It’s finally here! The *unofficial official trailer* for the upcoming Cycling Silk film is ripe and ready for viewing. A HUGE thank you to Raphael Lopoukhine for all the time and talent he dedicated to this project.
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Hard to believe, but the Cycling Silk expedition ended a year ago today, when we flew home to Canada to begin other adventures. To commemorate the end of this particular road, we recently put together a random, purely-for-kicks highlights reel of sorts which condenses ten months, ten countries, and ten thousand kilometers of adventure into roughly ten minutes of footage.
This is a partial and hodgepodge portrayal of the trip, to be sure, and it doesn’t even touch on the wild borderlands dimension of what we were up to on the Silk Road–that will come later! And we’ll be releasing an actual trailer in a matter of weeks. For now, though, we just wanted to share the wild joy of riding the open road with you, as thanks for cheering us on along the way. Wishing you all happy trails…
Cycling Silk was recently featured on the CBC and National Geographic radio! If you missed the broadcasts, you can now listen to audio clips of the interviews at the links below, excerpted from the full shows for your convenience:
National Geographic Weekend radio talks to Kate Harris of Cycling Silk (January 9, 2012)
CBC Radio features Cycling Silk on BC Almanac (November 29, 2011)
Lots more excitement in the works for Cycling Silk….more news soon!
Friend, we are traveling together. Throw off your tiredness. Let me show you one tiny spot of the beauty that can’t be spoken. I’m like an ant that’s gotten into the granary, ludicrously happy, and trying to lug out a grain that’s way too big.
Ten months ago, in January, Mel and I lurched off the European shore of Istanbul, Turkey with overburdened bikes and quaking legs. Just a few days ago, in late October, we pedaled into Leh, a small city barnacled onto the Himalayan mountains in northern India. In the months between, we consumed roughly 10,000 packs of instant noodles to fuel nearly 10,000 km of riding, polishing our souls on roads rough as pumice on this pilgrimage to the Silk Road’s wildest mountains and deserts.
We met impaling rains and snows on Turkey’s Black Sea coast; shivered through the Caucausian mountains of eastern Turkey and Georgia; thawed out painfully in Azerbaijan; biked into the beating hot heart of the Ustyurt Plateau straddling Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, then on to the fabled Silk Road cities of Khiva, Bukhara, and Samarkand; rode into the relief, in all senses, of the Pamir mountains, as we traced the fluid Tajikistan-Afghanistan border for nearly a thousand kilometers; dashed across Kyrgyzstan’s swaying green steppes to reach the blazing rock of Xinjiang in western China; climbed up and over the forbidding, forbidden Tibetan Plateau, a stealth mission that sets our hearts racing just remembering it; and plunged down into steamy Kathmandu, then across Nepal’s plains and tiger-prowled jungles.
Then finally, drawn back to mountains like moths to flame, we looped north through India to finish on the crampon edge of the Himalayan winter in Ladakh. An expedition entirely self-supported, to the chagrin of our legs and lungs, and, barring a few unavoidable train and bus rides due to illness, safety concerns, or visa constraints, a journey entirely self-propelled, with no camel caravan in sight. Take that, Marco Polo!
Apologies for the dearth of blog updates, but we’ve only had sporadic and flaky access to internet for the past few months. Stay tuned for more evocative renderings of our escapades in Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, China, Tibet, and now Nepal – I’ll be writing a book once I get home – but for now here’s a briefing. (Note: If you’re really hungry for news, photos, and GPS updates in the interim, all the action is on our Facebook page – you don’t need to be a Facebook member to check it out!)
So in short: After nearly two glorious months in Tajikistan, biking the Tajik-Afghan border and exploring the potential for transboundary cooperation in the Pamir mountain borderlands, we spent roughly 36 hours transiting through Kyrgyzstan before riding into Xinjiang in western China, where all our mad Silk Road biking adventures began five years ago. Originally we intended to ride from Kashgar into western Tibet, retracing our route from 2006, and exploring the Mount Kailash transboundary protected area – our fourth case study of the expedition. But then we learned the western road into Tibet was closed for construction. Bummer.
There are places you can get to by road, and there are places you can only get to by being on the road, a state of mind you can carry, with concerted effort, to almost any context. Even a train swaying drunkenly on its tracks across Kazakhstan as men sway drunkenly through it, past aisles of people stacked in sleeper bunks like produce on shelves – some fresh, some overripe, some way past expiration.
After nearly a month of chasing down elusive visas, a month of spinning wheels that weren’t our bikes, we definitely belonged in the latter category. Getting sanction to cycle the Silk Road through Central Asia is the modern equivalent of the Great Game, a kind of diplomatic chess where enigmatic rules change on a dictator’s whim, where checkmate is risked with every move to a new country, especially a new ‘Stan. With Cycling Silk we couldn’t apply for visas ahead of time, since at our pace, on a trip this long, they’d expire before we arrived. So we’ve had to snag them along the way, which at times has meant intense frustration and desperate tactics to get where we’ve wanted to go. And there’s nothing like banging your head on borders to learn how inpenetrable these arbitrary barriers can be.
In the world of strict plans and fixed agendas, detours are just distractions. But on the Cycling Silk expedition, detours often prove the destination – and not just because we frequently get lost. So when KuzeyDoğa, an award-winning Turkish NGO, invited us to explore their biodiversity conservation projects in the borderlands of eastern Turkey – wooing us with wild animals, wide open spaces, and a visit to a Turkish bath – we knew it would be worth diverting from our intended route for a visit. After all, we hadn’t showered in a week.
So we steered south, away from the Black Sea, and began climbing onto the Kars Plateau, swapping heavy rain for heavier snow along the way. The roads grew so slick with ice we had to work twice as hard to go half as fast. Sometimes we couldn’t bike at all. Climbing a pass during a blizzard, the snow not so much falling as firing, flakes sharp and aimed as arrows, the police stopped us and made us cross the pass in a truck (driven by Osman and Mustafa, of course.) At least the heated cab offered respite from the snot-crackling, lung-stiffening cold. Surviving on the bike in such conditions required cartwheel breaks to centrifugally force blood back into extremities. While I exulted in this suddenly polar world, cryophile that I am, Mel may never join me on another winter adventure again, even if she someday thaws out from this one.
If a picture is worth a thousand words, a video is worth more than two thousand miles. We’re super stoked to share this 4-minute movie, a sneak preview of our adventures so far exploring conservation across borders along the Silk Road – by bike. This trailer features Turkey, Georgia and Azerbaijan, our first three countries out of ten total on this year-long journey to India, including Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, China, Nepal, and India. Eventually this will turn into a full-length documentary about how borders make and break the world, a film marrying adventure with environmental advocacy to encourage people to think beyond borders.
If you’re enjoying this wild ride vicariously, please consider donating to our Scurvy Avoidance Fund. We are so grateful for – and very dependent on – your generous contributions. Thanks to all you wonderful souls who have donated thus far. Your support goes toward food and visas, both crucial for crossing borders on a bike, and also toward the occasional load of laundry, crucial for looking somewhat respectable while interviewing important people.
The South Caucasus photoset is now entirely up on Flickr, complete with captions. Check out our shots of sublime biking, wildlife, and wilderness in eastern Turkey, Georgia and Azerbaijan. These are also featured on our Facebook expedition page, and we love seeing your comments!
By sky, stone, and creatures, I am thoroughly,
irrevocably, and delightfully dwarfed.-Ellen Meloy
Turkey, at least the thin strip of the country we’ve been biking, is made like its tea only served cold: steep, intensely dark and concentrated, with a lot of water poured on top. The Turkish adventure began with an epicurean week in Istanbul with two new and now dear friends, Diarmuid and Berna O’Donovan, who generously hosted us during our stay in the city. After bulking up on baklava and other delicious Turkish fare, we packed the bikes, boarded a ferry in Europe, then set sail for Asian shores. The ferry let us off near the outlet of the Bosphorus strait into the Black Sea, and from there the grind against gravity began.
If I were Tomaž Šalamun,I’d ride wild on an invisible bicycle,
like a metaphor sprung from a poem’s cage,
still not certain of its freedom,
but making do with movement, wind and sun.
After a week of meetings and meals in Istanbul – where we’ve been bulking up on baklava and other delicious Turkish fare thanks to the generosity of our amazing hosts, Diarmuid and Berna – tomorrow Mel and I hop on our bikes and begin living the Silk Road dream, starting with biking bootcamp along the Black Sea coast through Turkey and Georgia. We’ll update this blog as often as internet access permits, but to kick things off, I wanted to give you an overview of the expedition: why the Silk Road? why bikes? why conservation across borders?
Yep, Cycling Silk is now on Facebook. Follow this page to get all the behind-the-scenes updates on the adventure, including snapshots of the building process behind our Seven Cycles custom titanium touring bikes, and embarrassing childhood photos charting the long, dorky, intrepid friendship of Kate and Mel. Only four days until we fly to Istanbul, Turkey!