In February 2015 Gary Taylor, from Ipswich, set off to cycle around the world for Re~Cycle. He’s taken on this mighty challenge on his own, unsupported and adhering to the Guinness World Record rules. We caught up with Gary for an update of his most recent travels. You can support Gary by making a donation via his Virgin Money page here.
“So, I had to leave Azerbaijan in a bit of a hurry due to me being deported. Something about me failing to register my stay with the authorities. The guys at the migration office were actually pretty friendly and gave me extra time to get out because I was travelling by bike and trying to hitch a ride on a cargo ship. It didn’t really matter though, by the time my visa for Uzbekistan came through I was more than ready to leave.
When I entered Kazakhstan it was immediately obvious that I was entering a stretch of harsh desert. The roads were surprisingly good but it changed during the first full day of riding. My previous description of “your average garden centre car-park, ploughed vigorously, after a meteor shower then buried in an inch of fine, dusty sand” might have been slightly generous with hindsight. I crossed into Uzbekistan and watched in horror as the road surface actually deteriorated. I made it through twelve days in the dust and heat before I got into the first proper town, Nukus, with my bicycle and sanity just about in tact and finally found a hotel.
The heat peaked at 52.6c by my thermometer, but it hovered around the fifty mark for most of my time riding in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. My daily routine descended into sleeping and riding whenever it was even slightly comfortable to do so. Usually just getting 3 hours sleep whenever I saw a patch of shade that would last that long. Then doing most of my cycling distance in the night, if the roads were clear enough. Uzbekistan threw in bureaucratic and authoritarian challenges again with a registration system that is hard to follow, mainly because nobody (including the border guards!) can tell you what it is. I found out the rules quite late on in my time in the country; register every 72 hours. I failed twice to do so but luckily nobody at the border seemed to care. I had avoided deportation this time!
Arriving in Samarkand was a highlight of the region and my trip so far. I met a tonne of other cyclists who were following a similar route, The day I arrived there were 13 of us in the hostel and the policy seemed to be roughly 2 out, 2 in each day during my stay! It seemed my fears of increased loneliness in central Asia were not completely warranted as although hostels are few and far between, the route is quite popular for cycle tourists and with really only one road, it’s hard not to bump into the other cyclists.
Unfortunately nearly all of the other cyclists were intent on following the Pamir highway through Tajikistan and although this was something I had considered, I decided to take the easy route; north then back into Kazakhstan again and then across into Kyrgyzstan. Avoiding the most brutal and coldest of the mountain passes. This meant parting ways with almost everyone, luckily for me there was another cyclist, Alex, heading my way towards the Chinese border so we rode and camped together for a while.
Driving standards throughout central Asia are, without doubt, the worst I have experienced. The only bicycles around are fully utilitarian objects for farmers getting to and from their fields. Even these are extremely rare and don’t seem to be allowed any space on the road. You are expected to take to the tiny strip of dirt at the side of the road any time a car wishes to pass another. Bike fitting is obviously not a service in this area of the world either, I regularly saw young boys aged between 7 and 10 riding full sized frames, standing up on the pedals with barely any clearance from the top tube of the frame. But then I guess boys of 7–10 are expected to work in the fields here like everyone else.
In Kyrgyzstan I had the opportunity of a rest break and spent some time relaxing before I had to fly. I started the process for my Indian visa after lengthy negotiations at the embassy. To get the longest visa possible (India is big…) the consul agreed to issue my visa the day before I flew, which made me a little nervous but I decided to trust him. 21 hours before I flew I collected the visa and it was all as promised so I could breath a sigh of relief at last! I decided to take a flight to India for a few reasons, but mainly for ease of co-ordinating my arrival with that of a close friend of mine from home who has flown out to meet me. Also, because travelling south through Tibet or the Kashmir region of Pakistan/India would be challenging and expensive. As this would have been north-south travel it would, technically, not contribute towards my west-east based goal of circumnavigation and would stretch my tight budget with no overall gain. Although I would have seen some amazing scenery!
Arriving in Delhi was quite a big shock to the system. The heat was slightly lower but humidity here is stifling, like breathing through a sponge. Also, as you may have heard, it’s noisy and busy and dirty. A world away from the relaxation of Kyrgyzstan! As I arrived by plane there was no gradual transition for me, I was thrown right into the middle of it all. I reassembled my bike and broke my chainbreaker in the process, luckily I found a “bike shop” just down the road from our hostel who could no doubt help. He placed my chain on an old nut, placed a ball-bearing on top of the pin and hit it with a hammer a few times. I could have done that myself and saved 20p, but it was probably foolish of me to expect a more professional approach so far from my normal European luxuries like Parktool equipped bicycle workshops. All the same, it did the job.
After a day of rest came the usual fun of securing the visa for the next country, in this case, Myanmar. Myanmar has only recently opened up to tourism and the political situation there (especially around the borders) is sketchy at best. I was aware I needed a permit to cross the border by land as well as my standard tourist visa, but my visa application was refused because I didn’t have the permit. My permit applcation was then refused because I didn’t have the visa. A lot of emails back and forth, three return bike rides through the city, some help from the ambassador and a lot of swearing and I had secured the visa. I am now waiting for the permit to process. I will be cutting it fine as usual, because I will find out if I get it just a few days before my Indian visa expires.
As soon as my visa was stamped and signed, I was able to leave India’s capital city and carry on with my route, this time, with Nancy for company. We headed south for two days to Agra, home of the Taj Mahal, which is where we are now. The traffic, as expected, is extremely chaotic. But, I have to say, despite it’s challenges it’s a lot of fun. Rules of the road are completely disregarded (priority on and off of roundabouts is reversed for some reason that I simply cannot fathom) and everybody seems to think they have right of way at all times, but there’s a certain element of respect and focus among road users that is lacking back in Europe. The best thing about Indian roads is that bicycles are everywhere, carrying everything! This means motorists are well conditioned to driving in their presence and as a result, the roads are, ironically, somewhat less intimidating than Europe. In roughly 900km of riding on Indian roads, I am yet to see even a minor collision OR a single angry exchange between road users.
I continue east across India until the 10th of October, when, all being well, I will cross into Myanmar and begin to head towards Australia, a country which is now back on the schedule. Heading to Oz is just one of many changes I have made to my route but my target for completing a full circumnavigation, adhering to the rules in the Guinness Book of Records is still on track!”
“Donations have now reached £3289.31 and I’m well happy with that, so I’d like to thank everyone who has donated or helped to spread the word! Keep it up and I’ll keep pedalling!” Gary Taylor