A map of the world was put on the table and within minutes everyone was pointing towards Iran and the mountains in Central Asia. The Silk Road it is.
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It is the right thing to do
In January of 2016, we met for dinner to take this idea a step further. I remember that evening quite well. With a quick look around the table, you saw four guys in four vastly different situations; freelance, new job, studying, just broke up, new girlfriend, only one with an adventure motorcycle, one without a motorcycle license.
Somehow it felt like the right thing to do. For all of us. Everyone was determined to make this happen. A map of the world was put on the table and within minutes everyone was pointing towards Iran and the mountains in Central Asia. The Silk Road it is.
Since that dinner, we had endless conversations on messenger and evenings in pubs about what gear to buy, what places to visits but mainly what adventure motorcycle to buy, what to fix/upgrade and what modifications we needed. Our longest motorcycle adventure was a long weekend to the Eifel in Germany!
We really had no idea what to expect and how to prepare for it all. Luckily there is a lot of info on the Internet about motorcycles and clothing, although sometimes it could result in more questions than answers. The challenge seemed very big, but we took it one step at a time and made it happen.
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Start the adventure
One year later, ready as we thought we could be, we left Amsterdam behind and headed east. We travelled through Europe at a ridiculously fast pace to get to Istanbul, our starting point. As we drove through Turkey, we didn’t meet any travelers or tourists. We made the observation that it’s not really a holiday destination like it used to be. Which, after two weeks becomes a bit weird, constantly being the only ones in the hostels.
At the Iranian border, we felt a bit nervous for the unknown. We moved to the last checkpoint and stopped next to a 450cc Honda motorcycle with panniers half the size of ours and a small bag on top. The tiny motorcycle belonged to Fredrich, a 70-year-old German man travelling to Beijing alone. That evening we got invited by locals to have dinner at a fancy restaurant, where we got to chance to hear about his earlier adventures in South America, Pakistan and Iraq. It was certainly a relief knowing that we are not the only ones crazy enough to do this.
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FINDING KINDNESS IN UNEXPECTED PLACES
The adventure continued through sandy, hot and very welcoming Iran. After we just did 80 kilometers through the desert, one of us got our first flat tire at the very end of the track. We joked about it in the pub, but there we were, indeed standing in the middle of nothing, apart from a few half-finished brick cottages. Luckily, we changed tires and inner tubes before, which helped to do this quickly in the burning sun. Within minutes, people came over to see what was happing and started staring. At that moment, our frustrations reached a high point and we just wanted the audience to dissipate.
An old man, who himself had to fast due to the Ramadan, brought us a melon and some delicious lemonade. To be honest, something we craved for at that moment. We put some air into the fresh innertube, thanked the man and went on.
During the trip, it happened pretty much every day that people came up to us to shake hands, offer shelter and food or vodka shots while driving. The kindness of everyone takes you by surprise in the most unexpected places.
The kindness of everyone takes you by surprise in the most unexpected places.
Far away from home
At the end of the day, you partially get a grasp of how far away you are from home. On average, we did about 200km a day. Although it costs a lot of energy, you gain more because nothing beats a view of a 6km-high mountain range! So now and then, meeting a fellow traveler helps to reflect once in a while. Like in Isfahan, we met Hugo, riding a Kawasaki KLR 600cc motorcycle with worn road tires. He explained that he quit his job, then went on the internet to look for the cheapest motorcycle he could find. Bought it. He welded panniers of a Goldwing-ish motorcycle on the sides, which he had laying around, and left a few days later. No tools whatsoever but well-equipped with a good travel insurance package (in case he got a flat).
You realize along the way that everyone, including the bikers and the backpackers you meet, is enjoying it all at least as much as you do but all in their own ways. Our Africa Twins let us go wherever we wanted to go, off the asphalt and into the unknown. We met Dutch newlyweds from Sydney on their look-a-like BSA M21 600cc bikes who were happy to just cruise and stick to the main roads. All different methods, with different stories and different reasons for leaving.
Planning the routes
Our handlebars planned our routes. Literally. We rode from The Netherlands to Tajikistan and shipped our bikes back from that point, but at every stop, there was the possibility to change the route. Carpe diem, as they say. There were dates we had to be somewhere due to the visa, but if we received a tip from someone/a local, we altered the way. Of course, the Pamir Highway was a bit we didn't want to miss out on. That randomness is what makes these trips so great. Take it day by day.
It doesn’t get much better than this
Our best days on the trip were the days where the road ended. I clearly remember the day in Kyrgyzstan when we went off-track. We drove over the grassy landscape following a track when, just like a week earlier in Tajikistan, the road disappeared.
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I was riding a little behind the others and after so many days riding together you only had to look at each other for a few seconds and everyone opened up the throttle. Almost next to each other, we were racing to get to the top of the hill. It went on for a few kilometers. It is just the best feeling riding there with your mates. Eventually, we had to go back to the track and found the road with the help of the GPS. Two Kyrgyz brothers were coming towards us on their horses to say hello, just before we started the decent over a long, challenging, sandy track though a beautiful red sandy gorge.
Ending the day with setting-up camp on another hill top. Enjoying the sunset and the many stars in the sky. It doesn’t get much better than that, guys.
Reading about it is nice, but I reckon all of this is something you need to experience for yourself. Thus, if there is just a little part in you that dreams about doing such a trip, all I can say to you is just go for it! Like many things, it only requires commitment. Just look at us, we managed.