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

Day 124 (Iran): some field between Qa’em Shahr and Sari - Galugah

daily distance: 92km
total distance: 7396km
riding time: 5h

Late start - I needed the sleep apparently and very slow progress to Sari. It was only 18km, but they felt like forever. My legs were not up to anything it seemed. So I took a break, bought some new headphones (the fifth on this trip I think, none of them seem to last long and some sound better than the others) and updated the website. Then it was back on the road and the usual craziness ensued in the sticky heat of Northern Iran. 

Not the best of days, the kms just didn’t seem to fly by despite not completely unfavorable winds. Then another annoying driver passed and stayed beside me for a while. He was starting to tick me off. Wanted to take a picture. Alright, take it then, but I ain’t stopping I thought. He moved ahead a couple of kms and then I saw him again. Pretty persistent so I stopped and it turned out to be a great meeting. Mohammad is a biker himself and soon enough he gave me his address in a town slightly off my route … and then drove behind me for a while. Didn’t know what to make of it and motioned that he should go ahead. He did, only to wait for me again about 5km up the road with a nectarine in hand.

He told me about a geography teacher from Iran by the name of Sayed who was also biking and who was heading in the same direction, about 20km ahead. Ouch … didn’t want to go that far without lunch. But off we went, the winds in my back at first, making for easy progress. It was a bit up and down in hot conditions and when Mohammad was gone I thought “wouldn’t it be great if he brought something to drink”. I can hear the groan already, but lo and behold a couple of minutes later he was approaching me from behind with a tangerine drink in hand which came just at the perfect time. Little Tour de France feeling (without the doping that is arguably going on there), him handing me the can out of the moving vehicle (and reaching across the passenger seat).

Once in Beshahr I was spent. I needed fuel badly. A sandwich and three bottles of soft drinks later I was up and running again. Things were good and we met up with Sayed, who is doing a 500km tour through Northern Iran. Problem was that he speaks no English, well better than my Farsi, but that doesn’t mean much. He offered that I should stay in Galugah, about 20km further East. I wanted to move further though, so we agreed to bike there together and take it from there. Mohammad was concerned about the camping part and wanted me to stick with Sayed. That wasn’t an option, our speeds were not compatible at all. I was looking for water as I was out again too soon, but couldn’t find anything until I was on the outskirts of Galugah, way further than I wanted to be. Creeped out by some youngsters who were always behind my back and asking for money I waited for Sayed. We biked into town together and in the end I decided to stay put, finishing the day off. Can’t hurt to not be biking past 5pm for a change.

We are spending the night in the offices of some environment NGO. The term shouldn’t be taken litterally. From everything I can see (and I don’t mean the ubiquitous photos of Khomeini and Chamenei), the place is government funded. Sort of like a number of NGOs in Central Asia.

Here is also the difference in how a down-to-earth Iranian writes his diary and how a spoiled little Western kid who grew up with computers and now has some terrible handwriting goes about the same task.


The guy that set everything up was nice enough though. A shower and some laundry later I was feeling fine again. Food and some drinks at the Caspian Sea finished off the day.

July 26, 2008   2 Comments

Day 123 (Iran): just before Kohrud - some field between Qa’em Shahr and Sari

daily distance: 114km
total distance: 7304km
riding time: 5-6h

A sort of good night with a bit too much snoring halfway through. The kind of snoring which makes you want to go over to the guy and pinch him or hold his nose shut or something. Pretty atrocious, you see. Kind of tired when we got out of bed at 6am and after some more bumbling around I left at just before 7am for the roughly 50km to Amol.  

The downhill was still exhilerating and all along you can see the construction crews in the various stages of building the new highway. Pretty impressive stuff. The driving was not as horrible as yesterday at this early hour of Friday and so it was easy coasting for the most part.

These pictures show how the scenery changed quite a bit over the course of an hour. From rocky and very sharp-edged rock formations to gently rolling and very wooded territory with rice paddies dotted throughout the ever-wider valley. When I wanted to take a break, something happened on the bike. I could hear a sound as I was biking away from a beautiful spot where I had intended to spend a few minutes, but was approached by an older gentleman. It was slighly uphill to get back on the street and I put a bit of force on the pedals and somehow during that pushing I heard a knack, but couldn’t really place it. I just felt some slippage every now and again.

It took a while to figure out. I couldn’t see anything on the rear derailleur, neither on the front one. The chainrings were fine, so were the cogs in the back. I checked the chain, but couldn’t see anything either. So I got myself into Amol, knowing that something was up and that I had to do something about it. The slippage was tiny, but noticable every so often. Not the kind of thing you want to bike to China with, not even from Iran.

Spent three cool hours in a blazingly-fast internet connection in which it was unnecessary to go through any hoops to access the flickr site (damn the providers in Tehran) and then moved on.

More slippage when I continued. Had to take another look and then I saw it. In one of the chain links, the one where I put the chain together in Ankara, one of the two plates had been bent and thus the pin was no longer where it should be. That was no good news as I either had to shorten the chain by two links or try to put the link back the way it belonged. Easier said than done. I moved into the shade, getting things ready when a couple of guys approached me. Not the moment to do that I thought, but it turned out to be a good thing. One of them owned a hardware store (well, calling it a hole in the wall, the hole being taken up by tools is a better description) and so we went across the square. There was no way to bend the thing back into place, but one of the three wanted to give it a go. Knowing that he wouldn’t be able to get the pin back into place I let him go ahead. He of course pushed the pin out entirely, then tried to replace it with a sawed-off drill bit. That was a no-go. Shortening the chain was an alternative, but Dieter from Speedzone had insisted that I take a chain lock with me and so we just replaced the missing link with the chain lock … works like a charm and should hold up alright. If worse comes to worse, I am carrying an extra chain. In the meantime, the guys had pretty much brought out half the tools in the shop, not worrying about anything getting dirty, had also seen to it that I was fed (one of them brought some chicken, rice and drinks over) and in the end gave me an adjustable wrench and a hat because they thought I might need it. Not sure how they got the idea, but hey. Thanks a bunch for helping out guys.

Here is to the Germans among you and the debate about abolishing this sign in Germany. Not that anyone here really cares about street signs …


I was heading out again in the afternoon heat. It is muggy here … and hot. A not-so-pretty combination and in contrast to the other areas of Iran you just don’t dry up ever. My shirt is covered in sweat basically all day long, which makes for some icky riding.

I found some nice spot at night time to pitch my tent, cooked up some pasta and had some more cookies for diner, replenishing the lost energy. And slumbered off into a very peaceful night.

July 25, 2008   No Comments

Day 122 (Iran): Tehran - just before Kohrud (a new honking record, lunch, an apple and a banana)

daily distance: 142km
total distance: 7190km
riding time: 9h

This was it … heading out of Tehran. Got out later than I wanted to due to some more backing up and giving DVDs to Isabelle who also left that night for Germany. But the streets were rather empty when I hit the road just before 7am.

Made some good progress up the wrong valley and had to come back down the mountain (a 10km detour) only to hit a very busy highway. Mohsen had warned me about going up there on a weekend, but I was itching to leave Tehran ASAP.

Nasty traffic and lots of uphills made for some grueling riding over demanding terrain. A couple of walkers hit me with the flag that they carried - without intending to do so of course, but it was a close call. Heavy traffic continued all the way up the mountain, which was at about 2900m (my starting point was roughly 1500m, the total for the day was 1999m in altitude). A good workout especially given the wonderful stale air in the tunnel just before the top. Crazy Tehran driving coupled with a bad road and no visibility. But the scenery outside of the tunnel was stunning, switchbacks making for some good fun.

At the top I was welcomed by a very touristic mosque (for the Iranian tourists) and a guy giving me an apple as well as cooler temperatures. Good stuff overall. After changing into a long shirt (shorts were on as I felt rebellious and had been reasurred it would not be a problem) I made for the downhill. Not much in terms of high speeds though. The wind was straight from the front, making for slow and frustrating progress at first. Then Mount Damarvand appears with its head covered in the clouds. Still an impressive sight, the clouds brooding and giving the whole scene a gloomy feel.

Further downhills were interrupted by tunnels with no oxygen it felt (I am thankful for not having to go up there) and drivers who have no problem overtaking in tunnels amidst heavy traffic. Craziness. One guy flags me down, gives me a banana and we talk for a while.

Then it was time to find a place to camp. But there was either police, too many people or flooded access roads in the narrow valley to get to the places that I wanted to go. Or the owner of one place warns me of wild boars roaming the area. It took a while and a lot of laughter to get that one across, covering pretty much every conceivable animal.

I end up with some construction workers he tells me to go and they welcome me with open arms. What a difference to the comforts of Northern Tehran.They set me up with tea and a shower and a place to stay. It was great fun and it made for some interesting observations. 

Seniority is clearly observed here … the tea drinking goes by age I am pretty sure as there are only four cups. So I thought I would stay there when all of a sudden they talk about a restaurant. Hm … not sure what was going on. Off we go and one of the guys says to take the bike along. We left it there only for me to discover that I am brought to the actual construction site where I was to sleep in a real bed as they refused my sleeping on the floor in one of the rooms with which I would have been fine. So back to get the bike (the two places are one km apart). We cook dinner, have some good conversations (more than I thought we could do) about their work and the working times (no break during the summer really, they work seven days a week far from home) and despite some heavy snoring I crash pretty quickly.

July 24, 2008   No Comments

Day 121 (Iran): Tehran (rolling out of Tehran tomorrow)

Another trek to the embassy of Turkmenistan. This time they were open and this time the consular official knew my name and said only: “Your passport.” Good stuff … that meant that the application had been approved. I filled out the forms and did the usual paperwork. It asked for a local address too and I have really no idea and no intention of releasing that information either. What to do? “Where are you staying?” “With friends.” “Friends!” “Yes, friends.” He rolls his eyes. “Just put down a hotel name, that’s fine.”

With that done, I thought it was over. I handed over my money, but only heard: “Problem, Mr.” What??? Alright, I had seen some markings on the bills and had heard about this. But try to find clean US$ bills here. The argument that I got this money from the Uzbek embassy (weak I know, but I was hoping for some Central Asian solidarity here - I should have known that Uzbekistan doesn’t get that) was met with an incredulous: “Uzbekistan! This is the embassy of Turkmenistan.” Yes, no kidding, I know. I have been here four times now. At any rate, we agree that I can scour the city for real money until 4pm when I am supposed to pick up the visa anyway. Luckily one of the dreaded tourist agency guys comes around the corner and I ask him with the help of the consul whether he’s got the goods. He does. One of his bills is also unacceptable to the consul, but that is no problem. Mr. Tourist Agency has more. He exchanges some of my bills and asks for a Iranian money for the rest. A fair deal in the end, saving me a lot of time.

I meet up with Maryam from a few days ago again and together we walk through the city and also take a last crack at getting nylock nuts or loctite. While waiting for her I snap this one, a good indication that foreigners get away with so much more than Iranians.

We pass a bike store and got a good lead. That lead sounded promising, but was the epitome of what makes things difficult here. The place was full of great bikes, but none of the people there had any idea about bikes. Brandspanking expensive bikes galore, but all they could say was that I should bring my bike here so that they knew what I needed. I showed them the threading on one of their bikes - for a couple of people this was the first time that they even saw the threading in the frame. But in the end, despite many promises and a great deal of patience on the part of Maryam (who now is an expert on nylock nuts and loctite I am sure), we left empty-handed. It was worth a try. Will have a few of them sent to Tashkent, need to pick up some documents there anyway.

The visa pick up was a no-brainer. I got the visa, have five days within a six-day period to enter and leave the country and better be out before the five days are up. The consul was nice and friendly, wished me good luck and I was off to get back home.

No more fashion police at Tajrish, which I take to be a good thing. I had planned to take some more pictures at some distance to let you see how this works here, but for better or worse, that didn’t happen. But just as in Qazvin, colored chicks are in high demand here.

As my time in Tehran is now coming to an end, a big massive thank you to Isabelle and Andrea for putting up with me for so long. I had hoped to be out sooner and not the same morning that Isabelle is leaving Tehran as well while also managing a great number of other things. Life would have been a lot more complicated without them. Thank you, thank you, thank you is all I can say.

July 23, 2008   No Comments

Day 120 (Iran): Tehran (”you have to come back tomorrow”)

Another trip to the embassy of Turkmenistan … another disappointment. It was ominous when the larger stack of papers didn’t contain my file and so the consular staff said something along the lines of: “It is not here yet, come back tomorrow.” I didn’t want to show any emotions, but couldn’t help but let the disappointment show. This the guy took as an affront and so I had to listen to the it takes one week I told you so speech. Thanks! He is a nice guy though, unlike other people …

Not much else to report … saw a good number of Afghans and Central Asians working construction (no rights and bad treatment and of course, cheaper than Iranian labor from what I hear) …

and tried to wash the disappointment down with a good banana milk shake.

July 22, 2008   No Comments