Recently I’ve been sharing what I’ve learnt over the last couple of years of adventuring. As a result, the blog’s readership has never been higher, and it’s great to know that people are finding it useful and entertaining – it motivates me to keep writing.
But if you’ve been a reader for a while, you might be wondering what exactly I’m up to right now, what my plans are for the future, and where the blog is heading. That’s what this post is about.
I arrived in Tehran in July at the end of my Middle East and North Africa expedition. Good times, bad times, I knew I’d had my share, to paraphrase some of Robert Plant’s better-known croonings. I felt lucky to have travelled in such a hospitable part of the world, especially since I’d been alone for six months. I never once found a travelling partner, having only met seven other cyclists, all of whom were heading in the wrong direction!
The solitude had moulded me into a single-minded being. I didn’t fill the empty roads by embarking on elaborate philosophical dialogues with myself, or anything nearly so interesting. No, my remedy for loneliness was to concentrate on the here-and-now. Where’s the next water? What’s for lunch? Why is this stupid song in my head? Or, if I was particularly lucky, Should I try the left or the right side of the track to avoid the biggest bumps and the deepest sand?
Singing helped (well, humming, to be honest, as I don’t listen to much music that has words). It got me through, but I can hardly say I felt a deep sense of ‘one-ness’, a particular contentment with my own company, or anything remotely spiritual. Only dust, wind, heat, sweat, horizons, mountains, clamour, smells, trucks, tea, and – most of all – infinite variations on the theme of Road. I guess what was really happening was that the idea of a choice between success and failure was removed – the only way was forward, often through some difficult conditions, and straying from the path was simply not an option.
Perhaps six months wasn’t long enough to let my mind settle. In any case, I longed for company – someone to bounce thoughts off and share experiences with. This has it’s own challenges, yes, but overall it is simply easier and definitely more fun. My next journey, I decided, would not be a solo one. That thought stayed with me as I returned to Yerevan and began to arrange the wedding.
Tenny and I were married in September. As much as we would love to ride off into the sunset right now, there’s that little annoyance known as ‘bureaucracy’ to deal with first. We’ve had a wedding ceremony, but it has no legal meaning without registration. This process will involve several visits to the British Embassy and numerous ministries, several hundred dollars, and at least another two-and-a-half months of waiting – very possibly more.
That will take us up to January, at which time the country will be in the full grip of a south-west Siberian winter. With night-time temperatures as low as -30°C, you’ll forgive us for not leaving immediately, and instead waiting until spring!
Once our marriage is legalised, I can apply for a permanent residency here in Armenia. Once that’s been done (another few weeks), I’m eligible for dual citizenship here in the Republic of Armenia. Why on earth would I want that, you may wonder? Well, an Armenia passport would give me unlimited visa-free access to Russia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekhistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Mongolia, as well as short-term visa-free access to Iran. If you’ve ever tried to travel in any of these countries, you can understand why this might come in handy for someone planning to cycle across Central Asia!
With a harsh winter waiting in the wings, I’m planning a few things to fill my time here. The area offers great potential for mountain-bike adventures like the one I had in Georgia with Andy recently, and there are more on the way. Yerevan’s not an ideal city to live in, but that’s for another article.
Earning money is a priority – there will be two mouths to feed next year. I’ve traditionally made a living as a freelance web developer, which involves weird computery acronyms like HTML, CSS, PHP, SQL and ASP.NET, and I’ve become something of a WordPress expert (WordPress is the software on which I’ve built this blog), so I see no reason not to continue doing this for a few months.
(So contact me if you want to hire a fastidious, determined, professional web-person who cycles a lot, or if you know someone who might – you know the money’s not going towards the local boozer, car repayments, or – even worse – into the hands of investment bankers!)
No winter in the mountains would be complete without a good expedition. I’m playing with a few ideas, all of which involve wilderness, stupidly-low temperatures, sleeping out, human-powered transport, and tons of instant noodles; all with a make-do no-budget philosophy. Any more concrete ideas are welcome, given the area I’m living in.
A bit of company would be good as well, although I know that people are hardly going to leap for their deep-winter kit and book a flight based on the horrendous sales-pitch above, so I might end up alone again. Oh well…
The coming of 2010 marks a decade since the world mistakenly celebrated what they thought was the millenium, despite the fact that only 1999 years had elapsed since the start of 1AD.
(Incidentally, I was recently wondering if the people who were expecting the Apocalypse to occur at this time had considered another conundrum – since the millenium ‘happened’ at 40 different times due to the 40 different time-zones that exist around the world, would the world have ended one time-zone at a time, like somebody eating a planet-sized Terry’s Chocolate Orange really slowly?)
Once the ice starts melting in March next year, Tenny and I are planning to begin travelling. It’s taken us a long time to get to the stage where we can sit down and start poring over maps and travelogues, safe in the knowledge that issues of bikes and equipment, of family expectations and of our long-term future have been reconciled.
Fresh cultural experience and the freedom of independent travel is what we’re after. We’ll be crawling our way East across the surface of the globe, to sumptuous Georgia, across the crude oil and caviar haven of the Caspian Sea, across the Central Asian steppe and up through the peripheries of the highest mountain range on Earth.
Countless cyclists have travelled these classic roads, some following the ancient silk and spice trading network that encompasses even Armenia in its tangled web of East-West corridors, others forced to rocket through the region by soul-destroying post-Soviet visa limitations, and some simply getting up every morning and having another unique adventure in a day, drawn gradually onwards by the vague and distant fantasy of the mystical Far East.
The website is long due for an overhaul, and I’d really appreciate hearing what works for you here and what doesn’t. Tell me what you always look at, and what you never look at. It’ll take two minutes to leave a comment below.
As well as a redesign, I’m considering separating the expedition journal from the recent tutorial-style content, moving the latter elsewhere and bringing in some more writers and contributing editors to create a UK-based cycle-touring e-zine. It would complement rather than compete with the many US-based offerings out there, giving UK/European cycle tourists a hub to find out about expeditions, destinations, equipment and – of course – the philosophy of bike travel.
I’ve got plenty to write about, and I know there are many keen and experienced cycle-adventuring writers out there. If you’re one of them and you want to get involved, get in touch here by email, drop me a Twitter message, or leave a comment right now.