The Central Asia Question

Every time I tell people that we’re bicycling from Paris to Shanghai, something doesn’t feel quite right. This is probably because – well — the statement isn’t entirely true. What’s missing is a not-so-minor, nagging detail that’s been plaguing Morgan and I ever since we first started planning this trip. It’s the 2,500 mile flight we’re taking from Georgia to India.

Over the past month, the two of us have really struggled to come to grips with our Central Asia itinerary. Or should I say — lack of itinerary.

Don’t get me wrong. There’s no question that, even with a flight over the Middle East, we’re in for a hell of a long ride. But in our undertaking as journalists to find stories off the beaten path, and through a number of conversations we’ve had with bicycle tourists on the road, Morgan and I realized that Central Asia is the sexy part of our cross-Eurasia journey that’s been missing this whole time. It’s almost like we’re skipping over the most interesting region for the sake of logistic ease.

Part of the reason we initially decided to fly to India is because of the political impossibility of entering Iran. There’s nothing we can do there. Still, this doesn’t necessarily mean there isn’t another way we can cycle to India. It would just be a lot more difficult, strenuous, and trying.

It would mean cycling through the ‘Stans.

The prospect was as exciting as it was intimidating. Georgia to Azerbaijan. Crossing the Caspian Sea aboard a cargo ship, into Kazakhstan. Racing across Uzbekistan into the mountains of Kyrgyzstan. And finally, crossing the Karakoram Road in China, the tallest highway in the world at 18,000 feet, into the plains of Pakistan.

We began researching visas. We found out how we could bribe our way onto a Caspian cargo ship. We looked into how to handle the ridiculous regulations of the Uzbekistan government, requiring foreign tourists to be registered every single night in the country.

Charting out a path, it became clear that, not only could we find stories in some of the most isolated, overlooked regions of the world, but that our own story would shape out to be quite something to write about as well. We grew excited.

But as soon as we started piecing together something that might work, we came across a major problem with our plan. Mother Nature.

As badly as we wanted to cross the ‘Stans following this next month and a half in Turkey, we recognized that we would be entering the region right before the beginning of the Winter season. For instance, by the time we would hit the mountains of Kyrgyzstan, it would already be late October. And even though the Chinese keep the Karakoram pass open through December 31st, we aren’t quite delusional enough to attempt an 18,000 foot ascent in negative 20 degree temperatures.

Our visa situation also limits our options. With only three months total in Turkey, we’re forced to keep moving. To the East of the country, Iran is out of the question. To the West, Europe is now barred from us for the next six months. This gives us no opportunity to wait out the winter conditions in Central Asia. Whether we want to or not, it makes the most sense to stick with the original plan. We fly from Georgia to India.

Morgan and I spent weeks deliberating behind the scenes. We didn’t want to make any announcements before we were ready. We made the final decision a couple days ago.

We were, and are still, frustrated, that we have to take a flight into India, having prematurely psyched ourselves up on the prospects of biking Central Asia for almost a month.

Crossing the Stans is something we’ll have to concede for the moment. But I will admit we’re looking forward to having the opportunity to spend significant time in India. Plus — who knows? We may even decide to go back and connect the legs of the journey later on.

There’s no question that, by that time, we’d be all the wiser for it.

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