Riding into Istanbul – The Last Word
It is hard to imagine that a few months ago the 2016 Silk Route tour was deep in the remote, cold and windy Gobi Desert, with endless challenging riding days across a beautiful but inhospitable landscape ahead of us. The contrast to arriving in Istanbul – for generations a bustling crossroads between cultures, people, and empires – is astounding. Minarets and mosques dot the skyline, whilst boats and cargo ships hurry across the waterfront – a far cry from the barren emptiness of the Gobi desert! Sitting on the banks of the Bosphorous is a good time to reflect on the challenges we have encountered throughout this almost 5 month tour. Most recently, the ‘Hills of Anatolia’ section has seen some of the toughest climbing of the journey through huge endless valleys and canyons. Before that, we had the heat of Iran, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. The high altitude of the Pamir Highway in Tajikistan, the rugged climbs of Kyrgyzstan, the wide open steppes of Kazakhstan, and the rollercoaster mountains of Russia’s Altai region. Not to mention the hustle and bustle of China, and the aforementioned adventure through the Gobi in Mongolia.
Each country has had a unique character from a cycling and cultural perspective. Every border crossing was like lifting a curtain on a country you knew little about, or had biased preconceptions. The hospitality in this part of the world is second to none, with Iran being far and away the winner! Even in remote regions in Mongolia, local people came to greet and wish us well on our journey. Each challenge we have faced reminds us of the harsh reality of life in many of these places, but the positive spirit of the local people has always shone through.
For the Silk Route riders, Beijing to Istanbul will feel like a great distance for the legs, but a smaller one for the mind. With the vast distances on the map being replaced with positive memories of welcoming locals and kind hospitality, that make the world feel like a smaller and less daunting place. As we sit at the crossroads of two continents in Istanbul, the idea of ‘Europe’ and ‘Asia’ seem laughably irrelevant, having experienced so many similarities between supposedly ‘different’ Western and Eastern cultures. Riders already speak of regions or countries they would like to come back to, or how they will recommend visiting these places to others. It has been a journey through the heart of one of the most stunning regions of the world, with challenging environments, rich cultural history, and a positive outlook on life. Undoubtedly each Silk Route rider will have taken away something different from their individual experiences and will be sure to have a new perspective on the world.