Days 121 Through 130

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 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 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 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 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 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.

They Took a Few Pictures as They Passed my on the Way Out of Town

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 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 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 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...