We arrived in Esfahan feeling like bleached white bread. Cloud free skies and endless desert turn your brain to flour and the bike feels like a dough machine kneeding your head into Sunblest. We needed a rest and hoped that Esfahan would be a bike free zone. But there in the courtyard of the hostel were fourteen touring bikes. To begin with we were a bit frustrated. We had imagined ourselves the sole bike explorers traveling boldy across the sandy plains, lone spirits in a race against the trucks . The reality of course is that Iran is a crossroads between the Middle East and East Asia and right here, right now, every cyclist on the overland route had converged on Amir Kabir hostel and chained their frames like coralled horses into a ten foot dusty yard.
The morning after arriving and our brains were more wholesome, more Harvest Grain than Sunblest. We discovered it was entirely refreshing and quite moving to meet so many cyclists; crazy skinny people with sunglasses tans and burnt noses. There was the Irish guy who had cycled from Cherbourg to Istanbul on a titanium racing bike with pencil tyres in 3 weeks ( it took us 3 months). In Istanbul he’d met a French girl who’d forged her bike out of a frame from a skip and parts stuck together in a bike co-operative. They’d hitched up and travelled at a more sedate pace. The Irish guy showed us a rope he’d attach around the back of his bike to the front of his girlfriends steering column to pull her up hills! Jen has been asking Jet to do the same for her. Jet obviously feels it should be the other way round. We thought we’d had bad luck with punctures but the Irish guy had traversed an evil thorn patch in Turkey and managed to gather seventeen puntures in one go and then had to pull out 73 thorns from his tyres (when you have that many thorns you count them all)
There was a Lithuanian guy who was proud of how low his daily mileage was (most bike tourists-mainly men- tend to boast how big their daily mileage is- like their shoe size.). But this guy gathered a maximum of 40 km a day (our average is 70-80) and his record low was 5km -the equivalent of going round the block to get the paper. He seemed to be carrying a boiler sized tank of water on his bike. He was a hero of the “slow travel” movement.
There were two English guys from London who were contemplating cycling the “Stans” (the high central plains of Asia en route to China) during the Winter snows. They hadn’t any warm clothing and were eyeing up bodysuits they couldn’t afford. They were the skinniest cyclists we’ve seen in ages but looked like they could survive any season grazing on hazlenuts.
There was the Kiwi couple who had just completed the Asia route in the opposite direction and were en route to Turkey and Europe. Jo had had her bike stolen in China one month into the trip but had soon fashioned another and then continued onwards unhindered for the next six months. Mike sewed up his front tyre with dental floss after it split in his first week. It was still going strong after six months.
Then there was a French couple cycling to New Zealand for the rugby world cup. They’d met a guy who was carrying a surfboard on the back of his bike between surfing spots.
All these Tour de Worlders sat around discussing bike nerd things- tyre gauges, bottom brackets and front hub repairs whilst the other backpackers made their excuses or looked on blankly. Each bike seemed to be a reflection of their cyclists- like dogs and their owners- cobbled together mountain bikes and frazzled beards, top of the range racers and short back and sides but a consistent theme amongst the riders was a sense of independence and joie de vivre. Everyone was alive to the challenges they faced and this made them more twinkle eyed than the average tourist (well we would say that…)
In Esfahan we rested our legs, took a side trip to the desert, ate lots of cake, stared at planet sized Mosques, ate continents of rice, read novels, got our visa extension and finally said goodbye to Bike Central to head ourselves into the great unknown with six water bottles and a big bag of doughy bread.
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