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Obstacles between Shanghai and Baku

One, the Cold

It was frigid today. It was the kind of cold that forced nothing but profanity out of my mouth. It was that cold. It’s really not noticeable from the photos, as the wind cannot be seen in the desert field. The wind directly gushing into my face was so severe that even a downhill ride couldn’t increase speed, and it required extra-hard pedaling effort. Seriously. As Jianan said, the first 20 kilometers were all uphill. I repeated “this is hard…” to myself, and thought again, “well, this isn’t too hard, but it IS HARD.” Really. It was doable, but it was very difficult to do.

September abruptly brought autumn. It was hot. Then, suddenly, it was fiercely cold, to the point where we were frightened. I, the one who had always feared the sun, was so desperate for the sun today. No, I felt that I wouldn’t be able to ride without the presence of the 12-2pm sun. The strength of the wind dulled the power of the sun, and I thought of the nomads of the past – the nomads who grew strong on these frigid fields. I felt that I could overcome this too, as God only presented me with trials that I can endure. After that, it was an uphill. It was so, so hard. I rode and rode and saw no end. Riding uphill in gears 1 and 3…was a very exhausting battle. Everything I ate this morning was instantly digested from this. I’m unsure as to what it was –I could’ve been lazy or tired – but I felt that I had to stop mid-uphill and have an apple. As soon as I had the apple, I was reenergized. I went up the rest of the hill and found the strength to ride up the following hill in gears 2 and 5 at high speed.

At last, after all the uphill rides, we reached the point which seemed to be the summit of all those mountains, and I felt a great sense of emancipation. This is really the apex – the wind said. Looking down at the countless golden fields from the highest peak, I felt that I was at the center of the universe – even though it obviously wasn’t. The center of the world must look like this. I mean, the summit reached at the end of such struggle must be the center of the world.

This region through which we’re currently riding is a place that I had always imagined a bicycle journey would take me. Like, the picture of my journey I had imagined before starting this trip. A place where only deserted, golden fields exist, and me on a road in between. Cars that travel rapidly past us, a place of nothingness where we would have to ride 60 kilometers for 4-5 hours just to get to the next convenient store. A place in which we would have to travel more than 100 kilometers to get to what we’d call a village. And the village would have no hotel. That place, where stores are so scarce that we’d have to feed ourselves only with military food ration packed in our bags. We rode diligently through these regions. Our view was a continuation of high-rising hills approximately 3 kilometers ahead. I continued to ride wishing that a house would appear, that a restaurant would appear. Riding uphill wasn’t my strong suit, but on a path that included downhills, I was able to maintain high speeds going uphill. I rode 500 meters ahead of Jianan. We finally arrived at a village.

Two, Finding a Home

The following is how I find a place to sleep at sunset. This is a very small village, and there was no hotel. For a small village, everyone was well off and had firm iron doors and high fences installed at the front of their houses – giving off an impression that although they were comfortable, they were always on the lookout for thieves.

First, Jianan went to a cafe (cafes refer to restaurants in Kazakhstan) on Google Maps to ask for housing.

However, Jianan came back with a refusal. His words implied that it would be better if I do it, and so I went. I first replaced my sunglasses with my glasses, as keeping the sunglasses on isn’t the way to go when making such requests. I had to communicate with my eyes.

One. I went to the supermarket. Of the three women working at there, I eyed the one that looked the friendliest and showed her this text. The woman said she’ll ask. She asked the other two women, and both shook their heads.

Two. Then I went to the junk dealer. I showed the text to the two men there, and they told me to go to a town 50 kilometers away from there.

“I already rode 80 kilometers today. I cannot travel anymore.”

They shook their heads. I rode my bicycle 100 meters forward and found another cafe.

Three. I showed the message text to three young women at the cafe. The oldest woman shook her head and advised me to go to a town 30 kilometers away.

Must we camp outside, on the street? The temperature at night was 8°C and we could catch a cold. The Kolon tent instruction manual states that the tent is meant for temperatures around 20°C. I became more and more desperate.

Four. I decided to ride my bike to a residence. I found a house directly across, where an old man had just opened his iron door. I approached him and told him our situation, and he called over his daughter who had just come home and told me to speak to her in English. She instructed us to go to a hotel 20 kilometers away. I got Jianan continue on with this conversation, while I went to another house to make the same request.

Five. I rode my bike to another residence. I showed the text to an old woman who was cleaning the front of her house, but she couldn’t not read Russian. I went and showed the text to the woman in the house across, and she, too, shook her head.

Three, the Sun

There were dead animals on the roads. Sparrows, dogs, those adorable white raccoons, brown-feathered hawks, rare birds of ocean-colored feathers – all blood-drenched on the roads. I became accustomed to seeing these animal carcasses through frequent encounters during this journey, but I was more brokenhearted because of the rare animal breeds belonging only to Kazakhstan.

When I arrived at the cafe at 12 o’clock, we had traveled 91 kilometers. I had a cucumber there, and I pushed myself onto the road again. The uphill battle began from then onward, and I simply could not manage to speed up. The sun was a problem, but the fierce headwind from the west was disabling me from moving forward. I rode up the hill at a speed of a turtle. 35 minutes later, I found a shade and a house that could save me. There was a restaurant sign, but up close, the place was deserted. Now 97 kilometers. I was disappointed at the result of my effort. I was sitting and saw my bicycle get knocked over by the wind. I left my bike as is until I noticed that my water was leaking. I set my bike up again and observed the cars on the road.

The cars disappeared one by one, and I thought there may be a downhill and maybe a restaurant down the road. As it turned out, there was no downhill, but only uphill after uphill. The cars weren’t disappearing into a descending road; instead, their sizes were decreasing into the distance. The road seemed endless and the sun intensified. I felt as if I needed to find a place to stay a longer time. My speed was slow, and my surroundings were deserted fields, with no forestry. Wanting a shade meant that I would have to lie down in those dry fields of dust in between plant bushes. In the distance, a house appeared, but it was too far away. As I desperately sought a restaurant, or even a shade, I spotted a tree and what seemed to be a freight container. As I got close, I learned that it was in fact a restaurant, and my life was saved. I parked my bike in front of the restaurant. 102 kilometers.

Upon entering the restaurant, I ordered a soup and tea off the big menu with photos on the wall. Then, I lied down on the rug on the floor. I had a headache and couldn’t help but think that I may have been reckless. I had done something that I prohibited myself from doing – riding through 12-2 pm. I wanted to reach the destination as soon as possible and to get as far ahead as possible of Jianan. I did so even with the sun shooting directly down on me. I can do it – I can do it. It is now September, and the wind helps me though this, and I can do it. I pulled myself out of the shades that appeared every 30 minutes and pushed myself onto the road once again.

After my stop at the restaurant, I left at 5 o’clock. The wind and a big truck added onto my struggles – I wobbled on my bike every time a big truck passed me. The wind produced by the truck, together with natural wind, was quite threatening.

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