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If cycling is your thing, there’s no shortage of luxury cycling trips in Europe, The United States and Canada. France, Spain and Italy all offer beautiful roads, heart pumping climbs and wonderful food and drinks. But, what if you crave a cycling trip with a bit more adventure? What if you want to ride your bike somewhere most people haven’t gone such as Mongolia or Iran? What if you want to cross countries and civilizations and time zones while doing it, experiencing the world in unique and special ways (and getting super fit while doing it)?
You could grab a friend and decide to embark on your own self-guided trip with everything you could possibly ever need for three to five months. Or, you could participate in a supported long-distance cycling adventure where the routes are planned, the majority of the meals are provided, vans carry your luggage daily and there’s a bike mechanic on hand to assist with any issues your bike might encounter on the way.
Canadian based TDA Global Cycling is pretty much the only company that offers super long distance cycling trips across the globe. By super long distance, I mean 7,456 miles or more. One of the nice things about their trips is that you can sign up for as many or as few sections as you like. I’m about two weeks away from the end of a three- month stint on the Silk Route Tour. The full tour spans from Beijing to Istanbul, but I’m doing Mongolia to Ashgabat, Turkmenistan, which is essentially, the Iranian Border.
After almost three months on the road, I’ve learned a thing or two about long distance cycling trips.
The first is that no matter how prepared you think you are for riding your bike day after day from anywhere between 28 miles to 90 miles; you’re not. A trip like this one will challenge you in all sorts of ways, physically and mentally.
I’ve never experienced headwind like we saw in Mongolia and Kazakhstan, headwind that was close to 30 miles per hour, which continued for days, and never, ever stopped.
And then there was the sand, soft and deep, almost un-ride-able or, if not soft, then mile after mile of bumpy terrain that threatened to dislodge you from your bike. If there wasn’t sand, then there was gravel and rock, steep climbs with even steeper descents, huge boulders and sudden, gaping holes that would appear from nowhere.
Cycling across the vast plains of Mongolia, the steppes of Kazakhstan, the mountains of Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, and the heat of Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, is not at all for the faint hearted. It’s an experience that will push you to do more than you ever thought you were capable of, challenge you to reach deep down inside to that place you always imagined you might be invincible, and to somehow, miraculously, come out on the other side fully intact.
There are all kinds of ways to try and get ready for an epic trip such as this one but, if I had to boil it all down into two single pieces of advice, they’d be as follows.
First, make sure you have a sturdy bicycle capable of traversing all kinds of terrain. I, personally, am a fan of titanium bikes, but steel is an excellent choice as well. Tires are of the upmost importance. Almost everyone on my trip is running Marathon Schwalbe’s which, by far, allow for the least number of punctures. Also make sure that your gearing is low enough to accommodate climbing double-digit grades. And, definitely, make sure your saddle is a comfortable one for you, one you can be on for six plus hours a day. The biggest complaints, by a million, are ones involving saddle sores.
As always, of course, one of the best things you can do before embarking on a trip such as this one is to have a nice, long, consultation with your local bike shop. They will be able to solve a lot of your issues before you even leave home.
Secondly, remember that no matter how much you plan and imagine, nothing will ever truly prepare you for what it feels like to cycle through parts of the world most people don’t even know exist (let alone where to locate them on a map). Nor will you ever completely be able to understand what it’s like to pedal through the biggest, emptiest landscape you’ve ever seen with only sheep for company, until you’ve done it.
One of the best things about a trip like this (after all the cycling related highlights of course) is the unfalteringly and genuine hospitality of the people you meet along the way. You’ll meet Mongolian nomads who will offer you shelter from the sun inside their gers, Kazakhs and Kyrgyz who’ll ply you with fermented mare’s milk and vodka, Tajiks who will invite you into their cool, comfortable yurts and serve you tea and biscuits in the afternoon, and Uzbeks who will continually tell you how welcome you are in their country. All of this together will help restore your faith in humanity which is, I suppose, one of the reasons for embarking on such a journey in the first place: to make the world seem just a little smaller, if only for a little while.
If epic adventure and experiences unlike you’ve ever had before are what you’re seeking, definitely consider one of TDA’s long distance cycling tours. It’ll be full of the kind of experiences that you’ll tell stories about for the rest of your life. ■