There are only two land routes that connect Western Europe to Hong Kong. One of them passes over the Caspian Sea – cutting through Southern Russia and then across Kazakhstan and Mongolia.
By bike, this route is simply not feasible. It’s too long. It’s too cold. But most importantly, it’s just too rural — there are uninhabited stretches of frozen tundra that span hundreds of miles before arriving at any variation of the cities and towns we’ll rely on as ground support and resupply centers.
And then there’s the other route. It passes through the Middle East.
Now, the deserts of the Middle East surely present their own climate challenges. But being the birth place of western civilization (and historical corridor for the silk road), the major land routes crossing Iran and Pakistan are well-populated and well-traveled. No problem there.
The issue, of course, is the political stability of the region, and our safety as western travelers. In attempting to sort fact from fiction, I found quite a few resources right in my backyard. The largest Persian population outside Iran? Los Angeles, California. Just south of UCLA, in fact.
In early December, I approached the UCLA department of Iranian studies and Iranian Student Group to inquire about the feasibility of bike touring there. I found out it wasn’t so uncommon for US citizens to travel to the region provided you expedite the visa process by making arrangements through an Iranian travel agency, and obtain a letter from a permanent resident inviting you to visit the country. We even read blogs of bike tourists who had been there within the last year.
Oh, and those backpackers who were detained for a year and a half? They didn’t have visas.
This is the information Morgan and I had on hand when we first charted our contiguous bike route from Paris to Hong Kong. This is why Iran was even being considered.
Well, things have changed a bit – even in the past few weeks. Without getting into the larger political dialogue (strait of hormuz, downed US drone, etc), Iran is currently facing significant internal instability. Just 13 days ago, Iran’s financial market nearly collapsed due to years of UN-backed sanctions. Their economy is on the brink — the rial is now weaker against the dollar than it’s ever been. And this is coming in an election year for the country. Keep in mind the 2009 Iranian elections didn’t exactly go so hot.
In so many words, it looks as though things are aligning in such a way as to create the perfect storm. Morgan and I have decided we don’t want to get caught in the middle of it.
Finding entrepreneurs and personal safety are the two most important factors of our trip. As such, we will be conceding the idea of an unbroken ride from France to China and will instead be spending more time seeking change-makers in India.
So here’s the major change to our itinerary:
We will be skipping Iran and Pakistan by flying out of Tbilisi, Georgia and resuming the cycling in Mumbai, India.
For more details, check out the new map posted under “Routes” on our Project Page.