Friday, August 22, 2014

Welcome to Iran!

Stupid Sharia Laws for Women

5 days into Iran, and I'm hating the dress code for women.  We are required to cover our heads, wear long pants, and a shirt that has long sleeves and covers the bottom.  Despite having found light cotton / quick dry options to meet the requirements, I must still say it is utterly ridiculous.  It is of course hot, hot, hot outside, and hte men are still wearing their shorts and light jerseys they wore in previous countries.  It blows my mind that this is a LAW.  The local women have it even worse, as they are probably held to tighter standards about covering the neck.  In this conservative area that we are in, near the holy city of Mashhad, the local women wear concealing black drapes that cover their heads and flow behind them.  From behind, the women look like eerie black ghosts, floating along the streets.  

What I didn't quite realize about the dress code is that we (the female travelers) would have no legal relief from it.  Since we are camping, pretty much all of our time is spent outside, where you are technically supposed to cover up.  (Inside the tent is hot, so you don't really want to hang out there.)  So far, most of our campsites have been in areas where locals also are milling about, making our "private" campsite area feel even more public.  (Not to mention that wherever we are, we seem to attract curious locals.  For the most part the locals stay on the perimeter, but in the past we've had kids wandering through our campsite, looking in our tents.)  Nevertheless, in less busy campsites, we take off our sweaty head coverings / arm coverings for a bit of relief.  So far the local guides who travel with us have said this is ok.

Things are supposed to get better as we move west.  We've noticed how some of the women in the cities only cover the back half of their heads, in quiet protest of the stupid laws.  I've heard that in Tehran, they barely comply with the laws?  I am not sure what that will mean for us, but part of the difficulty is obtaining the right clothes to allow for most comfort.  Until I'm able to wear my bike jersey and maybe just loose shorts over my bike shorts, I reckon it will be uncomfortable.   (Ideally, maybe I'd have very light quick-dry white leggings to wear... but where to find these around here?)

The discomfort of all the extra clothing on the bike is not the only problem with these stupid laws though.  It would be more tolerable if the men were subjected to an equally cumbersome dress code... But it is truly irksome and annoying to be singled out as a woman -- I've never personally experienced such blatant discrimination.  (And i see how lucky I am for this.)  I am not used to being personally regarded and sorted as a Female first, Human second.  To me, it feels just as ridiculous as if I was told I couldn't have any water to drink for having blue eyes.  

As a result of these stupid laws, I would suggest that anyone who was thinking that Iran might be a good tourist destination to nix that.  I'd say no one should visit Iran until they grant women the basic right to dress comfortably on a hot summer day (among other things).   


While Turkmenistan locals presented a scared, plastic front ( they were not friendly, and definitely didn't tell us what they thought), Iranians have been exceptionally friendly and real.  People have come out of the woodward to offer help where we weren't even asking for it.  Especially in the town of Quachan, where we camped in a nearby municipal park, nearly all the riders who rode into the town were greeted by locals.  In my case, several of us were picnicking in the green area of a traffic roundabout, when a local approached us and asked if we needed help with anything.  He ended up fetching us hot tea and toffees from his nearby shop (for free), and giving us information about the town.  Later, the man tending a local Internet cafe refused payment for our time online, saying we were guests.  (He also later asked another rider if I was married, because if not he would marry me. Great!) 

Passing drivers have offered candies (taking candy from strangers!), and lean out their car windows to say "Welcome to Iran!"   Other riders have been invited to dinner (and more) by random people they've met (angry middle class family, single women).  I'm hoping to still meet some random folks who will give me the first-hand lowdown of life here.


Since entering Iran, we've ridden some fairly nice, over-signed roads through dry mountains, farmlands, and towns.  We've spent a lot of time on a highly trafficked road that leads to Mashhad, where one of 11 holy imams lives.  There has been no shortage of crowded passenger cars with bags and carpets tied to the roof pass us, making the pilgrimage to the holy city.  Likewise, there are a ton of pop-up tents for sale in the towns, and we see a lot of pilgrims camped in local parks and mosques.  

Yesterday we passed through one of the few wooded areas in Iran - Golestan National Park.  It was somewhat surprising to move from a very parched, brown land, through a few valleys, and suddenly be in cool, broad leaf forests.  I wish we could have spent a bit more time there.  Instead we are spending a precious rest day in the Going Bad town of Gonbad.  There is nothing here.  The city is at a lower elevation, so it's even hotter than before.  The hotel we are in has no wifi.  So this very much seems like a day for reading (and catching up on the blog!) 

Over the next 5 days, we'll climb over a few mountain ranges on our way to Tehran, where we'll have a couple days of rest.

Sent from my iPad

Saturday, August 16, 2014

No photos for now, but here are some random details on the Turkmen rides

* The difference between beep, beep, beep; HOOOOonk; honk, honk; honk + hollers from the every-other work / Russian army / 18 wheeler truck that passes 
* Fresh paved vs tire grooved lumpy vs elephant skin vs smooth dirt roads vs rocky dirt
* Miles of freshly paved side road that no cars are driving on (but I am)
* Camels, wooly goats, prarie dog-like animals on the side of the road
* Lizards and birds that move faster than I do on my bike
* A small cobra snake that crawled up Canadian Bryan's bike and into his bike helmet while we sat at a Coke stop.  The owners attacked it with a hoe, getting snake blood on his panniers.
* Apparently Lada drivers are nicer than newer car drivers
* A 80km ride to lunch that takes 82 km.  Oof.
* Canal water that has a bloated, dead rat in it is still basically clean, right?
* The pleasure of an established squat, pit toilet; over dig-your-own hidey hole
* Hand-off of a bottle of cool water from a random woman in a car, right when I needed it at the end of a long hot ride
* Turkmen women's long, colorful dresses and cylindrical headdresses
* Still there are melons; still tomato and cucumber salad; mince meat kebabs
* French construction workers in Ashgabat who say they must haggle with cops who would fine them for everything. "You have a dirty car // I don't have dirty car, I just washed it // You have a dirty car - pay me."
* Military men on every street corner in Ashgabat.  White marble ministry buildings on every street.  Ministry of Fairness. Gold leaf plating on the palace. None of which you can take photos of.  No one lets you take photos of anyone; they hold up their arms in an X - no photo.
* Groupthink of day-in-day-out group riding. Pelaton riding.  Tire widths. Holding a line.  Concentrating on someone's back tire for long periods of time.  Beats fighting the headwinds alone.  
* Loneliness, desperation, inspiration from long solo riding into a hot headwind.  Dividing 120km into 30km chunks, then 10km, then 5, then - let's just make it 1 more km, so that i can make it to another one.
* Sweating in a tent at night, waiting for the air to cool down.  
* The one more morning i missed my 4:30am alarm, and woke up at 5:45am.  All other tents were packed, everyone had had breakfast, and riders were already on the road. What!  I packed in 10 min, missed breakfast, rode all angry-liek to catch up
* Gruel for breakfast; but supper = feast.
* Pull-up PR (using rafter of a shade structure at the last camp before Ashgabat.)
* Well-water bucket bath = awesome.  On the days with no water at camp, I use just 1/2 liter of water in a bowl and wet wipes to keep cleanish.

Friday, August 15, 2014


Dear friends, Sorry for the delay on the update on the blog / Facebook.  I have been sitting on the blog story of "Tale of Two Cities" about Bukhara and Samarkand in Uzbekistan.  I learned a lot about these ancient cities, and it's quite a bit to process into a single post. For now, use your imagination on what a riveting post on those cities might be like -- I'll hopefully get to it one of these days.

But for now, Turkmenistan is quite worth blogging about (and this one's a bit of a rant without spellcheck, as this is the first internet access i've had since entering the country!).

I reckon I was pretty surprised at how locked up this country is.  We spent a good number of hours waiting at immigration for visas---I guess that isn't too surprising.  But after our first night in the country, we found out we'd been assigned a police escort.  Our cop took to driving up and down the long line of us cyclists that undoubtedly reaches 10-20 miles, telling us something over the loudspeaker in Russian.  Later I learned he was telling us to stick together, so that he can properly escort us.  Well, that's not going to happen -- that's not how we roll out here. 

In the town of Mary, we were set up in a hotel with no wifi, that normally doesn't accommodate guests apparently, 10k away from town.  When a couple of our guys tried to catch a ride into town, the cop told them that wasn't allowed.  Our tour leader eventually worked out htat we could take the huge passenger bus that the local support provided as a luggage truck to go into town at set times, or we could leave by bike (on our rest day!).  This rather curbed my desire to explore  the local archaelogical site of Merv, 12 miles away - probably the #1 to see in Mary.  One couple did go, but paid $240 for the guide.  We were also offered a round trip there for $150 (no guide) -- that's an insanely expensive taxi.

The 3 days between Mary and Ashgabat were hard, flat riding days, facing a significant headwind the whole way, 75mi - 90mi each day, often on bad roads.  The cops took to just riding with the fastest crew of bikers and leaving the rest of us alone.  On the last evening, the cop fetched cold drinks for us... Not too bad. 

The arrival into Ashgabat today was unreal and ridiculous.  3 news cars and a cop greeted us about 10 miles outside of town, stopping traffic, filming everything we did, etc, as they escorted us through beautiful streets and a magnficent downtown that could have competed with the Wizard of Oz's emerald palace if it wasn't pearly white. 

Apparently, the previous and current presidents here have spent garrish amounts on fabulous buildings and highways -- that apparently the people can't use? 

At the hotel I was interviewed by news crews who wanted to hear great things about their country. In truth, between the police control, the long, hot roads through the long-winded desert, multiple construction zones, and the general grind to make it through the miles on days I don't feel well, it's hard to say a lot of very good things about Turkmenistan.  So, ... " the people are nice, the desert is hot, ..  very beautiful country." 

Today, before entering Ashgabat, the road paralleled a mountain range that looked like a formidable wall.  This is Iran -- we'll be arriving there in 2 days!

Facebook, youtube, blogger are blocked in Turkmenistan, but hopefully will be able to check in with the hotel wifi and vpn later, and post some photos.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Panj River Valley

Since Khorog, the days have begun to blur together.  I've been less than faithful to my journal writing, so that's probably partially to blame.  

Here are some snippets...

Last Wednesday

The roads have deteriorated to dirt, rocks, as we've approached Dushanbe.  The cute villages along the river valley are sometimes more challenging to ride through, as they often have worse roads.   Sometimes, I don't even see the people saying hello to me, because my eyes are on potholes, dirt patches, etc.  (That is, until several cheeky girls form a human chain across the road... Stop!)  

The road along the Panj River is quite interesting.  There are parallel roads on each side, but this side is Tajik; that side: Afghan.  In between, the swift - now dirty gray river that generally makes crossing impossible.  The road appears to be rougher and more cut into the cliffside on the other side; sometiimes obscured by landslides.  Out of nowhere, there will be a single man walking along the opposite side (to where? he's a long way from everywhere); or a saddled donkey; or a herd of goats.  The roads undulate on both sides - sometimes the Tajik side rises, and the Afghan side falls... The villages on the other side look more ancient - flat-roofed cobbled buildings.  At one bend of the river, the flat bank of the Afghan yielded quite a large town.  In the middle, a yellow building with columns - it looked like a La Quinta Inn to me - but someone said it was a mosque.  

Jovid says many of the people on the other side are Tajik, and that Tajikistanians go into Afghan bazaars to sell their goods.  But Francine said some local she talked to turned their nose up at the idea of going to Afghanistan.  

If I were a little kid on the Tajik side, I'd be watching the Afghan kids as they lead their parallel lives. They are close enough to sign to, or send smoke signals, or shoot guns at.    They could be living the exact same lives on both sides of the river, but they are separated by a country boundary, different politics.  

Last Wednesday

These roads are beating me up.  I eeked out the 116km yesterday, but bailed on the 87km today at 37km.  Truly, my gut hasn't been right, but also, I just don't feel like spring chicken.  

Food is key. I've just stocked up on Snickers, Mars  Bars, and RC Cola (who knew that these would become staples?), and I also have some AlpenGold chocolate, pringles, and plastic-wrapped, gel-ed chicken legs from China.  I really need to get smarter about my eating.  On a ride in the US, I'd never leave home without stuffing my pockets with bananas and other good things. Here, one must be a little more thoughtful to obtain snacks that are needed... You can't find the stuff you'd have at home, and you don't know when you'll run across the next stop.  After running out of food and water on one ride, I've learned to stuff my paniers with junk food to keep me going.  

Last Thursday

Above me I can see the tree tops swaying in the wind, but I can't hear them or feel the wind.  I'm in my bubble of a tent; black mesh, no rainfly that separates me from the world.  Outside, I can see a woman and her little girl milking a cow... 3 cows were tied to 3 nearby trees for the night.  Also, I know that somewhere nearby there are army men with guns, who don't want us wandering towards the river that separates us from Afghanistan.  I guess they seriously patrol the area... Unfortunately, Mary and I didn't know this when we followed Daniel's directions down to a little swimming hole between 2 big rocks; just barely separated from the wild, churning chocolate milk river.  We washed our hair, and lounged around on the rocks; with a  nice view of the dirt Afghan road opposite the river (we never saw anyone); and the mountain stream backed by mountains on the Tajik side.  


A few days more down the river, and I'm managing the distances on dirt roads better.  But my stomach is getting tired of cola and pure sugar.  Fortunately, bananas have turned up at lunch!  

After 4 or 5 days along the river, we climbed on dirt roads out of the river valley.  A couple of days along some fairly well-paved highway roads.  Kids still yell hello, but the interactions are more loose and casual.  

Sent from my iPad

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Tajik river valley to Khorog

The view from my tent this morning is of Afghanistan.  Literally, I am camped right next to the swift milky-blue river that separates Tajikistan from Afghanistan.  Fortunately the current dissuades folks from swimming, and the river serves as a pretty decent border.

Yesterday was nearly surreal as we swooped down from a series of mountain passes that separated us from a rich river valley filled with Tajik villages.

The passes were a formiddable hurdle in the first place, not only because of the height of the climbs, but also the quality of the roads.  I knew there were dirt roads on this tour, but these roads were washboarded, very rocky, sandy - not the worst you could expect, but close.  They just about reduced me to tears, as I painstakingly picked my way over in the smallest granny gear, kilometer after kilometer on my suspensionless bike, as the big Chinese trucks kicked up dust and exhaust in my face.   (Fortunately, the pavement would reappear between segments of dirt road, and overall a good majority of the road was paved.  But those steep dirt segments were hellish.)

On descending from the final pass, we were in a long river valley.  We stayed one night at a hot spring, frequented by locals (suffocatingly hot sulphur, nude bath with the local women).  The next day we passed through a number of villages, lined by the first trees we've seen in a while; or rough fences; or fields of something sneezable.  Houses were flat roofed clay houses straight out of some ancient world, or the more modern blue-roofed construction.  Women cover their heads with scarves, and many cover their faces with more scarves.  Children yell out "Hello" - sometimes from some hiding spot - and you just yell "hello" back.  Men gather in groups  around cars, and stare as you pass.  Many will wave and greet you. Cows sit alongside the road.  The road winds back and forth across the milky-blue river, majestic mountains hem in the valley on either side.

I regret not learning some Russian before this trip, to talk more substantially with all the folks we pass.

We've seen a small trickle of folks along this tourist trail.  Other (solo) bicycle tourists; a few German and Swedish motorbikers.  The secret is out; this is the place to be!

Today:  day of rest in Khorog.  Several of us happened across some kids in the park last night who wanted to play frisbee with us, so we have another frisbee date with the kids in the park this evening.  Laundry, exploring, etc.   Tomorrow, we head off into the wifi-less wilderness for several days til we reach Dushanbe.

Sent from my iPad

Epic rides through Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan; no wifi

Kyrgyzstan: verdant grasslands, purple mountains; children run out from their yurts where they spend summer to greet you.  Horses,  donkeys, cows, yaks.  Was invited into one yurt with a few other riders to drink fermented mare's milk (blech!), thick cow's cream with breads and tea.

Only in Kyrgyzstan for few days, but learned that boundaries for countries formed by Russians were somewhat arbitrary. There are Kyrgyz people (high cheekbones, own Turkic language) in Tajikistan, and Tajiks (closer to Persians) who traditionally live in other countries.

Got stomach bug right before Tajikistan border,  had to ride in truck for a day. Ugh

Tajikistan was vastly different on crossing border.  Dry as a bone; barren mountains,  but with the deep blue salt lake Karakul visible for miles.  Tiny villages made of corrugated tin roofs, clay bricks. The tiny town of karakul with 10? huts next to the lake is where some of nomads we talked to spend winter... smell of locals burning cow dung in the mornings.

Yesterday we camped next to a Kyrgyz nomad summer camp, and our cook made a deal to buy some yak meat off of a still living yak.  We watched as 5 men hobbled, prayed over, and cut the throat of the struggling yak.  (We had yak stew that night.)

Today we passed over the highest point on the trip: 4664 meters (whats that in feet?); dirt washboard roads reduced me to walking (need more gears).  But on the other side we quickly descended into a near Martian landscape; red, purple streaked mountains that remind me of Bolivia.

Tonight,  a rare treat: a shower and a hotel in the slightly bigger town of Murghab, but still no wifi.  I'm hoping the data network here will work to send this email! 

We also walked down to the bazaar (market) here, and all the kiosks were set up in shipping containers, no electricity; selling jeans next to eggs and car oil...

In a few days we'll descend into Khorog (rest day), will hopefully upload some photos and send a better update there.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

From Kashgar into the mountains

I'm about to ride into the mountains and Kyrgyzstan with the Tour d'Afrique tour. The next 21 days will consist of 19 days of camping, which means little access to showers and wifi. :(

Today we ride 60 miles to an immigration checkpoint. Tomorrow there is 8000 feet of climbing, ending at 10,000 ft altitude. So much for a warmup ride! The 3rd day we cross the border, and we're told to expect to be stuck at the border for 4 or 5 hours. We ride for 4 days straight, and rest in the little less-than-a-town pit stop of Sary Tash.

I've been in Kashgar for 3 days now. This area is very interesting and much different from the rest of China. Xinjiang province (where I'm at now) is home to 10 million Uyghers, an ethnic group that is more Turkic than Han Chinese. They have tanner skin, rounder, sometimes greener eyes. Most of the women dress in beautifully colored dresses and scarves, but some cover their heads completely, draping a brown cloth completely over theri faces. The men wear ornate skull caps, sometimes longer goat beards. They are Muslim, and have their own language, which is a simplified Arabic.

The signs around here are in Mandarin and Uygher instead of Mandarin and English.

Exiting the airport, I fairly immediately was helped out by some local guys to get a taxi.  4 or 5 guys got involved in tying my bike long side up into the trunk of an regular sized car.  The couple who could speak some english made sure my driver knew where to take me.  

I don't know how big this city is, but it feels like the country.  Motor bikes zip past the cars and cross through the dirt median.  I watched as one moto-cart with 2 guys and 2 sheep in it did this - the guys were staring at me, the foreigner; and I was staring at their round-bottomed sheep stumbling as the cart hit rocky ground.   

The air is not clear here because it is dusty, from the nearby desert.  From the air, I could see how Kashgar is hugged by mountains.  It looks like the riding will definitely be uphill.  

At the hotel, 2 men helped me carry my stuff into the hotel, and refused payment.

The tour group seems like a good bunch of characters.  Everyone seemed a bit beat down by the section they had just finished, which involved back-to-back 110 mile segments through a desert with a strong headwind.  People have given plenty of advice and seem quite supportive.  

A bit nervous, but ready to get started.

Friday, July 4, 2014


Xi'an, previously called Chang'an, has been around for 3000 years, and served as the capital for 13 different dynasties.  It was the final point on the Silk Road, and the first international metropolis with a population of over 1 million people.  

Random notes from Xi'an explorations:

* Riding a rental bike across the top of the entire Xi'an wall which encloses the inner city was pretty cool.  The same twangy cricket soundtrack was being piped in along the entire route (about 20km?).  But at times the sound of "It's a Small World After All" wafted up from below - an ice cream truck?, making an interesting mix.  Chirpy single gear mountain bike, smell of exhaust and rubber. View of skyscrapers outside the wall was faded by smog.  A kite here, the sound of a woman singing some opera in the park there.  Saw a temple built by the government in the 1700's to unify Mongolians, Han, and other ethnic groups. (Pic: the top of the city wall.)

* After 1.5hr of bus rides and a hike to the entrance past tons of vendors, the terracotta museum was a bit sparse.  Fought through the roving gangs of tour groups to get  a peek at the warriors.  You aren't able to get in very close.  The exhibition hall was most interesting.  Was surprised to learn that this mausoleum was built in the 3rd century BC. Learned that convicts were used in the construction, that the construction took 38 years and started when the emperor was 13. An entire city was constructed, and from the outset, it was intended to be buried. ? (Did I read that right?)  His children were all killed after he died, for political reasons. (Pic: The main pit.  This is as close as you get to the warriors.)

* Xi'an, Beijing (and the rest of China?) is made for cars, buses; people are squeezed out.  Terror of crossing a 7 lane boulevard.  Buses *will* run you over when they hook right.  Cross the street in packs for safety.   In Boston, the streets are made for people; cars are squeezed out.  (No right on red; pedestrian crossings, etc)  (Pic: a more pedestrian friendly street view)

* Enjoying the street food: noodles. Tea-eggs.  Ice cream.  Diet food.

* I think I discovered the spot that my aunts must have bought my sister and me souvenirs when we were in elementary school.  I remember cherishing the parasol, outfit, stamp with red ink, fan. Was there a little box too?  The vendors here are selling many of those things. 

Other random thoughts

* Still musing on how English would sound if it was spoken with the same intonations as Chinese.

* Watching people live can be travel - watching people make noodles, play in parks, push carts, sit and eat - but it's less so in modern society, where more life is lived inside, in cars, and most certainly not on bustling side walks of multi-lane boulevards.  Default city design has less room for outdoor mingling, so more of travel turns into chasing down designated sights, that are often about historical life.    

* How much of what's modern is authentically built (built as a archetypical version of itself, not a copy or imitation), and does that matter from a historical perspective?  The hostel I'm in now is in a faux hutong.  Cheesy park entrances - "Snow Big Park" at the Terracotta museum and black bear exhibits at base of the Great Wall.  Will it matter how they are regarded today when they are viewed in 2000 years?  ("Why were there black bear bones here?")  Were archeological structures we look at now deemed worthy of being viewed 2000+ years later?  At the Terracotta museum, reproductions of the emperor's acrobats were made.  I wonder if anyone thought, "Those silly acrobats, so showy & garish."  

* I like how camera-friendly people here are.  If they see you pointing a camera at them, they're likely to turn and smile.  I am worried about the alternative though - that they don't like your presence or your camera, but will never tell you because that's sometimes not acceptable in this culture?  

* If China's a country of only-children, I wonder what impact that has on the overall culture?  Could that create a generation of super-millenials - more demanding and entitled than Western millenials?  

* Fashion differences in China.  My theory - since it seems most people in China air-dry their clothes instead of using dryers, they can use different materials more frequently.  Lace, chiffon, etc.  

Sent from my iPad

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Beijing: Emperors, crowds, and hutongs

My first 3 days in Beijing started as a whirlwind of emperor palaces, temples, and parks.

It turns out that a palace in China is more of a compound of multiple buildings and courtyards, and less a Neuschwanstein castle. All the buildings within the compound and between palaces follow a similar look & feel. Red walls, columns, green rafters, litle creatures upholding the corners of the up-turned eaves. Beyond that, there have been circular and octagonal temples, gates, shrines, halls....

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Comfort, cow hugging, and what's all this for?

Quitting my job, packing up my cozy apartment, saying goodbye to multiple folks, and otherwise ripping the rug from underneath my feet creates an alarming clash of loss and freedom for me.  It is strange to realize the extent to which the chosen, comfortable life is one that is enclosed by structures that obstruct the open choice of alternatives.   Nice, fulfilled constructs such as "home," "work," and "my social circle" all give me a comfortable place to rest and operate in.  Tearing away these can feel a little bit like tearing away that comfortable construct "ground" as you jump out of an airplane.  You are then fully unshackled, but you are also groping for anything solid to hang on to as you fall, so freely.

(I realize though, real worldly freedom is loss of structure + ability to have choice = money....)

That's where Temple Grandin's cow hugging machine comes in.  Imagine, you are on the way to be slaughtered, but then you follow the cow in front of you into this hugging machine that restricts your movements and holds you close (super structure, right?), until... sigh... you fill at ease again.  Think that will work for me?  I am all ready to wrap myself up in some pillows and heavy blankets, at least until I have to say goodbye to my pillows and blankets to go to slaughter <ahem> the airport for 48 hours.  

In the end it'll all be worth it though.  This is only the temporary discomfort of leaving the familiar behind.  I usually have a bit of anxiety about leaving, but when I arrive, I find I could travel endlessly.

 I'll leave you with a quote that sums up some of motivations for all this, and for traveling the Silk Road specifically:

" A hundred reasons clamour for your going.  You go to touch on human identities, to people an empty map.  You have a notion that this is the world's heart.  You go to encounter protean shapes of faith.  You go because you are young and crave excitement, the crunch of your boots inthe dust; you go because you are old and need to understand something before it's too late. You go to see what will happen.  Yet to follow the Silk Road is to follow a ghost.  It flows through the heart of Asia, but it has officially vanished, leaving behind it the pattern of its restlessness: counterfeit borders, unmapped peoples.  The road forks and wanders wherever you are.  It is not a single way, but many: a web of choices.  Mine stretches more than 7000 miles, and is occasionally dangerous."  -Colin Thubron
Shadow of the Silk Road

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Why this is more than just a 3 month trip

Yesterday, I announced my resignation from the company of my employment for 11 years (minus 8 months of travel in the middle).  I immediately enjoyed the satisfaction of ripping up the old life.  Not because I was  unhappy with my work – on the contrary, I was quite enjoying the host of projects I was working on and the fine folks I was working with – but, because I'm excited about where this will lead.   (Plus, I sort of like the 15 seconds of attention.)

How to write this resignation letter?

At the same time, I recognize that I will definitely miss this thing called Work (and Income!  And Co-worker friends!) when it's gone.

This is also the first irrevocable step towards taking my trip.  Up until now, I've been biking a lot, acquiring gear, obtaining visas and immunizations - all things that can be done from a place of comfort... But Employment Termination provides a very real nudge towards the future.  The dominoes are toppling now: disassembling my cozy basement apartment and ending my lease, finding a summer perch for my car, looking for post-employment health insurance, etc.  Oh, and on the last day of work, I have to give back my primary computer and all of its software.  Gulp!

Clam chowder my landlord made and left for me on my late night return from my Maine bike trip.  Tough to lose a nice landlord like this.
Visas... done!

The good news is that I am all set on many of those Comfortable trip prep items.  My final visa from the Uzbekistan embassy in New York returned a week earlier than I expected, finalizing the logistical requirements for travel.  

Here's a Tajikistan visa... I also have a GBAO permit stamped in my passport to allow me to travel on the Silk Route road. ($75)  The embassy turned this around in about 3 or so days.
An Uzbek visa.  ($160!)  The advertised processing time was 10 days, but they processed it in about 5.

China Visa.  I went through a Visa processing service for this one (my 1st) and paid too much.  The Visa service provided step-by-step feedback on the visa application, but I think they added a couple days to the processing of it.

All other visas are acquired en route or online.

The plans are coming together... Now I mostly just have to sweep up my home life into boxes, and I'm outta here!

Friday, May 30, 2014

Monster hauling bikes and a trip to Maine

Who's up in the middle of the night, envisioning train wrecks involving 3 days of hastily packed gear strapped to a bike, to cover a 50+ mile spiderweb of undefinable streets (50+ turns) across who-knows-where, to get to Salisbury Beach campground by nightfall and rainfall, to set up a tent, rinse, repeat for 2 more days, with just 2 pair of clothes, a mini-toothbrush, and a frame bike pump? Why, this girl, yes, is up, with a racing mind and pulse at 2am. Here goes the 3-day bike trip to Portland, Maine.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

No smiling allowed

Sharia-compliant visa photos: check!  Ok, Iran, let me in.

(Thanks, photographer Mom!)

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Diplomas, visas, and riding in circles

This week I graduated from Bentley!  The degree name is a mouthful: Masters of Science in Human Factors in Information Design.  Which basically amounts to MS in UX (User Experience).  

Me, in front of Bentley library on the last day of school!

1 visa done (China), 2 to go!  I boomeranged my passport out with paperwork for a Tajikistan visa.  

By the way, who knew that if you show up to Fedex with your papers, that you won't be able to send a package until you go back home, set up an account online, and print shipping labels?  Fortunately, USPS was next door, and they did send my package to the Embassy of Tajikistan with little ado.

Fun Tajikistan paper work


Another solid weekend of training.  32 miles of hills, 40 miles around Cape Ann.

One of the biggest differences between riding in Massachusetts vs riding in Arizona is that MA rides are all loops with 50,000 turns.  Typically, I have no idea where I am, which direction I am facing, or how much farther I have to go.  (I guess I should set up my cycle computer to help with that...)  During the Hills, hill, hills ride on Sat, a driver asked another cyclist and I which town we were in –– at that point I couldn't have told her what state we were in (either MA or New Hampshire!).  It is only by following markings on the pavement which denote the turns that we are able to follow the route.  

Typical cue sheet for a MA ride.  55 turns on a 40 mile ride.  Note the specified Route mark, which is painted on the pavement before and after every turn.
Arizona, on the hand, might have a cue sheet for a 50 mile ride with 1 line on it:
  • Mi 25....  turn around.  

On an Arizona ride, you can often see the mountain in the distance that you will pass 6 miles later, giving you a very visible indicator of progress.

Hills, hills, hills ride evidence:

Robin and Laurie who I did most of the 32 miles with
Sunday took me back to Cape Ann with the North Shore cyclists -- and it was a beautiful day, riding mostly along the water.

Beware riders mowing down children!!
Stay tuned for more fun cycling / prep adventures...!

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Of coastal rides and bonking

Weekend success!  I completed my first 1-2 punch training plan for the weekend.  The next <2 months will be much like this: commute to work 3-4x / wk (10 miles round trip), with two progressively longer training rides on the weekend.  (And crossfit in the mornings, ~4x/wk)

This was my first ride joining roadies, and I wasn't sure how my new bike would hold up to the road riders' carbon fiber bikes and skinny tires.  The verdict: pretty good.

I joined the Charles River Wheelmen for their recurring South Shore Coastal Loop ride around Scituate, MA.  What a cool ride! Awesome views of the ocean, massive New England coastal homes, and at least half of the ride smelled like mulch, fruity ocean, pine forest, or swamp.  Super.  Strong winds off the water.  I got dropped by the fast group around mile 18 when I stopped to take this picture:

After I was dropped, I stopped to take more pictures, until the slower group showed up.

Fly fisherman:

This is probably near Musquatchcut Pond:

By the time I met up with the slower group, I was realizing I hadn't had enough for breakfast.  As we took off and started climbing some hills, I started feeling some pretty sugar-craving-induced despair.  ("4000 miles of this!?")  Surefire early signs of bonk-age.   The things you forget... Bring food on a ride!
More views from the ride.  Bottom right - return to Boston.

39 miles done!  (See the map for the first 27 miles of it here.)