Aeroflot from Russia. Customs is a joke, no bags checked. Baggage handlers ride our bikes down the tarmac. Pilot doesn’t know what to to with Air Canada pin. First look at Kara Kum desert moonscape from air. Niyasov portrait on airport. Customs guards stunned at sight of our bikes. “What you propose is impossible” fax from consulate. Hounded in store to change money. Hotel 6000 Manat 2 nights. Shit splattered on walls of toilet. Restaurant sickly pink. Eat with big russian guys. Brandt says “Jimminy Christmas” with a straight face.
Shopping for food. stores “Swift’s Beef and Variety Meatmarket,” rows of identical vegetables, potatos. “dollars, yes?” Change money at bank, official rate 195/dollar. Follow guy into lade from bank and change at 235/dollar. Plums, cherries, onions, peppers, potatos. Pot stuffers on Caspian coast picnic. Cleanest toilets yet on shore complex. Alex calls Ethan for 5 minutes @ $20.
Turkmenbashi, port of entry into Turkmenistan. This new pavillion was not yet open, and the guards wanted us to leave. Our standard response was, "we don't understand," and eventually they left us alone. You'd be amazed how often this works.
Cycling in blackness by 3:45 am. Experiment day with full dromos, bikes bending under weight. Lose Brandt and 1/2 hr of cool cycling with broken chain. Lunch in bus stop. Alexsi, sturgeon konfrabandiste and side kick show us the proper route. Discuss Turkmen women, NHL hockey, and politics. Town, waiting, kids take Al’s thermometer as “gift”. headwinds strong, still cycling 2 pm. Camp in shaded courtyard. Kids gawk from over stone wall. Turkmen concert and rain at night.
This day the headwinds were so strong we were going 10kph, full paceline. We gave up near a police station, and this motorcycle guy wanted us to come to his house. We followed him about 10k up dirt trails into the mountains, where his tiny house was. He gave us tea, and we slept until the afternoon. The winds had shifted, and we ended up doing about 140km by the end of the day.
Headwinds kill us early on through Nebit-Dagh. Brandt sick again, and sulking. Waiting at “gai” station. Follow Aman to his home. 8 km along a dirt trail. Cay and lepioshka and a nap as shit flies buzz around our glistening bodies. “Alex, tablet?” for son with toothache. granddad digs Swiss army knife and dromo bags. bathing from his big rusty tank. 3pm Alex and I hammer away to make 120 km before stores dose. average 28 kph for 5 hours. pipeline follows road, spewing geysers along the way. dunes block roadway for 30 m. road worsens, swerving lade-sized potholes to maintain speed. beans, rice, pickles and cabbage for dinner.
Oh. So that's why this road was closed.
Posing on the ridiculously large monument outside KazandhikI catch Al further up the road, pulling out of an askhana, “all they had was meat, cigarettes and vodka.” Kizyl Arvat lunch, Al & I polish off a watermelon before the others arrive. Drunk man makes us “salat” while Nathan sleeps on the floor, then later shits on the sidewalk. Camp outside town after apricot boots us from shaded courtyard. Dinner in restaurant by cool Russian guy.
Reach town in exhaustion and drink sodas on kiosk, politely declining the apricots covered in ants offered by the proprietor. Brandt and Nathan pissed that they couldn’t find us. We’re bonked on the sidewalk of the pathetic market. Brandt shops for dinner, “there’s really not too much here.” Smell bread leaving town, follow nose to bakery and get free bread. Search for Geok-Tepe hot springs, rudnick exhaustion breeds apathy. Al is now shitting “frothy green”
Wake to howling tail. Peak with Al for ten minutes at 45kph. Wailing past the waving “gai” stations. Straight to U.S. consulate and Ben Webber, “you guys, always wear helmets, okay?” Florida restaurant cheeseburgers with “visne” to drink. Margarita, “okay, see you in three days. Please eat this “borsht” soup. it is for you
June 15,16 Ashkabad Change money repeatedly with liquor store owner down the road from Margarita’s. Ethan arrives. Cutting through translation time, 3 month Chinese visa extension.
Arctic, on the Iranian border.
Ethan cuts us to the front of the “benzene” queue. Guy in tie gives me shit for taking a picture. Lunch roadside at tractor depot, “operators of the co-op were important people during communist times.” Not so anymore. Dying puppy. Brandt: “you keep the cyclometer, I’d rather not know how far I’ve gone.” Fantas on the Iranian border. Tents next to barbed wire. Bathe on leaking canal pipeline.
This entire country is basically a desert.
Average 33.5 kph over first 80 km. Dusak border guards wave us through. Trailer and canvas lean-to on leeward side. Serinos, three each, then vodka. shit flies all over us. more vodka. 10 am. parched into Tedzhen market. Iranian orange juice. Scolded for wearing shorts. Kids steal Nathan’s sunglasses and Brandt’s walkman. Hide from heat in Boris’s home while surly wife brings meaty soup.
Fish smuggler we met in the middle of the desert.
Alex and I the sick ones today. Slow start and lots of shits. Hide from midday sun under a bridge and then under a trailer with Turkmen guys feeding me cay, jumping in the muddy but refreshing river. 10 minutes into afternoon ride Ethan is puking roadside, Peace Corps truck pulls up, Ann Perry shows me her cleavage and offers chapstick. Long way to Mary. Ethan hitches, Al and I struggle, eating dusty crackers. Sunset and no Mary, only foul smells from bowels and passing garbage dumps.
Early morning knock on the door. Ethan is quitting after three days of riding. Cannibalize Ethan’s bike and take his peanut butter. Al is paralyzed, two jars bedside. The famous search for a hospital, “infection specialty” centre and ambulance ride
Cruising by 5:30, despite Brandt’s coddling, 100 km by 10 am. then scorching, 45 C. Nathan gets nervous, wanting to hide under a tarp tied between two bushes for 8 hours. Find a “kafe” and pull in and crash. Drink King Cola and meat pies. Leave at 6 pm, still hot. nathan sighs, Brandt is sick again, moaning as I make pasta June 23 149 km time 6:00
Brandt announces he’s hitching. Nathan looks almost envious. Another hot one, l run out of water as I reach town. Meet Rose, 72 year old Peace Corps on her 6th tour! and her silent companion, Moulda. to “apartment X” with Srubar, 61 year old teacher at the institute. “Free advice, farmer to farmer” “chute, for cattle cattle castration” “no horn glue” “one thousand lorries” meet alex and Srubar repeats the stories, B & N are zombies.