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More Stories From The Silk Road With Tour d’Afrique

Monday, September 10, 2012 13:10
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Back in July I posted a wonderful trip report from cycling tour operator Tour d’Afrique’s amazing Silk Route ride. For those who aren’t aware of this tour, it is a 12,000km (7456 mile), 129-day journey from Shanghai, China to Istanbul, Turkey by bike. At the time of the original post, the riders were in the early stages of their adventure, but now they are nearing the end and late last week I received another update from the road. This time that report comes courtesy of Comms Director Catharina Robbertz who had this to say:

Expecting the unexpectedThere’s always a certain level of risk involved when travelling and when you’re on the road for more than four months you have to be prepared for anything. This is exactly what cyclists taking part in the Silk Route, organised by Tour d’Afrique, have learnt since taking off on a 12000km journey from Shanghai in May. 

For the most part the challenges facing us could have been predicted beforehand. The excruciating heat in the Taklimakan Desert and the frigid temperatures on the Pamir Highway. The headwinds and tough climbing on unpaved passes to altitudes of 4600m. The monotony of food as we ventured into desolate areas inhabited only by a few people, donkeys, horses, marmots and Marco Polo goats. All of these were expected and could be prepared for. But sometimes something happens that cannot be predicted or prepared for and threatens to derail a beautiful journey. 

As we made our way from the highest point of our journey to the city of Khorog we were all relieved to have survived one of the toughest sections of the tour and looking forward to a much-needed rest day. The Pamir Highway had been beautiful and certainly a highlight for many of us but the promise of warmer temperatures and a clean hotel was the cause of some excitement for most of us.

 However, as we woke to the sound of gunfire on the morning we were supposed to leave it became apparent very quickly that we were stuck in a city under siege. The unexpected had happened and a seemingly insignificant act of murder two days before had turned into war. Government troops were streaming into the city while locals had set up road blocks to keep them out and in the first day of fighting 42 people were killed (according to news reports). 

The next morning a cease fire was agreed upon between the two fighting parties but there was still no way for us to get out of the city as roads were still blockaded and snipers were still lurking in the mountains. After days of uncertainty our group of cyclists as well as other foreigners were evacuated from the city by a convoy of vehicles from EU embassies based in the capital of Tajikistan, Dushanbe. Riding the 600km from Khorog to Dushanbe took two days on extremely bad roads and upon arrival we were not only happy to be in safer territories but also looking forward to getting back on our bicycles and continuing our journey in the way we set out to do originally. 

Looking back adding a war-torn city to our route did not detract from our journey. In several ways it contributed to what is already a memorable adventure. We have experienced so much of what the Silk Road traders experienced in the past and being caught in a conflict further contributes to an authentic Silk Road journey. Furthermore, the attitude of the people of Central Asia and in particular Khorog, where they were just as worried about the well-being of perfect strangers in their midst as they were about their loved-ones who were in much greater danger than we were, was particularly humbling.
The stories we will be able to tell when we get back home will speak not only of beautiful scenery, interesting food and nice hotels, but of challenges overcome, expecting the unexpected and arriving at our final destination stronger than we were before. That’s what adventure is all about.

As I said in the first Silk Route report, this seems like such an amazing way to travel through these countries and a fantastic adventure to say the least. Tour dAfrique puts together some great cycling expeditions all over the planet and anyone of their journeys would be a trip of a lifetime. If you’re looking for  a travel experience that is unlike anything else, I would HIGHLY recommend you give their site a look. And if you missed the Silk Route ride this year, no worries. There is plenty of time to start planning for 2013!

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