Bike Ben's Blog


Local (lack of) knowledge

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In the middle of an empty wilderness, I hang my head and ponder, should I continue?
An old yellow bus passes me then stops 100m up the road, crunches into reverse and finally comes to rest right in front of me. The driver jumps out and begins to speak to me in Russian, I understand very little but I get the gist of it. It’s not what I wanted to hear.
Just 30 minutes before, in the nearby village I was asked if I had a gun. A gun? I responded with a little dismay. What for? After quite some gesticulation, one simple sound from the man’s mouth said it all, “hoooohoooohooohoooooowwwww”. Wolves! With some relief, I indicated to them that this was not a problem, after all it wasn’t the first time on this trip I’d been warned about them. They seemed satisfied, as long as I didn’t sleep “up there” as indicated by an indicative gesture of his right hand. But that wasn’t all, a rapid up down, up down of both arms indicated a rather uncoordinated skiing technique, snow! This was reminding me of some hut games played in the mountains during bad weather.
With a toot of the horn and a wave, I headed into the “danger” of the unknown.
Again, I’m being told that I should take the 200km alternative route around this area, this 46km road is totally impassible because of snow and wolves, but the driver is more than willing to give me a ride back to tow where I was just 15km earlier. I ponder the 30km ahead, this type of warning I’ve heard so many times before. Part of me says that I must listen to the locals, they know best, another part builds on years of experience that tells me that what locals don’t know, they are afraid of. I’m again faced with the dilemma, which part to trust? After a long while, another vehicle passes and I stop him and ask in Russian, or rather in sign language. He points straight ahead “Priama, priama”, “Straight ahead, straight ahead”. Finally, I feel a little better about continuing though in my mind I see the bus driver with has arms cross in front of him, “Zakrit, zakrit”, “Closed, closed”. I take not of camp sites, firewood and water. I decide on a turn around time so I can return to these camps if need be. At  6pm, I will decide whether to continue or turn around, my watch shows 3.30pm. Fire keeps the wolves away, or so I’m told. I continue tentatively into the unknown…
The road winds narrows and becomes very rough as it winds its way up and up over rolling grassy hills. Dense clouds pass overhead, casting long, dark shadows over the lush pastures below. Thunder rumbles softly in the distance. I dread the thought of riding this road twice, I don’t want to have to turn back. Within an hour of riding, the slope decreases and the landscape opens out to fairly flat highland pasture, sheep graze in the distance and very small snow patches straddle the vibrant slopes. I begin to breath more easily as it becomes clear that this is yet another case of a local lack of knowledge. Just as I expected, the road was clear, fairly easy and, surprisingly, I didn’t see a single wolf!
A group of shepherds invite me into their caravan to eat freshly boiled lamb, well salted. As the vodka comes out, I thank them and bid them farewell and continue the last 15km back to the main road, back to the real risks, cars!! There is a lot to be said for local knowledge, however, more often than not, it is not very accurate.

(This incident actually happened in Armenia, so it goes with the photos from the previous post)

Up up and away

Visa större karta

Collecting everything needed for a successful adventure.

Bikes, brakes, boxes, bags, bottles, bandaids, bolts, blades and batteries cover my bed, this can only mean one thing, time for yet another adventure. Any tips, stories, or ideas appreciated!

The End of the Road

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Six people sit around laughing as one woman tries to communicate with me. I quickly come to realise that beards and long hair are certainly not attractive to Cambodians, as this is the second time today that I have been told this. As I get back on my bike with a smile on my face and wave them goodbye, I realise that this is it, just 50 km from Phom Penh, I probably won’t have any further such interactions, the end of the road has come.

Since leaving Budapest 200 days before, I have cycled almost 9,800 km in 12 countries requiring 6 visas, 10 land border crossings, once passing through a restricted area and twice changing from the right-hand side of the road to the left. I have pedaled up 12 mountain passes over 3,900 m and the highest being 5,500 m in India and down to -200 m in Iran in temperatures ranging from 45 to -10 degrees

Celsius. Rain has soaked me on just 3 days of biking and snow has fallen twice. I have seen 3 of the remaining 76 soon to be extinct Irrawaddy fresh water dolphins in the Mekong, and observed the massive damming, deforestation and mining operations which are leading to their demise.

Dogs have chased me on over 30 occasions but never seriously attacked. I have rolled past (or over) thousands of dead snakes, lizards, dogs, cats, horses and donkeys, all victims of speeding cars.

Dust storms in Iran caused by over exploitations of water resources in Iraq chocked the air and the residents of Tehran and made breathing difficult. I have inhaled for sure enough exhaust fumes from poorly maintained trucks and burning rubbish to make my lungs look like a smokers.

On a near suicidal dash to Istanbul I covered 162.6 km in one day and in India 7 km of arduous uphill was enough for a semi-rest day. Roaring tail winds propelled me more than 100 km across the desserts of Iran with little effort while brisk headwinds in Thailand kept my brakes on for a tough 70 km slog to the border. I broke the speed limit on 26 occasions, usually as I screamed down a hill and through road works.

My body burned every last ounce of fat as my weight plummeted by 10 kg. My legs grew while every bit of exposed skin turned brown. My beard and hair grew out to create the genuine caveman look which was enough to send small children scurrying in fright.

I had two accidents, once in Serbia where my pedal was damaged and had to be replaced and the second in Thailand where I had to pay for a damaged car and my rear view mirror got smashed. Beyond that the bike sustained little damage with 3 flat tires and a set of brake blocks, 3 new drink bottle holders and 2 bottles of chain oil being the only required spare parts. However, for others, I have built a rack from sticks, fixed a split rim with twigs and hose clamps, pumped tires, replaced spokes, adjusted seats and brakes, sewed up a torn tire and repaired a broken chain. 

I consumed up to 7 normal meals a day and burned about 1.2 million calories of energy all washed down with around 600 litres of water.

I cycled with 28 other cycle tourists from 16 countries and met a further 80 or so.

I took over 9,000 photographs and logged more than 500 GPS positions.

I have been in the national newspaper in Serbia, TV in Cambodia and in a magazine in Iran. I received a gift from a Chinese army general and met the captain of the Bulgarian Air force.

Of the first 63 nights of accommodation, I paid for just 13. I slept about 40 nights in my tent, 16 nights with CouchSurfers, 3 with friends and the remainder in guesthouses, hostels or hotels.

I have listened to 15 languages and observed the subtleties and practices of 8 religions. I have taught 2 English classes in Laos and attended 5 others in Serbia, Iran and Cambodia. I have visited 2 ancient civilisations dating back more than 1,000 years Iran and Cambodia. 

I completed an 80 km bike race on my touring bike in which I finished in the top twenty in a time of 2 hours 21 minutes with an average speed of more than 29 km/h.

And, most importantly, I have met hundreds of wonderful people and enjoyed every minute of it!

Please don’t forget to DONATE to The Cambodia Trust

Please try again later

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With a few bad words I decide that it is probably best to turn back. This is not the best start to a week cycling with Olof, a friend from Sweden. We left home in a rush so as not to miss the boat across the Bosforous, as it turned out the boat went all day. On arrival I was over charged for the ride which was the first sign of what was in store. Just a few hundred meters down the road we met two cycle tourists who informed us that the road ahead would be tough, we took quick mental notes of all that they said and moved on. Soon after Olof got a flat tyre, we then discovered that his spare tubes were in his bag which was lost by the airline previously. Using my spares was also no good due to his wheels. It wasn’t good, but we continued, soon after I realised that I’d mounted my chain incorrectly, we fixed this with some hassle. That is when I noticed my pocket knife was missing. Combined with the fact that with just one bag, Olof was not able to carry anything extra, we decided to return to Istanbul to sort everything out for another attempt the following day. Sometimes that is the best option.

With 45 mins we were back, a smile on our faces just thinking of all the small things which can go wrong. A call to the airline reveals that the bag is in Istanbul, to be delivered later that day, perfect! Naturally they can’t find the flat so the bag is returned to the airport, typical! Olof races there and back with a chain smoking taxi driver in half the time it should take. Everything is in place for a new start tomorrow.

Ready to ride

After many years dreaming, I am finally doing it! In early May, I will leave the comfort of a 40 hour weeks and hit the road on an 8 month journey of discovery through some of the most culturally diverse and beautiful regions on earth. I intend to cross about 15 countries and cover about as many thousand kilometers as I wind my way from Europe to Asia. I’ll be mostly alone but intend to meet some friends along the way who are game enough to give this wonderful way of travelling a go. I plan to camp where possible and to really meet the people along the way, hopefully to gain a better understanding of what really does make us all so similar. It is all too common that we feel isolated and unaware of the cultures which seem so foreign to us, in reality everyone has the same basic needs and desires. So, a rough plan for the trip, I will be making adjustments I go along according to what feels best and where the wind takes me. You can subscribe to this blog here.

Part 1: 

Starting in Budapest I am planning to head south east toward Istanbul along the Danube, passing Romania, Serbia and Bulgaria before reaching Turkey. I then intend to head north east across Turkey to Iran (if I get the visa!). I will then spend 4 weeks cycling towards Tehran from where I will board a plane bound for Delhi.

Part 2:

As the winter is long in Ladakh, India, I will have to skip the ‘stan countries this time and fly to Delhi to be in the mountains during the 3 months snow-free window during which the roads are passable. Pedelling up to 5600 m, the plan is to cross (arguably) the worlds highest moterable road. Some more info is here.

I will then try to find a way into China, most probable that I will have to fly as the border between China and India/Nepal is not the easiest to get through with a bicycle.

Part 3:

From China I intend to head north east then south east through Myanmar (if I can get in), Laos, Vietnam, Thailand and finally Cambodia, arriving sometime in December or January.