only to find that, once again, almost every hotel could not take me. Finally had to cave in and take a more expensive place, such defeat...

Day 192

On my way out of town, grabbed a small meal for less than 50 cents, and then a driver pulled up and insisted on giving me some stuff. Alright, all set up for the open road. I decided to stay off the expressway today and try the local access frontage road. Terrible idea. "Broken pavement" would be a nice way to describe the condition of this road, and it was only wide enough for one car, meaning every passing truck forced me off the road and then surrounded me in a thick cloud of desert dust and sand as it slid by. Enough of that, sneaked past the fence, back on the freeway for the rest of the day, beautiful desertscape, which gave way to farmland as I approached the town of  Yumen. Didn't feel like paying for a hotel and also didn't want to deal with another 3 hour search for one of the few places that would actually be able to accept me, so I camped on the side of a hill, near some abandoned farmland.

Today will forever be know as the day I met a ridiculous amount of bikers. There was one stretch at the beginning of the day where I seemingly met about one biker per minute. Just crazy. Also, today I met the only person to date doing basically the same thing I'm doing. They're going from Hong Kong to Lisbon, sounds pretty familiar...

The girl going from Hong Kong to Lisbon

Day 191

I'm exhausted. I've been on the road for 191 days. I've been moving from place to place to place to place to place. Recently its been a desolate, solitary journey. Everyday has been a marathon. Each day out here in the desert is a long, grueling hall, with a hot sun, harsh wind, and desolate stretches. It is incredibly exciting, but it also starts to take its toll. I sometimes miss the mediocrity of a lazy day. So instead of my planned ride today, I bought another night, and sat in my hotel room watching TV and using the internet. I need to catch up on the blog, I'm falling waaaay behind.

I tend to usually take my days off in large cities, the regional centers, because there's more to see and do, and more opportunities to get supplies, take care of problems. That being said, the day off here in the small town Guazhou, several miles off of the highway, has been great. I often times breeze past these small places, and its nice to occasionally spend an extra day, see what life is like in small town China.

Day 190

The entire ride was a nice easy downhill slope today, but it still felt really difficult for two reasons. Reason number one- wind. Reason number two- general fatigue from dealing with the isolation. For 3 days now, I've been sleeping under freeways, and eating mostly raisins, crackers, and Oreos. That's all on top of other challenges inherent with a bicycle trip like this. Every time I find myself on the back-end of isolated stretch like this, I am exhausted. Luckily I found a city, and, despite the all too familiar government hotel restrictions, I found a good place to sleep tonight.

Day 189

I woke up their morning to terrible wind. So terrible in fact, that I decided to wait it out a bit. To kill time, I went on a hike. Walked perpendicular to the road until it was basically out of sight, and I was totally surrounded by nothing but desert. Probably safe to say that moment right there was the most isolated I have ever been, except for maybe that day I ran out of water... Either way, really nice. Walked back to my ditch, still waiting for that wind to die down. I kept staring at this piece of cardboard which had gotten stuck against the highway fence. It was just getting constantly pounded against the fence and I kept thinking about how that was going to be me when I started to ride, helplessly tossed around by the wind...

As it turned out, ride actually went very well, and I got to the provincial border in no time. I ate some food at the rest stop at the border know I had officially gotten through Xingjiang Province. Haha, onto bigger and better things here in Gansu. I was pleasantly surprised when the secondary language on the road signs switched from Uyger to English, although sometimes quite poor English. The word "harmony" should never appear on a freeway road sign...

Wind switched into my favor, I was pumped to be in a new province - I made great speed. Camping tonight was complicated by the threat of rain. These ditches are great when everything's dry, but, as you can imagine, the drainage ditches are the first thing to get wet when it rains... Knowing this, I was trying really hard to find a good spot to camp in some cover, off of the road. The desert landscape didn't cooperate with me, and I found myself biking into the dark in an elongated search to find a good camping place. Finally I gave up and decided to take my changes down in a ditch. I kept my bike upwards and stacked all my stuff on it, off of the ground in case I got flooded out. REALLY hope there's no rain tonight.

Huge truck carrying cars at the provincial border

Going through a lot of water

Day 188

It was hard to say goodbye to Hami this morning, but its time to head back out into the desert. Out past the melon farmers in the hinterland, and now 3 more days of nothingness starts today. Out on the road all day until I found a home in yet another highway ditch.

Day 187

Today I bought deodarant and walked around eating food. That was about it. Still looking for some food that is anywhere near as good as at the one place in Urumqi, no one around here could do it...

Day 186

Hami, the big town out in the middle of nowhere. Seems like everyone of these towns out here if famous for something, here its for the melons. So when in Rome.... I've been eating a lot of melons. Pretty good I'd have to say. Sitting in the center of this city, you would never know I was right in the middle of the most desolate stretch of the trip. Lots of trees, busy streets, even KFC, and nightclubs. Strange how one day you're running out of water on a road with no one in sight, and a couple days later you're surrounded by activity.

Snake oil for sale

Day 185

Despite my problems yesterday, I actually went really far, and set up today to be a nice and easy 70 km. Into the desert oasis of Hami, and I couldn't be happier to be here. Quickly found a cheap hotel without dealing with all the government bs. Ate some food and fell asleep early with the fan on full-blast.

Day 184

One of the scariest moments of my life happened today.

Finally built up the courage to leave the ditch, enter the scolding sun and the strong headwind. It was an uneasy feeling knowing that I was going to be hot and tired and dirty all day and would probably end up just sleeping in another ditch tonight... The ride started going up hill, against the wind, in the heat, and I started to drink a lot of water. It quickly became apparent that I was going to need to stop and get more water. Only problem was that it did not quickly become apparent where I was going to do that... According to one of my maps, there did seem to be a small trading post up ahead. Before I got there, I found a gas station, which unfortunately didn't have any water. They just had some sugary drinks; I wasn't sure if they would hydrate me or just make things worse. So bought of couple of those, with the hope that this rest stop would help me out. Well, not sure what was up with the map, but I took a frontage road to where this place was supposed to be, and there was nothing but a couple of China Telecom antennas surrounded by desert as far as you could see. Hongshankou, you really let me down here...

This is where I realized I was in trouble. I had about 10 ounces of water, and a liter of the sugary crap, and I was looking at potentially needing to make that last for the next 150 kilometers. Fuck, I usually drink about 10 ounces in one gulp at a rest stop. I stuck to the frontage road because it looked like it might save me a couple of miles, but as I headed down the road I noticed something unsettling. The road was closed. I could still get around the barricade and use it, but I had no idea if it still went where I needed it to go. Feeling like it would be a terrible idea to turn around and add lots of extra miles and time to my ride, I decided I needed to just take this road. Now I not only was almost out of water, but I was also on a road where I knew there would be no passing cars to help me out if something happened. That was what really scared me; passing cars were always my backup lifeline, and now, when I needed them the most, I knew they would not be there. Then the wind kicked in. What if this road dead-ends? What if I can't find any water for the next two days? What if I pass out here? The what ifs were impossible to clear out of my mind.

Now, while all of this was occurring, I was also in awe of the views out here. The mountainous desert landscapes were really awesome. Then the junction with the freeway came into view. I saw it out several miles in front of me, and I crawled to it. I was taking very frequent beaks, rationing the small amount I still had left to drink, and fighting a strong crosswind. It seemed like forever, but I finally got back to the highway. Cool, now I have some occasional passing cars, but still need water. I spent hours and hours biking down the road until I got down to my last sip of water. I couldn't stand the thought of being out here completely without water; I was going to have to be next to death for me to drink that last bit. Finally I saw a truly amazing sign, rest stop 3 km ahead! I was excited, but cautiously so, because I had seen dozens of abandoned rest stops. But I got closer, and it became obvious it was open. Fuck ya! What a relief. I walked into the store and bought a whole box of large waters, plus several sports drinks. I walked out of the store with literally 16 drinks. Crisis averted.

Had a couple more drinks before I decided to take this picture

The end of my water

Day 183

Today I enter the most desolate, isolated stretch of the trip. For the next 670 kilometers, there's only place to stop. I expect it to be windy and hot, with more isolation than I have ever experienced in my life. Its time to pull out all the stops. Every water bottle filled to the brim, bags of food in the front, bags of food in the back. I stop at the last cafe out of town, eat some amazing Uyger food in an equally amazing air-conditioned building, and head out into the desert. Yep, there's that wind. Nothing like it was back in Kazakhstan, but still, requires me to stop earlier than I really wanted. A little shy of 100 km today. Sun beating down, nothing to block it for miles, time to camp in the ditch.

Day 182

I was originally thinking of taking following the expressway today, but Tony recommended an alternative route, on a broken road through some small villages. Now usually when people recommend routes for me, I smile politely and listen, but I never really consider taking them. This is probably a bad thing, I guess I'm just stubborn. It sounds like (and is) such a small thing in the context of an 11,000 mile, 240 day bike ride, but a detour which will take me an extra hour and 10 miles of additional pedaling seems like a terrible idea to me. Hmm, that means I need to wake up earlier today, get in later, not have as much time to relax. I find myself really managing the trip on a micro level like that sometimes. I get a lot of people telling me to detour so I can check out certain national parks, landscapes, stuff like that. Sometimes these are great ideas, but often times I find the untouched nature surrounding my bike ride to be just as amazing as the oftentimes expensive, touristy, out of the way, inauthentic, sights.

Anyway, if Tony happens to be reading this, you should know, I did follow your route today, and it was an awesome idea. Through a series of small Uyger villages, hundreds of traditional mud hut raisin drying buildings, and along side the famous "flaming mountains," which I enjoyed immensely from the road, knowing that I successfully bypassed the tourist location to see them... This road didn't feel like it was part of China. Great call Tony! Only problem was that I was starving towards the end of today, because all of the restaurants on the road were Muslim, and weren't serving any food because Ramadan just started. Not to worry though, a friendly farmer pulled his cart over and insisted that I take a melon from him. It was nice of him, but it took up a lot of space and weight on my bike before I figured out how to open it up...

My front basket completely fell off today. Its been getting progressively worse and worse since I left Kyzylorda, Kazakhstan, not its totally messed up. Hope those zip-ties hold up...

Day 181

Everybody kept warning me about this Bijo stuff, the local liquor. The Chinese call it "wine," but, at 50% alcohol, that couldn't be farther from the truth. Of course I was the only foreigner last night, so everyone wanted to take a drink with me. Anyway, no reason to get into the details, but I wasn't feeling great this morning. Couple that with 42 C weather, and I felt even worse. Tony, however, insisted that I should only drink hot liquids today because it'd be better for my stomach. I've heard this before, it's a traditional Chinese belief, he wasn't just making stuff up. So, not wanting to be disrespectful, I decided today would be only hot drinks. Looking back, I'm not sure if that was the best idea haha. Sure, it was probably good for my stomach, and ya I didn't really get too dehydrated, but I was so hot and sweating profusely all day. Maybe that's the point, I don"t know. What I do know is that I felt "unrefreshed" all day. Hung over in the middle of the desert in the summer with no cold drinks, interesting experience. Tony showed me around, including driving up to mountains, and checking out the local villages. Except for the drinking thing, nice day off.

Day 180

I wind out out of last night's canyon and I am met with open desert land. I have officially entered Turpan Prefecture, the hottest place in China. Although you wouldn't have guess that from today. Overcast, on the brink of raining, doesn't seem too bad for now. Turpan is also home to one of the lowest depressions in the world, and I had a nice steady downhill for several miles on my way into the town of, you guessed it, Turpan. Today was, by far, the fastest maintainable speed I've had on the bike. For several hours I had a nice downhill, a good road and a howling tailwind. No idea how fast I was actually going, but I was almost keeping up with the cars! That all changed though as the wind decided to change directions, then life sucked for a couple hours... Into town, met up with Tony, my first Chinese Couchsurfer. Interesting guy. A Han Chinese, from Eastern China, who became obsessed with Uyger culture and now refuses to live outside of the Xinjiang Uyger Autonomous Region. He runs a tourism company, which I went and checked out where he highlights local Uyger culture and sells local raisins, which are widely regarded in China to be the best raisins in the world. Tonight we met up with his friends, drank a lot of Bijo, and went out to a Uyger club. Really good time.

Day 179

Out of Urumqi. One last stop to stock up on some food from my favorite restaurant, and I'm on the road again. The city disappears quite quickly and I have an uneasy feeling knowing that it will be a long time until I'm back in a large city. Tonight I found a pretty great spot to camp, right off of a river heading though a canyon. Camping site was nice and protected by the surrounding vegetation and all the debris left over from the nearby high-speed rail construction.

Day 178

I have discovered my new favorite restaurant. I mean that 100% literally. Not my favorite in China, or on the trip, or whatever. No. This is the best place to eat I have ever set foot in. If I was picking my last meal on death row, I want food from this place. Sorry In N Out. That being said, I have no idea what this place is called, nor do I really know how to pronounce most of the names of the dishes, but its my favorite place, unequivocally, hands down. Its Uyger cooks, who put a twist on some of the traditional Chinese staple dishes, amazing, and I don't think they have a single thing on the menu that costs over a buck. If anybody out there happens to be reading this and is heading to Urumqi, I'll send you directions, and then you can try it and be disappointed because I just hyped it up with ridiculously high expectations haha.

There it is

Day 177

Security here is intense. Metal detectors and guards at the entrance of every commercial center. You even have to go through security to get in the local city bus stations, and even in the parks! The Chinese government is definitely trying to crack down on all the unrest between the different minority groups, and the recent terrorist attacks.

As lame as this sounds, the Chinese really know how to fly their kites, I'm impressed. They have these huge kites and they fly them like 1000 feet up in the air.  They even have this full body harness thing they wear with the rope wrapped around this bicycle wheel sized reel. Super legit. And I basically guarantee that will be the most I ever write about kites for the rest of my life...

Day 176

Day off today and tomorrow, maybe a third day too, who knows... Urumqi is an interesting city. As with everything else out here, it has its roots as an old silk road post, but this place grew to be a major hub, despite its isolation. I mean this city is really out here, surrounded by endless deserts and mountains which separate it from the rest of the world. In fact, out of every city in Europe AND Asia, Urumqi is closest to Eurasia's Pole of Inaccessibility. You probably have no idea what that means, but the major take away is that its geographically quite disconnected from most major global centers. Anyway, enough of that...

Day 175

Today into Urumqi. With 3 million people, its not a huge mega-city, but its still the biggest thing I've seen since Istanbul. I am excited about that. My nice semi-rural secondary road turned into a 10 lane freeway as I approached, and I found myself suddenly competing with cars for lane space as they sped by at 140 kph. In town the traffic was so bad, that I was actually even having to stop and go on the bike to get through. Despite that though I made great time into town and was ecstatic to find an international hostel, because I knew the government would let me stay there... At the hostel, found a lot of other bikers, mostly doing domestic trips, but one French dude heading from Mongolia back to his house in France. Sweet.

Day 174

From here to Urumqi is about 140 km. I was debating trying to get there in one day, but was hanging out with Tim and his friends this morning and got a late start on the day. So Urumqi in two days... Down the road to Hutubi. The highway starts to get bigger as I approached the edge Urumqi metropolitan area, but that also means I have a nice side road to take today. Hutubi was the perfect place to stop for the night in almost every way. It was a small town, so traffic wasn't bad, but it was big enough to have grocery stores, and plenty of restaurants, street food and hotels. My stay would have been great, if it wasn't for this crazy government... Basically my entire afternoon went like this: walk up to a hotel, very nice owner, very nice hotel, dirt cheap prices. Ask if they have space, they say well yes we certainly do. Ask for a room, oh no sorry can't do that, government would shut me down if I let a foreigner stay here.  I must have gone into over 20 hotels, same deal. Every. Single. Time. You can imagine how my delight in the government's competency to build such great road infrastructure soon gave way to anger towards their bullshit foreigner hotel policy. I eventually was able to verify that there was only one hotel in town that accepted foreigners, the Holiday Inn. Fuck, no way, sounds like there must have been some sort of corrupt deal that took place or something.

Definitely not paying that much money, so time for Plan B, camping tonight. The reason I didn't want to camp for Plan A, was that there was no good places to do it around here. The entire area was developed with either buildings or small farm house plots; there were people everywhere. There's nothing worse than going to sleep knowing that someone might come knocking on your tent at anytime. Its unsafe, and also just really annoying. That's why my number one rule of stealth camping is, don't be seen.  I was hoping that the one place I might find some area not frequented by people would be in the middle of the highway junction. So I bought some food and left town, out towards the freeway bypass road. While I was trying to figure out how to hop the fence into my "camping spot," I unfortunately met this homeless type person who wouldn't leave me alone. He wasn't really harassing me or anything, he just wouldn't leave. That was a problem, since I did not want him to see where I was camping (or even just that fact that I was camping). It took me a couple hours to shake him, and then I was finally able to sneak off to camp without anyone seeing me.

Day 173

Compared to the Stans, China is huge. Even out in the middle of nowhere, there seems to be a lot more going on. People are everywhere, relatively speaking at least. There's still plenty of open space and distance between cities, I'm still in a decently sparse desert, but when you do get to a city, they're all seemingly huge. Urban interstates, train stations, malls, grocery stores, bike shops, 10 story apartment buildings; things which were rare occurrences and only found in the largest cities in the former Soviet countries were commonplace here. It was weeks between these type of cities in the Stans, and now I seemed go through one every day. The cities are so much denser here, that a street pattern on my map which would probably indicate a 20,000 person town in Kazakhstan, could be city with half a million people here. Case in point was tonight's stop, Shihezi. I was told I had an American friend of a friend here who worked at a university, but judging from my maps, I though there was no way this was the same Shihezi. Sure enough though, this was the spot. Met up with Tim and his other American friends living in a tall apartment building in this deceivingly large city. They all taught in the English department, which didn't surprise me... I ended up having the best timing ever, as Tim was hosting an end of the year party tonight with all of his students. The even had American liquor, and some other stuff which was really hard to find around here... It was awesome to hangout with these people from all over China. I had finally found people who spoke English! Haha. After the students left, Tim, the other teachers, and I all shot the shit. Great company, great night.

Day 172

Another day riding on the 4 lane expressway all day. It's the only road. I really love these stretches, one road, open desert, vast sections of undeveloped land. The conditions today couldn't have been better. Slightly downhill, well paved road, favorable wind, good weather. Add this with crazy days which don't get dark until after 11 pm, and I just kept going and going and going. Before I knew it I had blown past my targeted stop and cruised into Kuytun, over 180km on the day! My longest day so far, and by a decent margin at that. As luck would have it, I quickly found a cheap hotel which would accept me, and I even made some friends who wanted to practice their English while I was eating dinner.

Saw a lot of this around Kuytun

Day 171

Decided to take today off. It's been hot, I've been tired, and I'm not really in a hurry, so why not... I'm really excited to be here in China, I'm still feeling that high from entering the country. That being said, I have never been so lost in my life. Besides from saying "Ne How" I don't know a single thing. Working on saying "thank you," might have that one down in a week or two... As you may have guessed there are basically no English speakers out here. The government does do a great job making sure all of the road signs are bilingual, only problem is that the two languages they choose use are Chinese and Uyger... Checking into the hotel last night took almost an hour, as we both tried to use internet translators, which often produced translations which were comically nonsensical. Ordering food is a bit of a problem. I don't really know what any of the names of the dishes are here, and even when I do try to pronounce one of them, people usually have no idea what I am talking about. I usually just walk into a restaurant, look at the menu and pick something at random which seems to be appropriately priced. Usually I'll point to something, the cook will go ohh ya the "yu fung quian wang shu" or whatever and, not wanting to embarrass myself, I'll just nod as if I know exactly what I'm about to get. If they don't have a menu, things get even more interesting...

Day 170

Very carefully snuck out of my hidden camping spot in the middle of the off-ramp, hit the road. East bound, what else is new. Out here in the middle of nowhere, there's a lot of nothingness, but that seems to be changing quick. For the first time ever in my life, I passed through a city completely off of the map. Large residential apartment buildings, commercial centers, it must have had about 30,000 people, and it didn't exist on either of my two maps. Where the hell was I? I guess I'll never know... And it wasn't just that place, there were several other towns, roads, railroad crossings, all sorts of stuff which didn't make the maps. Was this a product of rapid development, or China's lack of transparency with the outside? Probably both. Either way, it coupled with my complete lack of being able to speak, write, or read anything to make me feel pretty lost around here.

Into the city of JingHe. As with my first night in China, I looked up how to write "hotel" and then tried to piece together the characters I read on the buildings. That took some time, but after a bit of looking around it inevitably got a bit easier. Unlike most of the ex-Soviet countries, there is seemingly a huge surplus of hotels here. It is almost impossible to find a block in town which doesn't have a hotel on it. It was great, huge selection, all very cheap. Only problem was that I wasn't allowed to stay at almost all of them. The rumors I had heard from other travelers seem to be true; the Chinese government will only let foreigners stay at a very specific list of hotels. Unfortunately the ones I could stay at here are all the expensive ones... That sucks. Spent several hours finally finding a place that could take me for a decent price. Wow that sucked, I really hope I don't have to do this bullshit in every city.

Day 169

Its funny how much things changed after crossing the border. I had officially left the former USSR countries and entered China; I had crossed between two very different spheres of influence. The old communist style of the soviet union, was replaced by the new, capitalistic communist style of the Peoples' Republic of China. Except for the Uyger population who lived on both sides of the border, the languages were different, the cultures were different, the food was different, everything seemed quite different. Very exciting.

The roads here are in substantialy better shape then in Kazakhstan, or any other country in the region. The expressway for today was well paved, had a big shoulder, proper signage, and was free of grazing livestock. The route today was amazing, up through a rocky valley and then through a series of tunnels which carved their way up to one of the tallest bridges on the planet. The views were awesome. Then the road passes a pristine alpine lake, before heading down into the desert on a 30+ kilometer descent.

I've been told it can be a little tricky camping in China, as its not as legal to camp on the side of the road as it is in other coutries. I'm not really sure exactly what the law is, but I didn't want to take any chances. For that reason I'm camping tonight in the only place I could find where I could hide in thick trees and vegetation - inside the center of a looping off-ramp on the freeway.

Day 168

Today was the big day. Today was the day I finally attempted to enter China. I could feel the border's proximity yesterday, as Rustam's house received only Chinese channels. As I started out on the ride today, I was only an hour or so away from finally getting there. I was nervous this morning, more so than I have ever been for any other border crossing. I had lied on my visa and told them I wasn't biking into the country. I wasn't sure if that would cause problems. I had also been getting mixed reports whether or not I could ride my bike through the no-mans land between Kazakhstan and China. I had come so far. It would be a tragedy if I had rerouted my trip and went through all that trouble of getting a Kazakhstan visa just to be disappointed at this border. I was hell bent on getting through, on my bicycle.

On the way to the border, I prepared a speech I was going to give to plead my case to be allowed to bike through the border. I rehearsed it over and over again in my head, trying to think of all the possible scenarios which might come up and what I would do. I took all of the money out of my wallet in case they wanted me to pay to get on a bus. Sorry, no money, guess I have to bike... I got my schedule up on my phone, so I could show them where I was coming from and how important it was for me to bike every inch.

I got to the first checkpoint. Friendly Kazakhstan guards waved me right through. Second check point, had to unpack everything and put it through the x-ray machine, but still, all was good. Then I stamped out of Kazakhstan and I knew this was where I might have some problems. My plan was to just start riding as fast as I could and not give the guards enough time to tell me otherwise. Unfortunately though, there was a big gate, which the guard had to come over and open for me. Then the dreaded cross of the hands as the guard told me I needed to get on a bus. Shit. I started pleading with him, giving him my speech and showing him my map. I was only talking for about 5 seconds when he cut me off, and told me to wait a minute. He went over to his boss, and asked if I could bike through, and the boss very causally was like, well ya, sure, why not. Yes! Success! 7.2 kilometers later and I reached the Chinese side of the border. My worries about getting through immigration quickly vanished as the border guards were all very nice and greeted me with a smile and a "Welcome to China."


One of the happiest moments of my life. All of the struggles of getting through the passes in Kyrgyzstan, and the uncertainty surrounding the border situations, all of the bureaucracy, it was all over. I had biked from the western most point in Europe to China. I was now in my last country. Pure excitement!

Stopped for the night in what looked like just a rest stop on my map, but what turned out to be a decent sized city. I went in to get a sim card for my phone, and befriended the girl there who was able to speak English. We ended up getting dinner and talking for the better part of the night. Ate some great fish.

Day 167

Going to bed last night, I wasn't sure if my accident might force me to take today off to try to recover. When I woke up though, I felt a bit better. A bunch of Neosporin and some band-aids, and I was ready to go. Luckily no more wet tar today haha. Nice ride today, tail wind all day, made good time into Zharkent.

When I was staying with Patrick's family, they hooked me up with a contact for tonight, Rustam, who worked at the farm center here. We met up in town and then he headed home to his village by taxi as I went by bike. Rustam got his bike from home and joined me for the last stretch to his house. Turns out he and Patrick are not only friends, but also biking buddies, who have gone together on a couple different bike tours around the region. Couldn't find better people to stay with haha.

Rustam and his family were amazing. Incredibly hospitable, almost to the point where I felt guilty. His wife brought out a plate stacked a foot and a half high with Mantai, dumplings filled with meat, and I sat with Rustam and his family eating, drinking tea, and talking. Rustam said to me, "A friend of Patrick is a friend of me" and I felt he meant that sincerly. He and his family was incredibly kind and filled with excitment and happiness. I'm starting to notice that about Uygers, they seem to always be happy, more so than any other group of people I have ever met. Perhaps the rest of us have something to learn from them.

Rustam and his family

Day 166

Last night's awesomeness seemingly carried over to the start of today's ride. Nice views, strong tail winds, and the forecasted rain never showed up. Everything was going great until I hit this construction zone. You see, here in Kazakhstan the way they repave the roads is by dumping a whole bunch of tar and rocks on the highway, going over it once with a steam roller, and then immediately opening the road back up to traffic. It seems to me like a terrible idea, because the highway gets rutted by the passing trucks not more then a minute after they just paved it. As you may imagine, it is a really terrible experience biking over it. The wet tar and loose gravel get all over your tires and they also jam your chain. Every 30 seconds or so, a rock would get stuck in my derailleur and almost snap my chain or cables. I kept having to stop to get all the tar out of the sensitive parts of my bike. That wasn't fun.

What happened next was even less fun. In fact, it was probably the worse thing that has ever happened to me on a bike. EVER. A car going the opposite way decided to pass someone by using my lane, forcing me to swerve to the right to get out of their way. This happens all the time, and usually its annoying, but not that big of a deal. This time was different though. Its really hard to swerve when you're on loose, sticky gravel, especially when you're going decently fast becase of a tail wind. As you may have guessed, I crashed. Now, this isn't the first time I've crashed on this trip, but usually I fall off the bike when I'm going slowly through sand. Sand, as it turns out, is actually a really great thing to fall into. Wet tar and rocks, not so much. This crash was bad. I slid several yards on the unfinished road and got cuts on my face, hands, stomach, legs and feet. When I got up, I realized that several spots on my body were covered in blood. It would probably be a stretch to say that my helmet saved my life, but it certainly saved me a trip to the hospital. Getting cut up is bad enough, but what really made this terrible was the fact that the wet asphalt got all over me. Huge gobs of tar were sticking to my clothes, helmet, skin, and bike. Of course all the cars stopped to look at me, which was pretty embarassing as well haha.

I finally gained my composure and walked out into the desert towards what looked like some sort of construction camp. Sure enough, the kind construction workers got me some soap and water and helped me try to clean myself up. This being my first time covered in tar, I did not fully appreciate how redicuosly difficult it is to remove it from your skin and clothes. I couldn't get any of it off me... So I hobbled down the road, looking like a freak, and just wanting to put all this behind me. When I got to town, I was a bit worried that no one would let me stay at their hotel because I looked like such a mess. The first place said no. The second place gave me a concerned look, but then after I used Google Translator to explain what happened, we all started laughing. That's when I started to realize the humor behind what happened to me haha. Anyway, no problem staying there. Thankfully this place had a shower with good pressure, really hot water, and a really stiff lufa. After about a 45 minute shower, I was free of tar. My clothes, not so much...

Covered with tar

Day 165

On the road, finally heading towards China. The road out of Almaty started as a 6 lane highway, and then slowly narrowed as I passed through the periurban areas, through the suburbs, and out into the hinterland. As I was about to pull into a town for the night, a car stopped in front of me on the road. Of course this was becomming a regular occurance, happening at least once a day. The curious driver would motion for me to pull over, ask me where I was from, where I was going, maybe ask for a picture, and then smile, wave and drive off. So ok, here we go again. This car, however, would change this fairly average day into one of the most memorable experiences of the trip.

The driver's name was Patrick, a California native who had been living in Kazahstan for 15 years. Along with his wife and three children, he was heading to a small village a bit down the road. He asked if I wanted a place to stay for the night and then gave me instructions for where to meet him. I biked the 20 or so kilometers to the village of Baiceit and, sure enough, there they were. The family had lived here for 7 years and worked with the local farm center to train farmers for the region. They had since moved to a bigger town about 50 kilometers away, but were returing tonight to attend the wedding of one of their good friend's daughters. They were kind enough to let me sleep in a spare room of their apartment. Then they even invited me to the wedding they were about to attend. No way I was going to say no to that haha. Patrick hooked me up with some spare clothes, and off we went.

I was a bit worried when we walked into the wedding hall. I had been invited by Patrick and his family, but I wasn't sure if the other people would be happy to see me effectivly "crashing" their wedding. Well... not only did everyone welcome me in, the father of the bride insisted that Patrick's family and I sit with him at the table of honor in the front of the banquet hall. Overwhelmed doesn't even start to describe the feeling I had sitting next to the parents of the bride and groom. I had never met these people before, and we didn't speak a common language, but they were so kind and welcoming. I was completly blown away by how nice these people were. Patrick turned to me and said, "You can see why we stayed here for 7 years." I could indeed.

This being a Uyger wedding, the bride and groom arrived to fireworks as they festivly walked around a fire with everyone clapping. Then we went inside where offical vows were exchanged and then dancers provided entertainment while people started eating. The food was awesome and plentiful. Toasts were given, which Patrick, who speaks fluent Uyger, was nice enough to translate for me. Then the party really started as everyone got up and started dancing. It took me a while to figure out the Uyger dancing style haha... Wow, really awesome night.

Day 164

Today I saw the second tallest free standing wooden structure in the world. It was about as interesting as it sounds...

Yep, there it is...

Day 163

My hostel here in Almaty is interesting. It is in an apartment building, and it is quite obvious that someone just took a 3 bedroom apartment, added some bunkbeds and decided to open a hostel. Apparently they did this without telling the government, or any of their neighbors, becuase I was told they are being shut down next week. Anway, nice enough place, cool people, and it just so happens that this is the same place Blake stayed a few nights ago. Some of the guests that he met are still here. One guy even exclaimed, "Oh! So you're the guy that Blake 'helped over the mountains.'" Alright Blake, interesting way to phrase it hahahaha.

For the third time, I'm off again to the migration police station to register my stay in the country. This is really starting to piss me off. I've tried pretty hard, but I honestly can't think of a single reason for the government to mandate foreign registration like this. It wastes time for both me and the police, it costs the government money, and doesn't really provide the police with any information about me or my travels. Anyway, got to do what you've got to do. So I put aside the entirety of today to take care of this, and what would you know, it only took about an hour. Wow, awesome, what a pleasant surprise.

Day 162

I found myself destroyed by the ride today. Not really sure why. It was hot and there were some hills, but I really was much more tired today then I felt I should have been. Guess I'm still recovering from all that time off of the bike.

Today into the city of Almaty, the largest metropolis in Kazahkstan. It was the capital of the country, until the president decided to basically build a new city from scratch and make that the capital. Almaty is a city unlike I've seen anywhere else in the country (or even in all of Central Asia). It has freeways, skyscrapers, a subway, and even KFC and Carl's Jr. It's the biggest place I've been since Istanbul. Feels nice.

Day 161

I'm comming off the longest haitius from the trip thus far. It's been 10 days since I last rode. I quickly noticed that I had fallen out of shape a bit today. Funny how quickly that can happen. A quick 15 kilometers and I was back in Kazakhstan. It feels like I never left.

Up over a decent sized hill and then down into the flatlands. A couple of small rest stops, but not much else out here. Tonight I was lucky enough to find a cluster of trees in the otherwise open landscape. They were spaced just perfect to park my tent right in the middle, one of my favorite camping spot of the entire trip so far. Even found a little water nearby to wash my hands and face, although it was in the form of a discarded, half drunken water bottle. Living in luxory...

Day 160

The longer I stay in Bishkek the more I realize how many people are just sitting around here waiting to get visas. People wanting to travel to Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, and China seemingly all end up stuck in Bishkek waiting for their paperwork to go through. Kyrgystan acts as the waiting room for Central Asian beuacracy. Happy to say my wait is over, got my visa. Ready to go first thing tomorrow morning. Time to finally get back on the road.

Day 159
Today is the laziest day I have had on the entire trip. By far. Blake had already finished his ride into Almaty by the time I woke up today in the early afternoon. I really hope I can get that visa tomorrow...

Day 158

Blake left this morning, we parted ways at the main square in town and he rode off towards Kazakhstan. After that, it was another lazy day for me, sitting around and watching shows on the Internet. Sure sounds a lot different than Blake's long day of biking haha.

For the first time since I can remember, I am finally in a big city, on the weekend, with no biking planned for tomorrow. Big party tonight.

Day 157

Last full day of the trip with my friend Blake, I'll miss him when he heads out down the road without me tomorrow. We just sit around most of the day. Nice to have some down time. We grab one last dinner, and sit around at the restaurant drinking beers and debriefing our trip together.

Interesting plants growing in downtown Bishkek

Day 156

Kazakhstan bureaucracy has found me again. I have a visa, it is still valid, but I don't have any entries left on it... So that means, first thing today I biked over the Kazakh embassy here in Bishkek and applied for a new visa. $160 and five days waisted. Blake can't wait for me to get the visa, he needs to head out  in time to catch his flight back to Europe. Tonight, back at the same hostel, with many of the same people, deja vu all over again...

As a result of the mess trying to get over the border into Kashgar, I now have a new schedule, which basically reroutes half of my trip through China. Assuming all goes ok from here on out, I do actually plan to arrive on time in Lanzhou. My new, amended schedule to Lanzhou is available here.

Day 155

We're both returning to Bishkek. Spent the morning in the mountains doing some trekking, then headed back to Naryn where we chilled around town before catching a red eye bus back to the capital. Not against the rules of course, as I am returning to a spot I had previously biked to... As Blake points out, 4 days of tough riding seemingly erased by a 7 dollar bus ticket...

Day 154

We both agreed that Blake's best option is to bike up to the Torugart Pass, pay the 200 something dollars, and take the mandatory car ride from the border to Kashgar. First thing in the morning he went over to start getting the paperwork in order. Three stamps later, things were looking good. Then he got a phone call. The price for his ride just doubled, bringing his total expenses up to over 400 bucks... We grabbed lunch and again shuffled through our options. If he did elect to go back to Bishkek, now the already rushed ride through Kazakhstan was trimmed by an additional 24 hours...

For me, my option was easy. I can't ride through either passes in this country, I need to go back to Kazakhstan. For Blake, his decision pended on a million things. Does he have time? How far can he bike in a day? What is he going to do with his bike? What is the best city to fly out of? Where was he going to meet his friends in Europe? On top of all the logistical questions facing him on this trip, he also had a much more profound decision to make; what was he going to do for the next several years of his life. He was just offered a job offer and needs to decide tonight weather or not he will take it, return to school, or keep traveling indefinitely. To clear our heads, we decided to head up to a yurt village in the mountains. There we hashed out his options. There was no easy answer.

The yurts

Tash Rabat

Day 153

Its raining today, we're still recovering from yesterday's ride, and we really need to try to get some more information about the border crossing before we head up there. Put all that together, and you get a day off in town. Good thing too. We finally were able to meet people who had just come down the Torugart Pass and people who were planning on going up. Also, we stopped at a tourist center which had the most up to date information available. What we found was not good. There is no way to bike down the pass. The Chinese simply will not allow you to do so. If you want to cross to Kashgar, you need to pay for a permit, as well as arrange for a driver to be waiting for you at the border. This was going to cost over $200 per person... When we asked if we could cross at the Irkeshtam Pass, she told us it was closed, confirming what Mansur had told us down in Bishkek. Talking with other travelers in town basically painted the same picture. There was not way to bike into China for Kyrgyzstan.

For me, there was no chance I was going to pay 200 bucks for the 'privlidge" of breaking my rules and not being able to enjoy biking down the mountain. No way. My only option was to turn around, head back to Bishkek, and go back into Kazakhstan in search of a better border crossing option into China.

For Blake, the time crunch is starting to intensify. He needs to get on a plane and fly to Croatia very soon. We all set goals, mine is to bike across Eurasia, his is to bike to China. If we turned around, it was going to take some long, tough days of riding to get to the Kazakh/ Chinese border. If he headed up the Torugart Pass, I was going to feel obligated to join him. I didn't want to ditch my friend who just traveled around the world to be with me. We sat in our hotel room tonight, bouncing off ideas, trying to figure out what we were going to do.

Day 152

Today was no joke. Up there with some of the harder rides I've done. Blake even told me it was probably the hardest ride he's ever done. Up 4500 feet to the Dolon Pass, then fighting a headwind down the valley before reaching a long stretch of rolling hills, heading into the town of Naryn, 120 kms away. Add in the terrible dirt roads, some bad drivers, and mechanical problems with Blake's bike, and it was pretty rock and roll all day today. By the end of the day, Blake was about to pass out, and I wasn't too far behind. It didn't help that it was Sunday night and it took us an hour to find an open cafe to get some food.

Day 151

Today reminded me of the old times - those experiences battling the endless gusts of wind in Russia and Kazakhstan. The wind was back, in full force. Blake finally knew what I was talking about when I kept bitching about how bad the winds used to be haha. The nice things about the mountains though, is that the wind is constantly changing, depending on which valley you happen to be traveling through. Towards the end of the ride, that huge head wind turned into a great tail wind as we merged roads. Still, the tough wind took its toll, and cut our day a bit short today. As a result, it looks like we won't be able to bike up the secondary roads to Song Kul Lake as we were originally aspiring to do.

Town of Kochkor

Day 150

We woke up early today, eager to get the hell out of this guys house. Despite our pleas, he angrily insisted that we sleep on the floor right next to his bed. He then passed out, later waking up a couple times to run outside. Assuming he was throwing up... In the middle of the night he fell out of his bed and landed on our feet. Instead of getting back up into his bed, he stayed there, for hours, occasionally kicking around. Needles to say we didn't get much sleep. Just as we had hurried into his house the night before to get out the rain, we rushed out, not wanting to deal with this guy anymore than we needed to.

Despite all this, I still thought he was, at his core, a nice guy. He was a drunkard who had some terrible friends, but he had taken us in, and for that I was incredibly grateful. That perception changed this morning, when out of nowhere he insisted that we pay him $60 for the privilege of staying at his house. In a country where even a pretty good hotel costs about $15 per person, this was a ridiculous request, and we all knew that. That's when it dawned on us that he had probably locked us in last night intentionally because he didn't want to risk us leaving without paying. I thought about negotiating the price down, but then we decided the best course of action was to just leave without paying at all. We had paid for all of his liquor and cigarettes last night, provided a couple of laughs at our expense with his guests last night, and cleaned up his apartment a bit, so I felt as if we were pretty even.

I've never been in such a hurry to leave somewhere. Luckily we were able to get out of his house and close to the street in one piece. Outside we packed out bags as he stood and waited for us to finish, expecting us to pay on departure. Our plan was simple enough; pack up as fast as we could, give him a big wave and start racing down the road, ignoring whatever he might be trying to say to us. That worked well enough for Blake, but as I tried to get going, this guy grabbed my bike. Angrily insisting that I pay up. I dragged him into the middle of the street with my bike, hoping a car would drive by and help us out. Surely the town drunk grabbing a foreigner in the middle of the street wouldn't go over with the rest of the (incredibly nice and friendly) locals who lived in town. What would you know, no more than 20 seconds later, a car comes barreling down the road, honking their horn, and scaring this drunky off the road. Here's my chance, we sprinted down the road, shaking with adrenalin, feeling like fugitives or something. This is not the way things should be, I thought. What an unfortunate situation for everyone involved...

We sped down the road, incredibly worried that he might rally his friends to come look for us. After a couple miles, we hid our bikes behind some trees at a cafe and waited out the heat haha. For the next several hours on the road, I was constantly looking behind my back, tensing up every time I heard a car honk, or appear to slow down. I've never felt like this before, it wasn't a nice feeling.

Down the road a bit more, we stopped to get some supplies from a road side market. There was a very nice family who invited us over to eat with them. At the end of the meal, we asked how much money they wanted for the food, and they shook their heads, refusing to let us pay. Sure is funny how the people you want to give money to don't accept it, and the people you don't want to give money to are the ones who want it the most...

Head winds started making an appearance today, as did a rocky road. It was a bumpy, grinding, uphill ride into our town tonight. We're in a town right on Lake Issuk Kul, one of the natural treasures of the country. In incredibly contrast to our accommodation last night, we decided to stay at the nicest resort in town. Nice room, right on the lake, and only 20 bucks...

Lake Issuk Kul

View from the hotel

Day 149

Today the winds were strongly in our favor and we headed out of Bishkek and made good time on the road. Good vibes on the bikes, we were cautiously optimistic about the road that lay ahead. As we got close to our town for the night, we started sprinting in an effort to avoid the pending storm which was sweeping in right behind up. Upon arrival, we quickly realized we had a bit of a problem. There was no place to stay. With no hotel in town, and the storm starting to intensify, we were desperate to find a place to get out of the rain for the night.  Camping didn't really seem like a nice option in this rainy, windy weather which was projected to last throughout the night. Just when things looked like they might be shaping up poorly, a man gestured us towards a house, telling us we could stay there for the night. Wow! Amazing. What a nice guy.

We scrambled to get all of our stuff off of the bike and out of the rain. After we finally got under shelter things started to get a bit strange. It became immediately obvious that the man who invited us in was drunk. We walked over to a market together to get some food, and this guy only wanted some schnapps and a pack of cigarettes. It started to dawn on us that he was most likely an alcoholic. That would explain all those empty bottles scattered through out his house... But whatever, nobody is perfect, he still seemed like a nice enough guy. He took off to go do something as we sat alone on the floor of his unfurnished, one room house eating dinner. With the strong tail wind, we had made really good time into town, and consequently had a lot of time to kill after we ate. We waited over an hour, this guy was still out, so we decided to go walk around town. That's when we noticed he had locked us in. Ok, that's maybe a little strange, but he probably just wasn't used to having people over and forgot we couldn't get out if he locked the front gate. Besides, he was pretty drunk after all. We hopped the fence and walked around town a bit. When we arrived back, he seemed a bit upset. He gestured in his drunken stupor that we were not to leave his house without his permission. Again, a small red flag, but he was probably just worried about our safety or something... We sat around together for a while, with our only real interaction being accompanying him to and from the market to buy more liquor. He did talk a lot to us, but he didn't really seem to understand that we had no idea what he was saying. He just kept going on, for hours, with us just nodding and occasionally laughing if we thought he was trying to tell a joke. He was so drunk, that we probably still wouldn't have know what he was saying even if we spoke the same language...

It was getting late, this guy was not so pleasant to be around, and we really just wanted to politely go off to bed. That's when 5 of his friend came over... You could probably guess what they were all doing together. Yep, that's right, drinking. Now there wasn't just one drunk guy trying to unintelligibly talk to us, there were 5! Some of his friends were not only drunk, but really mean as well. There was the guy next to Blake who kept insisting that he pay him $100, the other man who was constantly putting his hands together in a really disgusting thrusting gesture, trying to get me to have sex with who knows who... After several painstaking hours, they finally left and we have the chance to get some sleep.

Day 148

I'm nervous. I've been doing a lot of biking lately, but when we leave Bishkek tomorrow, we'll be getting into something like never before. These mountain passes into china are high (to me at least). I am quite nervous about having to deal with the altitude up at the passes. We're expecting bad roads, cold temperatures, and isolated stretches. There's also a lot of reports of frequent, unpredictable snow storms. If we have any mechanical problems up there, we could be in some very serious trouble. Blake has insisted that both of us go to a bike shop and have a mechanic go over our bikes to make sure we're good to go. Seems like a decent enough idea to me.

Perhaps the biggest problem we may face could be the bureaucracy. There are two ways over the mountains to China, The Torugart Pass, and the Irekstam Pass. The Tourgart is much shorter from Bishkek and apparently more scenic, but its officially not open to international travelers. Apparently you can get through, but it looks like you may need a special permit. There's also seemingly a very good chance that the Chinese border guards will not allow us to ride our bikes from the border to the migration check point some 70 km down the road. This of course would be a direct violation of my rules, something I see as unacceptable. The Irekstam Pass is officially open to international travelers, but the internet offers contradictory reports on whether or not you can bike down that road either. It would also require us to bike several hundred extra miles to get there and over. Additionally, Mansur, who works in the Parliament building here in Bishkek, has mentioned that Irekstam might be about to close due to political unrest in the region. Getting into China without breaking my rules might prove to be quite difficult.

To make things even more complicated, Blake is under a time crunch to get back to a previously made commitment in Croatia. When it boils down to it, we need to take our chances on the Torugart Pass, because Blake simply does not have enough time to bike the extra distance through the Irekstam Pass. There's nothing else to do, unless I decide to ditch Blake, something that is just not going to happen since we both traveled across the world to bike together into China. Reliable information is impossible to be found around here. It seems the best thing to do is just start biking up the mountain and hope things go well. Tomorrow we head towards Torugart.

As for tonight, another night out with Mansur and his friends. Good times.

Day 147

I strive to get off the beaten track, something I think I have accomplished quite well for the past couple of months. Kazakhstan might be one of the most undertouristed countries on the planet (despite tourism reportedly increasing 5 fold after the release of Borat haha). This provided some of the most authentic traveling I have ever been privileged to do. With this, however, comes difficulties. When you travel to places most people elect not to travel to, theres a serious lack of tourism infrastructure. Bishkek couldn't be more different in this regard. With its lack visa policy, unique lakes, and enticing mountain ranges, Kyrgyzstan has attracted a steady stream of travelers, including a decent amount of bike tourists. As a result, for the first time since Turkey, I am surrounded by a slew of hostels, a decent amount of quality bike shops, more people who speak English, etc. Perhaps the most important development, is that I finally found a proper place to do laundry! 73 long days it has been...

My shoes have become a bit of an embarrassment. Its been 147 days of biking in rain, dirt, and mud. 147 days of sweat, bike grease, spilt fermented camel's milk, and a million other things. At hotels I keep them in the bathroom with the door closed to contain their odor. I've never owned anything that smells as bad as these shoes do... Also, the soles have worn razor thin due to the five months of daily pressure against the pedals. Suffice it say, priority number one today is to get some new shoes. Off to the Osh Bazarre, millions of shoes to pick from, almost all way too small. Took some time, but finally found a nice stylish pair, only ones in the entire market that fit, so I kind of needed to take them...

When I was passing through Belgrade, Serbia, I met a girl from France who had a friend who lived in Kyrgyzstan. I remember she asked me back then if I was heading through Bishkek, and I had to look at my schedule because I didn't really know where Bishkek was haha. Anyway, here I am. Called up her friend Mansur, and Blake and I met him tonight for dinner. I really cool guy. He worked abroad, lived for a decent amount of time in France, spoke a million languages, and had a lot of local knowledge. It was really nice to meet him.

A couple years ago, while returning home from biking across the US, I couchsurfed in Chicago with a girl named Kat. She's a journalist, and was nice enough to decide to write a small article on my trip. Check it out here if your interested.

Day 146

Today was an easy short ride into Bishkek, although a bit traffic filled. We made really excellent time into town and it really ended up being just a half day of riding. That's great news because we've got a lot of crap to deal with before we leave town. From here to Kashgar, China we expect a lot of high mountain passes and not a lot of big towns. It's shaping up to be the most technical part of the trip, and we've got to make sure we've got our shit together before we head out.

Day 145

I was sad to leave Kazakhstan today. Despite the barren desert, terrible winds, and difficult bureaucracy, the people here were one of a kind. Now to Kyrgyzstan, the "Switzerland of Central Asia" as Blake likes to call it due to its mountainous topography. Border was easy enough and we made great time into the town of Kara Balta. Haven't met a lot of foreigners in these parts, but today we ran into a Nigerian, recruited here to play soccer. Cool guy, we might try to meet up in Bishkek.

Day 144

Nice day again, awesome road, great weather, no wind; this is really turning into the perfect starter week to get Blake up to speed. Our pace starts to quicken and we were almost up to my regular coasting rate today. Props to Blake on that one, it certainly took me a lot longer to get in shape out here.

Made some friends again in town, ended up getting dinner with them and drinking a bit too much beer. Oh well, it is Saturday night...

Day 143

Today to Taraz. Nice views of the mountains to the south, pretty good road, and again no wind. Despite it being Blake's second day we don't do too bad on timing. In town we disagree about where to stay. He'd prefer just find a place and not have to worry about it. Being the cheapo I am, I insist on biking around a bit more to try to find a cheaper place. An argument that we commonly found ourselves having on our trip across the US as well. Anyway, we find a hotel and things get smoothed over quickly as we find a restaurant to drink some beer and eat some food. We make some friends who insist on paying for our beer, and we even get an extra dish comped by the management as a "Welcome to Kazahstan" gesture. I just can't get over how nice people can be around here.

Day 142

Five days planned from here to Bishkek. We get out the door and make it about a minute before the main bag on Blake's bike starts falling off. The trails of day one... A bit of rope and we start off again. Its feels incredibly strange to have someone else here with me. The pace today was certainly slower than usual, as was expected. Hopefully that will change in a couple of days. Nevertheless, things go pretty well, mainly because, there's no wind! Blake is quite the good luck charm here haha. Into a town, towards the end of the ride, Blake starts to slow down. Still, he survived today a hell of a lot better than I survived my first day of biking.

Day 141

Like I had to do a few days back, Blake too needs to deal with registering with the police. Like my experience, this takes up most of the day today. His registration was complicated a bit more too since we're not staying at a hotel and so we have to go searching for this specific tour agency which can get him some letter he needs. He also somehow got a business visa instead of a tourist visa, which confuses things even more... Anyway, with the help of our couchsurfer Alyia we get through everything. Have I mentioned how much I hate Kazakhstan bureaucracy...

On top of the registration Blake has a lot of work to do before he can start riding. He needs to unpack and reassemble his bike, add a whole bunch accessories, and then figure out how to get all of his gear on the bike. The latter involves a lot of trail and error, and can take a really long time to get right. It might be Day 141 for me, but its Day 0 for him. We're both up quite late prepping everything. I had forgotten what I pain in the ass it is to start off on a trip like this.

Day 140

Its been 140 days out here. 140 days alone. Traveling by yourself provides incredible freedom, but it can also feel like solitary confinement sometimes haha. Today things are shifting up big time. Today is the day I meet up with my friend. Out of the hotel, into a couchsurfer's apartment, and then over to a nearby intersection where I meet the man of the hour, Mr. Blake Martini. All of the sudden I have a high school friend standing in front of me here in Shymkent, Kazakhstan. The first familiar face in 5 months. Awesome and incredibly strange at the same time. He's got a blog too:

We head over to the bizarre to get a few things, grab some lunch and start talking business. Of course we have lots of things to talk about.

Day 139

Today was a bit of a lazy day. Fixed up the bike, put all the new stuff on, everything seems ok so far... Spent a lot of time sitting in the air conditioned hotel room playing 2048 haha.

Day 138

With the new entry into the country yesterday, I needed to register again with the migration police. Of course that took all day, as I ran around town getting some stupid letter stamped, then returned only to be told that they forgot to add some line to the heading... Around town again, then by late afternoon I was finally good to go. At least I didn't have to pay 100 bucks this time...

I need to find a bike shop. I can't leave town before I do. My chain has started skipping and jumping a lot, a sure sign that I need a new one. Its been bearable around here, but heading into the mountains of Kyrgyzstan will probably be impossible with the old chain. With a new chain comes a new freewheel as well. I also really need to get some lights, a new rear tire, and I still want that spare axil. I walked over to the central bizarre, and sure enough I found a section with about a dozen tables full of bike parts. It sounds a bit cliche, but I really did feel like a kid in a candy shop. It was exactly that same feeling. I spent hours looking over everything, and loaded up with all sorts of great stuff. Hopefully I'll be riding a lot more confident now.

Day 137

Today is the last day on my visa, I need to get to that border and re-enter to get a fresh 30 days. Shymkent is not too far away from Kyrgyzstan, but its still over 100 miles one way. A train to Taraz, hitchhike to the border, deal with the border formalities, hitchhike back to Taraz, and then get a ride to Shymkent. This is going to take all day... Leave at 6 am, usually considered by myself to be quite early, but I was really sleeping in compared to these 2 am bike rides haha. Transit went incredibly smoothly. The only problem I had was with the Kyrgyzstan border guard. He didn't seen too happy that I was just using he country to deal with Kazahstan bureaucracy. He initially denied my request for a tourist stamp, because, as he accurately pointed out, I wasn't here for tourism... I told him I'd take a picture before I immediately just turned around and came back haha. After some time, he begrudgingly agreed.

Train to Taraz

Day 136

Short ride into Shymkent. Good thing too, because my little "wake up in the middle of the night to avoid the wind" trick didn't work at all today. Got up way before dawn, and the wind was still pushing me back into the lower gears at a painfully slow pace. Never mind that though, today is the big day. Today is the day I enter one of the biggest milestone cities on the trip. This is also where I find my friend.

In town, looking for hotels, I go to one place, and I immediately realize its too nice and expensive for what I'm looking for. I start to leave and the hotel owner stops me. She offers me a 50% discount since I'm doing the bike trip. Sweet, I guess I can afford your hotel. Great place too, even have room service haha.

Day 135

I'm making good time. I am fairly confident now that I can arrive in Shymkent in time to take care of that visa run. Just have to hope nothing goes wrong. Another nice day on the road, another immediate stop as soon the wind and heat started up. Another camping spot in a dried up riverbed. This one still had some puddles in it. I tested my luck last night sleeping in a riverbed, hopefully things will continue to be ok here. I'm not worried about rain filling up the river, but I am pretty sure that there's a big dam somewhere close by. If for some reason they decided to discharge water, I might be in some very serious trouble... Still, you can't beat these spots for the wind protection, shade. They're also natural habitats filled with all sorts of interesting life. Just have to be careful nothing eats my food...

Day 134

Another super early start, out the door and on the road again at 3 am. I don't think I am ever going to get used to this. A nice quite ride, good road, I kept going until the wind started bullying me around, and then abruptly pulled off at the first place I could find to camp. Tonight camping inside a dried up riverbed, because its cliff walls provide pretty good protection from both wind and sun. I just hope the river doesn't show up...

Not much Shade mid-day

Day 133

I need to book it to Shymkent. I do not want to deal with the consequences of overstaying your visa. Might be much to do about nothing, but I've also heard it could be up to a week in jail. Early start again, out on the road, a couple miles out of town and a beautiful road appears. I start biking down, and as the sun starts to rise I realize I'm biking on the wrong side of a four lane, center-divided highway. Haha, I really need to buy some lights... First half of the day flies by, and then the sun and wind both start to intensify. A nice long ride though, and I've set myself off to potentially shave a day off into Shymkent.

Waiting for the shade to come in

Day 132

Kazahstan bureaucracy sucks. My visa is valid for several months, but I am only granted stays up to 30 days before I have to leave the country and re-enter. The only country I can do a visa run in is Kyrgyzstan, because they're the only ones that will let me across their border without buying a visa. The nearest Kyrgystan border crossing is still hundreds of miles away and my 30 days is running out quick. I'm in  a bit of a bind. I really would like to get into Shymkent, before I take a day off for the visa run. If I can't make it to Shymkent in time, I will probably need to take 2 days off to cover the distance to do the visa run. That would be more expensive and would get me in late to Shymkent, where I need to meet up with my friend Blake. That's all to say, I was originally thinking there was no way I was going to take a day off here in Kyzylorda. That all changed last night when I met all these awesome people. There's just no way I can't stay another day.

Another day full of meeting people, another day full of awesomeness. Kyzylorda is the place to be.

Day 131

Getting up in the middle of the night seemed to work alright yesterday, why not do it again today. A bit tricky taking down camp in the dark, but the moon was out tonight and it was much easier to see what was going on. As with yesterday, wind was still persistent, but it a manageable ride.

The roads out here have been incredibly isolated. It comes with benefits and disadvantages, but my riding into my half a million people destination city today felt like biking into Manhattan. Wow, a town with more than one paved road, incredible haha.

As I entered town I stopped for a minute to look at the map when I was approached by this guy. He explained to me that he was a journalist and wanted to interview me. It turns out I had inadvertently stopped right in front of the Kyzylorda government TV station and he was just heading across the street to go to a corner shop. Now, of course I was a little apprehensive as I know what can happen when Americans are approached by people claiming to be journalists from Kazakstan haha. Joking of course. I was honored. We walked over and a couple minutes later out came a camera crew and an English interpreter, and we conducted the interview for tonight's evening news.

He asked if I needed a place to stay, and posted a message on Facebook explaining to his friends that I was in town. Within 30 minutes half of Kyzylorda seemingly knew I was here haha. Wow, the amazing power of social media. His friend who owned a restaurant wanted to comp me a meal, his friends from the cycling club wanted to meet up, his friend with the barber shop wanted to give me a free haircut, and others just wanted to hangout, say hi, and show me around town. I was astonished by the incredible kindness of the people I met here. Really just blew me away. People were taking time out of their day to come shake my hand and make sure I was having the best possible time I could have here in Kyzylorda. And I did have the best possible time.

Day 130

The alarm goes off at 2 am. Wow, I really don't want to get up. I tried to get to bed early last night, but the sun doesn't set until  after 9 around here, and I couldn't really get any sleep before that... I'm tired, still exhausted from my previous fights with the wind and heat. Show must go on though. I hit the road and biked off into the dark.

As soon as I left the town I immediately noticed a pretty big problem; I couldn't see where I was going. Of course you don't go on an eight month bicycle trip without packing lights, but my front one was broken and the back one fell off a couple days ago. I was hoping that the moon would provide me just enough light to at least stay on the road, but unfortunately it had already set... It was as dark as it gets out there. The small bit of illumination from some stars gave me just enough to kind of see the white line on the shoulder. As long as I could follow that I was ok. Of course the line ended about 15 minutes into the ride. As a result, I found myself accidentally swerving off the road onto the gravel shoulder a couple of times, wow this is pretty stupid of me... Anyway, managed my way through more or less. The wind certainly had not disappeared, but it had tamed down to the point where I could maintain a decent pace. Success! I had finally figured out a way to kind of outsmart the wind; bike in the middle of the night.

Now of course this new schedule brought up some logistical problems. I spent a half hour last night making sure that the hotel would be able to leave the door unlocked for me when I left at 3 am. 24 hour shops are almost non-existent, so its basically impossible to stop and get food and water. The biggest problem was that an early start means and early finish. I got off the road around noon and looked for a campsite. If I set up my tent midday without finding a covered spot, the 100 degree heat would bake my tent, and I can only imagine how hot the green house effect would get it in there. I ended up having to wait out the heat of the day lying under a thorn bush trying to stay shaded and cool. By heat of the day, I mean about 6 hours haha... But whatever, I had defeated the wind, at least for today...

My first sunrise of the trip...

Day 129

I've had just about enough of this wind. Ever since the beginning of Russia, there has been strong wind about 85% of the time. Out of that, its been in my favor 20% of the time, and very much out of my favor the other 80%. I'm sick of it. It really has destroyed my rhythm, punched the enjoyment out of riding, and made me sound like a bitch on the blog because all I do is complain about it haha. Now with this heat, its not only extremely annoying, but its also becoming a health concern. I'll do anything to get rid of it, and I have indeed decided to take some somewhat drastic measures. I am going to go nocturnal.

I've discovered that roughly between sunset and sunrise the wind dies down dramatically. According to the internet, there are all sorts of interesting reasons for this, but basically colder air is denser and blocks out the wind near the surface of the earth. This won't block out the wind completely, and I don't expect it to work perfectly every night, but it seems like the best option I have. At the very least, I'll get rid of this heat. So I'm taking today off in order to transition my sleep schedule. The plan is to wake up tomorrow at around 2 am and head out into the night.

Day 128

Passed by Baikonur, which I only later realized is where the main Russian space station is located... I guess that would explain those weird looking towers and satelight receiver things I saw out in the distance. Another rough day, really slow going into town. Also quite exhausting. I already feel like I need another day off. This mix of heat and headwind is really wearing me out.

Camped in an old excavation pit

Day 127

Woke up, wind feels ok. Alright, excellent. Start heading out of town, wind feels doable. Ok, very good. Go about 10 kilometers down the road. 35 kilometers an hour headwinds.... Oh, ya there it is. Having wind is one thing, but today was also incredibly hot. I tryed to just tough it out, working harder to pedal the bike, but I started getting dehydrated and dizzy. This is not going to work. The only really solution was to slow down the pace to next to nothing. During the heat of the day, I had to take a break every 5 kilometers, and every 15 to 20 kilometers I would try to find a place in the shade and take a half hour nap. I started getting to the point where I was taking up more time with breaks then I was with riding, and I was still exhausted... I had to cut today short, hopefully I can figure this out, otherwise Shymkent is going to feel lightyears away...

Day 126

I woke up hungover, today was destined to be a late start. We met up one more time for breakfast, then went our separate ways. The winds were again a bit better than they had been, and the ride into Ayteke Bi wasn't too bad. Uneventfully stop here in town. Wind looks like its going to be picking up tomorrow in a bad direction and probably not changing for a loooong time... Trying to mentally prepare myself for that.

Day 125

Last night the couple and I all decided that it is incredibly rare to meet foreigners out here, and it would really be worth taking a day off and just hanging out together here in town. So that's what we did. After talking with them, I realized I kind of screwed up... I was supposed to register with the migration police within five days of entering the country. Its been like two weeks. They accompanied me to the local migration office where I tried to sort this out. I gave them some lame excuse about how I was biking and didn't have time to get to the migration offices, but the guy simply said, that's not my problem. Ended up being a bit of a bureaucratic nightmare, with several hours of paper work to do, on top of a letter I had to write to the chief of police explaining why I was such a degenerate. I also had to pay a $100 penalty... I really love this country, but between the bad roads and the bull shit bureaucracy the government can sometimes get on my nerves...

Registration behind me, we all went out and had a nice time in the small town of Aralsk. Named after the Aral Sea, considered by some to be the worst man made ecological catastrophe in history, Aralsk is a strange place. It used to be a vibrant fishing town, but that industry literally "dried up" as the rivers feeding into the sea were diverted by Russia and the town ended up almost 100 kilometers away from the shore. Anyway, we hit up the town, and had a pretty late night drinking beer, trying to make the most of the rare opportunity to meet fellow transcontinental travelers.

The RV

Day 124

Day three of the trek between towns. I woke up tired, feeling weak, but whatever, I was finally within a days trip of a city. I also had the rare tail wind aiding me along today. Good road, tail wind, made excellent time into town. In town I was able to make contact with the couple in the RV truck. I met up with them. After weeks upon weeks of not really being able to communicate with people, it felt great to meet up with some fellow travelers. We grabbed some dinner and drank some beers, really nice evening.

Day 123

Today was the day I had been slightly waiting for, the day I merged onto the main road. Right before the intersection I saw another machine driving down the road. A guy from France, driving a motorized tricycle from Paris to South East Asia. What is going on here? Two foreigner transcontinental cars in two days. When I got to the main road I saw my first sign for Shymkent, my next major stop, where I plan to meet up with my friend Blake. I also found a rest stop! A place to get a hot meal and restock on supplies. What an amazing surprise. This new road was great. I was told it was brand new, something that seemed very much to be true. In fact, in several spots they were still painting lines, putting up signs, installing guard rails, and putting other finishing touches in place. If only the wind would stop, I would be flying...

People stop to talk to me all the time. Sometimes they insist on giving me something. Today I scored pretty well, a loaf of bread, an extra large Red Bull, and a CD of Kazakhstan Pop songs. I try really hard to not accept any souvenirs, as they take up precious space and weight on the bike, but I buckled today...

Very excited to get to the good road and see my first sign for Shymkent

Day 122

Out of Shalkar. According to the research I've been able to do, there is going to be nothing for the next three days. Not a village, not a rest stop, nothing. Its the most isolated spot of the trip so far. I left Shalkar with two grocery bags of food and water bottles all filled up and headed out into the isolation. To my surprise the road was actually fairly well paved for quite a good bit.  A couple hours into the ride, a big yellow truck passed me. Seeing it had plates from Chechz Republic, I gave them a huge wave and they came to a stop in front of me. Turned out I ran into some other transcontinental tourists, traveling in this big truck converted to an RV from Prague to Korea. Wow I didn't expect to run into any foreigners; I hadn't seen any since Batumi, Georgia. I gave them my phone number, they said they may be stopping in a town up a head for a decent amount of time and maybe we could meet up there. I hope I find them down the road somewhere.

There aren't a lot of cars out here, sometimes it can be hours between them, so of course you wave to everyone. Almost everyone stops and asks you the same common questions... Where are you from? Where are you going? How long will it take? Are you alone? Honestly, it can sometimes get a bit annoying answering the same questions all the time, but I can't blame them. If I saw someone riding a bike out here I would stop and ask the same questions too haha. Usually I stop to answer the questions, exchange some pleasantries, take a photo with them, and we both go our separate ways. One car-full of people today really just wanted to know everything about me. Then they wanted to help me somehow. They seemed dumbfounded when I kept insisting that I didn't really need them to help me with anything. Nice enough guys, but they took up 30 minutes of my time when I really should have been focusing on finding a place to get off the road to camp before the impending sunset. I was also a little worried when one of them accidentally sprayed fermented camel's milk all over the stuff in the front of my bike. I was grateful he offered to share some with me, but just hope no animals smell that tonight...

Day 121

Today I really didn't do anything. It was fantastic. I spent about an hour on top of a pedestrian bridge which went over the train station. I stood there and watched as trains came in. Shalkar is the biggest city for hundreds of miles around here, so its an important stop on the train routes. For each passenger train there was a big crew of people who would run out and refuel, pump in water, take out trash, supply food, clean, test out the wheels, check the engine, etc. I stood thinking about all the people it took to keep that trains moving, and how I was the only one keeping myself moving. It was humbling and empowering at the same time. Anyway, enough of that, hitting the road again tomorrow.

The train station

Day 120

Another tough day today, punctuated by a spot where a river had completely taken out a bridge and the only was across was to take off your shoes and drudge through several feet of runner water on foot. I was really worried that I was going to loose my balance and fall down in the water with the bike and all my gear. A nice man stopped by the side of the road and started to help me push across. I immediately shook him off and stopped him. Receiving a push for someone else is against my rules haha. I backed up and did it again on my own power, he must of thought I was crazy, and probably rude as well. We ended up talking for 20 minutes and I tried to explain, ya whatever...

This stretch has been really difficult, the crappy roads have some novelty, but that seems to be overshadowed by the slow pace of travel. The wind, well the wind more or less is just terrible. It completely ruins your game, and sucks most of the fun out of riding. For those reasons I was really excited to be getting into a town where I could take a day off today. I need a break, both mentally and physically.

No road over the river...

Day 119

Sent off in style today with a big breakfast and a car escort out of town, thanks to my awesome surprise hosts in Emba. To no surprise the road and wind both sucked again today. Ten kilometers of riding took upwards of an hour and a half. Sometimes I would take a side dirt track, hoping it would be better than the rocky road, only to realize it would abruptly at an impassable river bed. Lot of getting off the bike, looking around, trying to figure out the best route to get through. Very slow going. As it started to get dark and passed a small village when a kid on a horse ran up to me. He asked me the standard round of questions, and then I mentioned I was looking for a market to fill up on food before camping for the night. I followed him into the town, which was once again accompanied by everybody in town stopping what they were doing to come inquire about me. We entered a small shack with some super basic items of food. Good enough for the night. I got my food and then realized it would probably be best if I could camp in the village to prevent the open wind from ruining my night again. I asked around and sure enough I was able to do that without too much difficultly. I was about to go to bed when some of the kids (16 to about my age) came up to me to see if I wanted to drink with them. Half hour later I found myself sitting in an abandoned train maintenance building drinking some beer and vodka. I am assuming almost everyone in the village was quite conservative and religious because the kids made a huge effort to make sure no one found us out there. Felt like high school all over again, well not quite, haha.

Day 118

Off the road heading north to the big town of Aktobe, and it didn't take more than about 15 kilometers for the road to completely crumble into piles rocks and dust. I knew I might be in trouble when I saw a local bus go by that had all wheel drive and huge tires. Another long day bumping along.

Tonight into the town of Emba, the type of place that doesn't have a single paved road. I rode into the center and then started asking around for a hotel. In my search, I came across a guy who offered to let me stay with him at his house. Wow, that sounds great, yes please. I followed him home, awkwardly trying to make conversation without speaking a common language. As I entered his house, I felt a bit intimidated. He had offered me a place, but I wasn't sure if all of the members of his extended family who lived there were going to be as cool with it. They gave me strange stares as I walked in dirty, smelly, and not speaking their language. Fortunately, within an hour we were all sitting around their big dinning table laughing and getting to know each other (with the help of an internet translator). Every single person who lived here was incredibly kind. They invited me to eat dinner with them, and filled my plate up with piles of amazing food. They were the type of people who, the second I finished my tea, would reach over and fill it back up for me. The whole family was amazing. One of the daughters was very interested in practising her English, and she came out of here room with stacks of textbooks and flashcards. We sat on their couch for a while and went through the stuff. Then the guy took me over a sauna, what a great way to end a hard day of biking.

Some of my awesome hosts in Emba

Day 117

I'm getting closer and closer to Aktobe, the big city around here. I don't plan to actually go there, but as long as I'm on the road that heads there, I expect the pavement to stick together. Today wasn't too bad, nice pavement, wind was strong again, but seemingly doable, and I made decent time into town.

Tonight I am in the town of Oktyabrsk. This is officially the farthest north I will travel on my trip across Eurasia. In fact, this is actually the farthest north I have ever been in my life (for whatever that is worth...). Possibly as a result, it has been really cold. There is still snow on the ground is some spots and I've starting wearing my rain jacket as a wind breaker over my sweatshirt to try to stay warm. So much for that hot weather I saw a week ago...

Snow on the road

Day 116

Change was in the air this morning. I could just feel today might bring in a change in fortune. Back out of my hole by the river, and the wind reveals itself. Yes. Oh yes, this is good. It appears to be in my favor. I start out, the roads are still in terrible conditions, but I feel like I am flying down the dirt tracks. Then, chunks of pavement start to appear, and after a couple hours the road is back to being fully paved. With a tail wind and a paved road, I breeze past my stop for the night, and attempt the extra 70 kilometers to the city big enough to have a hotel. This seemed like a good idea, until, I turned... The wind once again started to work against my progress. Then the road fell apart again... Nevertheless, I was indeed able to make it through, albeit a bit after dark. At least I got to enjoy the sunset out on the road. A warm place to stay, a shower, a cooked meal, and a place to resupply, I couldn't be happier, especially since I got back on schedule despite yesterday's premature stop.

Day 115

Last night was not a fun night of camping - cold weather, wind, rain... The tent did survive pretty well though, so I really can't complain too much. Today started much of the same as yesterday, wind and unpaved roads. In fact, today was the first time, ever, that wind was actually strong enough to completely knock me off the bike. I suppose for any bystanders, it was quite comical actually. I literally fell of my bike because it was so windy. I even fell off once while I was stopped on the side of the road. Couple the wind with the loose sand, and I found myself constantly struggling to stay up. Today also brought huge drafts of sand blowing across the road. When I got stuck in them, it was like getting rubbed all over with sand paper. Wow this sucks.

For the first time in my life, I decided I needed stop biking for safety reasons. Unfortunately though, it wasn't as easy as just pulling off the side of the road. There were no cities, no hotels, and I had no interest in pitching my tent in this wind. The flat land seemed to stretch for as far as I could see in all directions. The only I could think to do was just keep going on the bike until I found a suitable place to stop.  I like to think I put up a good fight, but I started crashing off the bike at least once every half hour... Constant falling, dusting myself off, picking up all the things which fell off the bike, and getting up and starting forwards again. Needless to say I wasn't making very good time... Eventually I came to a dried up river bed with a natural trench branching off of it - the perfect camping spot and not a moment too soon.

After a not so great night of camping, woke up to a flat tire...

Day 114

I've been looking at this section of the route on the internet forever, trying to figure out if it is going to be paved or not. Google maps, blogs, forums, everywhere. I still hadn't figured it out when I got on the bike today and headed out into the unknown. When I left the town, the nice pavement abruptly ended at an oil refinery. No sign of where to go. Fortunately I saw some workers. "That way" the gestured, pointing out to the middle of the untouched desert. Haha alright. I biked through the sand dunes, and sure enough, I eventually reached a road. The highway seemed great, even newly paved (as of about 2 hours before I got there according to the construction workers). About 30 minutes later though, the road turned to dust, and then to big chunks of rock. It was really tough going. So bad in fact, that most of the drivers elected to ride off of the road, simply driving through the rutted sand and dirt on the side of the road. I soon started doing this too. It was much smoother and a bit faster, but occasionally I found myself entering some loose sand and fishtailing out of control. A couple of times, I completely lost the bike and crashed face down onto the side of the road, with the contents of the bike flying everywhere. At least that loose sand provided a good cushion...

After hours of nothingness, I finally saw a small village off to the side of the road. As I sat there looking at my map and trying to decide where I was, two kids appeared from the desert, and started running towards me. "Mukur?" I asked them, pointed towards the cluster of houses. Ya. I had reached my destination for the day. They ran along side my bike as I rode towards the town in search of a market. It didn't take long, before, some more kids saw me and started running after me, and then some more and some more. By the time I entered the center of the village I had quite the entourage escorting me to a market. It seemed as if everyone in the entire village stopped what they were doing to come say hi to me. I suppose they don't get too much tourism around here... 

I rode out of town and tried to find a spot to camp. There was nothing around for miles, and it was getting dark, so I was forced to camp in the middle of the flatland, fully exposed to the wind. As soon as I set up camp, the wind shifted 90 degrees, and I had to re-pitch my tent... Then it started raining, I really hope my tent makes it through the night.

Some of the kids who followed me around town

Day 113

Out of town, into the vast desert. Strong headwind today; what else is new... Bike 10 kilometers, take a break. Bike 10 kilometers, take a break. Progress is painfully slow, the ride is almost no fun, but I managed to get through 130 kilometeres. Road was in excellent shape most of the day today, but I unfortunately think that may change tomorrow.

Day 112

The one bike shop I could find didn't have any spare axils. Not much choice, need to keep biking without them. It is a little scary looking out at the upcoming stretch. A lot of desert, a lot of wind, and not a lot of towns. Its going to get pretty desolate; I am excited and nervous to see what lies ahead, if this wind can die down a bit I think everything will be ok.

Day 111

Its hot, its really hot. Funny how that works, just a couple weeks ago I was surrounded by snow and cars frozen in slush. I have the feeling that I am right at the turing point here between the wintery ride through Europe and the swealtering treck through the summer deserts of the stans and into China. Need to start putting all those extra water bottle holders to use.

Day 110

It's been forever since I had a real break. Atyrau is the place. List of things to do is piling up, and I need to atleast make a dent in that list before I go any further. Spare parts for the bike, laundry, grad school loose ends, phone plan, update the blog, etc... Ride today went a bit quicker than expected which was a really nice surprise. Into town, checked into a hotel where the receptionist asked me if I minded talking to here about my thoughts on Islam. Sounded like a strange request, but ya why not haha. Wasn't sure how this was going to go since she didn't really speak any English, but ended up turing into an interesting multiple hour converstation. Its amazing how you can actually kind of talk to someone even when you don't speak much of the same language.

Day 109

Today was one of those days where you just get going on the bike and don't stop until it starts getting dark. As if I didn't bitch enough about it in Russia, the wind is still here. Not as bad as before, but still slowing me down and killing my vibe on the bike. Nevertheless, the ride was nice. I mean, I'm biking on a small desert highway in Kazakhstan, this is awesome. Camping tonight, lots of stars, good times.

Day 108

Russia, its been fun, but I'm stoked to be heading out. Kazakhstan sounds like a cool place, I really want to go there, and no, that's not just becuase of Borat... Over the river I went, out of Russia. Found a place to stay tonight in a small town 40 km past the border. Nice people, great food, awesome company. Some of them even spoke a bit of English, which is something I never really came across in Russia. This place is shaping up well.

Big pontoon bridge over a river

Kazakhstan border

Day 107

Easy day today, as I only had about 60 kms to go. The only thing that made that it a small bit difficult was that some birds ate all of my food last night so I had to go with out breakfast this morning... As with Vladikavkaz, it took me forever to find a place to stay. People kept telling me they were "full," despite definitely not looking full at all. Finally found something. Running out of Ruples and don't really want to go to the ATM again, so think I'll head to Kazakhstan tomorrow.

Day 106

Another long day of biking all day. Again with these strange, poorly mapped roads. Made it a couple of hours and then the road turned to dirt. Couple more hours on the crappy dirt roads and then the roads started getting great. Axil held up, that was good. Wind was still persistant but not as bad as a few days again, that was good. Camping tonight on the banks of a river. Nice spot which would be an awesome spot if it wasn't full of trash. Tomorrow, my long delayed arrival to Astrakhan. I hope...

Some of the nice ladies that worked at the hotel in Lagan

The offical road sign to Astrakhan...

Day 105

Still in Lagan, not going to be able to leave until I have an axil. Went down to the one place in town with sporting goods. Mostly full of fishing rods, soccer balls, and lots of other stuff that wasn't bike related.Showed the clerk my broken axil and she immediatly shock her head, nope don't have that. I looked around anyway and saw that they did indeed have bike axils, just not quite the right size for me. I bought one anyway just to see if I could make it work somehow. Was walking back to the bike when a guy flagged me down in his car. He seemed to know exactly who I was. I was confused. He gestured for me to get in his car, so why not. Turns out he was the son of one of the ladies who worked at the hotel. She had called him to see if he could help me. We went back to the bike and had no luck with the new axil. Then he took the old axil and drove off. I didn't know exactly what was going on, but I figured this was better than any ideas I had. If I couldn't find this part, I would need to get on a bus, drive to Astrakhan, try to find the part there, and then come back. That sounded terrible...

When the part broke my initial thought was that this was not good. Reflecting a bit back on it now, I actually got incredibly lucky that the axil broke in a town, 100 feet away from a place to stop for the night. If this had happened out on the road in the middle of nowhere, I would have had a really massive problem on my hands. Here at least I was fortunate enough to have the help of a local. Sure enough this guy came back a couple hours later with the part I needed. No idea where he got it, don't think it was actually intended to be used on a bike, but it was the perfect size. I asked if it was strong, his response, "Russian Strong." Ya ok, not so sure if that's good or bad. Eitherway it was a minor merical that I found the piece.

As you can probably imagine, I've grown a bit protective of my bike. I need to, its my only ride... I really hate it when other people put their hands on it, even just gently touch it or try to help me move it. I suppose its a bit for sentamental reasons as well as the fact that I know how easy it is for my crappy bike to brake. You can imagine how uneasy I felt as people at the hotel tried to "help" get the axil back on the bike. All's well that ends well though, and looks like I'll be able to hit the road tomorrow.

Day 104

My little detour yesterday left me at least one day slower into Astrakhan. I really need to get going here. Last night I mentally prepared myself for just having to deal with the wind as long as it lasts. For all I know, it could be like this every day into China... Ya, really doubt it, but still never know. Its going to be flat forever, nothing to block the wind, forever... Wind is the only thing on my mind, it has seemingly imprsioned my bike trip.

As luck would have it, it was only moderatley windy today, what a great improvement! Still slow going, but much more doable. I was even going the right direction today and everything. Got a flat tire today. Never great to get a flat, but it did cap the end of a great run without one. All the way from Zagreb, Croatia. I made a big U and met back up with the road I was originally planning on taking. I was surprised to see that it was no more than just a dirt track. Looks like that guy was right, maybe I did end up taking the better way. According to Google, that dirt path was supposed to be a national road, even a European highway (not sure exactly what that entails but it seems important...)

I got in to the small town of Lagan after dark, got some food and then started talking to a man who was nice enough to show me to a cheap hotel. While I tried to keep up as I rode behind his car on the bumpy roads of the town, I hit a large pothole and I suddenly heard the sound of metal snapping. I knew that was a really bad sound. At first I thought I broke a spoke, but it was actually much worse. I broke my rear axil. You can't ride without an axil and I don't have a replacement one. I'm stuck in town until I can get this fixed...

Day 103

Day three of the relentless wind. Wow, this is tough, very tough. The worse thing is just having no idea how long it will last. With no internet connection out here there's no way of checking the forecasts... Last night I was constantly awoken by the howling wind and flapping tent. This is up there with the most frustrating spots of the trip...

I got to a fork in the road today. Both maps I have made it pretty clear I should be going to the right. I stopped just to double check, when someone pulled up beside me and told me quite unequivocally that I needed to go left. Hmm ok... There was indeed a sign that indicated that Astrakhan was to the left, but   you could tell that the sign used to say it was to the right, and then they changed it. Well this guy that told me to go left seemed pretty certian, and he was wearing a camo uniform which made me think he was probably some sort of authority on stuff like this (hard to tell though, as everyone seemed to be wearing camo around here). Plus if I went left I'd be going with the wind, although both maps showed I'd be going completely the wrong way... I went left. 70 km with the strong wind, went by quickly. When I got to the next junction, there were no more signs for Astrakhan, and I was farther away than I was when I started the day... Haha that sucks. Not much to do but stop in this small town for the night. At least I found a place to stay indoors where the wind can't blow me away...

The tent was like this for most of the night...

Day 102

I woke up today, got everything packed and ready to go, and then I hit the road to the most unpleasant surprise. My campsite in the trees was ok, but out on the open road, the wind was still there, stronger than ever... I grinded my way through it, slowly heading out of the forests of Chechnya and into the wide open Russian tundra. This just made the wind worse... Imagine going to the gym, cranking the elliptical bike up to the highest speed and then pedaling like that all day. Now imagine doing that and not going very fast or very far. That's the way I felt today, but unlike the bike at the gym, I couldn't just get off, I had to keep dealing with it. Not so much fun... I was on a flat, straight road for the foreseeable future, and I had no idea how long this wind would last. I just kept going until it started getting dark and then I pulled off the road a bit to camp.

Camping was great last night, I had a nice little spot hidden away in the forest providing stealth and wind protection. Tonight I had no such luck. It's a huge flat plain out here, with no trees, no hills, and nothing to stop the wind. I searched for a while and set up my tent next to a really small sand dune which I was hoping would offer some protection. Nope, haha, definitely didn't help at all. In fact it really just made things worse, as the sand kept blowing all over me and my tent. The tent kept threatening to blow over and I had to keep going out to redo all the stakes and tighten the ropes to make sure things were going to hold. Inside the tent was incredibly loud, with the wind flapping the walls of the tent around. I don't think I'm going to get much sleep tonight...

Day 101

In Georgia the big challenge was dealing with the mountains. Here in Russia, my new obstacle is dealing with isolation. Today I headed out of Grozny and there really won't be too much out there until I get to Astrakhan.

Leaving Grozny I soon realized I had an additional problem to deal with, the wind is back. As a result, my planned trip into the small town of Kizlyar was cut short. Its hard to believe it took me 101 days, but I am finally camping tonight for the first time on the trip. Firmly into the spring season with warmer weather and much less rain, I plan to start doing a lot of camping from here on out. Chechnya, a region which has been part of five wars in my lifetime, is not really the most relaxing place in the world to pitch a camouflage tent and stealth camp in the woods, but it seems to be working out ok. I am also a small bit worried about unexploded mines in the area, but, from what I could gather, I'm probably pretty safe where I am right now.


Awesome cop gave me some tea and bread as I passed through
First camping spot of the trip

Day 100

Into Grozny, the capital of Chechnya, a region which has a recent history filled with conflict which still persists a bit today. Lots of check points on the road. I definitely get the feeling like someone is always watching me around here. I didn't even feel comfortable stopping on the side of the road to take a piss haha. While getting into town, a guy drove up and started talking to me. We stopped in a cafe and he insisted on buying me some tea. He showed me around town a bit, found a cheap place for me to stay, and then refused to let me pay for dinner. Real nice guy.

Grozny couldn't feel more different than Vladikavkaz. It has a much more modern and has an interesting vibe consisting of a mix between cosmopolitan and old soviet communism. Also the people are a bit different. Predominately Muslim, grand mosques in the center of town, I feel like I am back in Turkey.

Friend in Grozny

 Day 99
Never mind what  I said yesterday; woke up today to rain and decided I might as well take that second day off... Didn't really do much. First time in a long time I have a day with absolutely nothing I really was pressed to do, was nice.

Day 98

Russia is expensive. At least compared to what I have become accustomed to. I am not super happy about that. Decided to just spend one day off here in Vladikavkaz, partly for monetary reasons, partly for scheduling reasons, and partly because I just don't really feel like I need two days.

Today's main mission, find a place to exchange my extra 100 Georgia Lari for Russian Rubles. Sounds easy enough, seeing as I am on the only road that connects to Georgia, a country 20 miles away which you can literally see out the window of my hotel. Nope. Not a chance. I've been to almost a dozen places, no one exchanges them and no one knows of a place to exchange them... I decided my only two options are to go back to Georgia (definitely not happening) or try my luck when I get back to the US. If anyone in SF or LA knows any good places to exchange Georgian Lari, please let me know... 

Definitely not Burger King

Day 97

I woke up today full of dread. I had spent the past hundred miles going up 1100 meters, now I was going to climb 1300 meters in about 15 miles... On top of that, I woke up to rain, which surely meant snow up above. I was worried about the impact of the altitude, the road conditions, getting into Russia, the freezing temperatures; today was the big day.

Headed out just wanting to get the climb over with. I soon saw another biker stopped on the side of the road. I saw his South Korean flag on the back of his bike and immediately shouted out an "anyanghauseo" (hello in Korean) as soon as I was in screaming range. This guy... Man, Korea to Finland I believe (with the occasional public transit), all with a folding bike and close to nothing gear. If this guy was on the road with that set up, surely I could make it.

Actually didn't and up being too bad, just kept pedaling in the low gears and eventually made it up to the top. Met some Russians right before the pass that were stopped by the side of the road taking pictures of the views. As I approached they started turning their cameras towards me haha. We started talking, as well as you can without speaking a common language that is, and they gave me some baked goods. They were delicious and a very welcomed snack as it had been a day and a half since I last saw a proper bakery.

I had spent so much time worrying about getting to the top that I never actually though about how awesome things would be when I got there. Fields of snowy plateaus with the clouds indistinguishably blending with the mountains. Just awesome stuff. I felt like I was on that planet from Star Wars, you know where Luke has to go inside that camel thing to stay warm. One of the best things I have seen in my life, possibly the best view ever.

As the adrenaline wore off and i started the descent, I realized I was freezing my ass off. Some sections of the road were covered with over a foot of ice, others parts filled with cars stuck in sleet. It took me a while to get down. Towards the border the road was filled with unlit tunnels. Going through them was really difficult because I was totally blinded. I was really worries I might hit the side of the tunnel on the curves. Right as i was approaching Russia, I got my first dog bite. They didn't actually get me, but a pack of dogs bit through my rain cover. As soon as i stopped they ran away. Still haven't got to use that peperspray... The border crossing took a bit of time, but went smoothly. "Enjoy Russia Federation," the border guard said as he sent me on my way.

Definite learning curve here in Russia, as evident by me taking three hours to find a place to stay. Nevertheless, a big success this past week. Matter of fact I got into Vladikavkaz a day early and under budget. Sweet. 

Folding touring bike

Other biker from South Korea

The top

Day 96

Off the nice interstate to Tibilisi (or at least the closest thing Georgia has to an interstate) I headed north up the Georgia military highway. As one of the few roads connecting Eastern Europe to the Middle East, there's a really interesting mix of trucks and buses which use the road. Today I saw license plates from Ukraine, Armenia, Russia, Turkey, Iran, as well as several plates which I didn't even recognize. Up to about 1100 meters tonight to some middle of nowhere road stop cabin. Tossing logs into the wood burning furnace to stay warm tonight, cool place.

Day 95

Last night met two other traveling bikers from Ukraine, doing a regional trip for a couple of weeks.Their nice bikes and fancy gear put me to shame haha. Anyway, bike tourists are slim pickings around here so its always awesome to find some. They also had very interesting things to say about everything going on in Ukraine right now.

Out on the road for the first day of real climbing. Cool views at times, but the ride was scared by heavy traffic as I was traveling on the main highway connecting Batumi to the capital and largest city, Tibilisi. Going over a mountain pass, I entered a mile long tunnel and immediately realized there was a major problem. The poor ventilation of the narrow tunnel, mixed with the exhaust spewing, smog test failing trucks and buses meant the tunnel was filled with cloudy, heavily polluted air. This made it difficult for me to see, others to see me, and, most importantly, for me to breathe. I choked my way through, crossing my fingers that I could make it to the other side without getting hit or passing out of carbon dioxide poisoning haha. Made it through alright and again blew past my stop for the night, heading an extra 50 km to Gobi, birthplace of Joseph Stalin. If it wasn't already closed for thru night I totally would have headed over to their Stalin museum. They had a big statue of him in the town center, can't believe they decided to take it down... 

Day 94

I started today at sea level. Before I finish this stretch I'll climb to above 7000 feet on my way up and over the Caucus mountain range into Russia. I've always viewed this ascent as one of the more difficult aspects of the trip. Add to that the unstable relationship between Georgia and Russia, and the constant reports of possible road closures, and this leg was shaping up to be interesting.

On my way out of Batumi I saw a friend running across the road. I had met him at the hostel a couple days ago, before he walked out of town to go camp in the wild. This guy way crazy, an Istanbul native who randomly left for Georgia with no plans and no intention of returning anytime soon. I think there was a bit more to the story than that, but his English wasn't perfect. Anyway, just another example of the cool people you meet out here, best of luck to him....

Today I finally said goodbye to the Black Sea, then headed inland. Despite the upcoming climb, today was pretty flat. Taking advantage of that, I pushed an extra 30 km past my destination before stopping for the night. I made two mistakes when planning this stretch. First, I undetcalculated the distance by about 50 miles, not really sure how I was stupid enough to so that. Second, I accidentally put almost the entire climb up the mountain into one ride, inadvertently creating a hellish day with 2000 meters of climbing. I figure the best way to mitigate these mistakes was to go hard the first couple of days on the flatter land. So pressures on to get the mileage in. 

Day 93

Big list of things to do today. Buy a sim card, tune the brakes, get the rack ready to go, send couchsurfing requests, sew up a hole on my back pack, deal with graduate school stuff, etc... Of course, get the blog updated... I'd have to say succesful day, heading out towards the mountains tomorrow. Excited and nervous for the big climb over the mountains and into Russia.

Sentimentally a bit hard to throw away my old rack

Day 92

Ok get a new rack, get a new rack, get a new rack.... I can't leave Batumi without it. No more kicking the can down the road. Was directed to some random street, where I found a shanty little bike shop, with just what I needed. Returned to my bike to replace the old rack, and disaster struck. You see, my old rack has been with me forever. Its actually about the only thing I have left which has been with me since my first long distance bike trip down California in 2010. Since its old, the bolts are very rusty. This was particularly true for one of the bolts which connected the rack to the frame. It was impossible to loosen it, and in my attempt to get it off, I accidentally snapped it, leaving part of it lodged inside the threading on the frame of the bike. With it stuck inside, it would be impossible to replace the bolt and install the new rack. I took it to a bike shop to see if they could help me. I knew I was in trouble when they started laughing and told me "problem" before sending me away without being able help. Luckly though, my friends at the shop where I bought the rack were able to help. I was quite worried when they took a grinder to my bike and started hacking away with sparks flying out, but I needed to dislodge the bolt fragment, or else get a new bike... After some time, they finally got it out, and even refused to let me pay them. They just said, "Georgian people like tourists." What a great shop. I wish they had a bumper sticker to put on my bike, but no luck... Anway, things are going well. I'm really slow at fixing things, but I'm fairly certain that everything should definitely be good to go by tomorrow.

My awesome bike shop

Day 91

Georgia here we come. Actually took me a bit by surprise, as I ended up at the border crossing about an hour before I expected to get there. I even had to stop myself and double check that I was indeed at the right place. Of course I was, there was only one road... Possibly sensing my doubt, the border agent felt it necessary to explain to me, "This is Georgia" after scanning over my passport haha. "Yes, I know" I said with a big smile and the least amount of condescension I could muster. First think I noticed was that the road on the Georgian side of the border was much worse than in Turkey, we'll see if that's a sign of things to come.

Into Batumi, a nice, although bit strange place. Not sure if I could tell you exactly why its strange, just a vibe I got. Anyway, happy to be here. Happy that my rack made it here. First thing tomorrow, I WILL get a new rack. I need to, I think it is finally time...

Weird border crossing into Georgia

Day 90

A bit cold, but the sun was back, and the bike was holding up. Another long distance bike ride, and an all around successful day. Only one more day until I reach the end of Turkey, the beginning of Georgia, and the end of the leg.

Day 89

I woke up today to a peculiar sight; it was snowing. I had seen snow before on the trip, but this was different. I wasn't in some mountain pass in the middle of winter, I was at sea level, in the spring. It scared me a bit. I spent several hours this morning trying to decide if I should head out on the bike or take the day off. Feeling a bit shell shocked from the bike falling yesterday, and knowing that my prudent biking the past two days had put me a day ahead, I ultimately decided to take a snow day. My first snow day every in fact. Never before, not in school, not with work, never, ever. Uneventful day, as I didn't really leave the hotel too much because, well, it was snowing... The big find of the day, was that I got the chance to check up on my bike, and everything seems good enough. A couple more tweaks to the rack and a bit of luck, and I should be able to hit the road ready to go tomorrow.

Day 88

Again with that rack. I'm starting to doubt its going to last into Batumi... Last night I found another part which broke, and performed another round of makeshift repairs. Leaving today, I again had some serious concerns with that stupid rack. Anyway, on the bike, another day of smooth roads, another day of flat roads, but today I found myself biking in the middle of a rainstorm. Too bad, I had had such great luck every since Istanbul. Oh well. Nevertheless, the wind was strongly in my favor, and I flew down the road. I got really wet and cold, but I was making such great time that I didn't really feel like stopping. In fact, I blew past three different cities I was thinking about stopping in. As I kept going, the storm got more intense, with both the wind pushing me faster and faster down the road, and the rain pounding down harder and harder. The rain started to flood the highway and I felt as if I was gliding on top of a 4 lane wide swimming pool. It was fun, but started getting dangerous, and eventually stopped into a town. 166 km, my longest day of the trip so far. Coupled with my extended day yesterday, and I had officially jumped an extra day ahead.

Checking into a hotel, I left my bike unattended for a minute and came back to see a very unpleasant sight. My bike had falled/ been pushed off of the sidewalk and was lying upside down in the middle of a busy street. All of the stuff in my front basket had fallen out and was scattered all over the road. A couple of things got caught up in a stream of rain runoff and I had to run after my stuff before it reached the drain... Not fun. As I frantically tried to pick up everything, I developed quite the crowd of curious onlookers. I had my bicycle sprawled out on the street and was holding up traffic as I ran into the road to retrieve my stuff. Add to that the fact that I was wearing shorts and a T-shirt in the freezing rain and shouting swear words to myself, people probably thought I was a bit out to lunch. That's more or less the way I felt too haha. After I got everything picked up, I headed into the hotel, embarrassed, cold, wet, mentally drained, physically exhausted, and uncertain of the extent of damage that had been caused to the bike by the fall. I had a real bad feeling that my already compromised rack might really be screwed now. The only place to put the bike was down near the reception, so I didn't have a proper chance to check everything out. I was too tired to mess with that anyway. Unfortunately that's now tomorrow's problem...

Political flags in Ordu

Day 87

Out of Samsun, and the first thing I notice is that the rack seems a bit unstable... Man, maybe I should have replaced it in town... Nevermind that though, too late for regrets, just keep the fingers crossed that it will hold out to Batumi, or at least til the end of the day.

The stretch of the trip, I've decided to give myself a bit of a challenge. Its a pretty flat, smooth road for the next several days, and I'd like to really up my daily distance for the ride into Georgia. Today I got on the bike in the morning and just coasted in top gear as fast as I could. The result was a nice 150 km day. Most of the terrain here is not actually that flat, but the road is quite new and the government has invested a lot of money into digging tunnels, constructing bridges, and building on reclaimed coastal land. The result is a cool mix of easy riding and awesome scenery. The only thing about the road that kind of sucks is the huge number of tunnels. They're dark, have no shoulder, and some of them are pretty long. In fact, I'm fairly certain that I passed though what will most likely prove to be the longest tunnel on my treck accross Eurasia today. About 4 km long, and taking almost 20 minutes of panic attacked sprinting on the bike to pass, I wasn't so happy about that tunnel...

Day 86

I've known for about a week now - I definitely need to replace my rack. Its falling apart, weldings are coming undone, supports are snapping, its really on its way out. I keep putting it back together with zip ties, rope, and duct tape, trying to delay the inevitable. I really need to get it changed out, but with a new rack comes dealing with several other tangetial issues, such as new water bottle holders, bag fasciners, dealing with rusted bolts, etc... I think I probably need to devote a full two days to getting all of the neccesary parts together and getting the bike set up properly with the new stuff. I can't be bothered to do that right now, so I'm kicking the can down the road until I get to Georgia. The rationale here is that the next stretch into Batumi should be pretty smooth, on a relatively flat road so, hopefully, it won't be too burdensome on the rack. Also, there's lots of towns along the way, so if I do find myself in an emergency, chances are pretty good, I'll be walking distance (although maybe very long walking distance) of a town with a bike shop. On top of that, I really do think my halfhazard duct tape repairs should get me there safe and sound. We'll have to see...

Day 85

First day chilling in Samsun. Nisa showed me around town and we met up with some of her friends. Cool place, lots of history from back when Turkey gained its independence and before. Interesting change of pace from my average day off, busy day, lots of walking, meeting people, talking to locals, a bit different than the usual hostel routine. Nice day.

Nisa and her friend

Day 84

Google maps is incredible. It is rare to find a mistake on them, but today, Google was completely wrong. I headed out of following the signs for Samsun, which took me along the coast on a 4 lane highway that Google seemed to have no idea about. Quite fortuitous actually, as the route avoided the hills I was expecting to climb with a 2 km long tunnel. Great ride, hardly a hill, made amazing time on the 125 km into Samsun.

Today I saw my first major accident of the trip. You never forget when you see a dead body, and judging by the amount of spilled blood all over the road, today I'm pretty sure I saw two more. I've only seen a handful of deaths firsthand in my life, but every single one of them has been traffic related. I've always stated that by far the most dangerous aspect of this trip is the potential of getting hit by a car. Of course it makes you think, especially since I'm on the bike, usually the most vulnerable person on the road. It was a really weird scene since the screams of friends and families mixed so bizarrely with the upbeat joyous music protruding from the speakers of a nearby political ad van. I'll certainly never forget passing through the town of Bafra.

On a brighter note, I made it to Samsun in one piece, on time, and under budget. On my way in, I found myself biking next to another guy on the road, and we started talking. He invited me to stay at his house for the night, an offer I wish I could have accepted, but I have work to take care of here in in town. Cool guy. Got into town, right in time for a huge political rally. People were going nuts, whatever was going on, this was a big deal. Police helicopters, riot police, lots of singing, intense sounding speeches. 

When I was in Istanbul I made a friend at the hostel, Mucahits. He gave me the name of a contact he had here in Samsun, and I met up with her, Nisa, tonight. She showed me around town and explained what was going on with the big rally. Apparently the president was in town promoting his party. I guess that explains it...

Day 83

Back on the main highways, with their shallower grade allowances, smoother pavement, bridges and tunnels. Easy riding, this seems like I'm cheating or something haha. Still quite a nice route, right along the coast. Made good time into town tonight. Tomorrow to Samsun, finally a couple days off after 10 days of straight riding.

Lot of turtles crossing the road in one spot today

Day 82

I woke up feeling like I needed another week of sleep to make up for yesterday. Never mind that though, the show must go on, keeping up with the schedule is part of the adventure, part of the challenge. Today's ride promised to be a little better, finally some stretches of flatland, and less distance to cover. Yes indeed, today was pleasant. Even the spots which looked pretty nasty on the map turned out to be alright. Finally got into town for the night before it got dark, what a nice feeling. Only one more day on this road before I get to a main route. It's been fun, although definitely exhausting as well. With the small road, comes small towns, and not many of them either. In the past couple of days I haven't passed any places with more than 8000 people, and most of the ride has been filled with absolute nothingness, sprinkled with the occasional small village. Suffice it to say I'll miss the region of Turkey when I reenter the larger coastal metropolitans.

Another great view from my hotel room

Day 81

The past couple of days I've taken my time getting ready in the morning and left town really late. There's to be none of that today, its time to get down to business. After falling behind schedule a bit yesterday, I need to really go at it today in order to Arrive in Samsun on time. Woke up early today, nervous and determined at the same time. I needed to go 130 km, a decent challenge even on flat land. With this road, with this terrain, I predicted this 130 km stretch to constitute the hardest day of biking in the past 81 days. I was right. Oh man, the hills just did not stop. Up 500 feet at over a 10% grade, then immediately down 500 feet at more than a 10% grade, rinse and repeat, all, day, long....... Hardly a parcel of flat land the entire day. Going up was hard for the obvious reasons. Going down, the roads were so steep that I had to approach it like I was skiing, using up the entire width of the road and swerving back and forth to prevent myself from running out of control down the steep, sharp curves of the road. Then there was also the condition of the road. At some points it was smooth, at other times it got pretty bumpy, and in some spots, it just was not paved at all. In one spot it was so rocky that I physically found it impossible to ride the bike. Of course the trade off was incredible views of untouched coastline, spanning as far as you could see in either direction. The 130 km took me over 10 hours, and even though I made an effort to leave early, I still arrived into Inebolu way after dark. I'm dead. That feeling of pure exhaustion, a feeling I haven't experienced since the first days of the trip, is back. Wow, intense day.

View from my hotel balcony in the morning

Day 80

I had a decision to make this morning. There are two routes to Samsun, one on a nice highway, inland, in a relatively straight path. The other on a small road, following the meandering coastline with steep hills but most likely awesome views. You might be thinking, well of course, you should take the coastal route, sounds like a fun adventure. Well, if I took the inland route I could go a lot faster and would also have less distance to cover, which meant I could probably shave a valuable day off. Hmm, I thought about it a lot. When I was in Sofia, I met another bike tourists. I've been following his travels since, and he makes a point of going out of his way to find the rough route, directly up the mountain on the unmaintained roads. That's not really my style and the two of us are on different types of trips; but it sounded like he was having fun (or at least an adventure), so in a similar spirit, I decided to take the small coastal route.

Got a really late start out of town today. Add to that the steep hills which started almost immediately as soon as I started, and I didn't get too far before it was dark and I had to stop. So far the road is as advertised, amazing views and horrendously steep hills on not so great roads. There's no turning back now, as the road doesn't really have any junctions for the next couple of hundred miles. For better or worse, this should be an interesting couple of days.

Couchsurfer Kemalcan and friend

Day 79

I elected to take a smaller road part of the way today, nice views and calm traffic, but the hills were crazy steep and the road was in a state of disrepair. I spent 85% of the day going the first 50% of the way on the small road, and then I reached a highway where I breezed through the second half of the ride. Night and day difference. Quite literally as well, since it started getting dark right when I reached the highway haha. Got into town a bit late, another night with another cool couchsurfer, Kemalcan; that's four surfers in five nights, I'm on a roll... Went to a tea house where we met up with a whole bunch of his friends. It was really awesome talking to them. They were all students and all well versed on politics and international affairs. They were excited to hear my opinion on issues, however I did feel a little overwhelmed when they asked my opinion about Lehman Brothers and started recording my response to use in a school project haha. Another really nice night with some really cool people, the wonders of Couchsurfing...

Day 78

The weather today could not have been better, 70 degrees, no clouds. It's impossible to have a bad day in a climate like this. Especially when you spend half the day biking on a flat, smooth road right on the coast. Got into my target town early as a result. I went down the the waterfront, grabbed some food, talked (at least attempted to talk) with some curious locals, and watched the sunset. Awesome times. Spent tonight with another couchsurfer, Mert. One of their friends said I was the first American they ever talked to, and they changed their opinion of the US a bit after meeting me, hopefully in a positive way haha. Great night.

Couchsurfer Mert and friends

Day 77

Nice roads, awesome weather, things were pretty good. Today marks the first day of the trip where I was able to comfortably take off the gloves and the sweatshirt. Rode down the road full of greenery, birds, bugs in the air - spring is definitely here, at least for the moment. Over the hilly terrain and into the coastal city of Ak├žakoca. Couchsurfer ┼×afak showed me around. Cool house with a humongous balcony, perfect for the bike haha. We grabbed some food with his friends and chilled near the waterfront drinking tea.

Day 76

Today was really calm. Not much traffic, not a lot of people, just a couple of villages mixed in with a lot of wilderness. What a change from the craziness of Istanbul I had seen just yesterday. Got into town today and within the time it took me to stop and look at my phone, a man came up to me and offered to show me around. It was hard to get a read on this guy, wearing a beat up business suit I couldn't really tell if he worked in an office or was a homeless guy haha. I have met a lot of "professional friends" (people who are friendly just so that can try to cheat you out of money) in my travels, although none so far in Turkey, and it was hard to tell if this was another one. He told me he had some relatives who lived in California, when I asked him which city he looked at me surprised and responded in a matter of fact tone, "California City." Alright, haha I gave him a chance. He showed me a hotel for less than ten bucks a night, hard to beat that. Then was went to eat dinner. Awesome food, tried  a couple new dishes including this the incredible rice pudding stuff. He kind of stiffed me on the change, but overall, I'm glad I got to meet this guy. In general, the people out here are becoming more and more friendly. Every other car gives me a supportive honk, and villagers often wave at me from their houses. Good vibes out on the road.

Notice anything weird here?

Couchsurfer Radim

Day 75

Out of Istanbul. If it was anything like getting in to Istanbul, I was going to have a really terrible day haha. Trying to avoid the traffic, I picked a route which seemed to get me out of the suburbs as fast as possible. So, after taking my ferry ride of shame across the Bosporus Straight, I started my long trip across Asia by darting through the east Istanbul in a mad attempt to get the hell out of the megalopolis. Actually turned out pretty well, and after a few short hours I found myself surrounded be trees and mountains. What a relief. Couchsurfing tonight with Radim from the Czech Republic, and  a couple of other exchange students studying here in Turkey. Great guys, cool to hear their perspective as foreigners living here.

Friends from the hostel in Istanbul, Evan and Ingrid

Day 74

So those rims... I starred at them for about an hour this morning, trying to decide what was up. After reading up, watching several DIY videos on you tube, and conducting a couple simple tests on them, I think I should be ok. At least I really hope so. I doubt they will get me all the way to Shanghai, but I have convinced myself that they most likely won't completely destruct for anytime in the near future.

I had it all figured out, go to be early, wake up early, get out of town and on the way down the road in the early morning. Well its Saturday night... I was about to head to bed when my friend Evan from the hostel said he'd buy me a beer if I stayed up to drink with them. Can't turn down that offer, especially in a country where beer is taxed and expensive haha. Might not be that nice early start tomorrow...

Day 73

I learned something the hard way today; always replace your brake pads before they run out completely. When it rains, you run through the pads really quickly. When it snows, ever quicker. Well since the beginning of the trip I've had a lot of rain and snow, and since the beginning of the trip I haven't replaced the pads... The result is that the metal underneath the rubber break pads has been grinding at my rims and caused some serious indentations on the wheels. Now I have to decide whether or not the rims are in danger of breaking. With a broken rim would most likely come a ripped tire, a slashed tube, bent spokes and a totaled wheel. I would definitely be off the bike until I got all of the above replaced. To say this would be bad would be a huge understatement; this could really screw me up big time. Anyway, I need to decide whether the rims are in danger or not. If they are, I probably need to replace both wheels, as well as deal with getting the rear crankset off. That wouldn't be so fun... Decision on that tomorrow.

In better news, I got my Kazakhstan visa, and, barring the potential fiasco with my rims, I should be good to go the day after tomorrow. Went out tonight, cheap beer, fun times, one last hurah here in Istanbul before getting ready to head out.

One of my problematic break pads

Day 72

The Bosporus Straight. Since the initial planning stages of the trip, I've know this was going to most likely be the toughest single part to traverse. There are two bridges, both interstates which are illegal to cross without a motorized vehicle. A friend who speaks Turkish was considerate enough to call the police for me to see if there was anyway they could help me out here. Maybe I could get permission to bike across in the middle of the night, or with a police escort, or along the emergency gangway. Long story short, they said no, no, and more no. So I really needed to figure out a way to do this while avoiding detection. One bridge is several miles long and runs right into the heart of downtown. It also requires being on the freeway for an additional several miles before and after the bridge in order to get on and off it. Pretty sure I would get pulled over before I got anywhere near crossing the bridge. Even if I didn't, I'd definitely have problems getting past the toll booth. Not a viable option. So that leaves bridge number two. Its shorter and farther out of town, so that's a good start. Well its got a toll booth too, but there appeared to be several spots on the map where I might be able to take a side road and then hop a crash rail to access the bridge while bypassing the toll booth. Today I went over to scout it out. I was disappointed with what I found. Not only were there two barbed wire fences around the entire bridge, but there were also several manned police kiosks lining the road. Police cars also drove up and down the shoulders of the bridge patrolling. Why did they possibly feel the need to have so much security on the bridge!? It became apparent that I would definitely get pulled over if I attempted to cross this bridge too, most likely before I even got off the mainland.

For the past several days I've mentioned this challenge of crossing the straight with the people I've met at the hostel, and we've collectively brainstormed some alternative ideas - swimming, kayaking, scuba diving, windsurfing, hang-gliding, the list goes on... Anyway, I've given all of them a decent amount of thought. I have come to the conclusion that none of them are really going to work for the same basic reasons; the current is too strong, and there's too many huge barges and ships that traffic the straight. Not to mention they are all also illegal, and it would be quite probable that the police would stop me...

In my rules I state that if I, "get into a situation where there is absolutely no way to get across a border or river without using motorized public transportation, ... after exhausting every other option, I’ve got to do what I’ve got to do…" Well I've called the police, tried to sneak on the bridges, explored the viability of various transit modes on the water; if there are any other options left to be exhausted, I'd love to hear them. I've got to do what I've got to do, and unfortunately I think that means taking the ferry. So I can take the ferry across without breaking the rules, at least in my opinion. And, lets be honest here, my opinion is really the only one that counts haha. Also, Europe ended at the banks of the straight, and Asia doesn't start until the banks of the other side, so the straight itself is neither in Europe nor Asia, making it possible to completely bike across both continents without biking across the water. Alright, sounds legit to me...

Scouting out the police

More police...

Day 71

Today's mission, fix up the bike. Out to the megamall in the suburbs where I found a discount sports store. Got new brakes, and some super water resistant chain lube, still need a couple other things. I always imagined I would completely overhaul the bike where I got to Istanbul, but now that I'm here, I'm thinking I actually don't need to do that much work. I am adopting the mentality that if its not broke, don't fix it. Tires are doing alright, wheels are staying steady, chain hasn't snapped, the rack is holding in there, so I don't really plan on touching any of these things, at least for now...

Everybody keeps telling me that as I head into the desolate regions of central Asia, animal attacks might become more of a problem. If the recent exponential increase in stray dog encounters is any indication, that could very well be true. So I headed down to the central bizarre in search for some self-protection haha. I was told to just walk around until I randomly found a vendor on the street selling weapons. Sure enough, after wandering around for about a half hour, I found a guy with a folding table in the middle of an ally. Stun guns, tasers, lasers, all sorts of good stuff. Peperspray containers for two bucks a pop, why not take two. No idea if it will work, hope I never have to find out.

A while back, people were protesting here in Turkey for the usually assortment of government corruption and transparency issues. I don't really know the details. Anyway, the police accidentally put a kid in a coma. He just died, and now protests are breaking out all over the country. One of the main protests just happened to be a 5 minute walk from my hostel in downtown Istanbul. Of course I had to go check it out. About half way there, I saw a stampede of people running the opposite way down the street, so I knew this was going to be interesting. I carefully made my way in. As a completely neutral observer, I found it fascinating indeed. One moment the police would be standing around laughing and smoking cigarettes with bystanders and then suddenly the crowd would start getting aggressive and things would turn tense. This was the first time I had ever been in a protest that was not non-violent. It was the police's rubber bullets and water canons against the protester's roman candles and bricks. Don't get the wrong idea, I wasn't in the thick of it, I kept my distance. Decided to leave when the tear gas started getting to me.

Day 70

The task for the day was to take care of paperwork. Planning the next several stretches of route, catching up with emails, dealing with graduate school stuff, etc. Talked with my friend, Blake, who is planning on joining me from Shymkent, Kazakhstan to Kashgar, China. He's booking his flight out so I need to make sure I can make it in time to meet up with him. Of course its logistically quite complicated to try to figure out exactly what date I'll arrive in Shymkent, a city 3000 miles away...Sat on the computer all day trying to iron out the details for the next two months. Tedious at times, but I love the planning aspect of the trip, its one of my favorite parts actually. Sitting in front of a map and researching which roads look good, what the climates are like, the elevation ranges, the geographic features, it always gets me excited for the road ahead.

Day 69

Istanbul is the big stop. I plan to be here about a week or so, not exactly sure yet, depends on how long things take to get done. Everyday I'm here I expect to have a task to do. Today was figuring out how to get a visa for the glorious nation of Kazakhstan. Got lost on the bus system for several hours, but finally made my way to the consulate just in time for their lunch break. To kill time I went to get a haircut. Had a difficult time telling the barber how I wanted my hair cut, but the guy next to me spoke English and helped me translate. This guy was really cool. We only talked for a bit, but he asked what I was doing here and I explained the trip. When he got up to leave, he told me not to pay, because it was on him. I contested, but not much I could do.  His only request was that I spread the word that the Turkish are nice people, no problem, happy to do so. Made my day, what a great guy. Anyway, it took all day but the visa process has been started. The time to get this visa is the big wild card on how long I'll be here in Istanbul. I can't leave town without it... Hopefully everything will be ready on Friday. Here's my tentative list of all the things I want to get done while I'm here:

  • Get the Kazakhstan visa
  • Fix up my bike
  • Figure out how to get over the Bosporus Straight (more on this to come)
  • Iron out the details for next couple of legs of my trip
  • Talk to my friend Blake who is planning on joining me in a couple of months and figure out logistics
  • See Istanbul
  • Get a haircut and shave

Day 68

Everybody I have ever talked to and everything I have ever read has always said that the traffic in Istanbul is absolutely terrible, a horrendous place to bike. Everybody was right. The big problem with biking into Istanbul is that there are only a handful of roads which actually go into town, and all of these roads are humongous freeways. As I hit the outer layers of the the suburbs about 100 km away from the city center, the shoulder disappeared and dumped me onto the lanes of the interstate to fend for myself. To make matters worse, the wind was crazy strong. It blew diagonally to me, acting both as a headwind, as well as a force making it really difficult to balance. Whenever I truck went past me, the wind would swirl around cause me to swerve uncontrollably 3 or 4 feet. This was a huge problem, since swerving a couple of feet could easily result in a fatal accident if a truck got a little too close to me. I had to result to biking on the muddy and bumpy earth on the side of the road, going about the speed of a slow jogger, getting pretty dirty, and loosening every screw on the bike in the process. Not fun. I knew that if conditions continued like this all the way in, there was absolutely no chance of me making it to Istanbul today, and probably not even tomorrow. After about 10 km of these hellish conditions, things started to improve a bit, and there were a couple frontage roads to take, but progress was still quite slow. As I got closer to the city, the frontage roads became less like low traffic service streets, and more like continuous on ramps and off ramps. Even these roads were filled with 3 lanes of traffic traveling at highway speeds with few shoulders, not really much different than the adjacent interstates. I spent several hours gunning it, trying to get through the horrific traffic as fast as I could. Constantly listening for cars, looking for potholes, trying not to get lost, and gripping the handlebars to fight the wind. It was a mental and physical sprint. It was one of the most exhausting things I have ever done on a bike.

When I finally made it to my destination, I felt incredible. One of the highs of the trip, I had successfully navigated the traffic of Istanbul. Well at least the western side (getting out of here is probably going to be rough as well). I had made it to my biggest milestone stop of the trip. I was here. Also, despite the early delays which at one point put me about a week behind schedule, I rode into town tonight only one day off, with an excellent possibility of jumping ahead of schedule in the coming weeks. I walked down to the banks of the Bosporus Straight and touched the water to make it official; I have biked across Europe. From my room tonight I can see Asia out the window. One continent down, one, much larger continent to go.

Day 67

Woke up today with an ambitious goal, 166 km the longest day of the trip. I keep hearing that the traffic in Istanbul is terrible, and I also fully expect to get lost several times heading through the endless suburbs. Therefore, I wanted to get as far as possible today to set myself up better for tomorrow's mess. Unfortunately rain, a strong headwind, and unfavorable roads made even a normal day of riding hard enough, and I had to scrap my plan to get in the extra distance. Not sure exactly why, but today was not only rainy, it was also incredibly muddy. It was so bad that I was a worried about being able to check into a hotel. That was certainly no problem though, as I am staying at what is by far the dumpiest hotel of the trip. The bathroom looks a lot like the one in the movie Saw. Anyway, its just one night and its hard to beat 7 bucks a night around here.

Day 66

The border formalities took some time, but an hour later and 20 bucks less, I had made it into Turkey. I was pretty happy to see the "Welcome to Turkey" sign, the official start of the middle east. As I headed down the road I saw another amazingly welcoming sight, the first blooming flowers of the trip, a sign that spring is quickly approaching. It really can't get here quickly enough haha. I was pleasantly surprised with how fast I got into town for the night. Yesterday's extra work payed off well as I arrived today at like 2:30. Plenty of time to do all the things I needed to do. As I walked around town the call to prayer echoed through the streets, people offered me tea, and I couldn't have been happier to be in Turkey.

Day 65

Tomorrow I plan to cross the Turkish border. With the new country comes time wasted at immigration, dealing with money exchanging, getting a new sim card, etc... So I really wanted to get some good distance in today to make tomorrow's ride shorter and life easier. Luckily for me the weather held up alright, the wind blew in my favor, and I was on autopilot for most of the day. I though about a lot of different, really random things, like the upcoming baseball season, time zones, the bus rapid transit system in Lagos, Nigeria, etc... But I didn't really have to think about biking too much. The time flew by, and I made it an extra 35 km past my originally intended stop.

Day 64

The road to Istanbul. It's going to be a tough 5 days, with each ride going significantly over my 100 km average. Leaving Sofia provided a really interesting gradation of life; its funny how quickly you can transition from cosmopolitan cityscapes and 8 lane highways to nomadic horse and buggy convoys on barely paved country roads. Today had it all - rich neighborhoods, dilapidated villages, great roads, terrible roads, stray dogs, chickens, random people walking in the middle of nowhere with big sticks. All indications to me that I was indeed on the road out of Europe and into something a bit more exotic.

Steven, the other biker going from Capetown to England

Following the yellow brick road

Day 63

There's a cold-front heading through Sofia. Coming back from the bars last night it was snowing. Of course its not the first time I've seen snow, but it is only time so far the snow has been outside of the mountain towns and summit roads. I was really hoping that spring was going to start up sometime soon... Guess I'll have to wait a bit more.

By the way, got my bank card back, everything is right in the world haha.

Day 62

For the first time on the trip, I  met another biker. Cape Town to England. Needless to say, we had a lot to talk about. It was interesting to hear about someone else's biking style, how they planned, what the brought with them, the problems they encountered etc.

Standard day off stuff. Updating the blog, seeing a bit of the town, planning the next stretch, doing nothing at the hostel. Always fun, especially after a cold rainy day of biking. This place is pretty cool, for 16 bucks a night I get a bed, an awesome dinner, beer, and a super legit all you can eat breakfast buffet.

Below is a video I filmed way back on Day 11, where I described all the stuff I brought on the trip. Its a long video and a large file size, and I finally found a computer fast enough to upload it today. I'll post it here, as well as down on Day 11. Ya, its kind of long...

Day 61

Another one of those rides with rain all day. Of course when you get wet, you get cold. That was especially true today. Still, today I crossed into Bulgaria, and the excitement of crossing into a new country always outweighs other discomforts. As soon as I crossed the border, I saw my first sign mentioning Istanbul. It was a happy sight, as it signified my proximity to Turkey, the end of Europe, the beginning of Asia, and a major milestone in the ride across Eurasia. It was the best sign I have seen on the trip so far.

Shivering cold and soaking wet as I entered Sofia. As with any first day in a country with a new currency, my first order of business was getting some money. Found an ATM, put in my card, followed the instructions on the screen, and then horror struck... The message of death, "Card withheld, consult your bank." Not only did I get denied, the machine ate my card. Of course I planned to bring two different cards with me, but my bank was really late getting me the extra credit card and I had to leave for Europe without it. So I just lost my only card. Today is Sunday, bank is closed. Tomorrow is a national holiday, bank is closed, so I have to wait two days before I can go talk to the bank and see about getting my card back. Had to execute my backup plan, took out my emergency dollars and euros and found a place to get them exchanged for some Bulgarian Levs. Not so happy about that. Anyway, its life. As long as I get that card back, everything will be all right.

Couchsurfer Antonio

Day 60

Yesterday was around 130 km, today was only about 75 km, so I didn't approach the ride too seriously. Left around noon, headed out on the road towards Pirot. Ride wasn't too bad, roads were in better shape, but the wind was back... That wind. I really just can't express how much impact wind has on the trip. Wasn't quite as bad as some of my previous "wind days," but still slowed me down quite a bit. Anyway, got to town, another couchsurfer, this time Antonio. Very hospitable guy, we sat in his house drinking some great rakia and chilling. Went out tonight, small town, but still incredibly crowded bar. Live music, made some new friends, good times.

Day 59

Today had everything - the wind, the rain, the hills, the bad roads, the heavy traffic. None of these things persisted throughout the entire day, but there was always at least one of them bothering me at any given point. Also just a long ride today. Nevertheless, made it to Nis, quite proud that I was able to stick to schedule. Met up with a couchsurfer, Stevan, and he showed me to his place. I was amazed with his trust in humanity. After meeting me for only about 15 minutes he told me he had to go to a business dinner and he gave me a spare key and told me to make myself at home in his apartment while he was gone. Really nice guy.

According to Dario, the Serbs are actually pretty good at football...

Day 58

Four days to Sofia, Bulgaria. There's a big town which I would like to check out, only problem is it doesn't quit line up perfectly with a nice even biking schedule. So the result is a two day sprint to Nis, and then two days of relatively easy biking into Sofia. At least that's the plan at the moment, time will tell. The challenge of the day wasn't the distance, the rain, the terrain, or the wind, it was the bad roads. Some parts were pretty good, but other sections were filled with potholes, cracks, and crumbling asphalt. Not only slowed me down, but made me quite nervous about keeping my bike in good shape. I did expect this to happen though, and that's exactly why I went for the thicker tires and mountain bike frame. Today was really the first day where I was glad I did that... Tonight I stopped at a small truck stop. It reminded me a lot of traveling in the US, a rest stop adjacent to an interstate with a diner and a huge "Motel" sign. Cheapest hotel room of the trip and a bar full great food and truckers signing along to loud Serbian music. Great place indeed.

Day 57

Before I left on the trip I applied to graduate school. Well everything is going pretty well on the application front, but I have one school which thinks they're special... It is a pretty good school so I guess maybe they are just a bit haha. Anyway, they require me to submit an online interview, a hard task when I have trouble finding reliable internet access, let alone a computer with a camera and microphone. They also want me to wear business casual clothes, which didn't make my cut when I was deciding what to pack before I left. Today I spent the majority of the day, trying to find a place to conduct the interview. I found an internet cafe with cameras, but I couldn't get it to work. I guess that was probably for the best since the cafe was in a bar, with drunk people behind me playing pool and rowdy games of foosball... Went to a couple other places, but long story short, I just could not find a place to do the interview. Hopefully I can find a place soon... Its sometimes been a bit of a balancing act dealing with the application process while also figuring out the logistics for my trip. Its ok though, all part of the deal.

Day 56

Made some friends in the hostel that like to party. Last night was fun. Didn't really get much done today. It was cool, a nice lazy day and a change of pace.

Day 55

Zagreb to Belgrade was by far the smoothest leg of the trip I've had so far. No real problems with the bike, I managed to get lucky with the rain and wind. Every day was fast, and every day was fun. I met a lot of interesting people and learned a lot about Croatia, Serbia, and former Yugoslavia. I have been able to have several fascinating conversations about the regional history. One fundamental comment I seem to be hearing over and over again, in both Croatia and Serbia, is that things were better before the war. I am curious to see if that sentiment continues as I travel through the country.

Day 54

Today I was flying. Probably the fastest day of the trip so far. As with the past couple of days the roads were flat and the traffic was ok. The secret today was my old frienemy, the wind. There are few things worse in this world than biking into a strong wind. But today the wind was heading my way, and it felt like I was on a motorcycle. Out with Croatia, in with Serbia.

Couchsurfer Dario and friend

Day 53

Ever since Zagreb the weather forecast has called for rain everyday. Ever since Zagreb I haven't really had to deal with much rain. So much for the accuweather predictions... I have had a lot of misty, foggy weather, but nevertheless its been smooth riding. Bikes holding up well and the roads have been flat without too much wind. Into Osijek, and another awesome couchsurfing experience, this time with Dario. We went to this restaurant and got a traditional slow cooked meat stew dish. Man it was good. Really rich and filling too, perfect for the bike trip. Then we assembled a crew, and headed out into town for Saturday night.

Right at home...

Day 52

Awesome local breakfast pastries and a quick coffee down at a bar with Dragana and her friends before heading out. Another day filled with Croatian countryside. Flat ride, no problems on the road, made great time. Got to the small town of Slatina, basically just ate dinner and watched TV in a hotel room.

Couchsurfer Dragana and her mom
Dragana and friends

Day 51

Short ride today. The rain wasn't too bad and I got into the town of Bjelovar early. Met up with my couchsurfer for the night, Dragana. She took me along to a session of ˝Insanity,˝ a workout class in a local gym. Apparently its all the rage back in the US, but I hadn't really heard of it before... The guy that was running the class turned out to be really into biking and used to live in the US, so it was cool getting to meet him. For once it was nice to watch other people doing lots of exercise instead of myself haha. Walked around town, got some beers, nice night.

Day 50

Not too much to say. Saw all I felt I needed to see in Zagreb, spent lots of time just chilling and waiting for tomorrow's ride. New tires on, couchsurfing requests sent, time to head out to Belgrade.

New tire and tube

Day 49

Days off today and tomorrow. Got a new tire, a new tube, figured out some stuff I needed to get done online, caught up with emails, and saw a bit of the city.

A couple of weeks ago my friend sent me a video he filmed of my old kindergarten students saying hi from Korea. I thought it was pretty funny. Anyway never got around to posting it, so here it is below. Huge shout out to Matt Nelson for being considerate enough to take the time to film the video.

Day 48

Yep, rain as expected. Lots of it. Nevertheless, made my way through the day and everything was going alright. Then, disaster struck. I have no idea what I ran over, but whatever it was, it was nasty. Not only did it puncture my tube, it cut a 1 inch gash through the kevlar thread of the tire. This wasn't just another flat tire, it was a blowout and it was severe tire damage... Just one look, and I immediately knew I was going to need to buy a new tire. For those of you who don't know that much about bike wheels, the soft inflatable tube is covered by the rigid tire. Usually when you get a flat tire,  you just need to deal with the tube, not the tire itself. This was different. Here, the tire was cut open to the point where it was unable to house the tube inside, and that's a big problem... This is incredibly rare, but luckily I did pack a couple emergency tire boots, essentially a bandaid for the tire. These boots are for temporary, emergency purposes only, and my experience with them in the past has led me to believe they don't really hold up very well. I replaced the tube, popped in the tire boot, and things still looked pretty terrible haha. I was pretty doubtful it was going to last me the 60 kms for the rest of the day, so I took some rubber cement and tried to fortify it a bit. To make things even harder, it was pouring rain. It was pretty difficult to work on the bike because everything was really wet and it was hard to manipulate my hands because they were quite numb from the cold.  The end result was pretty makeshift, and something I had very little confidence in.

I really wanted to get into Zagreb tonight, with its cheap hostels and plentiful bike shops. I did not want to have to spend the night with a broken bike out in some small town. I was pretty worried about the bike holding up, but there was nothing else to do except keep going and hope for the best. As luck would have it, I did indeed make it to Zagreb. So needing to buy a new tire is the bad news, but the good news is that I made it to town a day ahead of schedule. So I am currently on track to arrive in Istanbul only one day behind my pretrip itinerary, a win in my book considering I was at one time almost a week behind. Another major stop reached, another couple of days off. Sounds great to me.

The boot

Trying to get the tire patched together...

Day 47

I originally planned three days from Rijeka to the capital city of Zagreb. I'd really like to do it in two. There isn't that much distance to cover, but the thing is that there's a decent sized mountain range. As I left Rijeka, it was more or less straight up the mountain as I expected. Knowing it was probably going to rain hard tomorrow, I tried to get as much distance in as possible today. Only went a little over 80 kms but it was a tough day. With some luck the 110 kms for tomorrow won't be too hard...


Day 46

I couldn't sleep very well last night, because I was excited about today. Reason being, I was officially heading out of "Western Europe," and entering what I consider to be a new phase for the trip. Don't get me wrong, I have absolutely loved biking across all the countries I have encountered so far, but I didn't plan this bike trip because of my love for the west. I am quite excited to be heading east, towards countries a bit more different and a bit less on the beaten path. If you don't get what I mean, consider this; everyone knows Italian is spoken in Italy, French in France, Spanish in Spain. Do you know what language they speak in Croatia (if you guessed Croatian, you got lucky), what the capital is, how many people live here, typical foods here? Croatia is certainly not Timbuktu, but its a step in the right direction... Of course I also expect things to start getting a little cheaper, which makes me happy as well haha. Today took me out of Italy, across the corner of Slovenia, and dumped me into Rijeka, Croatia. Three countries in one day, that's always a recipe for a  good day.

Day 45

Everything about today was great. Great weather, bike in great shape, great terrain. Taking advantage of my fortunate conditions, I sprinted through the day and breezed past my intended stop an extra 30 kms. Today was my longest day as of yet, around 100 miles. Believe I made the century club for the first time on the trip. As I headed down the coastline towards the city of Trieste, I saw the most awesome panoramic sunset over the cliffs, just to top off the fantastic day haha. Cheap hostel in town so I spent some of the money I saved on accommodation going out that night with a friend I made at the hostel.

Day 44

Venice is a really weird place. Felt a bit like Disneyland with all the tourists and overpriced shops. Nevertheless, it was an awesome place to visit. As far as I can tell, its the only full sized city in the world which exists entirely without and cars, pretty cool. Interesting urban planning...

Went back over the bike shop, everything was ready to go. Its a minor miracle given what happened a couple days ago, but I'm back on the road tomorrow. 

Day 43

Last night I got lots of sleep. Feels great. Today's task, fix the bike. Found a great shop, walking distance from where I'm staying, handed over the bike, hopefully I'll get it back tomorrow with a fixed crankset. Bought a pair of pedals as well. Things are looking good.

I think I have decided to alter my route to Istanbul. I found a different way to go which is a bit shorter and with nicer terrain. Only concession is that I won't be biking much along the coast. I think that's ok with me though, I saw a lot of coast in France and here Italy. Its nice, but its also touristy and those curvey coastal roads can take forever. Today I spent a couple hours vetting the new route. Its a lot more work than just asking Google for directions to Istanbul. Have to check the terrain, traffic, make sure its not too desolate, not too urban, not to cold, not too windy... So far everything seems to check out.

Day 42

It was really hard to get out of bed today. I was tired, still sick, and not at all looking forward to the prospects of the day. If the crankset broke off completely, I was going to be walking. If the right pedal cracked much more, I was going to be walking... I amended today's route to pass through as many towns as possible in anticipation that I might find myself demobilized. Since yesterday was only 60 kms that meant today was going to be 140. Luckily for me, everything held together just well enough for me to keep on biking. Wind died down, rain wasn't too bad, and I auspiciously found myself entering Venice. Despite the uncertainty, I had made it in one piece and on time. I couldn't have been happier, what a turnaround from the way I felt the night before.

Breakfast at the B&B I stayed at last night

Day 41

Wow. By far most difficult and challenging day of the trip. To start, the rain was back, stronger than ever. On top of that was a ridiculously strong wind. When it blew perpendicular to me, it packed enough force to run me of the road several times through the course of the day. As trucks passed me, a vacuum was created which sucked me in, towards the truck, and then spit me out off the side of the road. It was bad enough that I almost stopped riding for safely reasons. When the wind was blowing straight on, man it was nearly impossible to bike down the road. I sat for hours today grinding out the miles in my low gears. I ultimately decided to cut today short because it was just so hard. All said and done, I went about half as far as yesterday, and put in about 3 times as much work... Very frustrating.

The weather is one thing, I suppose you get days like this sometimes. What really made today the hardest, was what happened to the bike. Today my crankset broke, my front derailleur came off, my rear derailleur froze up, my right pedal cracked, and my gear shifters got out of whack. Top that off with a flat tire, and today was officially the most broken my bike has ever gotten in one day, by far haha. I limped into my backup town, completely demoralized by the day. I could fix up the bike a bit tonight, but the broken crankset is the main problem, a problem that I don't have the tools to fix... Basically a bolt came loose, which is impossible to tighten. At the moment its only loose, not completely out, so the bike is still rideable, but each time I pedal it gets a bit looser. On average I pedal about 5000 times per hour, and I expect tomorrow to be atleast an 8 hour day, so I am quite a bit worried about tomorrow's fate. Really hoping my cracked pedal holds in there too.Ya, crazy day...

Sorry the video is impossible to hear in the wind... I added some captions.

Couchsurfers Bene and Diego

Day 40

I looked out the window this morning and saw the most incredible thing, blue skies and sun. I knew today was going to be great. Easy biking, good weather, and great couchsurfers for the night, Bene and Diego. They taught me a lot about Italian food and were nice enough to cook me the most fantastic Italian meal. Delicious and filling too. Perfect for a bike trip. My town for tonight, Cremona, is famous for producing stradivarius violins. When you hear of someone having a million dollar violin made in Italy, there's probably a good chance its from here.

Random town, sister cities with Gilroy, USA

Day 39

Leaving Genoa was a bit difficult. I knew I might be in for something interesting as I passed some signs indicating mandatory use of chains. I took a road through the mountains which was incredibly steep. The grade of the road, coupled with the fact that I was still sick meant that I had to stop to catch my breath every half mile of so. It took me a while yo get to the top. On the other side, a decent amount of snow. It was of course very cold, but also great scenery. Again soaked in rain and shivering as I got into town, but a good day nonetheless. Lots of sleep tonight and hopefully I can get rid of this cold.

Day 38

Last night was a little rough. Went to bed shivering, woke up sweating a couple of times. Nevertheless, didn't feel too bad when I got out of bed. Hopefully last night was the worst of it. Suppose time will tell...

Mission for today - send out cocusurfing requests. Sounds easy enough, but since my hostel still hasn't hooked up their internet, and i can't send them using my phone, it turned into a bit of an ordeal... In my quest to find a computer, I ended up getting a pretty good tour of the town. Turned out pretty well, and in the end I found a library that could help me out. As I write this, I still feel a bit sick, but I think I can probably head out on the bike tomorrow.

Friend from the hostel, Ivan

Day 37

Beautiful blue skies and very comfortable temps today. To bad its my day off... Number one priority today - get a phone plan for Italy. As much as it makes me sound like a self absorbed teenager, having a number and a data plan are incredibly important to me. Not so I can gossip on Facebook, but so I can take care of logistics, like finding a grocery store, contacting a couchsurfer, planning my route, and looking up a hostel. Of course you can do all these things without a smartphone, but its a lot more streamlined when you have the internet. Also, due to the equivocal nature of traveling by bike, I refuse to couchsurf unless I have a working phone. With couchsurfing the trip is more fun, more "authentic," and a hell of a lot cheaper. Anyway, got a sim card, mission accomplished.

Ever since yesterday morning, I've started to feel a bit sick. Tonight it got a little worse, so definitely taking tomorrow off here in Genoa.

Day 36

Amazing views, terrible weather. Another hard day of pounding rain. Another day of wet, soggy existence. When I left on this trip I obviously anticipated going through some rain. I even figured I'd have a couple days of torrential downpour. But man, its been raining almost everyday, many days quite hard. It has of late been a constant struggle to keep dry and keep the bike in shape. Every night I work to get all of my stuff dried out, and when I leave in the morning, everything's wet again within a half hour haha. It can be incredibly frustrating at times. The bike takes its toll as well. Rain especially messes up the gear shifting and the brakes. Anyway, have to deal with whatever weather comes my way, its all part of the fun.

Got to Genoa, two hostels in town, one in the city center and one way out of town up like a 3 mile hill. You can probably guess which one I tried to go to. Unfortunately though, no space, so it was up the hill I went. Nice hostel, only problem is that they literally just reopened today, and they still haven't set up the internet, opened their kitchen, or done several other things.

Another milestone city reached. Original itinerary called for 5 days between Marseille and Genoa, but I did it in 4. I might take that day I just saved and tack it on as an extra day off here in Genoa. Not sure yet, probably decide tomorrow at some point.

Day 35

From Nice to Genoa, I'm taking a road directly on the coast. Today was slow, not because of the rain or hills (there was lots of both), but because I kept stopping to look at the views. Just amazing stuff. I also spend a small bit of time meandering around Monaco, and checking out the sites in the world's second smallest country. Crazy place. I stood outside the Monte Carlo Casino thinking about how I was at the richest place of the entire 8 month trip, and how I would probably see some interesting juxtapositions as I head east. I entered back into France before getting to Italy. 3 countries, 1 day. Boundaries are totally arbitrary, but sounds cool nonetheless.

Couchsurfer Karina

Day 34

I have been seeing ads for some circus for the past several days. Well it just so happened they were set up across the street from a grocery store I stopped into in a small town today. As I sat outside the store and ate some food, I watched as a two humped camel ran out of control onto the adjacent street. Haha anyway, thought that was interesting.

The second half of the day was spent on a coastal route, following the Mediterranean Sea as I made my way into Nice. A bit rainy but awesome views. Met up with my couchsurfer for the night, Karina, and her two children. Had a nice time talking with all of them, and got to best nice and early. Nice day.

Day 33

Forecast called for 0% chance of rain and strong winds. Ended up getting a lot of rain, and not too much wind. Go figure... No couchsurfing for tonight, so I checked into a Formule 1 hotel. I had kind of wanted to check these places out. Interesting business model. Automated check in machines, communal selfcleaning bathrooms, and keyless entry rooms made this place run with practically no staff, and thus was fairly cheap. Tomorrow to Nice, should be nice...

Trying to dry everything out on the space heater

Day 32

Sent a text to my bike mechanic friend from yesterday to see if I can get that part I need. He responds, "Hello, yes I wait you." Sounds good to go. Walk through the streets of Marseille and down a narrow alley where I was instructed to find him. He opens up the garage door to his shop, and there he is, surrounded by bikes, parts, and tools. He busts out a couple of those little metal forks I've been desperately looking for and tosses them over to me. Sweet. I try to pay him, but he refuses to accept my money. We start talking and it turns out he's done a good amount of touring himself, Including a 5 month trip from Marseille, through Turkey, around the Mediterranean, and deep into Africa. This guy is great. He even offers to go get a beer with me. In recognition of his awesomeness, I put a couple of his bumper stickers on my bike.

I get back to the hostel and work on the bike. Fixed rack, readjusted brakes, lubed chain, realigned handlebars, cleaned water bottles, and I even got a decent amount of sight seeing in too. Overall a great day. Everything feels good to go for my next stretch into Genoa.

The most clutch bike mechanic ever

Day 31

Today's number one priority: find the part I need to fix my rack. I went over to a bike shop, they didn't have stuff for racks, but they sent me down the street to another place. That place had what I needed. I saw it, I held it in my hands, there it was. Only problem was that would only sell it to me if I bought the entire new rack that it was part of. Made enough sense, their rack was useless if I took this one part with me... The new rack would cost like 50 bucks, things looked bleak. But just then, the store owner pulled out a business card and made a call to someone. After he got off the phone, he told me to go to some cafe, where a guy would be waiting for me. Sounded kind of strange, but I walked on over. Entered the cafe, and found a guy off to the side fixing a bike, this had to be him. Sure enough I went over and as soon as it became clear I didn't understand any french, they guy cheerfully exclaimed, "Oh its you!" I told him my conundrum and he told me that he had what I needed. Only problem was, it was at his other shop, and I needed to wait until tomorrow it get it. Too be continued. I went back to the hostel, planned my route out to Genoa, drank some beer and enjoyed the evening.

Its officially been one month. Seven more to go. Sounds doable, 12.5% of the way done, not too bad. Despite some difficult days, the time has been flying by and I'm having a fantastic time. Good to get a month under the belt, now I sound ever so slightly less like a ridiculous idiot when I tell people I am biking to China haha.

The magic business card...

Day 30

On day 7 it rained basically all day. Well if you take out the word basically, you'll have today. Literally not a second without rain. In fact, as I write this at 11 at night, it still hasn't stopped raining. The rain gets you wet, but what really gets you drenched is the all the backsplash. You get some from the bike tires, a bit from passing cars, and every time a truck drives by its like someone's shooting you with a supersoaker. I'm talking CPS 3000, for those of you who know your supersoakers. My basic goal when it rains is to just stay dry enough to avoid health problems, mostly hypothermia. Gladly, that goal was reached today. One consequence of the rain is that I have a higher chance of getting lost. Usually when I'm not 100% sure which turn to take, I bust out my phone and look at the map. When is raining, however, my hands are wet and my phones going to get wet as soon as I take it out of my bag. If you've ever tried to use a smart
phone when the screen is wet, then you can probably relate to how difficult that is to do. Im guessing its not good for the phone either. Anyway, so when its raining, I'm disincentivized from looking at the map and I take more guesses as to which roads to take. Today I took a couple wrong turns, none of which cost me too much time, but one of which led me onto a multimile interstate bridge. Not my best moment...

Despite the weather, I actually made pretty good time today, and arrived in Marseille way before dark. My first impressions of the town were not great, flooded streets and lots of honking. I found some shelter and pulled out my phone find a place to stay. While there, a man started talking to me. Turned out he had done a big bike trip from Germany to France back in the 80's. He, Armand, ran up to his apartment and brought down a book his friend had made to document their trip. He was a great guy and he invited me up to have a coffee at his place. We talked about biking and he told me his life story. Suddenly Marseille seemed friendlier.

So another leg done. It wasn't without its challenges, but I made some new friends, learned some things, and finished on time and under budget.


Day 29

Rainy start to the day, but things cleared up fast. Time went by on the bike relatively quickly today. About to get to town tonight when all of the sudden my bike got really wobbly and I started to lose a bit of control. Immediately had to stop, and I quickly realized that part of the rack had broke. Being the good boy scout I am, I packed a spare part. Unfortunately, this was the second time this happened, and my spare was the piece that had just broke... Uh oh. I wasn't sure what to do. I could ride, but with rack partially broken it was hard to balance the bike and I was at great risk of doing more serious damage to the rack. I sat there on the side of a roundabout for 20 minutes running through my options. Finally I came up with an idea. I was going to use zip ties to secure it until I could get a replacement part in Marseille. Only problem was, I didn't have any zip ties. As luck would have it though, as I started walking down the road, I immediately saw a huge Target type of store. Bought some ties, and to my great relief, it worked. Not quite like new, but I'm pretty sure it will get me to Marseille. Met up Marjorie, my couchsurfer for the night. She is a graphic designer and artist, and her apartment was decked out with all sorts of cool artwork she had made. To bed a bit early, start tomorrow a bit early, sounds good to me.

Left over crepes from last night, delicious

Day 28

No wind and relatively flat terrain made today's 103 kilometers seem easier than yesterday's 65 kilometers. Funny how that works. Got into Montpellier, interesting town, old school center with new development expanding outwards fast. Met up with my two first couchsurfers in France, Lisa and Oona. Cool apartment, good conversation, and delicious crepes. Couldn't have been better.

Day 27

Today was the windiest day of my life. Comically windy day. At points it was in my favor, other times it blew perpendicular, but most of the day it just seemed to blow straight at me. Unlike rain or a steep grade, you can't really tell when your about to hit wind, and, more importantly, you have no idea when its going to stop. For this reason, it can mess with your morale. It's an invisible force which makes biking on a flat road feel like an intense mountain climb. It was supposed to be one of the easiest days of the trip, a straightforward 65 kilometers, but man, it was frustrating...

When I finally got into town for the night things started shaping up better. I found a cheap hostel, an atm, and a French sim card for my phone. Now that I have a working phone here in France, couchsurfing becomes much more pragmatic. Sent out requests tonight at the hostel, I believe I'll have places to stay for the next couple of nights. Tough day, but futures looking good (assuming the wind dies down).

It was pretty windy...

Day 26

Yesterday and today I have been seeing the weirdest thing. Out in the middle of nowhere, miles away from towns, sitting on dirt roads tangential to the highways, are prostitutes. Well atleast I think they are, because it seems unlikely that a farm girl would be wearing high heels and a short skirt, and trying to get my attention while I'm biking by... And not just one or two, I've seen atleast 15. From an economic stand point, it makes no sense to me. Why go out in the middle of nowhere? Anyway, I've been finding it really strange.

Made it to France. Bittersweet. Spain was really fun. Also, I just left the only country on the trip where I can speak the language, and now I'm looking ahead at several different languages that I know nothing about, followed by a couple of countries where I'm honestly not even sure what they speak (although its probably safe to assume I don't speak it). On the flip side, its really nice to be able to cross another country off my list. Spain was no gimme either, a solid 18 days and some good mileage. 2 down, 12 to go.

Right off the bat, France lost some points in my book because they didn't have a "Welcome to France" sign at the border I crossed. What the hell. What kind of country doesn't have a sign at the border... Also, France at first glimpse is looking like its going to be considerably more expensive than Spain and Portugal. At the supermarket alot of things were almost twice as expensive, and I payed much more for a room tonight than anytime before. So far I've only
really been to one town, small sample space. Have to see what the rest of the country is like, but this probably will be the most expensive country on the trip. Great for France's economy, not so great for me...

Day 25

My original schedule called for 3 days off in Barcelona, but I decided 2 would suffice and I hit the road today. So I officially caught up one day, only 5 behind now... I saw a lot of bikers on the road today, which usually seems the indicate the route will be scenicly hilly, with not a lot of traffic. To my surprise, neither of those 2 things were true. But the riding today was fast. Gentle grades and decent weather conditions made the miles melt away. Got into town ahead of schedule. Its sad to think its my last night in Spain, its been a great country.

Got a little confusing outside of Barcelona

Day 24

 I am approaching this trip in segments. When I left Lisbon the only thing I was concentrating on was getting to Madrid. From Madrid, I was just trying to get to Barcelona. Today I worked on how to get to Marseille. Its always kind of strange, sitting in a comfy chair on the computer drinking a beer, and planning the next several hundred miles of exhausting bike riding. Its fun. After spending all day yesterday more or less at the hostel trying to get caught up on work, it was nice to have the chance to go check out the city today.

Fixing up the bike a bit

Day 23

Couchsurfing is the way to go. You meet people, get the chance to learn about the surrounding area, live like a local, and save a lot of money too. I love couchsurfing, and the people I have met during this stretch from Madrid to Barcelona have all been inspirational, incredibly hospitable, and fortified my faith in humanity. You´re constantly interacting with people, socializing, and doing new things, which is fantastic, but also exhausting. There is something to be said for having the occasional night when all you do is eat dinner, drink a beer, and then fall asleep watching TV. Also, I have a decent amount of work I need to take care of related to graduate school applications, and its pretty rude to crash at someones place and then ask to use their computer for the next 6 hours... Therefore, I´m going the hostel route for my time here in Barcelona.

Day 22

Barcelona here we come. I woke up excited about getting to Barcelona and I ended the day excited to be in Barcelona, but the part in the middle wasn´t quite as much fun. Rain, wind, cold, heavy traffic, and lots of industrial zones were the defining features of today´s ride. Add to that a decent climb into the mountains, and today was slow. Of course all is well that ends well, and the ride into the city center of Barcelona provided to be much more enjoyable than my treck through Madrid into its downtown.

So I´ve made it to my second major pit stop. Feels good. Two days off in town and then heading out towards Marseilles.


Couchsurfer Andres and his tenant, Diego

  Day 21

Big day today. Longest so far in fact. 131 kilometers of hills and wind. Nice views and more windmills than I could count. As I headed towards Reus, and the sea, I slowly started to lose elevation and gain some warmer weather. As I came over the top of the last hill of the day, I saw my first glimpse of the Mediterranean. Significant because I´ll be following it for the next couple of months as I move across Europe. Also I sign that I was officially out of the mountains, atleast for the time being... Another awesome couchsurfer, this time it was Andres. Real laid back, down to earth, Andres and his tenant showed me around town and we grabbed some beers and chilled. My first day in Catalonia, Andres explained the pros and cons of their independence movement and answered all my stupid questions like, what language to people speak here haha.

Couchsurfer Oscar

Day 20  

David showed me around town in the morning and we went see this cool valley a couple of miles out of town. It was really interesting because the rocks were bright red, and they really stood out a lot with the light green trees below. We also walked through a farming village where they built most of their buildings from the local stones, so the buildings blended into the rocks in the background in a really interesting way. It was a great start to the day. I wasn´t in too much of a hurry to get on the bike because today was a relatively short 75 kilometers into the next town, Alcaniz. We drank some coffee, and then I took my time getting everything together. Big hill out of town, but besides from that the ride wasn´t too bad. The only problem was the wind, coming at me diagonally and almost knocking me off my bike a couple of times. For an hour or two I was constantly turning left in order to stay on the straight road. Got into the town of Alcaniz and met up with another couchsurfiner, Oscar. I knew this would be fun because he was really into bicycle touring. When I arrived at his house I was amazed to see how many bikes he owned. A couple a mountain bikes, some road bikes, hybrid bikes, even a tandem, probably ten in all. This was definitely the right guy to stay with on a bike trip haha.I got to meet his family, and he wanted me to practice English with his children, which was kind of funny. Oscar was also really into environmental sustainability, and he had a really cool custom built house which minimized energy consumption. Great guy, nice family.

Couchsurfer David

Day 19

Today I slept in, ate breakfast at my couhsurfer's house and then we went to check out a local national park with some of her friends. Nice views, impressive looking rocks, "just like Utah" one person said. I finally packed up and was ready to hit the road at about 12:30. As everyone came outside to bid me farewell, I very unceremoniously realized I had a flat tire... It was exactly the same problem which caused my first flat, loose metal threading in the tire itself. I patched everything up and finally left town at about 1. The roads were relatively flat and I made good time. More or less every supermarket in Spain is closed on Sundays, so I stopped at a gas station to get some cheap food. The lady working there, realizing I looked hungry and probably thinking I was impoverished too, offered me a whole bunch of food which she couldn't sell because it expired yesterday. Free lunch. Got to my destination an hour after dark, but it turned out alright because my couchsurfer for the night, David, didn't get into town until about 10 minutes after me. He was kind enough to cook me a great dinner and shared some local knowledge. David is the only couchsurfer on the site from this small town of about 1000 people. I wasn't too surprised to hear I was his first guest haha. Rural couchsurfing at its finest.

Received news today that my grandmother died. It was kind of expected that this would probably happen while I was on the trip, as she was more or less on her deathbed when I left. During World War II she rode her bicycle from Washington to San Francisco. As I kid I remember thinking that that was a ridiculous thing to do, especially for my grandma haha. Her bicycle trip definitely fascinated me while I was growing up, and it was my first introduction to long distance bike touring. She is partially responsible for helping me discover how much I love traveling by bike, and, although she may not have know it, she definitely had a hand in motivating me to take this trip. Rest in peace Grandma Betty.

Sara and her friends in the Alto Tajo national park


Day 18

The weather forecast today called for a 50% chance of rain. Well I certainly saw a lot of rain, but never really got to that 50% of the day without the rain... Ya it rained a lot today. And the rain turned to snow while I climbed up a mountain. The snow fell heavier and heavier. At the top of the mountain I felt like I was in a snow globe. Looking back at the pictures though, it actually wasn´t that bad... It looked really nice. It was kind of fun. It was freezing. My feet, which got covered in rain down below, were literally frozen. Besides from that though, it was good to know that the rest of my body was alright. Today was a bit of a test run for the larger, forthcoming snowy roads, and I'm happy to say that everything more or less checked out. I still got to wear my shorts the whole time too haha. I got to town, and met up with couchsurfer number two, Sara. It was her friend's birthday and we met up at a bar where they were all celebrating, so I knew it'd be a fun night. Stayed out pretty late, bit worried about getting the ride in tomorrow.

Castle in the city I stopped in
Couchsurfer Sara and her friends

Day 17

Giovanna showed me to an awesome breakfast place today. Spanish omelets, churros, and some other great stuff all a super cheap prices. While in Madrid I decided to change up my route to Barcelona a bit. Still planning on the same amount of time to get there, but I opted for a shorter, less car intensive route. The only trade off is that I'll be hitting a lot more hills. With that being said I rode out of Guadalajara today into the hills. Spending a good chuck of the day on one lane farm roads, I finally felt like I had completely left the Madrid metropolitan region. A bit cold and a bit hilly, but a real nice day nonetheless.

Day 16

Just as it took me forever to get through all the urbanness into the the center of Madrid, it was equally hard getting out. Constant stop and go due to both traffic and needing to look at my map. Spain has great roads out in the country, but the avenues in the Madrid suburbs were full of potholes and cracks. As a result, I got my first flat tire of the trip. Fortunately it happened right in front of a park, so I could sit and relax at a picnic bench while fixing things up. Don't think I'll get that lucky again. I figure I'll be doing alright if I get less flat tires than I have major stops. So far one flat and one major stop (Madrid).

Got in to the town of Guadalajara and met up with the first couchsurfer of the trip, Giovanna. She was a great host and we drank some beer and talked about life. Now that I am in better biking shape my schedule is much more predictable which makes couchsurfering easier. I'll be doing a lot of staying with locals on this leg to Barcelona. In fact, I only anticipate staying at a hotel for one night on this week long stretch. Should be fun. Its also a lot more economical, as you eliminate the cost of lodging. Today was great, free breakfast at the hostel in Madrid, cheap dinner and free housing allowed me to only spend 5 Euros on the day.

Day 15

Second and last day off in Madrid. Hitting the road tomorrow morning.

Day 14

Nice day off. Get my laundry done, got some couchsurfing requests sent in, checked out the sites, met some people, and went out a bit at night. Made the Facebook page of the hostel I'm staying at.

Day 13

Today was cold. At some points it was really cold. The plan for today was an easy 40 or so kilometers, followed by and really tough mountain climb, and then a confusing ride through the suburbs of Madrid before finally ending up in downtown. Well the part I projected to be easy wasn´t too bad, however, about a half hour into the ride today, not only was it freezing, but it was also snowing. It didn´t snow for more than five minutes, but it was enough to make me pretty worried about what was about to lie ahead on the significantly higher mountain pass. Fortunately everything turned out ok, as the road to the summit was steep and incredibly cold, but not filled with snow. At the top, I got my first view of Madrid. Went down towards the city, and after spending a couple of hours figuring my way through outskirts, I got to the city center.

So I finished the first leg and made it to my first major rest stop. 1 down, 30 to go... A couple days off here, and then a week to Barcelona. Due to my late bag and my soreness, I´m currently 6 days behind schedule. I´m pretty sure I can get back on track, but most of my opportunities for making up time are not until the second half of the trip, so it might be a while.

First glimpse of Madrid


Day 12

Today started a bit iffy. As soon as I got on the bike I realized my knee was still not completely better. Good enough to keep riding though. I climbed up the valley towards the snowy peak wondering how my knee would hold up. I didn't know exactly how high up I needed to go because the top was covered in super thick fog. The views were awesome until I got towards the top where I literally couldn't see more than 15 feet in front of me. Complete white out. It was supposed to rain so I finally took the proper time to put my home made rain bag over my gear in the back before I left for the day. With this thing on man I look really homeless haha. Maybe it was just me, but I though I was getting some strange looks as a result. I did however get approached by some other bikers and we talked for a bit. They were interested in the blog, so hola to my 3 friends from El Barco de Avila... I figured this big foggy mountain pass would be the only really steep part of the day but that was not to be the case. Ended up having to climb three mountains before the day was done. Exhausting but also a good amount of fun. Pretty dope views all day. Got to town, used the internet to pick a hostal, and was surprised to realize that it was inside a castle haha. In fact, a big chuck of downtown is inside this huge fortress thing. Pretty cool. To top it all off I have a memory foam mattress in my room for the night. Nice. And of course the niners won.

The 3 biker friends I ran into

Day 11

Decided last night to take it easy if my knee still felt soar. Woke up, it felt better but not 100%, took the day off. The no pain no gain mentality works for a lot of things, but the knees are a special breed. I've learned the hard way not to mess with your knees. If my knee were to get really out of whack I could easily be out for two weeks. So today I got to sleep in, work on my bike, practice my Spanish (by watching tv...), and chill in the town. Back on the road tomorrow.

Day 10

It turned out the owner of the hostal I stayed at last night was kind of into biking. On my way out we talked for a bit and he gave me some information about the roads and terrain in the area. He said he'd be following along on the blog, so a shout out to him, although I don't think he speaks any English... Hola a mi amigo a Hostal Hernan Cortez. There we go, that should work. Anyway, as I left town I was surprised to see a lot of other bikers on the road. I soon realized I had fortuitously stumbled upon a scenic biking route haha. Great views and light traffic, perfect. Towards the end of the day I rode through a valley towards my destination for the night- old school buildings surrounded by terraced agriculture, cool place to stop and a relatively cheap 18 euro hotel room too. Everything about today was great except for my right knee, which started getting pretty soar towards the end of the day. I'll have to keep an eye on it, and if its problematic tomorrow I might have to give it some rest.

Day 9

Another good day. I'm on a role. Nice road, good scenery, incredibly friendly and courteous drivers, life is good. Got into town a little earlier today and had time to take care of some finances and buy a Spanish sim card for my phone. Finally have internet access for the first time since my first day biking.

Day 8

Yes. I was waiting desperately for this. The first fun day of the trip. I was stressed about my missing bag in Lisbon, exhausted on the first days of biking, soaking wet yesterday, but today was great. Blue skies, no rain, some sun, and a healthy body. Not much else to say. Today was awesome. Plus I officially entered Spain. 1 country down, 15 to go.

Day 7

Today it rained. It rained basically all day. I was unsuccessful at figuring out a good way to get my home made bag cover on, so my bag got drenched. Luckily most of the stuff inside is in waterproof bags, so it turned out ok. But ya I got soaked, and the rain caused some problems with my bike too. The brakes and gears got a bit screwed up, the chain started squeaking, and my front axel started to come loose. The day had some nice moments, but to be honest it was not the best day. The rain made biking slow, and I got to my destination town after dark, wet, cold, and soar. To make matters worse, the towns only hotel had gone out of business. It was too rainy to camp, so i started entertaining the idea that I might have to bike ahead into the night until I could find a town with a place to stay. That could take hours... Luckily, after talking to several people, I was directed to some random cafe a couple miles out of town that had a little sign that read "dormidas." Sure enough, they had a room I could take. Haha almost forgot, big milestone reached today, I officially 1% of the way across Eurasia!

Day 6

Someone once told me long distance bike trips go something like this: The first day of biking is really hard. The second day is even harder. On the third day it will be so rough you will want to quit. The forth day will be a little better, and by the end of the first week you'll be having an awesome time. Keeping this in mind I decided to make the second day of biking an easy day. A simple, flat 50 km stetch. It was indeed an easy day. Got into town, ate lots of protein, drank large amounts of water, and hoped my body could start building the muscle mass I desperately needed to continue the trip.

Day 5

The first day of biking. I started the day feeling pretty great. 50% of this trip was just showing up ready to go, and I had finally accomplished that task. There I was, right where I left off walking, stoked to be heading out for good. As I expected, the first day of biking was hard. I knew it would be, bit that still didn't make it any better. My initial excitement soon gave way to exhaustion. By the time I got into town for the night I was dead. I could barely walk, had the chills, and felt like throwing up. Every muscle in my body was sore. Despite drinking as much water as I could, I still felt dehydrated. Again, I fully expected all of this, as I've been through it multiple times before when starting a trip cold turkey like this. Nevertheless, this knowledge didn't help much as I sat in the shower dreading the prospects of getting up the next day and doing it all again. Reality started to sink in, I am going to be biking all day, pretty much every day, for the next 240 days. Wow, sounds exciting and terrifying at the same time haha. Overall though, I was just glad to be out on the road. Let's go to China

Day 4

Today I received the best email I have ever seen:

     Good afternoon Sir,

     This mail is to inform you that the missing bag belonging to AHLLISSP10779 has arrived to Lisbon airport today on the 04 January.

I rushed over to the airport and sure enough there it was, just like I left it. Looked great. After two hours sitting in the airport and piecing my bike back together, I triumphantly rode out into the streets of Lisbon. Got the bag, assembled the bike, and I'm heading on my way first thing in the morning.

Unpacking everything at the airport

Day 3

I lasted as long as I could, mostly out of spite, but I finally had to go buy a second set of clothes. I felt so defeated as I went to check out haha. I´m really starting to think that this missing bag is probably in Boston, and tomorrow the next flight from Boston arrives, hopefully with my stuff... Also, the hostel I´m staying at is closing for maintenance starting in two days. So tomorrow is shaping up to be a bit of a make or break day. It´s either get my bag and be on my way, or deflate my hope and be forced out of the hostel. If the bag doesn´t show up then, I´ll need to think of taking some more drastic actions. I´ve been starting to think of a contingency plan on the small, but increasing, chance that I never get my luggage back. Ever. More on that plan if necessary, but lets just say that it would be an extremely suboptimal way forward.

Life at the hostel in Lisbon is not too bad. Actually, it might be the nicest hostel I have ever stayed at - a full kitchen, bar, pool table, Foosball, harbor view balcony, computers, TV´s, one of those fancy espresso machines... Made lots of friends too. Trying to get my trip on track by day, enjoying Lisbon by night.

Day 2

Not much to say. Spent all day trying to figure where my bag went. I officially entered "phase two" of my baggage search. Haha still not sure exactly what that means but I don't think I like the sound of it... Ended up needing to go back to the airport for the third time. They're pretty sure its not in Lisbon or Porto Delgado but they don't actually know where it is. The new theory I got today was that it didn't make it on the plane in Boston because it was raining. Haha sounds pretty lame. Looks like the earliest I could possibly get my bag now would be Saturday, since that's apparently when the next flight from Boston arrives. My biggest win of the day was definitely jumping through all the red tape to get my compensation allowance. 140 Euros in cash, I'll take it.

Day 1

Well it wasn´t exactly the way I pictured it, but I started the trip today. I still don´t have my bag, and my bike is still at the airport, but I really wanted to have New Years Day be the first day, so I decided to head over to Cabo Da Roca (the westernmost point in continental Europe) and do the first part of the trip by foot. In keeping with my rules, I´ll pick up where I stopped walking when I finally get everything ready to go. Still no word about my bag. I showed up at the airport yesterday to see what was going on with the strike, and was surprised and confused to see a guy working who told me he was currently striking. Anyway, I desperately need that bag. Until then, I´m on vacation indefinitely in Lisbon.

The official starting point

Day 0

Not the smoothest of starts haha. All the flights were on time, everything was going well, I even got a window seat. When I got to the airport in Lisbon things look alright. Then I went over to the baggage claim and waited for my stuff. Nothing showed up. That was no problem though, as I knew there was a good chance my hiking backpack and bike box would both be sent over to the oversized baggage spot. Well I got the bike, but not the backpack. After waiting for an hour and checking all of the different spots I could possibly think it might be sent, I went over to the lost and found. No one knew where it was, but they were pretty sure they could find it and get it to the airport within 24 hours. This sucked a little bit, but I again not that big of a problem, since I arrived a day earlier than I really needed to, just incase I had anything happen. They said they would send me an email when I could come over and pick it up. Never got that email, and then I overhead someone at the hostel talking about strikes at the airport. Turns out the company that is in charge of handling lost baggage just went on strike for at least the next two days.

I had it all figured out. I was going to get into town a day early as to avoid any complications, get the bike ready to go, and leave out for the first day on New Years Day. It was going to be perfect, starting the first of the year, made so much sense. Haha I even pulled a couple all nighters before I left so I could get graduate school applications sent out and everything ready to go for New Years Day. Ya... That´s not looking likely now. I got the bike, but all of the tools I need to reassemble it are in my lost bag, so I just left the boxed bike at the lost and found until I get my other stuff. At the moment I´ve just got a helmet, a front bike basket, an industrial strength towing strap, my wallet, my phone (minus the converter for charging), and the clothes I´m wearing. Anyway, I fully expected to have obstacles on the trip, just didn´t think the first problems would happen before I even started. On the flip side, Lisbon is a cool place, and if I don´t start biking on the first, I can go hard on New Years Eve. Happy New Year indeed...