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PostPosted: Fri Nov 09, 2012 7:52 pm 
Old School Hero

Joined: Fri Mar 14, 2008 7:19 pm
Posts: 163
Location: Maastricht
Gone are the days that audax rides in serious distances were only held in classic cycling area's, where the roads were full of amenities and you were assured of acceptable weather. Nowadays there are audax rides in nearly every corner of the world, audax rides which offer very different challenges. This year I opted for two 1200k rides, one in northern Russia, the other in Uzbekistan. The 1200k in Russia proved rather uneventful, I managed to finish very close to the timelimit, riding through an area I had been several times and with a well honed organisation which pampers the riders. I knew that Uzbekistan would be another challenge.
Last year the Uzbek randonneurs rode this event when most of them didn't get a French visa for PBP. None finished.

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The route follows ancient caravan roads once part of the great Silk Route. The I knew that the area sometimes would be very inhospitable, mainly through steppe and desert. And when the organisers advise you to use at least 28 or 32mm tyres you know that the road quality will be interesting. My original plans were to ride the TransRussia, a 3000k raid from north to south in Russia. But due to problems at the Dutch passport offices I had to change my plans and opt for two 1200k events. For all three events I'd choose the same bike from my stable, a 1987 Koga Miyata Grantourer equipped with 28 mm tyres at front and 32mm at the rear, a classic swooping front fork and a silky ride. I swapped the ergopowers for bar end levers. On the long and straight roads of Karelia and Uzbekistan I wouldn't need quick shifting, durability is more important here.

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I arrived in Uzbekistan with more than one week before the start, as first of the foreign riders. Organisers Rafhat and Daniil gave me a wonderful welcome, making me to feel immediately at ease. I decided to do some sightseeing in the main cities which we would pass, Tashkent, Samarkand and Bukhara, the week before the ride. During an audax ride you usually don't have time for that. And it was a good way for my body to get use to the climate and local bugs. I was relieved that most people I met spoke excellent Russian, far better as I do. English was a lot less spoken. So I'd have to rely on my basic knowledge of Russian for the ride. And on the experience of over 25 visits to various states of the former Soviet-Union.
The day before the start I arrived at the start location in the late morning. Most riders were allready present for the briefing. A good selection of local riders, Russians and Ukrainians coming from near abroad and 7 westerners, most of them without any local experience. The briefing and distribution of routesheet and ridenumers went fast and informal. After that there was enough time to discuss the ride. The bikes of Robert and Paul raised a few eyebrows. They planned to start on fixed bikes with agressive geometry and rather skinny tyres. Most Russians opted for standard racing bikes while the Uzbeks mainly fielded mountainbikes. The german squad mostly relied on cyclocross bikes, a far more sensible approach.

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The Uzbeks moved to another place after the briefing, just like most of the westerners who retreated to a B&B in the center of Samarkand. I stayed with the Russians and sole Ukrainian at the starting grounds. The whole afternoon I spent buying supplies for the ride. I knew that I would hardly find anything usable on the road.
In the morning we had a good breakfast at the starting grounds while the Uzbek riders arrived. We all lined up before the start but had to wait 20 minutes before those staying in the city centre arrived. Finally Shamil can hold his startspeech and we're off into the unknown.

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Report on the Karelian 1200: http://www.retrobike.co.uk/forum/viewto ... highlight=
Bike presentation: http://www.retrobike.co.uk/forum/viewto ... highlight=


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PostPosted: Sat Nov 10, 2012 9:28 am 
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Looks fantastic, following this with interest. If only to see how quickly the guys with the skinny tyres can change a tube...


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 Post subject: Excellant
PostPosted: Sat Nov 10, 2012 10:38 am 
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Joined: Mon Feb 11, 2008 12:03 pm
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Location: held captive by baby haggis in a cave in Scotland
Sound brilliant so far.
Like Rich, I will be watching with interest and checking back regularly for the next update.
Inspiring stuff and thatnks for sharing it with us.
Jamie


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PostPosted: Sat Nov 10, 2012 10:20 pm 
Old School Hero

Joined: Fri Mar 14, 2008 7:19 pm
Posts: 163
Location: Maastricht
We cycle through the outskirts of Samarkand at a sensible pace. Only after we passed one of our many police checkpoints (post GAI) the speed goes up and the whole group is reduced to small bands of riders temporarily riding together.

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I drift to my usual position, at the back of the field. But suddenly I remark that I'm not the last man on the road. A Kamaz truck passes me at about 40km/h, one of the Stefans following in it's slipstream. Not much later I see two other riders behind me. Claus and Hanno slowly catch up. Claus had a bad start due to indigestion. That was one of the reasons for me to arrive early, I'd get through the indigestion problems before the start of the ride. Together with Claus and Hanno I continue. About 50km into the ride we finally leave the Samarkand region. The border, and the post GAI, are at the usual spot, right on top of the pass exiting the Samarkand valley.

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We head down towards the lowlands and easily find the turnoff towards the old road through the Gates of Timur. This is one of the most scenic parts of the ride. The old road and the railway squeeze their way through the narrow valley. Back in the Timurid days this was the heavily guarded entrance to the Samarkand region. All traffic going east on the Silk Road had to pass through it. The guards are gone, not even a single police post is visible. This is one of the most enjoyable parts of the ride, relatively good roads and stunning scenery. The only pity is that it lasts way too short.

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At the end of the valley we enter the city of Jizzakh. On the map it's not clear that this is a large city with 150.000 inhabitants. But that's typical of Uzbek maps. No detailed roadmaps are on sale in the country (and neither in Moscow), the old detailed Soviet maps are too outdated due to new roads constructed to evade the old cut-offs through the neighbouring republics.
In Jizzakh I get a flashback to my time spent in the Baltics in 1992-93. Most urban transport is by the old Latvija minibusses. They look surprisingly new. That although the last I heard was that the original factory in Latvia closed due to supply problems after the end of the Soviet Union. But later I hear that there was a mirror factory producing the same minibusses long after the factory in Latvia folded. In Jizzakh I'm stopped by a police officer. The road ahead is closed and he answers in Uzbek to my question if I may pass by bike. Only after some locals start translating either from Russian or English he orders me to continue, in faultless Russian. Less than a kilometer later Shamil and Masha stop me. A secret control. Only one rider is missing on their list, Maxim. I can't help them, Maxim dashed off with the faster riders after we passed the first post GAI.

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I leave Jizzakh past the racegrounds and enter cotton territory. During the next hours there's only one crop in sight, cotton. And huge masses of busses and trucks waiting by the roadside for the workers to return from the fields. At the end of the afternoon I'm passed by several convoys of busses shielded by policecars. All cotton pickers returning from the fields. Tractors pulling several carts full of cotton are a common sight at this time of the day. Most of them riding a conveniet 30km/h. I follow one of them for a while, passing Hanno and Claus. It's allready getting dark. The tractor has some glow in the dark headlights but no taillights. Despite the lack of them the driver uses the left lane far too often. When it's getting too dangerous I pass him and push on. By now I've turned east. The original road continues north, cutting off through Kazakhastan. Most traffic nowadays uses the bypass via Uzbek soil. With a nice tailwind I continue on. Claus and Hanno pass me again when I stop for a call of nature.
Daniil calls me asking whether I've seen his brother Maxim. Maxim hasn't been seen for a long time and he doesn't answer his phone. I can't help Daniil since I've seen Maxim only near Samarkand. But I promise to keep my eyes open. Only after the by-pass ends I see a small teahouse (choyana) with three bikes. The bikes of Hanno, Claus and Maxim. Claus signals from inside and calls me in. I stop and join them for a cup of tea. Less than 100km to go untill Tashkent so it's time for my first sit down stop. Up untill now I've been eating from my supplies. Water and cola are easy to get by the roadside. So no reason for a sit down stop. I tell Maxim that his brother tried to call him. Maxim explains that he ran out of phone credit so I hand him my mobile so he can call his brother. Whenever I leave the European Union I buy a local SIM-card. Lot's cheaper as my Dutch SIM card. At 1 Euro 50 per minute my Dutch SIM card is way too expensive to use. And above all, now the organisers can call me for an affordable price, that's easier for them too. Still a lot of foreign riders use their own SIM cards, making it harder for the organisers and the few foreign riders having local cards.

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When we want to leave Claus asks if I have something to fix his light. He lost the original bolt and now his light is strapped to the handlebars. I hand him a bolt and the needed tools. Maxim fixes the light helped by Claus. Togehter we continue through the night. It's dark 12 hours per day now, after all it's october. And it's getting quite cold. Maxim's lights are rather poor. Not that he can buy anything better, there are simply no decent cycling lights in the Uzbek shops. The only way for them to get some decent lights is using the old French method, fixing a large flashlight to a front rack. We agree on stopping somewhere halfway to Tashkent for hot meal. After we cross the Sir Darya river Maxim points out a roadside restaurant. He expects nothing else after this point so we head towards it. We have to wait a bit untill Claus and Hanno arrive. Maxim orders a large tray of fried fish with garlic. An excellent change of taste after all the muesli bars and other in the saddle food. We take our time here. We know that we'll arrive in Tashkent on time.
30km before we reach Tashkent we see the first rider heading back. I'm surprised, I'd expected the first riders to be a lot faster. By his light we identify him as Stefan. Only shortly before Tashkent a small group passes. Approaching the control I see Rafhat returning. So over half the riders are still at the control when I arrive. I immediately receive a tray of food and start eating. Claus and Hanno will sleep here, Maxim is only faffing. I manage to keep my downtime limited and head out into the dark.


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PostPosted: Mon Nov 12, 2012 11:55 am 
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Joined: Fri Mar 14, 2008 7:19 pm
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Location: Maastricht
Luckily I took a full late autumn kit with me to Uzbekistan. I'd send it forward in my dropbag and I'm now really glad that I can wear the full kit. Even double gloves are needed in the late night. While packing I had my wooly hat in my hands but put it away. Bad decision, I'd be very grateful for it now. I hope that I'm early enough in Jizzakh to buy one. Swapping my dynohub wheel from my usual audax bike to my Koga was a superb decision. It's dark 12 hours per day now halfway october. And Uzbek darkness is real darkness. I roll along at a passable speed through the night. I have no idea when the others will overtake me. The faster guys will do it certainly. If Maxim, Hanno and Claus will I don't know. We all had to gamble. Their decision to sleep could lead them to fall behind the timeschedule. And it's not always shure that sleep increases your speed enough to compensate for the timeloss. On the other hand, my decision to push on might lead to a massive loss of speed also causing falling behind timeschedule. So any decision could be negative.

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A few hours after leaving Tashkent morning starts. It's even colder now, absolutely at the limit of my clothes. I wonder how the guys with tiny saddlebags are doing. They must really be freezing since they can't transport proper winter gear. It's still cold when I see a small restaurant by the roadside opening up for business. I stop and decide on a sit down breakfast. The menu is more the standard Russian food which has more options for a vegetarian. I order rice and fried eggs. A good audax breakfast. While waiting for my food to arrive I see Robert blasting past. While eating I see a Russian/Ukrainian/Uzbek group passing. Just when I want to leave Paul passes the restaurant. None of them seem inclined to stop. So now only Jamil, Maxim, Claus and Hanno must be behind me.
Shortly after the restaurant I catch up with Paul. We ride on together. He had some problems yesterday with navigation. Between the cities navigation is easy, there usually is only one road. In the cities roadsigns are sparse and streets are not always named. Add to it the complete lack of detailed road maps making navigation without GPS a challenge. Even the GPS maps are not up to date. Luckily the track is excellent, the only thing you can completely rely on regarding navigation.
Together we pass the Sir Darya bridge. Since it's light now I can see the very clear signs forbidding any photography of the bridge. After the bridge it's finally time to shed some of the warm clothes. About an hour after the bridge we encounter the secret control car with Shamil and Masha. I use the stop to shed yet another layer of winterclothes. We're still on the same route as yesterday but soon that'll change. In stead of skirting the Kazakh border we nog head further south and hed for the Kirgiz border. I ride together with Paul to Gulistan. He's clearly having troubles on the rough sections, I can rattle over them with my relatively comfortable Koga, he has to slow down to prevent too much soreness. In Gulistan Paul stops at a shop while I stop a while further on at the busstation for a call of nature. Roadside toilets are rare here and the nearly complete lack of vegetation makes squatting near the road a bit harder.

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After turning right near the Kirigz border the road gets even worse. OK, technically speaking it's still tarmac but there's nothing smooth about it. For hours I rattle along. This is a real desolate area. Being a border zone now doesn't do any good to the population. They seem cut off form their old hinterlands. Ocasionally a road turns left towards Kirgizistan. Or better said turned left since it's now blocked. There are only few border crossings between both countries. Supplies are hard to get. It's only at the checkpoint marking the end of the borderzone that I finally see salesmen selling basic stocks. Luckily I've only just run out of drinks.
Jizzakh announces itself by the sudden appearance of whole flocks of Latviaj minibuses, ferrying commuters back to their villages. They encounter shepherds driving their herds back to the stables.

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It turns dark just before I enter Jizzakh. As usual I take a quick stop just before the entering any large town when I see two LED headlights approaching. That must be Claus and Hanno. I loose them while negotiating the city traffic. Originally I planned on eating here but I can't find an appealing place so I simply head on. A few km out of town there is a place looking good. But the owner isn't, he's absolutely drunk. I manage to reduce my needs to a bottle of coke and head off again. Later I hear that Claus and Hanno had some more problems escaping this guy. But it must be said, he was one of the very few problematic persons I met during the whole event.
Just before passing the Gates of Timur I stop at a small shop for water and some food. I hear that Paul has passed a while ago. It's a pity I can't see the gates now but I can feel them. This place has it's completely different micro-climate. It's a lot warmer here and a tailwind just pushes me on. When I get back to the main road it doesn't turn colder but even warmer. I am back to kneewarmers and that in the late evening. With the strong tailwind I feel superb and don't really feel the need to eat at the long row of restaurants on the climb to the pass. There's a major road refurbishment going on here, all traffic is squeezed to one side of the road. The other side looks good already so I slalom through the barriers and ride on perfect smooth tarmac. Still I have to look out for some stray tools and building material though. But it's a welcome refreshment to the potholes. Just when the road refurbishment ends I'm suddenly stopped by Robert and Paul.
They decided to pack. Robert is ill and Paul simply too battered by the bad roads. I'm not too surprised about this. They are both strong riders but this ride is simply not suited for the light and fast approach they are used to. This is a ride for the slow tourers barely making the timelimits but pushing on. Since both of them don't have Uzbek phonecards I call Daniil to report him the packing of both of them. Then I try to stop a truck to bring them back to Samarkand. It's only 50k to the control but they are not up to riding to it. Within a few minutes a Kamaz truck stops and the driver immediately agrees in driving them to Samarkand. A local dashes to his shed and returns with a rope. Their bikes are hoisted up and tied to the roof. I explain the truckdriver the location of the control. Luckily we were equiped with googlemaps prints. The control is right next to the airport so a convenient landmark is available. On the back of the maps are the phonenumbers of Shamil and Daniil so the truckdriver has all the info he needs. Paul and Robert board the truck and are off in the dark.

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I continue for the last kilometers of climbing and pass the Post GAI without any problems. From here it's mainly downhill. Mostly on reasonable roads but sometimes large chunks of asfalt are missing. During one descent I suddenly hit a large one filled with sand at speed. Had I been riding a nimble Italian frame I'd have crashed. But my Koga has the typical stable and lazy geometry of a French randonneuse. It plows through the sand and I reach the tarmac again without even a wobble. This part is nearly a dream. I know I reach the conrol within time, a good headwind is pushing me on. And I know that from this control on the time limit relaxes from 15 to 13,3 km/h. So I get an extra 5 hours for sleeping.

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At the control I enjoy a good meal before retreating for 3 hours of sleep. When I'm eating Claus and Hanno arrive. I hear that Rafhat packed and Maxim never even left Tashkent. So we already have 4 riders out, that's 25% packing even before halfway. The next stage looks very easy. Especially when the tailwind continues. There should even be a rare long stretch of good asfalt since part of the road is a major supplyroad towards Afghanistan.


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PostPosted: Mon Nov 12, 2012 1:46 pm 
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Joined: Fri Mar 14, 2008 7:19 pm
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Location: Maastricht
I leave Samarkand at sunset. It's cold but not as cold as the past night. In contrast to yesterday the temperature rises quite fast and at the outskirts of Samarkand I stop at a busstop to shed the wintergear. Just as I start doing this Hanno and Claus pass me. East of Samarkand the fertile valley stretches on, but to the south it rapidly turns into an inhospitable landscape. Not even 10km from the citylimits it looks bizarre. This is the landscape for filming a Star Wars film, some remote rock and sand planet. There's only one colour here, brown. But an immense quantity of shades of it. And even more bizarre, through it leads a magnificent deep black and smooth band of tarmac. And a nice tailwind pushing me on.

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Althoug it's barren I don't get yesterday's feeling of being on a remote expedition, and I feel no urge to scan the sky behind me for vultures expecting me to fall by the roadside. Ocassionally I encounter Hanno and Claus. We all have roughly the same speed. 50Km out of town I reach the regional border. A huge sign of the Samarkand region is on top of a small rise, surrounded by barren landscape. Except for one lonely choyana. Claus and Hanno are sitting here and I immediately join them for the usual tea and bread. Not long after my arrival Rafhat arrives and joins us, followed by Jamil who was the last man on the road. Jamil orders some meat which arrives on a huge plate. Together with it 5 other plates as is the Uzbek custom. You never eat alone here.

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Seeing that the stop will take longer as planned and not be of any use for me as a vegetarian I leave. I prefer to spend my time photographing the scenery. Somewhat later I stop to shoot a superbly scenic village, nearly completely built from mud. And in front of some of the mud houses are shiny new cars. Again a bizarre sight. The nice tarmac continues. On tarmac like this it's a superbly enjoyable ride. Magnificent scenery combined with easy cycling.

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A few hours later the superb tarmac stops. But what we have now is still passable. When I ride through a little hamlet some boys join me on their old rickety bikes. Not much later Jamil arrives who has taken over my escort. Apart from some local cyclists and a few donkeys the traffic is rather low. Ocassionaly a heavily overloaded truck passes or a few cars loaded with all sorts of goods. Local economy looks to be centred around subsistance farming and livestock. But that can never be enough to pay for the shiny new cars. I discover the answer to this further. The richness of the area is deep under the ground. Oil. At regular intervals I see pumps pumping oil out of the ground. So the area is a lot richer as I was thinking. Not that this translates in lot's of amenities. I only see very few shops. And the road quality has degraded to the usual Uzbek level. When I stop at a small roadside shop Claus and Hanno pass again, negotiating the usual selection of potholes. We're back to normal circumstances of this ride, the smooth riding is over.

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No changes in scenery after the shop. A mixture of desert and steppe in all shades of brown. But suddenly the city of Karshi pops up. From remote unpopulated terriotry we're suddenly thrown into the traffic chaos of Asia. Everyone is driving chaotically and making an enormous noise. I see Hanno and Claus who try to talk with some locals. I tell them that I'm planning to stop at a restaurant here. And just at the crossroads where the route turns right I find a promising restaurant. I stop and park my bike clearly visible from the road. While waiting for my food to arrive I see Claus and Hano. I go outside and call them. They join me for dinner. Hanno is very tired and sleeps while his food is served. A stop like this was absolutely needed. And two sitdown stops per day is enough to keep us alive.

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When we leave the restaurant it's getting dark. We head out into the traffic chaos. Just outside of town I stop, I didn't put enough layers on in the restaurant. I tell Hanno and Claus to continue. A few minutes riding in warm clothes later I see them by the roadside. Claus has crashed due to an irresponsible cardriver. He is not too bruised to continue, can't hold his bike. So I call Daniil yet again to report another problem. All organisation cars are already in Bukhara, 150km away. So we try to find a car heading for Bukhara. After all this is the only road between Karshi and Bukhara with no towns of significant size between them.
Last night it was fairly easy to find a suitable car. Now it's a nightmare. Nearly all cars are either to small, full or heading for one of the villages near Karshi. There must have been something going on in Karshi attracting people from a cirle of 10-20km out of town. Above all a few inquisitive locals stick with us, not helping us at all. Claus and Hanno are still a bit shocked from the accident, they can't take care of themselves now. Even telling them that they have to take the reflective jackets off because we look too much like policemen takes time to reach their minds. After a while we conclude that a normal hitchhike is out of the question, there are simply no cars travelling all the way to Bukhara. An elderly man in a minibus is prepared to drive to Bukhara with Claus. But that'll cost money, 100 US$ is quoted, a price also mentioned by the men not helping us at all. So Claus agrees and the cardriver promises to return after he has dropped off his pasengers. Half an hour later he returns. We load the bike in his minivan and exchange phonenumbers. I call Daniil that Claus is on his way and we'll continue soon. This whole incident has cost us nearly 2 hours. 2 hours we don't have. An easy dayride has turned into a tough section as we don't know if we'll reach the Bukhara control before we have to sleep.


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PostPosted: Mon Nov 12, 2012 4:10 pm 
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Our chances of completing the ride have dropped due to the time (and energy) lost sorting out the accident. OK, we'll get the extra time accredited. But at this ride the controls are spaced such that you can do the ride in 300km 'day'rides, sleeping a few hours each night at a control. The next section looks rather desolate on the map, I really doubt if we can find any place at all where we can sleep. And reaching Bukhara before 4-5 am is hardly possible. But still we head on, there's still a chance we can complete this ride. For the first few kilometers the road is still quite ok. But all things change in Kasan. We turn left after the railway crossing and the road returns to the same miserable state als yesterday afternoon. We rattle on. I now know why no-one seemed eager to ferry Claus to Bukhara. Hitching a ride to Karshi and taking the train to Samarkand from there would have been an easier option. For me at least, but Claus doesn't speak any language widely understood here. So he had to find transport to the next control.
Hanno and I plod on. Ocassionally a car passes, maybe once every 30 minutes. We're completely surprised when suddenly one of those cars stop. Claus is in it, although he should have been far up the road already. And it's a completely different car and driver. Aparantly they transferred him and he hardly knows himself what's happening around him. He asks me to note the licence plate numer of the car. While Hanno talks with him I walk back to my bike, switch on my helmet light and rummage a bit in my pannier. I return to the car drinking cola from the bottle, while checking for the car's number without the driver remarking it. After the car has gone I phone Daniil. He asks me to send him the phonenumber of the original driver and the car's number by SMS. I send him the information and we continue again, a bit nervous about what's happening with Claus.

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Hours later we see a lot of light ahead of us. That might be Muborak, the next settlement of any size. But while we still see the lights, we reach no settlement at all. Is this a night-time fata morgana? Only at home I find the answer, there's a huge gas factory near the road, very well illuminated during the night. Finally we reach Muborak, hoping to find a choyana. But all choyana's are locked. The only thing open is a gas station. The attendant doesn't provide any information but the sole client tells us that nothing is open here, but there's a choyana some 10-20km up the road. So we continue along the bumpy road. Earlier as expected the choyana appears, right next to the Post GAI. And it's even open, with a bus standing in front of it. Excellent news, that means that it's open until at least 4am, when the national curfew for bus traffic is lifted. We enter it and immediately order tea. Bread arrives too. But no hot food except meat available. After a while Hanno enquires if there's a possibility to sleep. The owner has already seen that we're very sleepy and tired. He offers a sideroom where we can sleep on chairs. That's more than comfortable enough so we gladly accept the offer.
I'm very satisfied that now finally someone else is also arranging thins. Up until now it was mostly me arranging the stuff for everyone. In fact, it was only Maxim who got things going for me while on the road. We fall asleep nearly immediately. Probably two hours later we awake. The choyana is empty except for the owner sleeping on a couple of chairs. He wakes up. We thank him and prepare to continue. He doesn't want any money for the use of the sideroom. He opens up his little shop to sell me some water and cola. That should do until Bukhara. When we leave I see that even the Post GAI is deserted.
The rattling continues for the rest of the night. We're already near Bukhara when at dawn, relieved that the control is near. Hanno has decided to stay in Bukhara and won't continue. I plan to continue knowing that my chances of finishing the ride ar less than 50%. But for the moment none of us worry, we enjoy the magnficent scenery of the desert dawn. And sometimes we can even enjoy a short stretch of double wide airstrip grade asfalt. The lines on the road here indicate that's indeed a spare airstrip.

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When we enter Kogan we're surprised by an enormous amount of traffic. The local cattle market is held on sunday morning and Uzbek farmers are early risers. We slalom through the cars and cattle and make our way towards the Kogan-Bukhara road. Now I'm in known territory, I was here next week. I lead Hanno straight through the historic centre of Bukhara. Its superb here. The control is even more superb. We stop in a 16th century medressa. This can absolutely rival with the Eskdalemuir monastry at LEL as the most beautiful control I've ever been.

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Jamil is still there, as are Rafhat and Daniil. We park in the courtyard and enjoy a nice meal. After the meal I return to my bike to swap some clothes. An elderly controller is explaining a young guy a lot about Brooks saddles. Their fame has even spread to Uzbekistan. Inside I change my clothes. While changing shorts I see that the old ones are blood-stains. Some chafingspots have grown worse due to the constant rattling and jolting.


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PostPosted: Mon Nov 12, 2012 5:26 pm 
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Joined: Fri Mar 14, 2008 7:19 pm
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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.

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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.

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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.

Image

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.

Ivo


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PostPosted: Mon Nov 12, 2012 6:56 pm 
Retro Guru
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Joined: Thu Jun 23, 2011 11:25 pm
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Location: It's not easy being a dolphin.
I have really enjoyed reading this; a long distance cycling account in that part of the world and equipment choices is interesting.


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PostPosted: Tue Nov 13, 2012 1:52 pm 
Windmilling for a Scotch Egg
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Location: Huddersfield, West Yorkshire
Very enjoyable read, makes me want to do it! Thanks very much.


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