A Hard Journey
Since Genghis Khan plundered his way through Central Asia the Silk Route has had another name at times…“The Route of all Evil” for us this name is sometimes used jokingly/lovingly regarding the Silk Route. Somehow this tour tests not only our organization but also each and every participant beyond what they could have imagined the day the Tour begins.
If there were ever a Tour for before and after photos this is truly it, but perhaps a CT scan would be better. It pressures the mind. I once worked on the Silk Route with a fellow who has led expeditions along the Arctic by cross-country skis and gleefully teaches others how to camp throughout our frigid Canadian winters. For him, the Silk Route, despite being a commercial tour that anyone can sign up for, was still one of his greatest challenges as an individual. It is not only the difficulty of the cycling, but also the nature of the Silk Route itself.
People sometimes imagine the Silk Route and it’s storied history as a tale from times past. It is not; it is a living, breathing route that is ingrained upon the cultures it passes through. The reasons for attempting the crossing have changed over the centuries, but the essence of the journey has remained the same.
What is it about the Silk Route that tests us, that pushes us? It is a balance between nature and man-made obstacles. Mountain ranges such as the Tian Shan and Pamirs whose peaks ascend beyond 7000meters; the Taklimakan and Karakum deserts who host some of the hottest locales on earth; the bureaucracy of borders whose countries’ governments eye you suspiciously.
These challenges are faced from the seat of our bicycles. Above 4000 meters in the snow our bicycles continue on, as well as in the 50-degree temperatures of Turpan, China. Navigating our way through cultures that have shifted like the tides from east to west over the last millennia. From our bicycles we witness people oppressed in their own land, and people who reach out in hospitality, as you could not experience anywhere else in the world.
The Silk Route is a true expedition. It’s difficulty and length make it so that it grows to encompass you during the journey, you can feel as distant from your previous life as the ancient Silk traders and poet explorers once described. The stress of the journey will test you, and to be honest some people break under that stress, losing sight of the eventual goal. This is not a cause to fret though. Even the great Chinese poet Li Po of the Tang dynasty, born along the Silk Route, could commiserate…
Gold painted jars – wines worth a thousand.
Jade carved dishes – food costing more.
I throw the chopsticks down,
Food and wine are tasteless.
Draw my magic sword,
Mind confused stare round me.
See the ice floes block the Yellow River.
Feel the snowfall shroud the T’ai-hang Mountains.
Quiet again I cast in dark waters,
Find the fragile boat that might drift sunwards.
Hard Journey. So many side-tracks.
Turn after turn, and where am I?
New breezes flatten down the waves ahead.
I’ll set cloud sails, cross the Blue Horizon.
So is the Silk Route truly the Route of all Evil? Not at all I’d say. It can be a harsh environment, so harsh that in centuries past it was a direction that some were banished too in punishment. For many Silk Route travelers though it was a journey that became the essence of their life. The taste of it, the sounds heard, languages listened too, stars gazed on cold desert nights and the forever mystery of the next day to come.