Days 111 Through 120

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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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...