On this Silk Roads ride the cycling was sensational, the scenery glorious and the countries fascinating.
Best of all, though, were the people. My fellow travellers and the people we met made it the deeply fulfilling and exhilarating adventure it has been these past nine weeks.
Never before in my life have I spent so much time, so intensively, over so long a period pursuing the same goal with the same bunch of people – or been so challenged physically, mentally and emotionally all at once.
Initially, that was a shock. I’ve spent far too much time over the past two decades working on my own as a freelance journalist; and as a columnist, that work is always judgemental.
Worse, the great passion inspiring my work is humanity’s urgent search for a symbiotic relationship with the living Earth. But I was ever more discouraged by the seeming impossibility of that goal, whether on climate and nature or justice and equality.
So, as I travelled to Almaty for the start of our ride, I was at my lowest ebb in years, professionally and personally. I hoped the adventure ahead would help me revive both aspects of my life.
However, the first 10 days or so of our ride were so tough, I quickly forgot that lofty goal. High heat, rough terrain, long days on the bike, plus dehydration and diarrhoea, focused my mind on more elemental aspects of life.
In those early days, I was very low-keyed, a fellow rider mentioned to me late in the tour. Indeed, I was. Almost all my focus and energy went into getting on top of the basics of life on the road – hydration, nutrition and digestion, and routine and recovery.
In recent years I’d trained long and hard for the ride, made thoughtful equipment choices and gained some experience on two long bike-packing trips – 28 days on the 3,000km Tour Aotearoa in 2020, and 10 days on the 1,100km Kopiko ride in 2021. My blogs of both are here and here on this website.
But some things we can’t train for in Aotearoa, such as riding in 40+C heat, crossing three 3,000m passes in five days, or riding through six countries in 62-days. Thankfully, though, I learnt how to cope with those challenges and more – once I’d settled into life on the road.
My travelling companions – riders and crew – helped me through all of that. Their good humour, help and friendship brightened every day, solved every problem and heightened every memorable moment. I’m particularly grateful to Moniek, our tour doctor, whose excellent advice enabled me to get back on my bike two days after my spill on Day 25 and ride the rest of the way to Istanbul.
While we all had a love of cycling in common, we riders were still a pretty diverse bunch of 22 individuals from 10 countries, plus an equally motley crew of 10 and some local drivers and guides. Yet, our esprit de corps was strong and our sense of fun and adventure generously shared. Incidents of antagonism or anger between individuals were exceedingly rare.
I hope that camaraderie is apparent in the photo at the top of this last post. It was taken at Sile, the Black Sea town where we started the 62nd and last day of our ride from Almaty to Istanbul.
Along the way, we had journeyed through a cavalcade of history and cultures, in which empires rose, and empires fell for good and ill.
We saw people persevering and progressing, through adversities and opportunities, in their own ways big and small.
I realised I too can still rise to challenges, still learn, still contribute in my own infinitesimally small ways.
Above all, I came to believe the Living Earth can teach us all how to create a better future for it and for all of humanity.