The half way point of my journey
|Travel From||–||Balkash, Kazakhstan|
|Ending Location||–||Almaty, Kazakhstan|
|Miles Driven Today||–||402 Miles|
|Total Trip Mileage||–||7997 Miles|
|Countries visited Today||–|
|Countries visited on trip||US, Canada, UK, The Netherlands, Germany, Austria, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Italy, Switzerland, Belgium, Luxembourg, Finland, Estonia, Russia, Kazakhstan|
Well, we’ve reached the halfway point on the calendar, having traveled for 60 days, of the expected 120 days. As you can see, we’ve just about reached 8000 miles, which is almost exactly half of 16,000, so if things keep up, I’ll arrive in Bangkok with 16,000 more miles on the odometer than the bike had when I left Indian Land, on July 10th.
I’m certainly enjoying the trip, although it can be tough at times, for any number of reasons. That said, it’s been a great adventure, and a test in many ways.
I’m also enjoying the work to product the Blog. It takes time, and takes me away from other things, but sometimes I prefer the solitude of working alone, producing a product that I’ll have for the rest of my life.
I wish the best to all of you at home, who support me in this endeavor. I greatly appreciate the comments, suggestions, questions, etc. Keep em’ coming.
Here’s a quick view of my progress since starting the Edelweiss tour in Estonia.
Thinking about distance
When you hear me say that we’re going to ride 400 miles in a single day, I know that you’re thinking, pisshhah, that’s no big deal. I once (fill in story of how you traveled a thousand miles in a 12 hour period, etc). But, riding a bike in Kazakhstan is in no way similar to what you’re thinking.
First of all, we’re riding in the elements. When it rains, we get wet and cold. The roads get muddy, slick, and with each touch of the handlebars, we’re testing our skills to make sure that we can keep the bike upright.
And so, if I talk about a 400 mile day, you know that this is a long day of riding, and because it is so long, that is also an indication that the elements and the road conditions were part and parcel to the slower average speed.
Today’s road conditions
Today’s route took us over a 400 mile trek, where we had plenty of dirt, and thousands of pot holes, but perhaps worse than the potholes are the huge undulations in the road. Phil reported that he hit one of these ruts, and it almost threw him off his bike. He’s not alone, others have reported similar things. Riding on this kind of road forces you to maintain 100% focus, for each and every second. There is almost no time at all to look at your GPS, or to select a new bit of music to hear.
In fact, at one point, I decided that my focus level needed to be uncompromising, so I turned off the music, and just rode for a while. Probably 45 minutes like this, over some of the most difficult terrain.
Choosing a riding style
My riding style
Each rider uses a different style. In my case, I’m in spot number 2 today, just behind Marc, the ride leader. From all of the time I’ve spent on the race track, I make sure that I don’t ride anywhere that I can’t see. If my vision is compromised or shortened, then I ride slower, being sure to give myself the same amount of time to react to what I see.
When we first visit a racetrack, many turns are blind turns, or blind rises. So, we take the time to memorize the track, so that we’re comfortable attacking blind turns and hills. But out here, in the wild, you can’t memorize anything. Each new mile, is a series of new turns, holes, ruts, and whatever. And so, in addition to having to read the road, sometimes you read the road and see a stretch of bumpy or compromised pavement. When the terrain gets bumpy, you are immediately running the risk of hitting a hole, hard pavement edge, undulation, rut, sand, gravel, mud, puddle, cow, camel, or just about anything. Obstacles are everywhere, and if you hit any one of them, your tour could be over.
So, when my vision is compromised for any reason, I slow down to a pace that allows me to have sufficient reaction time. This might mean slowing from 65 to 45 for the most abrupt changes, but generally, I drop 10 mph, and stand on the pegs to look as far forward as possible. This minor change of perspective extends my viewing range, and gives me better control of the bike, although my pace does slow slightly.
Other riders riding style
Some of the other riders like to maintain a constant speed, even when the pavement is compromised. They bomb along at the same pace, dealing with whatever appears in front of them. Usually, this is a style used by the most confident, or most skilled riders. I don’t know if there style is successful, and I’ll try to check with them tomorrow, but I’ve ridden 8000 miles on this trip so far, and have not hit a single pothole.
Which style is better
Well, that’s that kind of question that you can’t easily answer. My style keeps me safe, and satisfies my risk management model. The others, use their style because it suits them, and their internal thoughts. So, I would say that each of us rides the way that we enjoy the riding the most. I want us all to arrive safely in Bangkok, but it’s not my place to suggest a change. Besides, I’m not the king, I’m just one of a group of riders, who are all trying to have fun, and have the trip of a lifetime.
Today, the pavement changed constantly for the first 100 miles. We’d ide on tar, then there would be an abrupt lane change, forcing us to the “unimproved / alternate highway”, which would often turn to mud, or be mud from the start. After a short distance, of maybe 500 yards, or maybe a longer distance of a few miles, we’d transition off this alternate route, back on to the pavement. And so it continued for the first 100 or 150 miles.
At some point, we started facing pothole, and undulations. Potholes can cause you to bend or break a rim, if you hit them in just the wrong way, or then can simply be very jarring. Undulations are abrupt changes in the pavement that make it more like a roller coaster than a road, and they can have the effect of tossing you up in the air, if you’re not ready for them.
So, the first 200 miles, was like this. But then, at about the midpoint, we changed to the plague of the potholes. Marc had warned us that this stretch, of roughly 130 miles, was known for having huge potholes. So, we simply logged the miles, staying out of trouble, and to our great surprise, we found a few stretches of new pavement, which were a joy to drive on. But, just as all things in Kazakhstan are never completed, these stretches of nice asphalt would end abruptly, forcing you to drop off of a ledge, ride on dirt or gravel for 50 yards, and then rise up on to the next piece of asphalt.
What a way to build a highway…
Along the route, and as I mentioned in my reports from the road, we came upon several groups of what we believe are wile horses. I’ve been playing with Adobe Elements, and like the trained monkey, I’ve taught myself a new trick. Have a look, and enjoy the horses.
Report from the road
Almaty is a city of approximately 2.3M inhabitants. Almaty is in Asia, so it adopts a little bit of the Asian culture, which is the chaotic driving model, but as I understand it, the traffic patterns and traffic flow, however amped they might feel, still fall short of how the traffic will be once we reach China.
That said, I’m not going to use any of the colloquial expressions like… I didn’t just fall off a turnip truck, but with the exception of NYC, no American city, and its traffic patterns and flow can compare to a city like Almaty. There is a certain chaos, a frenetic nature to the traffic that you don’t get in NYC. Surely, NYC offers a good deal more aggression, and people try to squeeze in here, and there, but it’s different. Traffic in Almaty, however chaotic, is expected to flow, and so seemingly, without thinking about it, the drivers see to it that it continues to flow.
That said, don’t be confused about the way that cars maneuver. They still take every opportunity to save themselves 6′ of road, or even 1′ of road, if they’re in that mindset. And so, it was with this type of traffic that we had a string of 12 motorcycles, all following the leader as he danced through traffic, enroute the hotel.
The entire route was at least 15 miles in length, but I’ve taken a short piece of it, and laid it out as a PiP, so that you can see both the forward and rear-looking dance, as it happens.
The Almaty Shuffle
The hotel has a secure parking lot in the back, behind a guarded gate. And,, as usual we entered the lot, parked the bikes, and began to decompress. And so, after 11 hours and 45 minutes on the road, we had arrived at our destination, where we’d spend the next 3 days.
I could not believe the buzz that I was feeling as we arrived. Riding in traffic, with such a level of concentration, and with so many moving parts was exhilarating, and it felt good to have executed well, not just as an individual, but as a team. Throughout the entire ride into the city, the group worked and moved like a snake, covering holes, creating holes, making room, checking mirrors, and always staying safe. Wow, what a rush.
The simple things
If you recall when I rode across Patagonia, I managed to find some things that, as an American, I assume are simple, and universal, but that the World simply doesn’t see that way. Well, here’s a couple more…
My hotel room has a single plug under the desk. And, considering all of the various forms of computer gadget that I’ve got with me, it’s easy to imagine that a single plug is not going to be sufficient to power and charge all of my hardware each night. And so, I went on a walkabout to the reception desk, to see about getting a power strip, so that I can have 3 or 4 outlets, easily accessible.
Would you believe that in Kazakhstan, they have no idea what a power strip is. I tried saying that it’s an extension cord, with multiple plugs, but again, a blank look, as the word Extension Cord also has no meaning. Eventually, and I’m not quite sure how, I got my point across, and the woman at reception asked me to go to the bar, and the bartender would provide me with a Power Strip. A little surprised, but I’ll try anything once. And so, I wandered to the bar, and was immediately handed a power strip, just like I wanted.
Thinking about tires…
The Michelin Anakee Adventure
Tires for an Adventure bike are classified using a percentage scale. If a tire is rated as 90/10, then it can be ridden on the road and off-road, but it’s 90% efficient on the road, and only 10% efficient in the dirt. The Michelin Anakee Adventure is a 90/10 tire. It’s the tire that I chose to install on my bike when I visited the BMW dealer in Tallinn, Estonia. These tires were excellent as we crossed Russia, riding on tar, enjoying miles of mostly good pavement, with the occasional dirt patch. As you can see in the picture, the tires are rounder, have big rubber blocks, but the gap between the blocks is relatively narrow, which does not allow good bite in the dirt and mud.
When these tires were new, and fresh, the tread depth was sufficient to give me good traction, and excellent confidence in the dirt and mud, and even higher confidence on the road. But, as we traveled further south, leaving civilization, entering areas where more and more dirt and mud was appearing, I found that the combination of the 90/10 design, coupled with the fact that the tire was beginning to wear out, caused me to start to feel the bike “getting Jiggy with me”. That’s really a way of saying the front end would occasionally lose traction, and I’d have to correct. Sometimes I’d correct at slow speeds, sometimes at higher speeds, creating slightly more drama.
The Heidenau K-60 Scout
Most of our group is riding with the Heidenau K-60 Scout tire. This tire, as you can see in the picture, has bigger blocks of rubber, with bigger gaps in-between the blocks. This combination of tread pattern, and the fact that the rubber is firmer, make this a much better tire when riding in mud, sand, dirt, and gravel.
I had asked Edelweiss to purchase a set of Anakee Adventure tires for me, and I had planned on changing them at the halfway point of our trip. We are currently at the 30% point of our trip, and the current set of Anakee Adventures are giving out, and while they still have reasonable tread left, they are clearly not the right tire for this journey.
Tell ’em Scout says hey
The heading above is a quote from To Kill a Mocking bird, one of my favorite movies. Scout is the name of a little girl, whose innocence and ethics bring out the best in everyone, especially her father, Atticus Finch.
In any case, I’ve decided to use the spare set of K-60 tires that Edelweiss took along, and I’ll install them tomorrow, when we have our bikes services. I love riding fast in the dirt and mud, and I’m pretty sure that with these tires, I’ll be back in business.
What will tomorrow bring
Tomorrow, we’re scheduled to leave the hotel at 8:30 and travel to the local BMW dealer to have our bikes serviced. We’ll drop off 6 bikes at the BMW dealer, and the remaining 6 bikes will travel to a local service partner of Edelweiss.
I plan on having a standard 3000 mile service completed, after which time we’ll head back to the hotel, and figure out our next move from there.