I go back under the knife in a few days, and I’m not looking forward to it at all. The last time was so terrible. Even now, the feeling of drowning as I lay on the operating table willing my lungs to work, so very real.
I am sure this time round it will be better, with my two US trained doctors, working within a nationally ranked hospital. I’ve even taken comfort from the size of the bill, which is more than twenty times greater than the original Kazakh surgery.
I’ve spent the last 6 weeks just treading water, waiting to hear when I’d be fit to ride. Meanwhile, my bike has been waiting for me in Kazakhstan as summer wanes and the long Siberian winter marches closer. Recent complications with the original surgery have effectively set me back to square one. If I’m lucky I’ll need just one more surgery. If I’m not, then three. By the time I’m able to carry a pack it will be the end of the year, longer before I’m able to ride a 500 pound bike, and longer still before the snows melt. And I’m told, if I sustain another similar injury, my shoulder may never fully recover.
Day 99+. Distance 0.
I opened my eyes, and saw that I was surrounded by people. Five? Ten? Lots. I couldn’t count - my eyes hurt in the light, and my head throbbed. My mouth was parched. Thirsty. Thats one of my main memories from that time.
I tried to stand, and collapsed. Again. I reached out with my arm to steady myself, and with the pain it all came flooding back.
I was still on the side of the road, crashed. In Kazakhstan. I just wanted to close my eyes and try to sleep and wait for the pain to go. I thought that if I slept, maybe these people, whoever they are, will deal with everything and I’d wake up in a comfortable bed.
Through the darkness, I keep hearing noise, and I realize they are speaking to me. I don’t understand what they are saying. Opening my eyes, and blinking hard to rouse myself, I look up at them again and say “Britannia”. I am British.
Days: 92-99. 1,427 miles. 13,301 miles total.
And the full map, as I cross into Central Asia, and ever nearer Europe.
I’m fairly amazed they let me back into Russia actually. My visa is wrong in so many ways: my last name is written as “Michael”, not “James”; my license plate is entered incorrectly; and the transit visa was given assuming I’d be leaving Russia via Latvia, and not Kazakhstan. Still, I wheedle my way in.
This corner of Russia is the Altai mountain region, and is deep in Siberia. Its one of the most beautiful parts of the whole country. Steep mountains loom over winding switchbacks, while rivers roar through the narrow glens.
Days: 64-92. 1,393 miles. 11,874 miles total.
And the full map, as I inch ever closer to Europe:
Fully chastened, and close to fear, after my first attempt at crossing Mongolia ended in failure, I needed time to rest and recover. I also had time to pass as I waited for spares to arrive from Europe.
Finally, I have time to catch up on emails, writing this, and time just to relax and read.
As usual the Lonely Planet guide offered cheery advice on driving through this country:
Days: 63-72. 1,314 miles. 10,560 miles total.
And the full map:
Mongolia is a land of superlatives and contrasts. Its the least densely populated country in the world, with less than 1 person per square mile living there. Compare that to the UK, which is one of the 10 most crowded, major, countries on earth, with over 300 times the population density. To put that in perspective, if the UK was like Mongolia, it would have less than 500,000 people, instead of the 70 million that it currently has. Yet, with fully half the country’s population living in its capital city, Ulan Bataar, you wouldn’t believe these stats when you are there. UB is cramped, with awful traffic, and terrible pollution.
Days: 60-63. 825 miles. 9,246 miles total.
And for the first time, stepping back to see the circumference of the world:
Some may think they know how this ends, but few know how its gets there, and none, not even I, know how it ultimately comes to rest.
I learned quickly to respect Russia. On some days, the sun would shine, and I knock off close to 1,000km. On others, the weather would close in, the road would turn to mud, and I’d barely log 200.
Days 52-59. 1,675 miles. 8,421 miles total.
And, of course, zooming out for full effect:
In a country where the land mass is roughly equal to the visible area of the full moon, time and space mean different things. A short detour now racks up kilometers in the triple digits.
Days 43-49. 0 miles. 6,523 miles total.
Even though it took just 15 hours for me to travel from Vancouver to Inchon, South Korea, it took the bike a week. The volume of paperwork is staggering, and air freighting seems untouched by technological developments over the last 30 years. Everything is filled in by hand, in triplicate, then hand transported to its destination, or occasionally faxed. I’m asked repeatedly for the same information (VIN number, date of birth, color and weight of the bike and so on).
Its clear that this is a specialized event, beginning with the Dangerous Goods Export License that I apply for (the bike is essentially a tank of flammable fuel) and the dismantling and strapping down of the bike. Even simple steps become complicated, for example, the bike needs to be crated to avoid damage. However, the crates need to be chemically treated before they can be loaded into a plane. Despite planning this all out a month in advance, I’m suddenly cut short when the crate thats waiting for me, hasn’t been treated, and so I’m scrambling. The first 6 places I try either don’t have crates, or quote me $700+ to build one.
Days 24-43. 1,663 miles. 6,523 miles total.
I can that I’m approaching a wild area, when I see evidence indicating that the federal interstate highway is subject to weather related closures so frequently, that they’ve put up signage, and built turn around areas.
I didn’t take this photo. Source: http://www.csc.cs.colorado.edu/~matthew/content/1995-05-stopgate/stopgate.html