Monday, July 10, 2006

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Sunday, July 09, 2006

*** TRADUIRE en Francais ***

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Saturday, July 08, 2006

EQUIPMENT

IMG_5528


CAMPING GEAR

Item

Brand

Model

Tent

Mountain Hardwear

Room with a View

Sleeping Mats

Thermarest

¾ length Ultralight for A

¾ length Guide Light for J

Sleeping Bags

Mountain Hardwear

Quantum range down with Conduit waterproof outer: Universe SL (-18°C) and Galaxy SL (-9°C)

Sleeping Bag Liners

Venture Travel

Silk Mummy Liners

Camp Chair

Crazy Creek

Folding Canoe Chair (basically a bit of foam with a cover and few straps, no legs, but very confortable

Tarp

Outdoor Products

Coated Nylon Tarp - 9.5 x 12 (Great for covering bikes, use as camp kitchen etc.)

Cooker

MSR

WhisperLite (Multi-fuel and quiet. (Previously had a Dragonfly, which is excellent even at high altitude, but noisy)

Oven !

MSR

Folding camp oven (Basically a “saucepan cosy� that lets you bake bread etc.)

Kitchen set

MSR

Alpine Kitchen Set

Pots and Pans

MSR

Blacklite Classic Cookset

Penknives

Swiss Army

Bowls

2 cheal plastic bowls bought in Bolivia

Mugs

Big Sky

Bistro French Press Thermal Coffee Mugs

Cutlery

Snowpeak

Titanium “spork� (a spoon and fork in one)

Folding basin

Ortleib

Towels

MSR

Packtowel

Lamps

Petzl

Zipka Plus LED Headlamps

Waterbags

MSR

Deluxe Dromedary Beverage bag, 10L

Waterbottle

Nalgene

Other

Drying cloth, sponge, “wetones� wipes, washkit, biodegradable soap


BIKES

IMG_5529---Anne's steed---

IMG_5530---Jonny's steed---

Custom Built Roberts Roughstuff.

Item

Brand

Model

Frame

Roberts

Roughstuff

Gears

Campagnolo/Shimano

Campag Veloce 9 spd shifters and derailler on 8 speed shimano HG block and chain (so we can have stronger chains). Works pretty well. Campag front changer better than Shimano, as you can move it easily to avoid chain rub.

Brakes

Shimano

XT Cantilever with additional “Frog Legs� levers on centre of handlebars for long descents in the mountains

Saddles

Brookes

Leather Champion Flyer and Champion Narrow. Fantastic! Have not had a single saddle sore.

Headsets

Stronglight

Rims

Mavic and Sun

Mavic X618 (for Anne), Sun Rhyno Light downhill rims (for Jonny), 36 thick swiss spokes ea.

Mudguards

SKS

Plastic Chrome

Tyres

Schwalbe

Marathon XR folding; Spares = 2x light folding Schwalbe MTB 26x1.6 tyres

Panniers

Ortleib (obviously!)

Classic Rollers front and back , Ultimate 3 Classic bar bags

Carriers

Tubus

Bottles

Polar and Vango

(Jonny) 2x Vango Thermal bottles and 1 Polar, (Anne) 3x Polar 75cl bottles

Computers

Sigma and Vetta

(Anne) Sigma Sport BCI 400, (Jonny) Vetta V100A wired altimeter speedo (tried a wireless Specialized Turbo Pro altimeter, but found it pretty useless – poor signal on a loaded bike, but works badly at lower temperatures)


COMMUNICATIONS, PHOTOS and other stuff
  • Cameras: Canon Ixus 330 (2 MPxl Digital)
  • PDA: Palm Tungsten T5 with wireless keyboard (can connect to mobile phone for email access....in theory)
  • 2xMobile Phones: Nokia of course
  • MP3/CD Player and CD-pouch
  • Sewing kit
  • Writing paper
  • Watercolour pain set
  • Small gifts
  • Diaries: Moleskin
  • Books X too many.....
  • Guides, Maps etc


IMG_5525

CLOTHES

Anne

Jonny

Light fleece hooded top (REI)

Light zipped fleece (Acr’teryx)

Windstopper fleece top (Mountain Hardwear)

Windstopper Fleece (Mountain Hardwear)

Gortex cycling gloves

Gortex Mitts

Cycling mitts (Pearl Izumi)

Cycling Mitts (some bizarre Swiss brand...)

2x cycling shorts one normal, one ¾ length (Nike Dry Fit)

2x cycling shorts (Bell Weather) great...

Giro cycling helmet

Giro cycling helmet

Australian Barmah Hat (good sun protection, airflow and water proof)

Australian Barmah Hat (good sun protection, airflow and water proof)

Sunglasses with 3 different lenses (Smith)

Sunglasses with optical insert (Addidas)...pretty crap!

2xUnderwear by Helley Hansen and Patagonia

Cycling bib tights (Pearl Izumi) great....

Long-johns (Arc’teryx)

2xCycling jersey, one long one short sleeved

Long sleeved light wool zip top (Icebreaker Skin 200)

Sleeveless windstopper cycling top (Pearl Izumi)

Climbing pants (Mountain Hardwear)

2xUnderwear (Patagonia and Icebreaker)

Quick dry pants (Garmichi)

Pack pants, 1x convertible, 1x normal (Mountain Hardwear)

2x cycling socks (X-Shocks)

2xCycling socks (X-Shocks)

Hiking socks (Smartwool)

Hiking socks (Smartwool)

Hiking Boots (Karrimor)

Hiking Boots (Brasher Supra lite)

Cycling Shoes (Specialized Rockhopper)

Cycling shoes (Specialized Taho)

Sandals (Merrell Convertible)

Sandals (Merrell Convertible)

T-Shirt (Cancer Research)

T-Shirt (Cancer Research)

2xLong Sleeved quick dry Shirts (Ex-Officio, Northface)

2xLong Sleeved quick dry Shirts (Ex-Officio, Rohan)

Waterproof jacket (Arc’teryx Gortex XCR)

2xwaterproof jacket (Mountain Hardwear, Burley)

FIRST AID KIT

  • 1x antiseptic
  • 1x 20 cyproflaxin tabs 500mg
  • 4x antihistamin caps
  • Immodioum tabs (very necessary!)
  • Rehydration salts
  • Betadine/iodine solution
  • Antibiotic ointment
  • Hydrocortizone cream
  • Steristrips
  • Syringe kit & needles
  • Neurophene/Anadin
  • Steril gauze
  • Micropore tape
  • Bandages
  • Locabiotal
  • Peppermint & ginger oils
  • P20 Suncream (Works wonders! Lasts all day)

Friday, July 07, 2006

Map and Statistics

Map for blogg

Obviously only approximate, but you get the idea....

  • Number of countries = 27
  • Time traveled = 21 months
  • Total kms covered = 18,000
  • Max distance in one day = 196 km
  • Average speed = 20.4 km/h
  • Total hours in the saddle = 800 hrs
  • Max hours cycled in one day = 8 hrs 30 mins
  • Max speed = 76.5 km/h
  • Total altitude climbed = 102,000 m
  • Max altitude in one day = 2,400 m
  • Max weight carried = 55 kg (J), 35 kg (A) plus bikes and water

If there are other stats you think might be interesting, drop us a line.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Almaty-Mongolia (May-17June06)

(Click above to see slide show - then click in each photo to get description)

Anne was 5 months pregnant when we left Almaty - the ultimate souvenir from Kazakhstan. Having frantically researched everything we could find on the Internet about pregnant women cycling, we had decided to try and finish the trip. However long stages over the deserted Kazakh steppe to the remote border crossing in the Altai mountains and dirt tracks across the length of the sparsely populated Mongolian countryside suddenly didn't sound such a wonderful idea after all. Luckily we had both wanted to check out Lake Baikal and Siberia for a while and with the judicious use of public transport the huge diversion was manageable while still cycling the most scenic miles and remaining within access of reasonable medical facilities should the need arise.

We didn't quite know what sort of mileage Anne would be able to do each day and how she'd cope with camping etc so we decided to just get on with it and see what happened. The first stretch of road across the southern border of Kazakhstan with China was hilly but scenic and paved. And except for a snowstorm which forced us to camp in a Muslim graveyard (there is very little shelter on the steppe and we thanked Allah for putting this one on our way that day!) we managed to reached Lake Alakol without much trouble. The steppe ran unending to our left while the Jungar Alatau range soared to sparkling snow-capped peaks to our right. We found idyllic camp spots amidst dried out river beds or fragrant foothills where flocks of Bactrian camels and the small and robust Kazakh horses grazed undisturbed.

In one tiny village on the eve of the much celebrated Victory Day (commemorating the 40 or so million soviets who died in WWII) the mayor pursued us in a rattling Lada Jeep to invite us to drink with him. We declined. People around here seemed obsessed with the thought that we couldn't possibly know where we were. Thus two more cars stopped us in the following days and each time the same scenario was repeated. The driver jumped out of his car waving frantically to get us to stop. Usual 'Where are you from? Where are you going?' Questions. Then the ultimate test: 'Do you know which country this is?' Well why would we not know it if we had come across the Chinese border or even flown in straight from Ireland to Almaty? Bizarre.... While Johnny found it a most intriguing and engaged in a puzzled series of cross-questions to probe whether the guy was convinced we were mentally retarded, it became apparent that it was possibly only a rhetorical way to let us know about this great country that we were oh so lucky to be travelling through... Kazakhstan... We just had to politely acknowledge and push off before fits of laughter would cease us and make us look distinctly un-diplomatic.

From Alakol we boarded what was eventually voted our worst public transport experience to date (including any dodgy bus or truck you may find in the Andes, Nepal or India). A bus journey across a 700 km stretch of totally deserted steppe that lasted 14 hours of which every bump over the soviet relic of road it was hauling itself over triggered the certitude that we had lost a part of the chassis, body or even perhaps the engine. Perhaps that was all part of the government strategy to condition anyone travelling to Semipalatinsk, notorious site for soviet nuclear testing and its horrible trail of leukaemia and cancer victims. We spent a couple of days with Lizzie, a VSO volunteer from Austria who entertained us with guitar tunes and cool beer and an amazing capacity to play chess with her Spain-based boyfriend by SMS. Dostoyevsky once lived in the city, exiled by the tsar (this is technically Siberia though part of Kazakhstan). Near the log cabin where he once lived local council workers were busy loading a huge statue of Lenin in bits and a dozen busts of the great soviet leaders into a truck to move them back to the central square. It sounds like the Soviet era isn't all that shameful anymore now that Russia is pumping oil and gas to the world.
In Semipalatinsk we boarded the Kazakh leg of the Tran Siberian Railways towards Novosibirsk and Irkutsk, on the shore of Lake Baikal. A memorable journey, filled with friendly encounters with fellow passengers routinely crossing the thousands of miles that constitute Siberia to go about their lives. A Gasprom worker on his way to a new site, an army officer returning from Chechnya on his way to visiting his wife, a couple of scientists on their way to attend some conference in China. Some had travelled for 5 days already and would need another 3 to reach the end of the line, in Mongolia, Peking or Vladivostok. Once a day the carriage attendant hoovered the entire carriage. And while we talked or napped, the samovar at the end of the carriage was steaming gently, awaiting a string of passengers in their pyjamas or tracksuits eagerly filling up a teapot or a plate of pot noodles.

We alighted at Novosibirsk, Siberian metropolis of choice and centre to the huge region. A massive Lenin stood in front of the theatre, with his brass coat flapping in the wind. At the theatre they were showing Carmen by Bizet, which we could see for less than a fiver for two. We took a mini-bus out to Akademgorodok, a suburb beyond a few miles of dense taiga and wooden log cabins with ornate carved windows. In the tranquil little town, the universities and institutes where once lived all the elite scientists of the Soviet Union still carry the hammer and sickle. We had a picnic by the lake and walked through the forest, suddenly amidst deep nature only an hour away from the buzzing Siberian capital.

Irkutsk was our next and last stop on the Tran Siberian and the opportunity for a side trip to Listvianka, a small fishing village on the shore of Lake Baikal. It had snowed heavily the previous day and an icy wind pierced through our clothes like daggers while we climbed up to the Baikal museum outside the village. In front of us lay 1/5 of the world's fresh water. Traditional log cabins lined the deepest lake in the world that seemed to have been there for ever. A rugged man bent over a couple of buckets of water balanced across his shoulders kicked off his overshoes before trundling into his cabin - no running water here. Neat vegetable patches surrounded most houses, carefully ploughed, weeded and raked, ready for the scarce warm season when the only vegetable and fruit available would be harvested and pickled before the long Siberian winter settled in again. Stout ladies with weathered faces sat by the pier at small home-built ovens shrouded in a thick and pungent cloud to smoke the catch of the day. Yet, while this strangely archaic life whiled away in the passing hours, impressive new mansions were being built with sparkling roofs of bright blue or red tile, turrets and huge bay windows. Here the new Russians rested and played while the old ones continued to survive on less than a shoestring and with an incredible measure of a pride and resilience.

Back in saddle we left Irkutsk and travelled to Slyudyanka on the southern shore then east to Tankhoy. The road was smooth though hilly with magnificent views over the deep turquoise waters of the lake. We camped by the lake, our earplugs firmly wedged in because the railroad follows the shore quite closely. Yet the rattling of endless convoys of oil or timber carriages, the lifeline of Siberia, was by far preferable to fighting off the fierce mosquitoes starting to buzz about the stagnant pools in the nearby taiga. On the shore, we sat until 11 pm, listening to the strange melody of the melting ice being pushed across the lake by the evening breeze. Small grey birds walked up and down the beaches where we had bathed and dried in the warm sun, fiercely bickering at these two weird visitors invading their peaceful universe.

In Tankhoy we boarded an electrichka (electric commuter train) at 8 am in the morning, having purchased a few snacks for the painstakingly slow journey to Ulan Ude. The man in front of me at the station shop had bought two apples and two bottles of vodka and was heading for a quiet spot to have his breakfast with his fellow railway worker. His hands were puffed up and dark by the cold, deformed by the hard labour and undoubtedly a few knocks taken loading and unloading in a state of advanced drunkenness.

Ulan Ude already felt like another country, with crumbling pavements and decrepit soviet museums. It is the capital of the independent republic of Buryatya, a Mongol-looking ethnic group that had provided fierce resistance to the soviets. Yet on the main square the largest Lenin head of the entire Soviet Union still remains undisturbed. Youths gather around it in the humid evening to play ball or eat Russian-made ice-cream, oblivious. And at the kiosk around the corner, next to the ice-cream stand, the tobacco stand sells "Nostalgia" Russian-made cigarettes featuring portraits of Lenin (or Stalin for the stronger taste). New Russians were quick to seize the commercial potential of the old Russians longing for the simple if restricted certainty of the good old commie days.

We crossed a mix of parched steppe and pine forest southwards to the Mongolian border. Villages had the distinct look and feel of ghost towns with their shaky-looking houses of wooden planks surrounded with regular wooden fences. No vegetable patches here. The day we rolled into Mongolia the skies opened and let powerful gusts of icy rain pour straight into our faces. We rode 25 km and checked into the first hotel we found in Sukbataar. The "lux" room cost $15 for two and was the only one with a private toilet. The shower did not work and anyway there was no hot water. However there was a small satellite TV. Just as we said to each other how unreal to watch French TV in this little hole at the other end of the world reality came back to us with a vengeance in the form of a rather large and persistent leak in the ceiling. With each gust I could hear the tin roof flap about and by the next morning all the available containers we had been able to obtain from the rather undisturbed staff delivered a proper concert of water music...

It took three days for the rain to stop by which time we had moved to Darkhan and the much more upmarket ($25) Jasper Hotel. We had a fit trying to order a meal on our first evening, realising that while Mongolians use the Cyrillic alphabet and although we were able to read the menu we had no idea what anything meant. The waiter didn't speak Russian at all and rather little English. Yet he was so pleasant about the whole thing and really tried to help. So that, encouraged by this manner we had sorely missed in Kazakhstan, we managed to order even a vegetarian meal in a country were the same word is used to say "grass" and "vegetables".

It took 3 days to organise a driver to take us across the steppe to the monastery of Amarbayasgalant. It was only 50 Km away but a rough ride across the steppe. (Until then we had managed to keep to the paved road, the main north-south axis rallying Russia to China across Mongolia and though hilly, a fairly decent ride.) On the first day we hovered around the market until we found the least battered jeep with the least bald tyres. We arranged to meet the driver the next day at 9 am. At 11 am, having been pestered by all the local drunks that were sober enough to string a couple of words to ask for money, the guy still had not turned up and we decided to visit a local Buddhist temple instead. In the evening we finally managed to reach our man who explained that it was a national holiday (day of women and children) and it seemed naturally obvious that this was no day to take any tourist out to any monastery whatever money they were prepared to pay. He agreed to be there at 9 am the following day however. At 9.15 am a perfectly unknown character, who did not seem drunk approached us to explain that his brother lived near the monastery and that he would take us if we didn't mind if he visited his brother for half an hour on the way back. He spoke perfect Russian and when we emitted some doubts about the fact that his battered Toyota didn't even remotely look like a jeep he argued that we would drive only 20 Km off road and that his car was perfectly suitable for the occasion. So off we went through verdant steppe and hills at the surreal sound of Status Quo's "Whatever you want"... And with only 20 km to go, as we started pelting up and down dusty tracks across the steppe, occasionally honking at shamanistic stone piles laced with turquoise silk scarves, the tape turned to Boney M's "One way ticket to the moon"!

A marmot stood on its back legs raised up and whistled fiercely when we entered the monastery. Our driver disappeared towards a ger (Mongolian felt tent) outside which a group of teenage monks hung out in red sweatpants and t-shirts with their shaved heads. For $3 one of them guided us through the deserted monastery, unlocking numerous shrines populated with grimacing deities or emotionless fat little bald men, wrapped in gold and colourful silks dripping with offerings of milk, yoghurt or airag (fermented mare's milk) and occasionally a big chunk of putrefying horse meat. From the roof we gazed at the multicoloured tiled roof, curved and glazed with many little characters and animals perched all over its various pagoda layers. Beyond the two golden rams (representing the first two sermons of Buddha) the steppe stretched and rolled, endless and smooth with tiny gers mushrooming where flocks grazed. Not a fence in sight. Boundless.

Our driver's brother was not there but we stopped at the neighbours for a cup of tea and a bucket of sheep's testicles. Johnny managed one while our driver eagerly tucked in and I tried to get through a piece of flat dried cheese that looked and tasted like (I imagine) a concrete pancake. However it is utterly uncivilised to refuse the first treat offered by your host in a ger and so I persevered. The salty milk tea that was served with the treat and looked like dishwater helped a bit. The grand father and grand mother wore the traditional dress, a long coat with a dog collar buttoned on the right hand side of the body, and pointy knee-high boots. They grinned toothlessly while the daughter busied herself making tea. Behind the grandfather, a huge satellite TV hid behind a wall hanging (there was a huge satellite dish outside), and a snazzy-looking DVD player. Next to it was a small altar with a few Buddhas wrapped in silk turquoise scarves and candles. We sat or rather almost crouched on tiny stools at the centre of the ger, either side of the altar, facing the entrance. There were a couple of old school beds, presumably for the elders and a few felt mats folded to the side. The ger was no bigger than a medium room and yet I worked out that at least 8 people lived in it, for most of the time with temperatures lower than -30°C. How they managed to reproduce was a mystery. Outside there were a couple of small corals were goats and sheep were kept, a trailer with vats of water collected from one of the rare villages around or perhaps an even rarer river. No toilet in sight. At the neighbouring ger, we watched five or six beautiful stallions tethered to a wooden portico being blessed with incense and butter for the forthcoming festival of Nadaam (where the winner of the 24 Km race becomes a national hero).

From Darkhan we rode southwards (rather up and downwards) to Ulaanbaatar. When the going got tough, Johnny had devised a towing device, a couple of bungees hooked between the two bikes to allow me to keep up. It was reassuring to ride so close together in this vast and empty country and a bit of a novelty for the few locals we met. Johnny also carried most of the load, the water and food (while I had lightened up to about 20 Kg). Thus we reached UB, its dusty streets and huge soviet power stations, its ancient Buddhist temples and ger neighbourhoods, its plethora of trendy bars and restaurants for aid workers (a third of the GDP is accounted by foreign aid, the equivalent to the soviet subsidies before independence) and tourists alike. There was a French bakery and an American coffee shop, even a Mexican-Indian restaurant and it seemed a perfect place to take a couple of weeks to start our slow return to civilisation before flying home after 21 months on the road across 17 countries. When we got to the hotel, Johnny's speedo read exactly 17,999 Km, so a lap around the block took us to a healthy 18,000.

How does it feel to finally reach our goal? Actually we both agreed that finishes are generally a bit of an anticlimax. They say the travelling is in the journey, not in the arrival and we really believe this. Our real travelling was in discovering the scars of the muli-ethnic Blakans right on our door step, enjoying the engrained hospitality of the Georgian people, debating over politics and religion with the subtle and cultured Persians and managing to get through to the seemingly abrupt yet incredibly warm Russians. And probably it was in many other experiences and encounters we shared on the road which we haven't yet had time to truly take in and reflect upon. This journey is still going on in our hearts and minds as we are now getting together with our families and friends back home and prepare for the arrival of an additional member to the O'Brien cycling team.