One year ago we set off on a long tour, we weren’t sure how we would react to an open ended tour, our longest tour previously had been for 3 months. The first 6 months was through Europe and was well within our comfort zone. We had a few scary moments, we nearly managed to lose each other cycling through torrential rain in a Finnish forest. I nearly got wiped out by an SUV in Latvia.
The cycling was great and we had a fantastic time. We learnt so much as well about the history of the countries we cycled through. The impact of the Iron Curtain and the Second World War and the more recent war in the Balkans.The people we met were nearly always friendly, riding a bike is a big help. I don’t think anyone feels threatened by someone on a bike.
The second 6 months took us into Asia and was all new to us. Turkey is a huge country full of mountains and we spent over 2 months exploring only a small part of it. As we travelled east it was getting steadily hotter and we were getting used to worsening roads.
The big change came when we started having to apply for visas. Generally you had to specify a date of entry and exit for the visa which meant you really had to plan ahead, losing some of the flexibility of bike touring. Getting visas was time consuming and expensive. Unfortunately we missed out on Iranian visas as the regulations changed in February making it manadatory for UK citizens to be accompanied by a guide in Iran.
This meant either crossing the Caspian sea by boat or flying. With hindsight it would have been better to fly. We didn’t enjoy the mad rush through Turkmenistan and the problems getting across the Caspian.
Turkey is a good introduction to the Middle East because of the many similarities it has with it. The food was very similar, tea was generally the drink of choice and people were very friendly. We enjoyed travelling through the Middle East but it would have been a lot nicer without the hassle of visas and transit visas. One big thing we discovered on our travels is that people are far more alike than they are different. Along the way we have met other cycle tourists and have made new friends.
We have had no problems with our bikes, we have had only 3 punctures. The tyres still have loads of tread left and the chains and sprockets still have plenty of life left. We have gradually reduced the gearing as we meet steeper and higher mountains.
We have been trying to lighten our load as much as we can. We thought we brought the minimum with us when we started but we have managed to reduce this even more.
We have been fortunate with our health as well. We have become more careful with our diet tending to eat more protein and fat to keep us going.
We knew we would miss our family and friends and have been staying in touch with Skype and whatsapp. The Middle East is very different from England you also start to miss green fields, cooler temperatures and even rain!
3 MONTHS IN
After 3 months and 4,000km the bikes are holding together but what about us?
Our lives are constantly changing, being influenced by the weather, the terrain the country we are in and the time of year. The summer is over and the evenings are getting shorter. Up to now we have relied on camping but that has become more difficult with fewer camp sites open and not so good weather. The average price of a campsite through Scandinavia was £15-£20 pounds. It became a lot cheaper in the Baltic States . Since cycling through Eastern Europe we have been staying more and more in rooms, guest houses and hotels, these have often been cheaper than camping in Scandinavia.
We cycle about 80kms a day which takes us 4-5 hrs and have a couple of days off a week. This gives us a chance to explore a bit more, either one of the many forests that we cycle through or a town or city. It is a fascinating experience and we are learning all the time. It is also interesting talking to the various peoples we meet.
We both have e-books, Kobo Glows which are very light and hold hundreds of books. The Iron Curtain the crushing of Eastern Europe 1944-1956 by Anne Applebaum gave us an excellent insight into the modern history of Eastern Europe. Now we are in Poland it is frightening reading about the second world war and the Nazi pogroms. Seeing the memorials , statues and historical sites brings it all into focus. We saw loads of partisan memorials throughout the Baltic nations.
One of the big pluses to all this exercise is that you have to eat more to keep you going. This took a bit of time to adjust to and we both have lost some weight, When camping or staying in guest houses we have been cooking for ourselves. It is great to be able to eat out and try the local foods. Polish cuisine is great for cycling as it is tasty filling and the portions are big.
We do overdo it some days and pay the price the next couple of days feeling tired. There is always something of interest to see or do so we take a break. We generally try and work out a route and stick to it.
So 3 months in we are enjoying life on the road, there is so much to do and see. We miss our family and friends but keeping in touch is easy with Skype, whatsapp etc. With winter on the way we plan to keep heading south towards the Mediterranean and warmer climes.