As I rolled my way past Jasliq, a tiny town out here in the vast expanse of Qaraqolpakstan, a local man walked up to me and, in perfect English, said “Hello there! What’s a dazzling urbanite like you doing in a rustic setting like this?” We shared a hearty laugh. This is probably one of my favorite lines from one of my favorite movies, Blazing Saddles. Newly-appointed Sheriff Bart has just ridden into the Western town of Rock Ridge, carrying Gucci-branded saddlebags, looking like a million bucks. But he’s obviously not welcome there, because he’s black, and the rest of the town is white. Gene Wilder’s character, recognizing that the Sheriff is out of his element, hits him with this line, which perfectly sums up the absurdity of the situation.
Baku is finally in my rear view mirror, and with it a week and a half of consternation, restlessness, and a gradual acceptance of my short- and long-term life fate. In the fall, I will be starting graduate study in Biostatistics at UCLA. Any new readers from there that might come across this poorly-written sequence of diatribes and petty grievances I call a ‘blog’, welcome. Thanks also to two particular individuals in Baku, Dan and Victoria, who helped me with accommodation and hospitality for what turned out to be more than a few days in Baku. I am in their debt for their willingness to put up with me for what turned out to be a longer-than-intended stay.
I know there were many anecdotes, stories, and images that I wanted to include in this blog post, but unfortunately the only record I have of them are hurriedly scribbled notes on loose-leaf sheets of paper attached to a clipboard over the last 10 days or so. Things like “… stuffed in the back of a Lada and thrown off a bridge”, or “… jackals, dogs, and military drums”, or “four boisterous dudes in a Lada”. I’ll try to remember what I was thinking at these points in time. I swear there were coherent thoughts behind each of these short notes, but for the life of me I don’t really remember them fully. Here we go…
I’m very out of touring shape. The muscles I use to stabilize my loaded bike are underdeveloped right now, so I’ve spent my first few days on the road wobbling around and just trying to get my balance again. I huff and puff a lot, not yet trusting myself to really get up out of my saddle and get after each hill. It will come, sure. But for these first few days, I have been exhausted. Riding a 70+ lb bike for 6-7 hours a day is something that I don’t really do unless I have to. Surprise, surprise, a few laps of Hains point on a road bike after sitting at a desk all day doesn’t really train you for riding this bike.
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.
This post, combining this project with my other failed experiment, is 8+ years in the making. In March, I posted progress I had made on building a carbon fiber bike frame that I was building from scratch using epoxy resin and raw carbon fiber fabric. This is the short and sweet conclusion to that post. The bike is finished, and it works. It is a step for me to say that outright, because I feel in some way that it still might tempt fate to do so. I’m not superstitious, but I am a little -stitious.
I’ve put 100 miles on the frame, mostly on DC’s potholed, nightmare of city streets and bike paths, and I think I’m ready to declare this project a success. I’ve climbed and put stress on the frame, and I’ve taken it up to 20+ mph for long stretches. No play or flexing in the frame geometry, no vibrations, and it’s just… silent. My real road bike is louder, creaks more, and is more fickle than this is. (Its components are 10+ years and thousands of miles old, but still.)
There are a ton of old Mercedes still out on Morocco’s roads. They must each have around a million miles, and they are beautiful. Not particularly beautifully taken care of by classic car standards, but you can tell that they have each been loved well by their owners over time. European tourists ride around in massive Jeeps with snorkels, or those monstrous world tour adventure RVs with massive wheels and a motorbike attached to the back. But well-to-do locals often drive these ancient Mercedes, or even older Renaults. There are also a vast array of different motorbikes, of all different shapes and sizes. From tiny Motobecanes, to touring motorcyclists riding massive BMWs. Also the occasional mule or horse.