Inner Asia Expedition FAQ

Inner Asia Expedition -- Frequently Asked Questions

about this site, about the trip, etc. Once again, thank Doug.


Why can't I understand most of the entries in the Journal Summary?
How many miles each day did you average?
Where did you stay at night?
What did you eat?
Was your security/welfare ever threatened?
How often could you call home?
What did you miss the most about Canada?
What did you not take with you that you would have, if you had to do it all over again?
How did you communicate?
How did you get all your visas?
Did you have any equipment problems?
Where did you get your maps?

Why can't I understand most of the entries in the Journal Summary?

The journal was not written for public reading. Alex asked me to send a copy of the daily mileage statistics as I had kept a log throughout the trip. As a memory jog, I added a few lines of text to each day with key words and phrases. To the outside reader, this is very cryptic. (why do you guys talk about your shit so much?)
My apologies. Maybe someday I'll put it all together in a legible form. I did keep a very extensive journal of the entire trip that certainly makes for better story telling.

How many miles each day did you average?

This varied greatly throughout the trip. A one line answer would be: "about 120-140 km for a full day of cycling." This short answer requires a host of qualifers. Our first week yielded shorter mileages for various reasons. The Turkish Black sea coast was very challenging terrain, to say the least. In one instance I recall Alex stating, "You will not find more difficult riding, for such a sustained period, in many other places in the world." A bold statement, but turned out to be basically true. We did encounter more difficult riding in other areas, but for over a week, a repeated cove-riding theme of short, steep climbs followed by short, steep descents pounded our out of shape bodies. We also had Oleg to deal with.
Our week after Tashkent was an epic week of incredible mileages and stunning scenes. I think the mileages we covered were somehow fueled by this change in topography. For six weeks prior we had encountered little geographic variation beyond the desert. Snow capped peaks and a the freedom of riding as only two people both inspired our above average performance.
India was pancake flat. we covered a great deal of land there in a short time. Roads were good, though very busy. Perhaps the pace of the traffic, or fear of bieng run down, rubbed off on us.
Our first week in Tibet kicked our buts. The elevation change, a difficult border crossing, poor road conditions and unfamiliar food all contributed to a rough week.
Mongolia's roads were non-existant. We simply followed tire tracks in the desert. Head winds pounded us from the north. On several occasions we were literally blown off the road from the winds. At this point in the trip we were also very fatigued. I was at least. Alex never admitted to being worn down.

Where did you stay at night?

With the exception of Pakistan, India and Nepal. We camped almost exclusively while on the road. In larger cities where we planned on staying more than one night we sought accomodation. Our requirements for a suitable site were as follows:
-privacy was paramount. After a day of cycling and staring, it was nice to stretch out, not stress about theft and enjoy some solitude. Inevitably, we would awaken to find a few locals staked out, awaiting our emergence from the tent.
-running water was handy. cooking, cleaning, bathing. Not always available. We would anticipate not having water so near day's end fill our MSR Dromodary bags with water. 15L a night did us just fine.
-A good site would graduate to a really good site if it had: shade, outdoor furniture, a body of water

What did you eat?

Whatever we could find with relative convenience and abundance. This was a recurring hardship throughout the trip. Food for the day could generally be obtained in markets of larger towns. Where there were no large towns, we had to carry food for several days in our panniers. This required some planning not to mention tolerance for repetition.
Our caloric demands coupled with difficult to find, unfamiliar, and in some instances bad tasting food certainly contributed to the high rate of attrition among the team riders. No good eats, can't feed the machine.
Our best food of the trip was certainly in China, north of Lhasa. We discovered local restaurants serving great bowls of stir fried vegetables and noodles. India offered great relief to the daily regimen of dal and nan in Pakistan. Vegetarian dishes are common
The worst food in Asia is certainly to be found in Mongolia. Strong tasting, hardened cheese, fermented mare's milk, and camel meat. Staples, also to be found among the nomadic people of Kygyzstan.
I'm forgetting Turkmenistan. Very poor culinary variety. West of Ascabad, the only food to be found in state run stores were cans of "Swift beef and variety meat" and row upon row of gallon jars containing burnt pear juice. Local markets yielded some relief in a few vegetables and a discovery of Central Asian flatbread, lepioshka. delicious.
Tea, Chay, Cay, Cha, Chai, ----a constant Asia-wide.

Was your security/welfare ever threatened?

No. generally not. I felt safer on my bike in Asia than I did once in my car in Detroit. On the home front, I learned upon my return what six months of panic had ensued, despite my efforts at telephone conversation (though somewhat infrequent)
A few exceptions. India. On a bike in India felt like the dying moments of that old computer game, "Centipede" where you know you're about to die, but you just make it away from the bad guy, then another guy comes along, and you're sure he's gonna get you, then you just get away. On a bike in India it feels like that all the time.
In Tibet two guys pulled a 12" blade on me when I asked for the return of my Walkman. I pretended to have a gun and pretended to shoot one of them. They laughed. I laughed. Then I left. Quickly.
Nathan was pulled over by a couple of Russians that appeared at first to want his money, or his manhood. Nathan pulled a Ginsu on them but it turned out they just wanted to drink with him.
Alex ran over a dead dog in Russia at 56 kph. while drafting behind a truck. This could have ended the trip for him, or worse. Didn't even break a spoke.
For general country info, check out Dangerous Places.

How often could you call home?

Generally once a month. (not often enough, apparently). Ability to make phone calls ranged from impossible, to terribly frustrating, to very easy. This varied depending on the country, a seemingly strong positive correlation with the ability to easily find toilet paper.

What did you miss the most about Canada?

Beer, cheese and crackers and hockey playoffs. Stereotype or what?

What did you not take with you that you would have, if you had to do it all over again?

We always wished we had taken a small size, overview map of the route that we could show to people when we met them. Turks had a very difficult time comprehending the idea of Mongolia and Mongolians seemed to think that Turkey was, "over there...beyond the next rise."
Locals were always very interested in photographs from home, postcards, family photos, coins, and hockey cards.
I wish I had taken my girlfriend. Though I did not have one at the time. Six months on a bike is a very, very, long time.

How did you communicate?

Assuming you mean after Oleg was fired. Though while he was around he was of very little use in the translator/storyteller capacity. We make an effort to learn Russian before the trip. At the very least, to be able to read Cyrillic and recognize place names on a roadside sign. Our day to day use of the language improved greatly after the departure of Oleg.
We used Russian in all the central Asian countries despite their embracing of local languages. It also worked in Mongolia.
English seemed to get us by in Pakistan and India. Not enough time in Nepal to conclude. Katmandu was more English than a Toronto subway train. We were very unsuccessful learning Tibetan, despite the use of a phrasebook. The Mandarin phrasebook was much more useful. People laughed at us when we tried to form the phonetics.

How did you get all your visas?

(Click here for detailed info.)
Patience, persistance, not taking no for an answer. Very advisable to obtain all visas before departure. We met many travellers stuck in a border town waiting for a visa to come through.

Did you have any equipment problems?

Generally not. We had no major breakdowns. Downtime due to equipment was minimal. There were some things that performed beyond our expectations and some that failed miserably. Alex was sure to send product reviews to all our generous equipment sponsors. We minced no words. (See the "gear" section of this site for details.)

Where did you get maps?

The TPC maps (tactical pilotage charts) are 1:500,000. As a general rule, they are too detailed for biking, unless you are going off road or want particular focus. The ONC maps (operational navigational charts) are 1:1,000,000. We relied on them 80% of the time. Both types of maps are $4.75 each. They are made by the Defense Mapping Agency and are aeronautical charts made available by NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) : National Ocean Service branch. They can be ordered by calling 800 638-8972.