|The Year In Pictures|
Another 'End of the first year' feature: Here's 24 of my favourite pictures from the last year: Some have a story, some look good, and some are there just because, enjoy.......
I. Leaving Home: An obvious one to start with - the last picture of me before I left home.
II. The first success: This is me after 5 days of slogging it to Brussels. I was unfit enough when I left home, so doing the first 5 days on 3 nights sleep and a couple of hangovers wasn't the cleverest idea - the relief at getting here and the self-esteem boost it gave was massive.
III. Munich Bike Rack: I'm not sure why I like this picture so much, it just makes me feel good to see so many people using the bicycle as their main method of transport.
IV. An Austrian Sunset: Taken about a kilometre from the Slovak border, it came out better than I thought it would. About 20 minutes later it started hammering it down with rain and didn't stop until 3 days later when I was in Budapest.
V. Sombor Highstreet: The first town in Serbia I made it to - my favourite thing about this picture is that the local paper in Banbury published an article about my ride and put this picture in it as it makes me look like I'm off in faraway places where they don't have pavements etc, when in actually fact they were just repaving the highstreet.
VI. Istanbul Beach: This was taken on the outskirts of Istanbul - it's hard to explain now but when you make it to Istanbul, even though it's only 2000 miles you feel as though with that under your belt, you can cycle anywhere.
VII: Turkey 1 - 1 Croatia (Turkey win on pens): Quite simply what a night - we were watching Bakirkoy, Istanbul. Croatia scored in the last minute only for the Turks to score 30 seconds later and then win on penalties - within 5 minutes there was a mob of thousands in the street outside and the celebrations didn't stop until they lost the semi 5 days later. It's great to see how football can make a country feel so exciting, and as an Englishman it was also enjoyable to see a team I was supporting win a penalty shoot-out.
VIII. On the way to the Goderdzi Pass, Georgia: I'd spent the afternoon with a family and enjoyed one too many homemade vodkas before realising I had planned to cross the pass that night, I asked some drivers and they said it was 3km further up. I cycled 8km and didn't make it in time and ended up sleeping pretty much at the pass - it was quite a view.
IX. The Boat to Kazakhstan with the Mongol Ralliers: The Mongol Rally takes place each year with teams from England, Spain and Italy driving to Ulanbataar, Mongolia to raise money for charity. I had no idea this existed until I met these guys on the boat from Baku to Aktau, Kazakhstan - the 2 night trip was a good chance to swap stories as well as get some good beer time in.
X. Aktau Beach: Arriving in Kazakhstan you have to register with the police - unfortunately we arrived too late in the afternoon so I decided to spend the night at the beach and was treated to this view. I didn't end up sleeping at the beach either - when there I met a guy named Slava and spend the night with him.....
XI. The Hangover you don't deserve: As I said, I spent the night with Slava - he was a Kazakh moving to Sheffield and insisted on looking after me whilst in Aktau - unfortunately this meant drinking the local vodka. I don't remember much of what happened, but the next day I very definetely remember trying to cycle in the 50degree heat of the Kazakh Desert. The next 3 days were spent sweating out pure vodka as I struggled in the immense heat. The picture below shows a 3 km climb on unpaved road - it took 4 hours to complete. At the top was a small shop selling Mars Bars and Coke, words can't express the relief!
XII: Krygyz Kids: How can you not love kids like this? Here are some kids from the Kyrgyz mountains taking time from their chores to pump water for me.
XIII. Entering Sary Tash: Not a bad view, eh? This on the descent into Sary Tash on the Kyrgyz side of the Pamir Highway - in the background is Tajikstan.
XIV. Favourite sleeping: There really isn't a better way to sleep that without the tent in the desert. Nothing 100km in front of you, nothing 100km behind you and not even a mosquito in sight - perfect.
XV. Sandstorm: Taken on the road into Xining - visibility was pretty much zero and sand in the eyes was not fun. On the plus side it was a tail wind so I managed to do my 100km in a little under 3 and a half hours.
XVI. When the weather started to turn: Taken in Sichuan in early November, when I went to sleep the area around me was green (I would have put the kettle away if Id've expected it). This was ok, the next night was when it really began to kick in and the mercury hit -12. Not fun.
XVII. Posing at altitude: Not much to add to this one - on the road into Zoige, Sichuan. As cold as the nights were, in the days I was getting sunburn.
XVIII. The Sichuan Earthquake: I'm a bit gutted as some of the better pictures of this were on a camera card that got stolen, but this one gives you the idea. The destruction in the area was testament to what Mother Nature can do, but equally impressive was how people were coping and doing their best to get on with life in the affected areas - one of the most bizarre things was seeing an entire village underwater, with only the tips of the roofs showing. Then I turned a corner and was met by a whole new village which had since sprouted and people were getting on with their everyday lives.
IXX. A night at a Monastery: Arriving in Laos, the monks at Oudomxai let me sleet the night. It would have been even better if the daily prayer on the loudspeaker hadn't started the next day at 5am!
XX. Cambodia Kids: I came into Cambodia via O Smach, a border rarely used by foreigners and on the Cambodian side it really was 'into the wild' - the looks on the kids faces just about sums up their curiosity.
XXI. What could possibly go wrong? This picture makes it in because when I left the UK I had a bicycle maintenance knowledge of zero. Below we see a (2nd) broken hub, which goes with the 2 broken derailleurs, 1 front mech, 1 blown tyre and 2 gear cassettes I've managed to get through - don't get me wrong, I'm still no mechanic, but at least I can do a bit of a better job now, and equally I now know why the stuff is breaking.
XXII. Mr Wang at The Friendship Bridge: Still one of the favourite people I've met - Mr Wang, a 60 year old maths teacher from Hubei who was touring SE Asia on his way back home - all on a folding bike! The definition of a crazy guy on a bike, he'll be in England next summer so look out for him. We met here at the Vietnam - China border.
XXIII. And the award for 'Best Place Name' goes to..... Finally, a funny sign! I'd been waiting all year to find somewhere with a good name - finally a day before the year anniversary and here we are! You can take the boy out of Banbury...
XXIV. Where else to finish a year review? But with a picture of how I look a year to the day. Apparently I've lost weight....