I love the smell of cannabis in the mornings!

It was great to get that Kazakhstan visa in our passport – our ticket out of Chinaland. It was also really frustrating that we didn’t get it a few days earlier. We had come so close.  I thought it was stupid to try and get to Kazakhstan in the five days we had left on our Chinese visa, especially since any problems on that last day could cause us to miss the border before it closed for the evening and land us in bags of trouble.  While I thought an arrest at the border would be great for the blog, the fines would devastate our budget.  Besides, as I said to Kat, ‘What have we got to prove?’

Pondering this we were glad that we had now got to the point in our trip where we didn’t feel we had to do anything to prove anything to ourselves or anyone else.  While we had always told ourselves that we were on our own journey with the world at our feet to explore, there had always been a certain vanity, pride or insecurity somewhere below the surface.  In the darker moments of our adventures Kat would say, ‘We can’t just fly home. We have told everyone we are going to cycle around the world…’  I would sometimes fall into the trap of judging how good days were by how many kilometres we had cycled – the more distance you cover, the better you are doing.  But now we felt liberated from that baggage. We would take the bus, because that was the wise thing to do.  There was a slim chance we could make the border, our cycling journey unbroken but there was much more probability that we would fall short and the risk was not worth it.

As we walked through a park close to the embassy Kat stopped me. ‘Did you just say there is a slim chance we could could cycle all the way to Kazakhstan?  I thought it was impossible now?’

‘It is still possible in theory. The bike might stop breaking, we might get a tailwind, if we cycled from dawn until night – sure, there is a chance.’ I replied with hesitance.

With a little glint Kat said ‘Let’s find out. Besides I know how to cycle. Getting the bus sounds stressful.’

Over 700 kms in five days, the mission was on but not because of vanity, pride or insecurity but because, well I guess we were just curious.  I spent the rest of the afternoon trying to convince Kat that the mantra ‘He who dares wins’ was coined by the SAS, not Del-Boy from Only Fools and Horses.

Day 1 – 195 kms

A brief smile while pounding out the miles.

We left at dawn from our crappy hostel.  The first day had to be big. We took great satisfaction in waking up the miserable receptionist who was sleeping on a sofa by the front door.  In an action a little out of character for me, I ‘accidentally’ rammed the tandem into the said sofa a few times to make sure she let us out quickly.  We were completely focused on our goal.

After the usual mistakes trying to get out of a big city, we were finally flying down the road.  Kat cranked up the tunes and we were unashamedly just thrashing out the kilometres.  At 40 kms, a quick puncture fix on the trailer.  At 150 kms, a broken spoke replaced during a drink stop.  With day light left at our planned stop, we just kept going.  A massive 195 kms and we made it to a hotel.

Day 2 – 128 kms

After a cheeky extra hour in bed, we were back on the road.  Our flag had snapped off in the night. Curiosity gone too far or a message? Probably the former. The people in Shawan were as always in China, friendly but as we were reaching the fringes of the Chinese ’empire’, we knew there was tension below the surface but not with two grubby cyclists from the UK…  The main road was being worked on and we had many hours of terrible service roads shared with poorly driven trucks.

Head torch used to get an extra 20kms in.

Back on the good road we cycled late to get the miles in.  The tent was put up quickly close to the road.  We have realised that using the tandem at one end and a trailer at the other to tie our guy ropes to, we can pop the tent up without having to use tent pegs on bad ground.

Day 3 – 143 kms

After throwing up the tent in the dark the previous night, we were up again with the first sign of light.

On the road by dawn.

A little sore from the day before but the road was good and there was no headwind.  We had two slow punctures but regular pumps kept us going – a couple more spokes broke.  But we were in ‘the zone’.

The road was like a treadmill - but still beats the gym.

We found a nice hotel on the road and stuffed our hungry little faces. The bemused staff all wanted photos in the morning and gave us a big pot of local honey to see us up the hill…

Thanks Honey!

Day 4 – 99 kms

The hill.  They weren’t joking.  We knew there was a big pass after the days of relative flat.  We also knew we had to get to the top on day 4 to have a chance of reaching Kazakhstan in time.  We could almost taste victory, mixed with the sweet honey.

A hot start, the road begins to rise

We felt a few mixed feelings on our penultimate day, passing through small tired villages on the slow ascent.

A tired old tractor in a tired little village.

New faces as we climb out of China.

We were exhausted and the incline of the road was punishing.  To top it off repairs to the main road forced us on to dusty service roads again.  The cruel road after three hard days sent our average down to a walking pace.  The top never seemed to come.

Climbing in to the dark with the dusty trucks.

We rode well into the night.  We managed to sneak on to the main road in the dark, only to cycle into soft, newly laid tarmac.  The work men were very friendly and waved us on.  A few more times we were confronted with scary machines with huge headlights laying road, pulling our bike over to let these monsters pass.  There was nowhere to camp by the road, besides we had to push on.  We were near delirious when we finally noticed the bike was moving without us having to pedal – the top.  We found a piece of grass and finally camped at around midnight.  It had been over 14 hours on the road and a climb of almost 2 kms probably our longest single ascent of the trip.

Final Day – 156 kms – A beautiful end to China.

We woke before the sun and started packing up.  Like robots, we didn’t really talk, we were battered.  I told Kat there should be a lake outside the tent. We couldn’t see anything when we arrived in the dark.  We both shrugged. We had another long day ahead and, big deal, a lake.

A great sunrise view.

We were soon in awe.  While we are normally rewarded after a long climb, we weren’t expecting this.  Our bodies cried out in pain, which gave us the chance to have a plenty of stops to breathe in the fresh mountain air and suck up the peace of this little Eden.  To our surprise, not a mine or power station in sight.  It was beautiful.

'Would have missed this on the bus...'

To top it off we spotted some yurts and waved to some men on horseback grazing their sheep.  Our sore bits were soon forgotten.

Cows and sheep.

What must it be like to live in a yurt up here?

Yurts around Sayram Lake.

Sayram Lake

We were having a great start but it was a slow start.  I was worried that we couldn’t make the border and we were running on empty. We decided that if we were still far from the border at lunchtime we would try and get a lift on a truck.

We needn’t have worried. Upon entering a tunnel at the other end of the lake, we were reminded that hills go down as well as up.  Hooch screamed through the tunnel and we entered a wonderful helter-skelter of tunnels and bridges that guided us down about 75 kilometres through a labyrinth of mountain slopes and valleys to the border.

Bridging the gap.

Making the most of the Chinese construction on our last day.

All down hill from here.

As the road flattened out, huge bushes of cannabis by the roadside wafted fragrantly in the late morning heat.  A weight began to lift off our shoulders.  We were finally leaving China. Our minds and bodies knew it. Even the flora seemed to know it.

We made the border with just over an hour to spare.  We had dared and won.  Then it dawned on us, as we entered the outlandish, gold teethed, free-for-all chaos of the Kazakh side of border control, we were now in our first Central Asian country – our only term of reference a man called Borat…

Welcome to Kazakhstan!


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16 Responses to I love the smell of cannabis in the mornings!

  1. Becky Bushnell says:

    I love it when a plan comes together, well done on making the border! You are totally in the zone now that you’re edging ever closer to Europe. You are both amazing! Lots of love, Becky & James xxx

    • Kat says:

      Thanks Becky and James. We are absolutely thrilled about you coming out in January. Italy won’t know what’s hit it…well, the pizzerias won’t anyway!

      Good times ahead.

      Lots of love to you both and get back to your training!


  2. veronica nickels says:

    YOU HAVE GOT me in tears again, you brave, brave couple, cant tell you how proud of you both I am. all my love mum xxxx

    • Kat says:

      Thanks Mum! We’ve always liked a good cry, haven’t we? Not long until Christmas now. I CANNOT WAIT!!!!

      Love you and miss you.


  3. Yanette Hansen says:

    As always, I have more than just enjoyed reading your adventures. You guys are totally nuts, but I love you for it. Just a note to Veronica, as a mum, you have been so strong. I would be worried sick and it must be a relief to you to each time read these blogs of incredible physical feats. Keep on pedaling, guys, and GOOD LUCK on your next leg. I am impressed and will be waiting in anticipation for the next blog entry.

    • Kat says:

      Hi Yanette

      We always love receiving your words of encouragement – they give us such a great boost and at times we really, really do need that. And yes, you are right, it is ever such a long time ago that we met you in Katherine and then on the road to Darwin. And so brilliant and wonderful that you are still following our progress. It makes not only us feel great knowing that we have you backing us all the way and urging us on but I also know how much my mum has appreciated learning of the fantastic people we have met along the way and helped us with this and that and a much needed bottle of cold water! So thank you!

      Hope all is well with you in Australia – heading into your summer I guess as we head into the northern hemisphere’s winter – can’t complain though – we’ve had summer for more than a year now. Any more plans to venture into the Outback again? What an immense country!

      All the best from us both and enjoy the blogs whilst they are coming; we are getting ever closer to home and normality!


  4. Vanessa & Luke says:

    Well done guys. You’re both such an inspiration. Love reading about your adventure xx

    • Kat says:

      Hey Vanessa and Luke

      Hope the move to Melbourne has been a good one and you are settling in well. Glad you’ve enjoyed our adventures although it sounds like you have had plenty of your own with your recent whirlwind travels. Brilliant! Can’t wait to hear more about them.

      Lots of love to you both.


  5. Pops says:

    You make me short of breath just reading about your race to the border – One and a half hours to spare after 3 months in China is cutting things a bit fine – but what a story!! Well done Kat for having the guts to go for it and taking Steve with you (!).

    • Kat says:

      Hey Ian

      Not as short of breath as we were though I bet! All part of my SAS training I guess…

      Lots of love xxxx

  6. Shenel says:

    Awesome update, and brilliant photos. Missing you both lots. Shenel xxxx

    • Kat says:

      Hello Shenel!!!

      How are you doing? Great to hear from you. Hope all is well your end. How are your plans for moving abroad? Any idea where yet?

      Glad you enjoyed the blog but we are missing you big time too. Not long now; the end of March we think!

      Lots of love


  7. Houston says:

    Reading Kat’s previous post I was convinced you’d push on to the border but you almost had me fooled, Steve. The last day of cycling looked beautiful. I’m excited to see what you have to say about Central Asia!

    • Kat says:

      Hey Houston

      How are you and Johnny doing? Are you back in Canada now? And more importantly how are the wedding plans going?

      We must admit that China was a real challenge for both of us but despite all the frustrations it was certainly an adventure. We enjoyed reading about all your adventures in India – but glad you sent the bikes home for that leg! It looks like you also had your fair share of frustrations there but again the rewards outnumber them I am sure.

      We are in Turkey now and hope to catch up on our blogs soon so watch this space.

      All the best to you both.

  8. LAINIE HARRIS says:

    As always I am in awe of your achievements and the rewards that you describe to an armchair traveller are beyond my imagination. Thank you both for bringing your adventures and photos of those amazing parts of the world into my house. Good luck and travel safe………..Lainie

    • Kat says:

      Hey Lainie

      Thank you for the support and glad you enjoyed the blog. We’ll keep those photos and adventures coming for you!

      All the best.

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