Silk Road Adjacent

It’s been almost three years since my last bike trip of longer than two weeks, and I’m itching to go out again. Good thing I’ve spent the last few months planning a trip! Early-to-mid next year, I’ll be riding along the Silk Road across Asia. For accuracy’s sake, I should point out that this route is not quite the Silk Road, it’s at best Silk Road Adjacent. The Silk Road, if Marco Polo and others decided to explicitly chart a route deliberately skirting most of the major cities and populated areas of Central Asia. I have carved out six months between when I leave my job and the start of graduate school, to undertake this trip.

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My sort-of-planned route, subject to change.

I start in Tbilisi, in the Republic of Georgia. I will ride along the base of the Caucasus Mountains, and over the border with Azerbaijian to Baku. A ferry across the Caspian to Aktau and week’s ride out into the flatness of Kazakhstan. Over the steppe and across the mind-numbing deserts of Uzbekistan. A quick dip over the border for a few days to see Turkmenistan. It would be a shame to ride all that way and miss one of the -stans (Afghanistan excluded). Into the mountains along the Pamir Highway in Tajikistan, which is really more of a high mountain jeep track than a proper highway.

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The Pamir Highway

The Pamir Highway, through the Pamir Mountains, will unquestionably be the most challenging leg of this route, a solid month’s ride through the remote Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Oblast (GBAO), along the border with Afghanistan. There are road passes of over 14,000 feet, and mountains over 25,000. The mountains, which have alternately been named a few different things depending on the era, are currently named after Communist leaders and thinkers.

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Karl Marx Peak

From the Pamirs, I have a few options, if I make it that far. I can go across Kyrgyzstan to Kazakhstan again, or dip into Xinjiang in China. Because of the security presence in southwest Xinjiang, it will probably be best for me to enter the region a little further north of Kyrgyzstan. I’ll cross northwest Xinjiang to get to Mongolia, the final leg of the trip. After that border crossing, it’s a long ride across the steppe to Ulanbataar, my (as of now) destination.

But things could change, as things do. Things go wrong. Parts break. Visas don’t work. Etcetera, etcetera. I will also have to keep up a pretty quick average daily mileage, since I’m technically on the clock. It will take a few weeks at least to settle into daily long distances on a loaded bike. Surprise surprise, it’s hard to get my body accustomed to 6-7 hours of riding a day while holding down a desk job.

I have invested a bit more money in this bike setup, in the interest of saving a bit of weight and adding some comfort to my daily routine. I’m riding my Surly Pugsley on 2.4in Holy Roller tires, like I had in Morocco. I cannot say enough about this bike’s versatility. It’s heavy and rugged, but it also rolls pretty well on pavement. I have also upgraded my camera lenses and will be bringing a small tablet for photo editing.

I’m aiming for this setup, but with two more rear panniers on the back.

I am looking forward to sharing stories about these fascinating regions. However, as always, there is always stuff that doesn’t make it into the blog. If you are passing by this way soon and want to know more about a particular segment or region, or need information about road conditions or closures, please do not hesitate to reach out. I don’t envision myself being too hard to contact over the next few years following this trip, as I will probably be holed up in an office getting my Ph.D.

Addendum, 1 week out:

I’ve assembled my rig, with help from the folks at BicycleSPACE, a shop in DC. I got a little carried away on upgrades, with a rear wheel rebuild, and basically a full upgrade of the drivetrain. The bike is a dream to ride, and I’m very excited.

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