The route through Bukhara is one of the most scenic of the whole ride. Shortly after leaving the control I pass the Ark, the old residence of the Emir. It's under contruction now, a reassuring thought, the bug pit won't be in use now. I leave the town as the last man on the road. A position I'm quite used to. Also the reason of being the last is known to me, losing time due to helping others and other riders around me quitting while I still plod on, balancing on the time limit. This balancing act I've nearly lost now. I could claim about 3 hours time extension due to assisting Paul, Robert and Claus plus the late start. But it's way past 10am now, there's still 280k to go and even with the time extensions I should be at the finish at 5am. That should in principle be possible but I've had a very rough night and the only night with any serious sleep was the 2nd night on the road. I feel that I need a sleepstop somewhere during the night. I need a faultless run to get back within schedule.
Within an hour after leaving Bukhara I have to stop again. I'm falling asleep on the bike. I welcome choyana provides a shady spot and a pot of tea. I doze a bit for an hour or so before returning to the road. A road that's much busier as before, this is the main traffic artery of Uzbekistan. Still it's more than good riding on this sunday. Asfalt is sometimes passable sometimes rough. But nothing compared to last night. The only problempoint is that you have to ride a straight line here, so it's impossible to continue when you're too sleepy. During the night on the empty stretch between Kasan and Bukhara it was no problem at all to swerve, here I have to evade it at all costs.
The whole stretch between Bukhara and Navoi is the by now known mix of desert and steppe. I'm only distracted by people. Rafhat an Daniil passing in a mini-bus form a welcome distraction. More unwelcome distraction was just after one of the many police checkpoints. Slumped against the concrete barriers was a man. He was lying completely motionless, cartracks next to him. I stopped, parked my bike and stopped a car. Together with the cardriver I walked over to the man. When we were neared we suddenly heard a faint snoring. This was simply a sleeping drunkard. Relieved we turned around. The driver assured me that this was completely normal. Normal for some other parts of the former Soviet Union, not too normal for Uzbekistan though.
One advantage this encounter had, I finally woke up. The remainder of the stretch to Navoi I cover at a half decent pace, gone is the plodding.
I reach Navoi at dusk. This might be the last sizeable place so I decide to eat here. When I enter the owner even asks if I need a room. This place doubles as a restaurant. While I wait for my food I check the maps and the routesheet. Chances of completing the ride within the timelimet have fairly gone. It's 7pm now and I still have 150km to go. I've barely covered any ground during the day, the Karshi-Bukhara road has completely worn me out. It's still about 2 hours before the Bukhara-Tashkent train passes. No public transport to be expected afterwards, due to the bus curfew the last buses to Tashkent must have passed already. Daniil is not all too convinced that it's time for me to pack. At the end of the dinner I decide to give it another try. I dress up warm and rejoin the road.
But it's of no use, I'm back again to snail's pace. An hour or so later I reach a well lit Post-GAI. This is it. I don't think that I'll find a more convenient place to hitch a ride later on. And traffic will be much lower during the night. It's already quite cold, I'm nearly on the edge of the clothes I have with me. I'm so tired that I need extra layers compared to the first night. Within 5 minutes I find a suitable van to transport me to Samarkand. The driver and his elderly co-driver are ferrying bags of something to Tashkent. My bike is loaded on top of the bags while I enter the cabin. The price they quote is very good, 20.000 sum (6 euro) for the 150km to Samarkand. That's something else as the 100 US$ Claus had to pay. I call Danill to report my packing.
The driver only speaks Uzbek but his co-driver speaks excellent Russian. He probably hasn't been to Russia for the last 20 years since he only uses the Soviet names of places. We reach Tashkent without problems and they drop me off at the outskirts of town. We off-load the bike and I cycle down the slope to the control. Daniil is still there and both Stefans arrive shortly after I did. We have a chat about the ride before I head to bed. The 3 others in the room are already asleep, they finished well within time.
Now, two weeks after the ride I must conclude that this ride is fairly doable for me. The terrain suits my strenghts and doesn't test too much my weaknesses. The survival aspect is excellent for me. For the 'light and fast' brigade this is a terible ride. No pampering, no controls every 80km with food and drinks. No, you're on your own. It's more a stageride with 300k stages and short sleepstops. The controls are excellently spaced for those riders riding a 84-88hour schedule. But if you drop behind the 90 hour schedule you're in big problems You'll arrive at the controls long after you need to sleep. Does this happen on the 3rd stage then you're in a bad situation. There are hardly any services on this stretch at nighttime (even during daytime they must be sparse). Packing is nearly impossible since traffic is so low that you need at least an hour to find transport, if at all. So it's of no use to receive a time extension on this brevet, you'll still be in troubles if you're behind schedule.
For me the problempoint was the preparation of other riders. My preparation was fairly good. I could have done with a change of winterclothes and a wooly hat. But the bike behaved superb and as a real treat compared to the other riders. Even the modern cyclo-cross bikes were at their limits. Their rigid frames cause the saddle to rattle too much against the rider. In fact, what you need for this ride is a classic tourer with non-oversized tubes.
Riding it on a rigid racer or fixie is asking for trouble. Some riders got through with this approach but others had to bail out and due to lack of local knowledge and language skills had to ask me to help them, causing me to fall behind schedule eventually. I don't know if Claus's bike had any influence on his accident. He used a De Rosa with 32mm squeezed through.
I can certainly recommend this ride to the more adventure orientated rider. But do treat it as an expedition, prepare yourself excellently. And not only get yourself fit but also know your terrain and use a bike suitable for this ride. Otherwise you won't only ruin your own chances but also those of other riders helping you.