Day One The hard shoulder is narrow, virtually non-existent, the traffic is lively - too many trucks - and the landscape is, frankly, dull. Not a great start. We have set off later than hoped because Gabor took ages to pack and load up his bike in the morning. Jona and Franzi are off to the Turkmenistan consul again today and if they are successful they will chase us down. But should they fail, then they will follow us by bus. We have three days to cover 180km. All in all there is no need to rush but we soon discover that 'rush' is not a word in Gabor's extensive English vocabulary in any case. It's funny to be cycling in company again.
|Gabor has perfected his cooking technique|
At first we stick together as we cycle along, but Gayle, possibly feeling the pressure of Gabor's presence (another tall bloke), pedals with some vim in the afternoon, leaving the two tall blokes in her trail. We camp in a crease in the land out of sight of the road but within hearing distance of shepherds with their flock.
|a biblical scene|
Day Two Already there are signs of a split in the team. We have breakfasted and packed up while Gabor is still pootling about. Gayle is keen to start so that she isn't expected to rush later on. We discern that Gabor is rather particular about everything he does. He is a quiet man at times and when he speaks it is with the air of someone who has reflected and considered what he is about to say first. He also appreciates a laugh and ironic humour. We abandon him and push off. At the roadside I notice a flat tyre. I am sure Gabor is chuckling at the irony of it. We change the tube and set off - still no sign of Gabor. Later on, altogether again, we stop in a small and scruffy village to look for food in the small and scruffy shops. There is no bread. We ask in one shop and a customer asks us how many we need. Two. She walks out of the shop and returns with two discs of bread for us, refusing payment. Remarkable in any other country - in Iran this kind of hospitality seems commonplace. It's what makes travel here so special.
|a wonderful wild camp|
In the afternoon we approach a ridge of hills. After a cloudy cool morning the sun is out in full force. The road turns 90 degrees and heads directly into the hills. We pause for water and ice cream at a shop/mosque combo before hitting the steep road into the hills. At the top it starts to rain. A policeman is flagging down trucks. He wants to know where I am from. Gayle appears, wearing only her helmet. Well, no, she has all her clothes on too but she is not bothering with any hejab. The policeman is a bit confused. He points at her and asks me "Woman?" The descent is joyous - winding down through grass covered valleys with rolling hills. We pause for breath and Gabor checks his messages. Jona and Franzi have just got off the bus and are cycling down from the top. We are reunited at a fabulous wild camp spot in a green side valley away from the road. After another shower the setting sun appears, followed by a rainbow. Now we are five.
|waiting for Gabor|
Day Three The road continues to descend out of the green hills and emerges into another dry and dusty landscape. We collect water at a red crescent station and dutifully pose for photos. Our cycling group is rather ragged - we all cycle at different rhythms - and towards the end of the afternoon we arrive in the border town of Sarakhs just ahead of a big rainstorm. A policeman at a roundabout points us towards a hotel. We ignore him and ride on to find a shop. Then another policeman in a car waves us over and asks us where we will stay tonight. Do we have a tent? Yes, we do. We must follow him. But first we must shop and it's about to chuck it down. We shelter for a while until the rain eases off and then pop in and out of various small shops to stock up. Just as we are ready to leave the police car returns. Looks like we're nicked. We dutifully follow the police through the town and back the way we came. They lead us to a building just off the main road - it's another red crescent station. We are shown inside where we can put our bikes, our wet clothes, and a carpeted prayer room to sleep. There's a kitchen and bathroom. A result.
|c is for cyclists|