Pedaling from the Black Forest to the Yellow Sea
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Posts from — July 2008

Day 129 (Iran): nowhereland - nowhereland (here is a book you may want to read)

daily distance: 113km
total distance: 7881km
riding time: 6h

First things first … here is a book I recommend to those who read German and who are interested in things Chinese. Matthias, a friend and supporter of Cycling Without Borders has just released his experiences on his last four years in Beijing. Though I haven’t read it, I have seen one of his presentations on the subject and if that is any indication, then I am sure it is well worth reading. And Christmas is coming up fast … alright it’s not September yet. For those wanting to check out another of his projects, head over to A Day on the Planet.


Title: Ganz Woanders: Vier Jahre in Beijing

Co-authors: Matthias Kluckert and Thomas Tang

Really not much to report today … the sky was overcast in the morning (this is exceptional), there was a long climb to get to Bojnurd (see the picture below for a taste, this was the first of three such climbs, during the last of which I met Ahmad again) and then a good tailwind drove me a ways towards Mashad.

In Shirvan I tried (unsuccessfully) to place a phone call to the US (this is different here, you can’t just call and the places to make phone calls from are not authorized to let you make international calls). Ended up in a farming compound for the night and am glad not to be out in the howling wind.

July 31, 2008   No Comments

Day 128 (Iran): Cheshmeh Khan - nowhereland (the police is out to get me)

daily distance: 105km
total distance: 7768km
riding time: 5-6h

Woke up in the dusty telephone station compound (still well protected from any predators) and made my way out after breakfast.

Uneventul uphill kms went by, the area vast and beautiful. After what I thought was the top of the pass the wind became a front wind and would remain so for the next 40km. It just wasn’t the top of the pass. I struggled for some good 15km until the actual downhill started which was interrupted by someone giving me two yummy peaches and then the police.

A pickup with two policemen stopped me, asked for my passport (no way to ignore them) and radioed my inform in. After some “I don’t speak Farsi” palaver he gave me my passport, let me move on … or so I thought. I had already thought I understood something about stopping further ahead, but why give me my passport back then? Thoughts raced in my mind - someone had said something to someone about something, someone had read the blog (which is pretty innocuous I think still and on the tame side, hello stranger if you read this) or someone had seen me taking a picture (I know this qualifies for the first alternative). So, sure enough an unmarked car with a plain clothes waits for me and he carries a radio and says he is from the police. Well, anyone can say that (it was clear he was police), so I asked for some ID, a question that took him aback and he pretended not to understand and then showed me something that looked official enough with him in a uniform. He spoke English, took down my passport information and then, when I asked him about why I was stopped, said he didn’t understand. He did. Clearly. But he either didn’t want to say or just really had no clue, was the only person in the area to speak some English and was sent out.

A bit more worried about the situation (yes, I have the German embassy phone number handy), I entered the next town where he stops me again. He had simply forgotten to write down the passport number, which I had realized before, but didn’t feel like telling him. He felt awkward to approach me again, that much was clear. I thought for a second to point to a different number in my passport, but thought better of it. No reason to get him and me (ultimately) into trouble.

I spent the heat hours in an internet cafe, the owner again refusing any payment (it was painfully slow, hence I couldn’t update the site). “You are a guest in Iran, no money is needed.” Moved on when it was still too warm I soon realized as I was slugging up a hill on the top of which there are some convenient trees to shelter you from the sun. I had no intention to make it to Bojnurd, the next major city and kept lookin for a place. On my left I saw some trees in an otherwise rather dry area. I hit the jackpot … it was totally unexpected.

The villages are surrounded by lush green vegetation and I was intent on staying there. Palaver I didn’t get me far - to a store with nothing in it. I needed some food though. Palaver II yielded more results. First, four tomatoes, deal. Then, Ahmad comes around who speaks some rally broken English, but it was good enough to make clear what I wanted. A gorgeous place to pitch was the result with a little stream among some trees. Ahmad wanted to invite me to his home, which I refused because I simply wanted some downtime. As it was still early, we agreed that I would go with him for dinner and as supermarket. Turns out that the 1km he was talking about were 10km and the quick meal was much longer than expected. I had a great time though and was given a tour of this very beautiful area on his motorcylce. I was also given a giant melon as a farewell present, part of which I will have to down for breakfast tomorrow. I ain’t taking this big boy with me.

July 30, 2008   No Comments

Day 127 (Iran): Gonbad-e Kavus - Cheshmeh Khan

daily distance: 104km
total distance: 7663km
riding time: 5-6h

I had tried to get an early start - it was going to be hot. Because of the late night that didn’t quite work the way I had hoped. More heat during the day than I had wanted. But there was another reason. After seeing Sayed to my astonishment (he had taken a car for a bit apparently because of his legs) in Minu Dasht and after being stopped by a Tehrani family who were doing their breakfast at the side of the road, I stopped in Galikash, the last place that I am guessing I would have internet access. It was a good move, time to get the US visa game rolling. I thought these places were complicated. But that too shall pass with the help of my parents and others and the good will of the immigration service I will be able to get this done while being on the road.

I spent more time because of this during the still-not-scorchingly-hot-part-of-the-day in an air conditioned place and was hit by the heat as soon as I stepped out. The people had been super kind, one guy on the street showing me the place and apparently leaving money for the owner to buy some juice as I found out later. They also brought out cookies, muffins and tea and offered lunch as well before I made my way out. Couldn’t believe it.

The rest of the day is quickly told: it was uphill through the Golestan Forest, a very magnificent part of the mountain range that I had been running parallel to. Now, I had to get over it. The heat was oppressive, but a good tailwind was with me all day long and which made the more than 1200m in altitude much easier to deal with prior to getting into and after getting out of the forested part. Just before hitting the shaded part, the mp3 player came up with some Midnight Oil - Beds are Burning (I know, this is old school):

“The Western desert lives and breathes in 45 degrees.”

I am not making this up, I had hit the 45C mark right there, the temperature increasing to 47C for the day’s high. What struck me in this really amazing national park was the littering. Here is my suggestion to the government. Instead of letting the fashion police go crazy on the people in Northern Tehran, how about sending some of them here preventing people from trashing this special place? Just a thought.

A bit on the heavy side, traffic was at its usual craziness. I had no idea how far I would go and ended up just over 100km in a little village after reaching what I thought was the pass.


People refused the idea of camping in a little grove because of wild animals. The Lonely Planet list is actually impressive and the wolves, bears and leopards probably a good reason why I am now in a gated compound with my tent. Yes, I do feel safe here.

Well, I just finished typing this when four men paid a visit. Here is the picture …

I was given all sorts of goodies and the local mullah asked all sorts of (very mundane) questions and invited me to his home (I somehow got out of that one though it could have been interesting, I was simply too tired). How many days I am traveling, how many km per day, whether I am married, the usual stuff. Made for some funny moments and worth remembering. They were really interestd to see my burner for some reason and took a long time to inspect the tent as well. Politics was a small part of it, they wanted to know whether Muslims can build mosques in Germany (that would be a yes) and whether women wear a hejab (that would be a no) Now, it’s really time to hit the sack.

July 29, 2008   No Comments

Day 126 (Iran): Maziyaran - Gonbad-e Kavus

daily distance: 48km
total distance: 7559km
riding time:
just over 2h

I mentioned that the number of visitors was a bit on the high side. They became annoying too. Thoroughly so, especially the guy that came by at midnight, approached the now dark tent in which I was sleeping and all I heard were many hellos when I came to and then “Where are you from, where are you from, Mr.?” What the …? I just shouted words I wouldn’t repeat here (and which he didn’t understand, but the message came across at any rate).

After a quick breakfast I quickly covered the short distance to Gonbad where I was going to meet up with Mohammad, the biker I had met a couple of days prior. I had decided that it was time for a break, so I did the 50km early and was done at 10am.

Once there, I was helped by a young guy by the name of Sharokh, who set me up with his internet connection and some snacks when I asked about an internet cafe. Mohammad came by immediately and I was made to feel home right away. It was time to relax, visit the city, hit the sights with a friend and some much-needed sleep in the afternoon.

Here is the most obvious sight, a tower which has lasted for more than 1000 years and which is apparently still the largest brick tower in the world. It also has a curious echo mechanism. You stand in a certain location in front of it and the echo bounces back at you in a pretty amazing way.

The city is a curious mix of cultures. Turkmen, Afghanis and a host of Central Asian people make for a large variety of sights. Dresses are the obvious give-away for Turkmen women, no chador to be seen here. The fashion police in North Tehran would have a field day, though I am not sure that some of the women would take this lightly. The head covering is only partially observed and the colors much more vibrant than anywhere else.

And cows here eat watermelons …

Towards night time we wondered the streets again, had an interesting conversation over dinner with a friend of Mohammad’s. This isn’t the first time this happenend - yet again I am told that people want to leave the country. It strikes me that many of the best and brightest keep telling me that they can’t stand to be here any longer and that they would much rather pack their bags today rather than tomorrow. Not sure what this means for the country in the long run, but the already existing brain-drain is certainly an ongoing phenomenon.

July 28, 2008   No Comments

Day 125 (Iran): Galugah - Maziyaran (can you let me sleep?)

daily distance: 115km
total distance: 7511km
riding time: 6h

Early start and some good progress marked the morning. And the beauty of the whole thing was that I had the road to myself. What you ask? You are in Iran, you have a road to yourself? You must be dreaming! I was not and had to pinch myself when I was coasting on what was the old road that parallels the new highway, but runs much closer to the mountains for about 35km before being thrown back no the main highway. Sayed didn’t want to go along on the scouting mission … he missed out on some great and easy cycling on mostly smooth roads with pretty much zero traffic.

The area reminded me of the Rhine valley in some sense, albeit only on one side. The other is steppe. And it’s a bit warmer than at home. But the southern side is very similar, starting with foothills developing into higher mountains, all of which is covered with lush evergreen forest.

After 60km it was time to take a longer break and sure enough I met a German-Iranian who gave me the contact information for his relatives in Mashhad, the next major port of call. The internet cafe’s owner refused payment for the long time I spent there trying to upload some pictures, the upload being painfully slow.

The only event of real significance happened when I was about to leave Gorgan. It was hot, really hot and I have been riding with shorts, making sure that I am wearing long pants when off the bike for more than a couple of minutes. I was about to leave and was just slapping more sunscreen on my legs when I was approached pretty aggressively by a young man. He couldn’t have been more than 17 years old. Nothing seemed particularly odd about him, but he was unhappy about the shorts, that much was clear. He played around with his buckle and I thought, no need for you to drop your pants too. I understand that some people may not be happy about the sight, but have been assured by countless people now that wearing bike shorts on the bike is OK - not only by Northern Tehranis by the way. This guy wasn’t having any of it. Once he started pushing and pulling on my bike I had it. You can do anything to me, but leave the bike alone. This was not just the usual touching, but pretty heavy tearing on the cables and the like. The store owner where I had just bought some water and another one came into the scene. I never touched the guy, just trying to reason sort of, trying to show that I am biking. Thanks to the two intervenors the situation calmed down, one of them pretty much manhandling him while I was heading out. Something like this was almost to be expected given the area I am in which is more conservative. But it does serve as a stark reminder that matters here are taken into their own hands at times and that you can be on your own. But to tell the whole story, I am greeted with just as many smiles as everywhere else in this part.

The rest of the day was uneventful - had to take a heat break as I was overheating and found a little village where I was allowed to pitch on the local football pitch. The number of visitors was somewhat on the high side … and the picture shows only the small first wave.

July 27, 2008   No Comments