Day 139 (Turkmenistan): nowhereland - nowhereland (Superman is yellow and blue)
daily distance: 120km
total distance: 8673km
riding time: 9h
If you wonder about the Superman reference, please be patient. I shall explain. You will get to meet him.
I got up at 5am and moved out. Tested the wind beforehand. Yes, it’s still there. Darn. The first 20km were great though. I was riding before sunrise, Haendel’s Sarabande was in my ear phones as the sun went up (perfect shuffle effect there) and things seemed to be moving quite well.
Then the wind came back. It had died down over night, but came back with a vengeance. It was ghastly. It was right in my face, moving about 30 degrees, 15 one way, 15 the other. It didn’t take away the beauty of the first part, but put a damper on the second. It seemed to be full out war. I knew that I was getting into some serious territory, had expected heat and other nuisances and was quite apprehensive about it all. This wind was something different. Always in your face. Always. Compartmentalizing the distance was one way to go, but it only gets you so far when you don’t seem to be moving at all.
I was lucky though as Superman showed up. I was just thinking that it would be great to have superpowers and blow the wind away. Here he is …
I had seen a slow truck approaching from behind me as I was on good roads. Tried to draft and got right behind it. It worked quite well - as a matter of fact, it worked like a charm. Here is Superman now … forget that you ever thought he was red and blue, his colors are actually yellow and blue. It was pure delight - I just had to be careful not to slip out of the draft. If I did, I would have had little chance of catching up.
Superman needed to take a break and I moved on on my own. After some more grueling kms, the first station. A terrible place. What do people do here?
Some stand at the side of the side of the road, selling yoghurt, mostly kids … Not a fun place to be in the middle of the heat.
The lady in the Kafe was unfriendly. She overcharged by a triple and I moved on without buying anything. I guess the market sort of works here too. Another 15kms of extremely terrible road and I reached a checkpoint. What do you have that for? People won’t escape into this desert - you better not. Superman had overtaken me again, but this time I had no chance of getting behind. I realized his approach a little on the late side with the wind in my face and when he was beside me, it was too late to try to play catch up. I gave it a shot until my legs burned, but he moved away from me inch by inch. It was heart-breaking. You’re in the wind and you are sure that you are beaten like a dog (and have been), there is your savior for the moment and he moves off. It wouldn’t have done much good, the road on this stretch looked like this for the most part and I would have just ruined my bike without seeing where to go.
I gave in - the checkpoint came and went. It was 60km to the next station and I wasn’t sure how to get there in this kind of wind. I moved on and … saw Superman again. He had to take another rest and I spoke to the two drivers again, telling them that I would be trying to stay behind them. They laughed about this and said that I couldn’t, but that I should try. And so I did. I put some bread within reach and stayed behind the rig for over two hours. The speed was somewhere between 20km/h and 27km/h, which I could do. The only problem was that I could not see anything and that I was constantly expecting running into a pothole. There was a little hole in the center that allowed me to see the next 8m or so, not much of a warning though. And with the wind coming from the left front, there were gusts that were catching me all the time, but somehow I stayed behind Superman for over 50km until we reached the Kafe. Superman was my savior indeed - not sure how that day would have shaped up without him (the following pictures has some notes, click on it and hover your mouse over it and you’ll get some explanation).
By the time we reached the Kafe, it was 2pm and I was shot. It was getting hot and oppressively so. It was time to take a break. I ate something with the two drivers and stayed behind as they moved further towards Turkmenabad. The wind was picking up during the afternoon and all I could do was to stay where I was.
The owner was really interested in my mp3 player and sure enough wanted to listen to what was coming up - Bobby McFerrin’s “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” seemed to be a good one …
In the end, I wanted to give it a try and got out again. What a dumb idea. The ride was one of the worst ever. The sand coming at me like snakes again, I couldn’t see much as it was flying higher this time and with even more force. The whole sky was clear, but along the ground the sand was just like pinpricks. Not a whole lot of fun. I did this for about 5km and wanted to ditch things. But there wasn’t anything to ditch the bike at. It was just shrubs and sand. I decided that I would stop at the next possible stop, something had to be there. And then, I saw a construction trailer. I was received warmly, the guy manning it served me tea and we shared our cookies. The rest of the people working constrution here in the desert were to come later on and so we waited around for a while, sharing stories abotu this and that. He explained the whole road to Samarkand to me, including altitude changes and distances (and was right for the most part in hindsight).
The rest of the crew came just before nightfall, the stranger being the talk for the evening. But soon after having dinner, we all crawled into bed and over my protest I was given the boss’s bunk, which was in a two-person compartment, the remaining 10 people sharing the other room in the trailer.
I am glad I pulled through in the end and it was a good ride after all … thanks to Superman and the people of the construction crew.