After veering from the River Trail, we aim to make our way down to the city of Istanbul. As Napoleon once said, “If the world was only one country, Istanbul would be its capital”. Just as the start of the Danube offered us with a substantial, tangible checkpoint on our road eastwards, reaching this great city will provide another- particularly given its straddling of both Europe and Asia. As our gateway to the East, this marks a distinct beginning of another world for the both of us. Our road will then take us along the southern coast of the Black Sea until we reach Georgia, from which point we will start heading south-east through the Caucasus towards Baku, on the Western shore of the Caspian Sea, in Azerbaijan. On the way, we will pass through the Georgian capital city of Tbilisi, which again, for anybody looking for an excuse to explore a new part of the world, would be a great place to meet us for a beer! A notoriously unreliable ferry from Baku will (hopefully) take us across to the Caspian Sea to the city of Aktau in Kazakhstan. This route will allow us to miss out the turbulent regions of Iran and Eastern Ukraine! From the western coast of Kazakhstan, we will go forth into perhaps the most challenging of environments we will face on the trip as we head through the desert environment of the Ustyurt Plateau for a number of weeks. Although we will encounter small settlements along the way where we will be able to stock up on supplies, the environment is on the whole extremely isolated- what an adventurous episode it promises to be!
“I want to see Mountains again, Mountains Gandalf!” exclaimed Bilbo. Well, Bilbo certainly wouldn’t be disappointed if he were to make his way southeast through Uzbekistan. Not only would he get to experience the ancient Silk Road city of Samarkand- one of the most beautiful cities in the world- but he would also begin his approach to the Pamir Mountains. It is at this point that our afore-mentioned longing for towering, unattainable peaks will become a reality. As the ‘little cousin’ (although not so little) of the Himalayas, the ‘Pamir Highway’ – as the path that navigates its way through the mountain range is known – will provide us with one of the most stunning landscapes on earth. Bilbo would certainly be satisfied. Now at this point, one could be forgiven for feeling like the trip is coming to an end with only one country to go before reaching The Land of The Rising Sun. However, when that country is China it quickly becomes apparent that there’s still a rather long way to go! The full scale of this country, from the sparsely populated western expanses through to the Manchurian heartland in the east, can surely only be fully appreciated by traversing its entire breadth on two wheels! Our eventual aim will be to reach Shanghai, via Xi’an as a point of reference, on the east coast, from where we will be able to catch a ferry across to Osaka in Japan- our final destination.
We are under no illusion as to the extent of the challenge that is ahead of us on this adventure. The trip in total could take anywhere between 5 and 6 months, depending on technical problems, visas and troublesome border guards! As another caveat, the route we have outlined in this latest blog entry could well change because of the same issues. One thing we have planned for is for things to change and our road to be distorted as we pedal eastwards. But the beauty of any adventure is found in such spontaneity.