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In this section we answer frequently asked questions about Cycling Silk 2011 and previous adventures. If you want to ask a question that isn’t addressed below, shoot us an email.

Also, Seven Cycles interviewed us FAQ-style for an article called The Things They Carried: What to Pack for a Year-Long Silk Road Expedition.

Q: How many km was the entire trip?

The trip covered 10,000km by bike, and about 1000 km  more by other means of transportation (when biking proved impossible either because of illness or visa timing constraints).

Q: How many hours or kilometers a day did you ride?

Mileage varied drastically depending on the day’s terrain, weather, road conditions – and our will to go on. We generally aimed to log 4-6 hours in the saddle rather than pushing for a specific daily mileage target.

Q: How did you train for the trip?

The two of us keep fairly fit in general, but riding a loaded touring bike all day, every day for months on end demands a superlative level of fitness, one that’s tough to attain unless you ride a loaded touring bike all day, every day, for months on end. Before our 2006 trip, neither of us had much time to train on bikes and as a result, our hearts, lungs, and other muscles faced a harsh breaking-in period. This time we’ll plan to take it easier at first, working up to longer miles gradually. We’re also secretly kind of hoping our custom titanium bikes from Seven Cycles will be (surprise!) motorized….

Q: How did you budget for the trip?

There are a lot of unknowns when it comes to planning for a year long expedition, such as: the number of nights we’ll spend in civilization versus out of it; the cost of hiring donkeys to haul our gear when we get lazy; the expenses involved in filling the dowries our potential future Tajik husbands expect…the list goes on. Here’s hoping we having enough pennies, rupees, rubles, and smiles to see us through the year. If you’re feeling generous, you could always help ensure we don’t go hungry

Q: What gear did you take on the trip?

Photos and gear list coming soon.

Q: How did you go about getting visas for this trip?

The visa application experience is more painful then eating a gurgling vat of boiled sheep organs. Not only is it impossible to locate clear guidelines for applying for visas, but each involves a different list of requirements, such as letters of invitation, hotel receipts, flight plans, unflattering passport photos, evidence of life savings (savings? what?), your first-born child and your soul. We have enlisted Stantours ( to help navigate this nightmare. We are applying for most visas en route since many embassies only issue visas for up to two months before you arrive, which won’t work for this year-long journey.

Q: Do you ever get saddle sores?

Let us put it this way: we naively cycled across the USA in 2005 wearing underwear beneath our cycling shorts. We won’t go into details, but we will say this: we had gaping wounds. Only after we had finished our cross-country trip did a cyclist friend point out our grave mistake: NEVER CYCLE WITH UNDERWEAR. But even ditching the underwear isn’t a silver bullet to a soreless ride: in Lance Armstrong’s Its Not About the Bike, he admits that he still suffers from saddle sores.

Q: How much food and water do you carry?

On our last trip we carried bikeloads of grub since we never knew when we would next find food. There were also select items we simply could not survive without, namely peanut butter, oatmeal, and Nescafe. Since we could only find these items once in a long while – maybe every few months in a big city – we hauled huge quantities of them in reserve. We generally carry dry staples and load up on fresh foods whenever possible. We also carried a combined 10 litres of water unless we knew we would come across a drinkable river, lake, or puddle.

Here is a picture of the food we carried into Tibet (this stash lasted 2 people 3 weeks).

Q: How do you communicate with people in a place where you don’t speak the language?

Surviving in a place where you don’t speak the language requires patience, creativity and complete obliviousness to just how ridiculous you look making hand gestures. Most often we made use of pictures, video and maps in attempts to communicate our story. We then filled in the blanks with a butchery of the Chinese language and many pathetic pantomime performances of, say, the fur trade in northern Canada. For other hilarious examples see Episode 1 of our Cycling Silk ’06 trip.

Q: How do you maintain a certain level of sanity when you are off on your own for such long periods of time?

Sanity? It hasn’t ever crossed our minds that we could attempt to hold on to that! More truthfully, our level of sanity only deepens as the landscape expands, the air thins, and our lives are pared down to bare necessities: bike, eat, sleep, wander, wonder, dream. The nomadic lifestyle of a long distance cyclist might sound crazy, but how sane is it to spend your days slaving at an office 9-5/365? Call us nuts, but give us life on the open road over a cubicle any day. (No offence to any happy cubicle dwellers out there – to each their own.)

That said, we do seek occasional reprieve from the sometimes monotonous rhythms of the road. For distraction and entertainment, we’ll read books, listen to music, compose songs, and plot schemes for world domination.

Q: What do you miss most while on the road?

Besides family, friends, and pets, Kate tends to miss pesto, chocolate, red wine and a vast library of books, while Mel usually pines for hot showers, down pillows, and her vegetarian diet.

Q: How many flat tires did you have? Were there a lot of other bike maintenance issues?

Amazingly, in China, we each had two flat tires over four months of cycling. For this we credit sheer luck. As far as other bike maintenance issues, we have experienced broken spokes, broken racks, broken gear shifters, braze-ons that snapped off, shredded tires – the list goes on. Fortunately none of these were showstopper problems, handily remedied with creative application of duct tape, wire, twine, and spit.


Walking home from the waterfall, I argue with myself. Isn’t one’s true abode any wild place, any fire storm or night of discontent?
–Gretel Ehrlich, Solace of Open Spaces

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