Since publishing the last blog post, we have spent a lot of time explaining our route to friends and family. I have no doubt that our parents firmly believe that we have simply picked this route by spinning a globe and pointing our fingers at random places. However, the route is the result of some deep consideration.
When choosing a biking route to China, there are a few imperatives to consider:
Weather. I am not sure if you have ever ridden a motorbike at 80 miles an hour in torrential rain or gale force winds, trust me, it is not fun. It is also not fun to feel as if your skin is melting off your body as you swelter inside your protective motorcycle clothing in 30 degree heat. Bearing this in mind, the first thing we did was to create an excel sheet (very professional as you can see).
This sheet maps the best time (green), an OKish time (orange) and the worst time (red) to travel in the countries along the silk road. For example, Uzbekistan has a moderately comfortable temperature of around 28 degrees in June, but can reach an unbearable 41 degrees by August. This excel sheet gives us a rough idea of when we should be in each country, and hence a rough leaving date (End of Feb/beginning of March depending on whether you ask me or Ryan).
Visas. This is pretty simple. As humans we are unfortunately unable to move freely across the planet (although Ryan claims to have answered this problem with his infallible ‘wilder beast theory’). Therefore we need to acquire permission to do so.Fortunately as British citizens we are generally well liked across the world and therefore visas are relatively easy to get hold of. Unless you want to go to Turkmenistan. Or Iran. Or China.
Another excel spread sheet later and we have a rough idea of where we can go and how long for. For example, it is impossible to acquire a tourist visa for Turkmenistan unless you shell out for a guide that is with you 24/7, who tells you where to go, where to sleep, what to eat etc. Hence we will be taking the 5 day transit visa, that although only allowing us five days to cross the country, means at least we are free to sleep in our tent and not register with the government every day.
Border crossings.Many of the countries along our route have had,or still have, volatile relationships, hence borders can be closed at a moments notice. There are some borders which are simply impossible cross. For example, we would have loved to visit both Armenia and Azerbaijan, but it is impossible to cross between the two, and visit, Georgia, Turkey and Iran. We have hence chosen to visit Armenia, with its stunning mountains, hidden monasteries and heartbreaking recent history.
Further East in the ex-soviet ‘Stans’ border crossings are gradually becoming easier, but we can still expect to be subject to time consuming, intimidating checks. Bribes are commonplace at the border, but even bribes are difficult with many border guards not accepting ‘old looking’ US dollars. We have been following recent updates on the ‘HUBB’ website (A one-stop-shop for any wannabe adventure motorcyclist) from other motorcyclists travelling across the Stans for up to date border information. Even armed with all this information , there is usually a maximum of two borders open to foreign tourists, and hence, this also put constraints on our route.
All this considered, we have established the following route. The plan, you will notice goes as far as the South of India. It is at this point we will recoup, take a break for Christmas, count the pennies, and work out how on Earth we are going to get to China! We plan to avoid motorways, and wherever possible take the road less travelled. This means the way will often be gravel or mud (on a good day), and will include river and desert crossings, as well as complete off-road sections.It is also important to note here that we are keen not to be constrained by time frames and a set route. We want to be able to say ‘yes’ when invited to stray from our plan, to take opportunities offered to us, and to find ourselves in places completely unexpected.
The desolate Pamir Highway in Tajikistan
March-April: Glasgow-Belfast-Swanage-London-France-Switzerland-Italy (for the 6 Nations ‘Super Saturday’)-Slovenia-Croatia-Bosnia-Kosovo-Macedonia-Greece-Turkey
Strange landscapes in Cappadocia, Turkey
June-October: Iran-Turkmenistan-Uzbekistan-Kyrgystan-Tajikistan (with a cheeky hop over the border to Afghanistan)-China-Pakistan
Tien Shan mountains, Kyrgystan
October-November: Pakistan-India North
The infamous Karakoram highway
December: India North-India South-Sri Lanka for Christmas
If nothing else, the amount of countries, let alone cultures and landscapes we will pass though is intimidating. But whilst planning all of this, I am reminded of two great quotations. The first, ‘It is not an adventure if it does not scare you’ is an encouragement to plan things that may be uncomfortable, but will undoubtedly be worth the effort. And the second, an ancient verse found in Jeremiah: “Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls.” Undertaking this adventure, along ancient roads, is taking us out of our comfort zones, challenging societal expectations of a young couple, and giving us the opportunity to challenge our worldviews by exploring ‘outside the box’. Who needs a house when you have a tent and a motorbike…..
WE HAVE A MOTORBIKE!!!