Wednesday, 11 June 2014

Blog update from perth

G'day from Perth WA! I've been a bit rubbish at updating this blog. Last update was from London on the day before I left. Now, two months and five days later, and 8,644km on the odometer, I have arrived in Australia. I'm better at tweeting so look there for latest news. I'm not sure if I can update this blog from the mobile and have had very limited access to computers which frankly has been a great delight. And at the rare opportunities I did get offered use of a PC I always seemed to have something better to ride my bike, or wash my hair.

I'm staying a few days here with my brother Prof. Jonathan Evans and family for some quality time! Also time to rebuild and service the bike: new tyres chain sprocket brake pads. This bike has performed faultlessly since the back wheel rebuild in Berlin following two broken spokes in 4 days. It's a heavy brute to haul around at 15kg + same again with bags + 6kg of water so uphill and acceleration are accomplished at a rather stately pace. Average cruising speeds in zero/light winds are around 20kmh.

I've developed a 10/5/9 target for doing 200km/day: 10 hours riding; 5 hours eating and other brief stops; 9 hours in the sack and everything else. However it's a target that's gradually slipped since I crossed the river into Asia at Uralsk. I'd done 4,000km in 3 weeks so just short of the 200 daily plan. I could even account for that day: the wonderful pause in proceedings in Brest, Belarus, where I was met by a gaggle of local cyclists and press includingTV crew and taken on a city tour then lunch and a sauna. Thanks to Michael K who chairs the local cycling group Rucheek for organising all that, for being my host and indeed for his crucial call to the Embassy of Belarus in London to smooth the passage of my visa application. Photos here

It took five weeks to do the next 4,000km so the daily average plummeted to around 115km/day. In Kazakhstan this was due to fierce headwinds and some appalling road surfaces.  2,500km to Almaty took three weeks @120km/day average and they were hard days: headwinds every day sometimes so strong I was blown off the road; and road surfaces that varied erratically from brand new international class highways to rutted stony/dusty tracks where all evidence of any previous surface had long disappeared.

Riding those 120k/day, including stops at cafes/shops and an essential break of at least two hours at noon from the fierce dry desert heat in whatever shade available took from dawn at 0600 to well after sunset, usually stopping around 2230, utterly exhausted.  Average speeds were in the range 12-15kmh and often below 10kmh when the road or wind got really bad.

So as I crawled closer to the end of the road in Kazakhstan I began to wishfully think that things might get easier in SE Asia where the plan was to ride 4,000km Hanoi to Singapore in 4 weeks. So around 150k/day. It would be hot humid tropical monsoon. Hey that could be hard work too and I need a break! Furthermore the flight from Almaty to Hanoi involves one Bangkok which is half way down my route to Singapore. It was an agonising decision. I'd spent good time and money on the Vietnam visas (twice due to date change) and also on the malaria tabs which I won't need riding south from Bangkok. In the end those considerations were outweighed by the overwhelming attraction of an easy ride. Just 2,000km in 4 weeks! That sounded almost too easy so let's go for 3 weeks @100k/day and get to Singapore then onto Perth in time for Jonathan's birthday on June 13th. Yes!!

As soon as I hit on that idea the decision was made with no further dithering. I had till 20th May on my Kazakh visa and some days when I made almost no progress at all meeting that target looked like aiming for the moon. Eventually, with 300km of lorry and train assistance to escape the direst roads and winds, I got into Almaty on 15th May where the bike shop by prior arrangement had a box ready for me and there were seats available that night on the single daily direct flight to Bangkok.

The ride down from Bangkok to Singapore was an utterly different affair. I finally got the easier days that I had craved. Road surfaces were excellent throughout Thailand and Malaysia. Winds light to moderate, sometimes even going my way! It's hot and humid of course but easy to find shelter and rest for a few hours at noon. Daily monsoonal downpours are brief, warm and refreshing.  Best to get going at first light, ride about 70k by noon, eat and rest then another 30k by around 1600 or so. Easy life!

The vast majority of people I've met in all countries so far have been kind polite and helpful.  There have been numerous acts of extreme generosity, eg in Kazakhstan where complete strangers paid my hotel and restaurant bills, gave cash, shared meals, provided accommodation… Several times I was warned to be wary of the people in the next town/province/country where people are savages...but when I get there I meet more people of a benevolent disposition interested in where I'm from and going and usually how old I am (52).

The bike of course attracts a lot of attention which can get tedious: sometimes every other car hoots and stops to take photos and videos. I try to tolerate and remind myself that if they were coming down the Broadway in Wimbledon on a round the world ride by camel we'd probably hoot and shout and point our cameras at them.

The warmshowers network – couch-surfing for cycle tourists – has been brilliant. Great people offering free accommodation to weary touring cyclists. We have much to talk about as we share a passion. Many hosts offer far more than the bed and a warm shower, eg dinner and a family welcome which makes such a lovely change from the lonely norms that are wild solo camping and commercial budget hotels/hostels/guest houses.

The chief problem with people in every country so far, perhaps with the exception on NL, is that a sizeable minority of them turn into complete morons as soon as they get behind the wheel or onto a motorbike. Road danger is by far the greatest threat to my safety and I'm pleased to have made it this far without incident.

My body has been as reliable as the bike.  I’ve not been ill at all. Not even a headache or a dodgy tummy. Some rather tender achilles tendons in the early days were put to rest by heeding the doc's advice, thanks Helen!

Well that’s enough ramblings for now.  Next update – possibly – from NZ. That’s quit a long ride away from here. Watch the twitter in the meantime.



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