For the last 4 months I've cycled roughly 8,000km from one inhospitable environment to another, from desert to mountains, back to desert and back to mountains. I cycled across the Kyzylkum desert, the Pamir mountains, the Taklamakan desert and the Tibetan Plateau crossing four countries: Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and China. The lowest altitude was -28m (-92 ft) below sea level to one of the highest roads in the world at 4655m (15,272 ft) above. The hottest temperature was 45°C in the shade in the Kyzylkum desert. The coldest was -21°C on the Tibetan Plateau. I learnt a lot during this time. People across all of these countries have been incredibly kind and hospitable. Everywhere I've gone people have bought things for me, given me food for free, let me sleep in their homes or just offered some company. I learnt the human body is remarkably adaptable to external conditions. It can learn how to stay hydrated in extreme heat and somehow stay warm in extreme cold. It can survive for a while on minimal nutrition, or with unfamiliar food. It can adapt to altitude and regulate oxygen when levels are almost half of normal. And it can cycle a bike for ages! The important thing is to take it easy and give yourself time to adjust. The human mind is more remarkable. I certainly found my breaking point during these months. Whilst cycling across the lonely, straight and barron roads across the high-altitude desert of the Tibetan Plateau, I broke down. I felt on the verge of insanity. The cycling was so tedious and there was nothing to amuse myself for days on end. Before I did all this, the whole trip seemed almost unthinkable and extremely difficult. But many things seem that way until they're done. If you can really visualise yourself getting through things, you can do it. For me, daydreaming is the first step. That's how I started. Little by little you accumulate knowledge and form a rough idea of what to expect. Until before you know it, you are there living your dreams. I've not done anything remarkable. I've not broken any records. Just imagined something and tried to live it. The reality is far more amazing than I imagined. Start dreaming! 😊
When everything is covered in snow except the road that's ok with me 😊
Can you see the fourth girl? 😃 Tibetan people are so cheery 😊
The coldest I slept on the Tibetan Plateau was -21°C. It was a very interesting experience. It was so cold that the moisture from my breath froze to every surface inside my tent, and ice would occasionally fall onto my face during the night. I have absolutely no specialist mountaineering or cold weather equipment, so surviving in such cold requires many layers as you can imagine. I slept wearing 2 hats, a wool top, a thin jumper, a hoodie, a body warmer, a thin waterproof jacket, a huge jacket I bought in Tajikistan for 8€ second hand, a pair of long johns, 2 pairs of trousers, a buff, scarf and 5 pairs of socks. I also boiled up some snow and put that in a plastic bottle to keep some heat during the night. I slept in a sleeping bag rated at 10°C, which I put inside my pyjama party sleeping bag, which I've been travelling with since 2012, and I think doesn't even have a rating. And inside that I put a fluffy liner which I bought in China for about 8€. As you can imagine being inside all these layers is very difficult to move, which is a challenging aspect of sleeping outside, not so much the cold. Most of the time I was actually pretty warm. But the most challenging of all is living within a one-metre radius, inside my sleeping bags, for about 14 hours non-stop each night. It is too cold and dark to do anything else. I eat breakfast and dinner motionless in my tent. I try to read but usually I just sleep for ages! Even though it's difficult, I'll certainly miss these chilly days!
On the roof of the world! Snowy and cold but worth the long slog uphill for these views. Get to the top, Tibetan guys chanting and dancing, their voices echoing over the mountain tops, and throwing paper prayers into the sky!
A bit naive of me to think I could only find Tibetans in the region the Chinese government calls Tibet. More than 55% of Tibetans live outside the autonomous zone (autonomous here means strictly monitored by the Chinese government). So all the people that dream of cycling in Tibet but feel they can't because of permits or whatever, you can go. Tibetans don't care about borders, for them they don't exist and never have. Although most don't want to travel, the people I spoke with couldn't understand how Chinese people are able to go abroad yet they cannot. They are forced to be Chinese and yet can't get a passport.
Two days cycling (and pushing) uphill in the snow to a village called Lancai on the Tibetan Plateau. It's about 3,300m (11,000ft) above sea level and very isolated, especially in winter. Though when I got there I discovered the Chinese had installed huge power lines, built a school and a hospital! Bizarre to have such a modern hub of life so tucked away. The whole village was Tibetan. Not a sole could read Chinese never mind English. Only the kids could read the Chinese translations on my phone. The people were very friendly and invited me to various places to eat and keep warm. As I cycled further up the mountains I was passed by many kids on the backs of scooters. Somehow not falling off in the snow, their parents driving them back from the school to their homes spread around the mountains.
These guys woke me up from my first night camping in the snow. They invited me to their little work house nearby and made me a hot sandwich! The hardest thing about camping in the snow is that everything looks flat and white, like perfect camp spots everywhere. Except when you get there it's all rocks. Luckily I found a grassy spot by following some goat tracks. Goats know best!
It's getting pretty damn cold up here on the Tibetan Plateau! Daytime temperatures of -4°C and down to -20°C at night. Add to that the slippy snow which never melts, the ice on the road, the remoteness, and over 3,500m of elevation. It's a tough ride but somehow totally enjoyable! 😀