Photo essay – the contrasting experiences of long distance bike travel

This post originally appeared in the guest photo Friday slot on Alastair Humphreys’ blog.

One of the things I love about travelling by bike is the sheer number of contrasting experiences that are encountered from day-to-day and month-to-month. Here are six different areas that have provided plenty of variety over the 20,000km that we’ve cycled so far:

1. Landscape

A bicycle is possibly the best method of transport to see the changing landscape as you cross the world. Exposed to the sounds and smells, connected to the distance in a way that just isn’t possible from behind a bus window, and yet still fast enough to be able to cross continents. We’ve watched the world morph between flat green European fields, snowy Turkish plains, endless Kazakh steppe, deserts and mountains in Central Asia and lush green paddy fields in Southern China.

2. Religion

Religion is central to life all over the world and the changing influences are unmissable when crossing continents. The dominate religion across the Eurasian landmass changed gradually through varying degrees of Christianity, Islam and Buddhism, with plenty of other beliefs mixed in along the way.

3. Emotion

Life on the road produces extreme highs and lows from everyday situations. A relentless headwind and an expiring Turkmen visa combined to produce one of the worst weeks of the journey, whereas conquering the final winter mountain pass in east Turkey resulted in ear-to-ear grins that lasted all the way down the freezing descent.

4. Bread

Usually the cheapest and easiest way to fill a hungry stomach, bread is the staple of choice for many a long distance cyclist. We’ve enjoyed sampling the bread in every country we’ve cycled in: the baguettes of France, the dark and heavy brot of Germany, the flatbread of Iran and the circular loaves of Uighur bread in Xinjiang. My favourite? Without a doubt the simits of Turkey – shaped like a bagel and best served hot, these delicious treats fuelled 2,000km of cycling across Turkey (washed down with the obligatory cups of tea, of course!).

5. People

Most of our fondest memories are of the people we’ve met. Some cities, otherwise anonymous, are remembered with great fondness simply because we had a fun evening with new friends. The incredible hospitality of the Iranians, cups of tea from friendly truck drivers, the vodka loving Uzbeks, the impenetrable language barrier of the Chinese, crowds of kids wanting their photo taken with the weird foreigner – all memories that will remain long after our saddle sores fade.

6. Bed

The need to find a new cheap or free place to sleep every day conjures up plenty of interesting situations. The appreciation of a bed and shower is in direct proportion to the level of discomfort experienced the night before! Swift and unexpected changes in fortune were one of the best things about cycling through Turkey and Iran in winter – one day we’d be sleeping in a sub-zero tent in a tunnel under the road, with hastily cooked camp stove slurry for dinner. The next, we’d find ourselves with a warm bed, hot shower and delicious meal, surrounded by the friendly faces of the family who had invited us into their home for the night.