In January 2011, Mel and I lurched off the European shore of Istanbul, Turkey with overburdened bikes and quaking legs. Ten months later, in late October 2011, 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!