I wrote this magazine article while waiting for our China visas in Kyrgyzstan. Since it wasn’t picked up I am posting it here.
Why can’t tortilla chips be found east of Turkey?
As we enter the ninth month of our world bicycle ride I ask that question and so many more as I reflect on how we have gotten so far. Eight months ago we were dropped onto Marrakesh, Morocco with our bikes and haven’t looked back. This ride is more about the journey while being immersed into local cultures and not a point to point ride. Some cyclists feel they must ride every mile, others must ride it in a certain time period, and still others ride for charity. Some do not spend any dollars on housing whereas some only sleep in hotels. People ask us what we are riding for and our answer is simply that it is our dream. There is no better way to experience a country and the people than by simply riding a bike. We believe we are the first father and daughter team to circle the planet so that is our theme.
I will have to admit that the European and west Asia portion of this trip was all about traveling from one hotel to the next. Jocelyn didn’t like this as her goal was to camp most of the way. At age 61 I like a warm shower and bed every night although camping can be fun – sometimes. We rode every day and when an inexpensive hotel was spotted we stopped. I am not a 3, 4 or 5 star person and can be pretty cheap when it comes to finding a clean simple room. Our routine consisted of washing our clothes in the sink, taking a shower, spreading everything out to dry then finding a place to eat. I have become very creative at spreading clothes out to dry in a hotel room. And whatever doesn’t dry gets hung on our bikes to air out the next day. After all this was done then it is eat dinner, a few beers, then web site updates which sometimes can last into the early morning hours. A lot of the time dinner was usually at the hotel or a restaurant a few steps away as the last thing we wanted to do was walk a mile to find food. Once off the bikes for the day we never got back on to explore a town as by that time it was usually dark.
People also ask us how we can cycle so many miles day in and day out. It is all about the daily routine of getting back on the bike each morning and just riding. I call this our daily commute which usually consists of a quick mid-morning snack break, a longer lunch, a mid-afternoon break then the all-important ‘time to think about where the next hotel is’. Sometimes these breaks were only a quick gas station stop for junk food or a beer. If there wasn’t a hotel along the way we would ride until near dark and then start looking for a wild (stealth) camping spot off the road. Jocelyn is good at this since she has a lot of experience finding quiet places to pitch our tent. There was also many times that after a few hours or so on the saddle we would see something interesting and call it a day to explore. In other words we do not like being on a schedule.
One thing for sure is that the world is not flat. If it were everyone would cycle around the world. Cycling through Spain was our first test. I failed miserably in the Spanish hills and mountains since they are among the steepest in all of Europe. While Jocelyn was usually ahead of me while climbing I was walking. Looking back at that I would like to redo some of those Spanish rides as I know I could easily climb them now. At that time I was fearful of standing and climbing but since then have become quite proficient standing out of the saddle and cranking hard to get up the steep spots. We have since achieved many mountain passes and summits.
It is always a highlight of the day when we spot another touring cyclist. Unless the road is busy we will meet on one side or the other and ask the usual questions, “Where are you from?” and “Where are you going?” This is followed by “When and where did you start your trip?” There are so many cyclists working on amazing adventures and it starts you thinking about yours. We have shared lunches, dinners, beers or just a few minutes but the outcome is always the same – isn’t this a great life! Surprisingly there are so many single cyclists.
Some of our favorite memories by country:
Morocco – This was Jocelyn’s idea as we were going to start from Lisbon Portugal and head north around Spain. February is not a good cycling weather month in northern Spain plus by starting in Marrakesh, Morocco I achieved my seventh continent, Africa. Morocco is mysterious, fascinating and a lot of fun. I was a bit skeptical and worried about being dropped into a Muslim country with my daughter and our bikes but all that was needless worry. We had a great time exploring the ancient Kasbahs and many ruins that Morocco has to offer. We also explored the ancient medinas (old walled towns) in the cities of Marrakesh, Fes and Chefchaoven. These were wonderful places to wander in for hours and sample local foods and the many shops. The cycling through river gorges, into the Atlas Mountains and through the desert was excellent. We traveled to southeast Morocco and spent a few days camping in the Sahara Desert. We were able to cycle in many areas of Morocco due to our wonderful guide Abraham. He has been guiding touring cyclists in Morocco for 16 years and knows all the great cycling routes. It was a smart way to start our world tour.
Spain – We crossed the Strait of Gibraltar from northern Africa to Algeciras, Spain and immediately continued building our cycling legs on Spain’s steep coastal roads. Occasionally we would head into the mountains for a change of pace. But the coast was fun so we spent more time exploring that since we are beach people. Often times we would ride along the coast into a town and have lunch at an outdoors seaside restaurant. This was our introduction into the delicious seafood soups that Spanish cuisine offers. And after those lunches we would continue cycling, sometimes only a few miles, into the next town and call it a day. The old castles and forts were striking and easy to explore from our bikes. We were way ahead of the tourist season so traffic was light except in the cities. The old cities of Cartagena, Valencia, and Barcelona were sometimes difficult to travel through but with the help of our warmshowers hosts were able explore with their directions. It was in Spain that we took our first train ride inland to bypass a very busy area between Cartagena and Valencia. We stayed in touch with a good friend of ours who suggested many different areas to ride and what to eat.
France – We crossed into France over the southern edge of the Pyrenees Mountains. Once again our general route was up the beautiful coast while sometimes heading inland. The headwinds were quite a battle but the hills much more gentle than Spain. We were still ahead of the tourist season so traffic continues to be light. It was easy to order fish from the many seaside restaurants and the wine was superb. We did explore a few wineries and I always had room in one of my front panniers for a bottle that we would enjoy in a hotel room or camp site. From France we dropped down into the little municipality of Monaco. This is the richest country on earth for its size and we spent a fun afternoon walking the streets, ogling the yachts, and generally exploring the “lifestyles of the rich and famous”. Unfortunately the famous casino from James Bond, Monte Carlo, wouldn’t let us in due to their dress code. But we did hang out in front and people watch along with many other tourists. We had a wonderful host near Monaco for three nights. It was also fun cycling the French Riviera although we did look like the “Beverly Hillbillies”.
Italy – It was an easy coastal ride from France into Italy. So far there have been no active border control at the crossings. The coast was very hilly especially after the first major city of Genoa. That city in itself was a real challenge to cycle through. If fact the traffic was so bad we pulled over to a hotel as there was no way we would make it out before dark. The next day we headed into the hills on a very steep cliff seaside ride with our reward being another great beach restaurant. We then headed into the mountains, passed a summit, and looked for water as we were out. There wasn’t much around so we thought of camping without water but cycled into a mountain village and spotted a restaurant where we took our bottles to refill. There was maybe a campground 10 miles down the road and it was getting dark. Jocelyn noticed a sign that this restaurant was a small hotel also so we took a room after a very exhausting day. It turned out to be a great place with an award winning restaurant and winery. After a quick jaunt to the coast and another warmshowers host we cycled to the famous cities of Pisa, Florence and Venice. All these cities were special in their own way and we spent a few extra days in the last two. Venice was fun but is definitely not for bikes as the streets (mostly alleys) are very narrow and full of pedestrian traffic plus all the islands are connected by small high arched bridges that are very difficult to carry bikes over. It is under these bridges that gondolas pass through. After a ferry ride off the island we continued and rode into the country of Slovenia.
Slovenia – We only spent two days in this beautiful rolling mountain country. While looking for a camp site a young mother saw us and invited us to pitch our tent in her garden. We readily agreed and when her husband arrived home we had a grand meal. Jocelyn really enjoyed their small children. At this point we were convinced to travel south into the Balkan Peninsula which consists of the countries Croatia to Romania and through Greece instead of our planned route up into Austria then southeast through Hungary and Romania.
Croatia – We spent nine days cycling through the interior and then the beautiful coastline in sight of thousands of islands. The scenery was great although the weather was fairly rainy and the drivers the worse yet. It was sometimes hard to negotiate with the drivers as they didn’t seem to care for cyclists. After passing through the interior we had Easter Sunday lunch on a tall bluff restaurant overlooking several large islands. The coast continued to amaze us with a Hollywood picturesque cove with small fishing boats seemingly around every corner. The miles came easy, we island-hopped via the great ferry service, and were soon in the historic old city of Dubrovnik where we spent a few days exploring.
Bosnia – We climbed out of Croatia and entered Bosnia. We had a good lunch and enjoyed the countryside and people while climbing to Montenegro in the rain.
Montenegro – We climbed several hours to achieve Montenegro. Soon over the top we found a place to camp as the closest town was still many miles away and it was dark. It seems as though except for a few small towns we were always in the beautiful mountains that still held snow from the previous season. It was here that our wheels (rims) started failing and we had to catch a ride back south to one of only two bike shops in the country. After repairs and much needed maintenance we continued back north into the mountains and encountered one of the first snows of the new season. It was very cold and windy but fortunately the snow didn’t stick. We passed through a very long and poorly lite tunnel that really scared us as trucks and buses rode by. Towards the border we passed through many other tunnels and beautiful mountain roads as Jocelyn played “The Sound of Music” from her bike speaker. It was truly wonderful as we passed into Serbia.
Serbia – Serbia was five days of beautiful terrain, friendly people, and great hospitality and ranks among one of our favorite countries. This journey is all about the people we meet and we met many here that we can call friends. We spent one entire day riding along a swollen river that was just gushing with water. This river meandered back and forth through some very pretty countryside and ranks as one of our top rides. We ended our stay in Serbia with two days at a warmshowers host’s ranch. The last day was spent working with our host’s friends on a property to add a new fence. What a hoot as the drinking started way before the work. We were told that this was the “Serbian way”. It was once again fun times with friendly people. Bulgaria – This was our least favorite country as the people were unfriendly and some just plain rude. The towns were also very trashy and the overgrowth of grass and bushes was apparent everywhere. It seems to me that this is a country with not much going for it. We did travel across the Danube River to spend two nice days in Romania but then back to Bulgaria where we rode long hours to exit into Greece.
Romania – Only two riding days in this beautiful friendly country. We loved riding alongside the standard local transportation of horse and cart. Everywhere people waved to us as we passed. In the many villages we the townspeople sat on benches and passed the time. This was truly the “old country”. Too soon we had to cross back into Bulgaria by ferry as we were meeting family in Istanbul, Turkey so were now on a schedule. We would have loved to cycle up to northern Romania and Transylvania but there just wasn’t time. We looked into the bus and train system but that would not have worked out. Greece – Another very friendly and scenic country. We were welcomed everywhere we went and spent three days cycling from northern Greece to the beautiful coast where we spent an extra day at a quaint seaside motel. Once again we were still ahead of the tourist season so the traffic was light. We then headed into the mountains and over to the major border city of Alexandropoulos where we prepared for our extended trip into Turkey. Turkey – What a wonderful country. I was thinking it would be more in line with Morocco but the infrastructure was very modern. Entering the border was a bit scary with all the military and five checkpoints but once inside it became very relaxed. Our goal was to be in Istanbul by the end of May as we were meeting family and my wife Andee had set up a “vacation” for everyone with flights to a southern resort area of Bodrum Bay. Since we had time we decided to ride south into Turkey, over the mountains, and to the major port city of Bandirma. From there we would take a ferry to Istanbul instead of cycling through Istanbul on a very busy highway from the west. Near Bandirma was a fine camping area on the Aegean Sea where we spent a few days before our ferry ride.
Istanbul was a very crazy place to cycle. We had made arrangements for an apartment in the old city then rode and walked our bikes to a really nice bike shop on the Asian side for extensive maintenance. Istanbul is the end of Europe and a ferry east takes you to Asia. We then settled down in the old city as family including my wife, son, sister, cousin, and his wife arrived. Several days were spent touring Istanbul’s historic sites. We then flew to Bodrum for a very restful seven days at a resort. All too soon that ended and it was back to Istanbul for more touring then everyone flew home. We stayed around a few more days for visa work then ferried across the bay and into the central Turkey mountains for our long trip across the country. The mountain passes were steep and difficult but very rewarding. We spent another week in Ankara at a warmshowers host while we continued to work through our upcoming central Asia visa requirements which were very tedious at the best. Turkey continued to surprise us with very friendly hospitality and stunning mountain vistas as we rode north to Georgia. Turkey was the beginning of the Silk Road, an ancient caravan route to China.
Georgia – We cycled north into Georgia and after a few days on the Black Sea coast headed into the central mountains. This is where we cycled over unpaved mountains in the heat and started drinking fountain water without filtering or sterilizing. We were both soon sick and after a few days continued east to Azerbaijan.
Azerbaijan – While in Georgia we were messaged that our Iranian visas were ready. This was great news since we didn’t think the visas would be approved. While in Istanbul we started visa work for the central Asia countries around Iran not knowing that Iran was still in work. We made a beeline across Azerbaijan only to have the Iran visas held up in Erzurum, Turkey. We then spent almost a week in Baku, Azerbaijan visiting the Iran Consulate and working through many transfer problems. Since we travelled most of the country through the central highway we really didn’t give Azerbaijan a fair chance for exploring as we did hear that the northern mountains were very beautiful. Our ride east along the highway proved very hot and boring. In fact this ride was the most boring of the trip. Iran – Iran was a wonderful country and we are very happy to have pursued this visa even though many people thought us nuts. Before this trip we had said that we would not let the media dictate our route. The Iranians are very friendly and open and we were welcomed into so many homes for cay, dinner, and sleep. We wish that we could repay this hospitality in our home but it is extremely difficult for an Iranian to get U.S. visa. Everywhere we rode people would drive alongside us and hand us fruit and say “Welcome to Iran”. Markets would sometimes give us water and food then say “Discount” and we would pay nothing. Along with all this the cycling in the deserts and mountains, especially in the jungle, was beautiful. The mosques were absolutely beautiful with stunning tile work.
Jocelyn always attracted a crowd and was a real trooper while having to be fully covered in sometimes over 120 F heat. Most women in Muslim countries don’t know how to ride a bike so she was a curiosity. When the townspeople found out we were Americans women ran up to Jocelyn wanting a picture with her and she readily obliged. But sometimes when we wanted to take the pictures they would shy away partly in the fear of the picture showing up on the internet. For this part of our world journey Iran was our first 1,000 mile country with Spain a close second at 823 miles.
Tajikistan – Tajikistan was the first country we did not ride into because of our visa situation. We flew to the capital city of Dushanbe from Mashhad, Iran where we prepared for our Pamir Mountains adventure. The Pamir’s are one of the top cycling destinations in the world and the ride did not disappoint. The mountains and Wakhan Valley were simply stunning as the difficultly increased. Cycling and living at over 13,000 feet is very arduous especially if you are sick. Jocelyn had a really tough time as she has a recurring stomach problem which causes nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. Combine this with altitude sickness and it can really slow you down. I spent the last winter of 10 months at the South Pole and have seen what altitude sickness can do. Fortunately I adapted much quicker. Camping at over 13,000 feet is another adventure when there is ice in the tent and all your water freezes. There are certain parts of the Pamir’s Wakhan Valley that I would never cycle in again maybe just because, and I hate to say this, “I’m too old for that”. But we are both very happy that we did it once. Kyrgyzstan – This is the second country where we did not cycle across the border as we were both ill and were driven to the city of Osh. Most of the country is mountainous and very beautiful. It remains to be seen how we will cycle to China.
We crossed the U.S. in 2011 and cycled around New Zealand in 2012. For the rest of the world we originally planned to travel straight through but after much discussion with my family and Jocelyn we decided to break that up. It is a good decision because I feel that I have abandoned Andee and home in pursuit of my goal. Plus Jocelyn needs to return to school for two more classes and finish her AA degree or she will lose all her previous college credit. She will commit to that for the next semester then we will fly to South America. We originally planned to fly to Ushuaia, Argentina then cycle north but now with a May 2015 departure we may fly to San Diego, cycle to Ushuaia, then fly back to San Diego and cycle north to Alaska. Argentina will be in their winter in May and many mountain passes will not be negotiable.
We are currently in an Osh, Kyrgyzstan apartment waiting for our China visas, which by the way cost an exorbitant $290 each. We should have them in hand on October 15th then head to China. We thought about flying home then back to China and SE Asia but that would be very expensive. Our current plan is to be home around Christmas.
Getting back to my original question about tortilla chips – they can’t be found as there are only small bags of regular potato chips. The selection of food is dismal at best even in large cities. And now that we have an apartment with a microwave oven there are no microwave foods and certainly not popcorn. Oh well. After all this is supposed to be an adventure.
Michael Rice October 7th, 2014 Osh, Kyrgyzstan