The untold stories

It has been brought to our attention that this blog is perhaps presenting a fairly rose-tinted view of our last eight months. Therefore, in the interest of unbiased reporting and to show what lies behind the smiles and the sunsets, we have compiled a series of photos which should illustrate the somewhat less glamorous side of cycling from China to Africa.

Back to basics: bread, water and bikes have been our staples.

Not usually a fussy drinker, but the homemade Tajikistan brew was not to our liking.

The floor is often preferable to the bed.

With a limited wardrobe, all fashion sense was discarded early on.

The reason communism failed: an ex-soviet en suite bathroom.

Uzbekistan was hot! Taking a post-lunch nap under a bus shelter.

There is simply no greater (nor more widely available) refreshment.

Bike rebuild in Istanbul.

Language barriers occasionally require a more hands-on approach.

You know that storage room behind a hotel reception…. our first night in Egypt.

Finding a pesky thorn.

Another unsatisfactory breakfast.

Fire up the bedroom stove, again.

Beans for lunch and beans for dinner. Hope you like beans if you’re heading to Sudan.

Who would have ever thought that camping in a thorn field would result in multiple punctures?

Low key birthday celebrations this year.

‘Hotel’ rooms: there have been some heart-sinking moments.

Pursuit of cash in Africa has been a challenge: queuing for another empty ATM.

A familiar sight on rest/laundry day.

The washing Wife.

Don’t drop the soap… loo and shower combo.

The simple life: our luggage for the year.


Those Turks

In one of our less well-planned moments, we found ourselves on the promenade at the busy (and expensive) town of Eregli as night fell; we were exhausted and forlorn, and with no place to go. Within minutes however, we were flanked by two complete strangers whom without prompting, had taken on the task of finding our accommodation for the evening. Other passers-by were pulled in and after several phone calls (one guy impressively holding the same conversation simultaneously on two separate phones) we were sent away with concise instructions to an affordable and ‘cycle-friendly’ hostel. Everyone involved seemed to want nothing more than to help us out.

We were later told (by a chap trying to sell us a carpet) that Turkey is famous for two things: its carpets and its hospitality. While we are unable to vouch for the former, we can certainly confirm that hospitality in Turkey appears to be on steroids. The level of generosity and willingness to assist has been incredible. We have been gifted meals, been plied with enough tea to develop a mild addiction to the stuff, shared stories through the medium of Google Translate, and although some assistance – the hands-on first, questions later approach to bicycle repair for example – was perhaps a little doubtful in its helpfulness, the enthusiasm cannot be faulted.

There’s something in that tea.

We arrived in Turkey with some preconceived ideas about what to expect from the country, and the Turks have taken those ideas and kicked them firmly into touch. What a great bunch; we tip our cap to you The Turks.

The final road sign in Georgia before crossing into Turkey. In reality, no luck required.


Some serious hours of pedalling were required in order to make our deadline to Istanbul, and the reason for the urgency was a visit from the (more) Senior Johnsons. Mr & Mrs Johnson(I) had made their way from the UK to greet Mr & Mrs Johnson(II), and would have probably been travelling well within their baggage allowance had it not been for the suitcase full of bike supplies we had pre-ordered for their journey. As a couple who don’t frequently get to see our parents, it was a delight to share this time with them both and what’s more, their generosity resulted in some quite unfamiliar (but very welcome) luxury, in addition to some quite necessary indulgence. As the first familiar faces we had met since departing, the tales from our past few months soon flowed freely while we all attempted to understand Istanbul.

Johnsons old & new.

Tremendous re-supply effort from the Oldes.

Anyone returning from a week-long holiday in this city who claims to know or – worse still – to ‘have done’ Istanbul, is either an exceptional time manager, or is talking nonsense and deserves no more of your attention.

Istanbul sits at the divide of Asia and mainland Europe and has been somewhat of a big deal for several empires in history. Fantastically important events have occurred here over the last two thousand years that we had very little prior knowledge of, though the architecture left behind stands as a conspicuous and impressive reminder of this past. It is also a vast place; with a population that dwarfs London and with city limits that sprawl much further than a man can reasonably ride in one day. The result is a labyrinth of a city built on eclectic influences, where a guide book is as useful or as useless as you want it to be. You could likely live in Istanbul for a year and still find an exciting new district, some new detail in the Hagia Sophia, an alternative eatery, or realise that an entire century of history is hidden away next to your house. Most endearing though, is the intangible sense of effortless cool which it seems to now enjoy, and which is no longer easily found in established European or Australian cities. It is a coolness that allows you to chill out on the streets enjoying an evening beer while listening to buskers, without fearing arrest or impending chaos.

Initially a church, later a mosque, now a museum: the impressive Hagia Sophia

We were captivated and very much sold on this place from the outset, and if ever we should be a little fed up in the future, a week in Istanbul would likely be a good tonic.

Quiet in the mornings, not so at night.

The Gelata Tower, used previously to learn how to fly, apparently.

The Deceptive Black Sea Coast

Our experience of the Black Sea coastal route can be conveniently divided into two halves: the first from the Georgian border to the pleasant coastal town of Sinop, and the second from Sinop to Istanbul. The first half was predominantly boring; we were rained on, slept in some very dubious locations between largely uninspiring cities, and other than providing the first puncture of our trip, did little to stir our senses. The second half however, was an absolute humdinger. The ride along the Turkish coast is in no way the easy or direct route to take across Turkey (as we had thought), however, the inconvenience is compensated for in spades, by an area of natural beauty that should drop even the stiffest of jaw.


A week into this leg, we crossed paths with a Swiss chap who was part-way through an attempt to walk around the world, and who seemed surprisingly chipper for a man intending to spend the next six years of his life inching around the globe at 40km per day. As we spoke about our proposed route he couldn’t help but chuckle through his broken English at the conditions that awaited us: ‘oh yeah, it’s steep’. And when a walker warns of severe inclines, the prospect for a cyclist is – to say the least – a little bleak.

Things started off relatively easily….

….and then became less so.

Indeed, the roads winding along the coastal cliffs appeared to be about as steep as a road could feasibly be and demanded us to adopt the monotonous routine of gaining a few hundred meters altitude, before returning to sea level, then repeating this exercise for around 400km. The terrain combined with the lingering Turkish summer to provide arguably our toughest riding so far, and the subsequent memorable quote: ‘I’m even sweating through my eyeballs’; which was as ridiculous as it was (or at least seemed) plausible. This would all have been utter misery had it not been for the quite outrageous backdrop through which we were riding a bicycle. Without wanting to wax lyrical about this; it would be fair to assume that in the global contest for great coastal routes, Turkey’s Black Sea would certainly be a podium finisher.

An excellent cliff-top camp spot.

Lunch overlooking Amasra.

A reasonable slice of effort has been required to make it across Turkey and although we’ve barely scratched the surface during our time here, we have so far been surprisingly impressed with this underrated country. Though admittedly, next time we’ll probably favour something with a motor for the crossing.

Finally, in bicycle news, the Chinese bike options have shown their true colours over the last fortnight, and have done so in quite spectacular fashion. It appeared in fact, that every component had been programmed by Shimano to spontaneously fail after successfully covering 5,000km, which certainly added to the climbing woes. However, with a little tinkering from the multi-tool and some stitch-up work from the duct tape, we were able to limp the injured steed the final few hundred kilometres to Istanbul for some fine tuning/complete overhaul.