Sunday, 31 March 2013

Pride of Somerset Youth Award

We are so close to breaking the £3,000 fundraising milestone. I kindly ask that someone does the honours and smashes that milestone for me and the hospice! I'm about to cycle up a 4,000m mountain and it would be really nice to come back to see that the total raised has gone up a bit more. Dig deep people!

Click here you lovely people

Shameless pleas aside, this is just a quick post to say that I was very happy to be awarded the Pride of Somerset Youth Award last weekend for my fundraising efforts. For obvious reasons, I wasn't able to collect it myself but thankfully my parents did.

Please read more about it here (with a photo!):

I'm now in China, having just crossed the Taklamakan desert, north to south, where I didn't see a single shop, person, house, restaurant or tap for 250km. On my last day in the desert I cycled my 12,000th kilometere (about 7,500 miles). In 8 or 9 days' time I will arrive in Golmud, on the Tibetan plateau. From there I will write a blog post for Tajikistan, where I cycled for well over a month.

For now, here's just a few pictures from the Tian Shan mountains and the desert "of no return". I'm afraid I'm struggling to put them in the right order!

That's a big mountain to have to cycle up!

Please click here to help me achieve my fundraising goal for St. Margaret's Hospice. Many Thanks.

Saturday, 2 March 2013


Of the thirteen countries this journey has taken me through so far, none were as exciting or opinion-changing as Afghanistan. Never have I felt such a need to tell people of what I learned than in this beautiful war-torn country.

In the last few weeks of my trip I have met more and more ex-patriots who have taken an overwhelming and unexpected interest in my stories from the saddle. It is because of this, along with the constant pestering from friends and family and my own ambition to put into words what I have experienced that I have decided to commit myself to writing about my adventure properly. Yes, a book.

This doesn't mean I will write any less on here. It just means that when I do write, I am going to take a lot more time than I have done in the past.

Below are all the photos and videos I captured in Afghanistan. I will write about one or two of my stories from Afghanistan in the coming week.

To bring you up to date on where I am in an aesthetically pleasing manner, here is a map I made of my entire journey. Every bicycle icon represents one day of cycling, if you zoom in a lot you can see them individually. Click on the other icons for descriptions.

View England to India in a larger map

Here is a video slideshow of my photos from Afghanistan. Below the video I have posted the same photos individually with short stories/explanations in the captions. There are also other actual "video" videos from Afghanistan fitted in chronologically amongst the photos, so check them out too, some of them are crazy! The only benefit of watching the slideshow instead of seeing the photos below is the traditional Afghan music and that you don't have to scroll!

Finally, for those of you who don't remember, I was cycling with a Spanish cyclist, Agustin, who I met on the road in Iran. Credit for many of the photos goes to him. We often argued about who was the fastest cyclist; the lack of photos of me on my bicycle proves my point!

20km of nothing but excitement before the Afghan border

We both managed to slip the SD cards out of our cameras in time to avoid having to delete these photos

We entered Afghanistan at 14:30 but weren't allowed to continue until the morning as the road becomes too dangerous at night. We were told to stay in the hotel on the border. When we claimed to have no money they said we could stay anyway. It was like a horror movie, we were the only "guests" and were locked in by ourselves all night. Later we found a ladder onto the roof and had some chai while dreaming of the next few days.

Ahmad Shah Massoud, the Lion of Panjshir and my Surly!

Chai, naan and cream for breakfast

The 130km from the border to the city of Herat was all desert.

USSR tank

A warm reception in the first village we stopped in

"Yeah sure, you can try my bike, what could possibly go wrong"...

The contents of Agustin's handlebar bag spilt on the road - the local kids picked them all up and handed them straight back.

Every 20km we encountered Afghan National Army checkpoints. They were really friendly guys, perplexed by what we were doing there!

Ignore the blotch - an Afghan "football field"

A large predator

Circling over us in the hot desert sun

After all the anticipation, excitement, fear, planning, dreaming; we were loving our first hours cycling in Afghanistan!

I've seen many of these in every country since Iran, but no country has as many as Afghanistan. There is an incredible amount of aid money here.

A traditional town - the houses built out of mud bricks

The first mention of the infamous mountain range I'd been dreaming of for so long!

Our plan for Afghanistan: cycle to Herat, which we knew to be safe. Next, find out what the info on the ground was.

As we entered Herat we were spotted by a member of the Herat cycling team. We stayed at the team leader's house.

Like the Iranians, the Persian influenced Heratian's knew that there's nothing a cyclist likes more than fatty foods!

The woman were physically hidden from us the whole time we stayed there. The man in the middle offered me $20,000 for my passport. Even though he's well-off, he has tried (and failed) to migrate to Europe seven times.

A lot of UNICEF aid is visible

We were trying to avoid large gatherings. These kids had just come back from winning a Central Asian martial arts competition in Kazakhstan and drew a huge crowd outside the football stadium.

A billboard discouraging farmers from growing poppies (for opium and heroin) and encouraging them to grow grapes (although not for wine, as that's illegal too).
In our effort to get to Kabul without cycling through Kandahar and Helmand Province, we tried to "hitch" a lift with a Spanish or Italian military flight. This photo was taken inside the ISAF airbase, one of the most amazing experiences of my life. We hung out with Spanish, Italian and American troops.

Our time in Herat was manic as we never found a host for more than one night. This guy found as at around 19:00 as we were getting pretty desperate!

Every time I stopped in the city centre a group of 10-30 people would surround me. I had an "I come in peace" style message written on my handlebar bag. Eventually I took it off in the city as people would see other people reading and the crowd would grow and grow. It was, however, very useful for paranoid police/army checkpoints

In the shop of Morteza, a local Couchsurfer who helped us out a lot

I made friends with this guy for the short time that I was there. Bananas from Pakistan. If you paid double the price you could get what we'd consider "normal" size bananas from Africa.

City Centre

Dying my hair black with henna to blend in with the crowd. I also bought brown contact lenses but couldn't get them in.

A brief encounter with three guys who we met, had dinner with, and said our farewells to in just two hours.

They're everywhere...

A really nice travel agent who hosted us in Herat. The most strict Muslim I have ever met. He taught me many Islamic "rules" I had never heard before nor since.

His children at his house.

We had to try hard to remember the Dari (Afghan) word for this, as "shisha" in Persian means something like "crack"

In the travel agency, booking a flight to Kabul. My bike drawing the eyes of many.

This guy had a small little bike shop and took me to his house to get a cardboard box to put my bike in for the flight.

Most women in the city wore Burqas

Very few roads are paved in Afghanistan

A boy gets his kite stuck in a tree. When the Taliban where in power they outlawed many activities, including kite-flying, barber shops and television

Cute kid who I had many face-pulling competitions with

Two really nice guys who let us stay on the roof of their family house when they saw we had nowhere to sleep.

My official airline ticket from Herat to Kabul

Looking down for the whole journey wondering if we could have cycled it. I didn't see any Taliban!

Kabul Arrivals - another plane had just landed bringing people back from the Hajj to Mecca - Chaos ensued.

Out of the storm a beautiful site emerged

Our happiness sealed with sticky tape. Two lives crammed into two cardboard boxes - Notice Agustin's pedal, which he couldn't remove, sticking out the box

We Couchsurfed with Ali (right) and his girlfriend, Alyssa (not pictured), in Kabul. Alyssa had been travelling in Africa for 3 years but had now landed a job in Kabul - I contacted her months before to get information about the security situation on the ground.

A Hazy game of pool

In Kabul many westerners, including myself initially, don't bother to wear the local Shalwar Kameez

Afghans eat a lot of meat!

Darul Aman Palace, formerly belonging to the Shar (king) of Afghanistan before the decades of war began. Seiged upon by the Soviets, the Mujahideen and finally the Taliban.

Not just bullet holes, rockets too.

I still don't know what they are guarding

The whole of Kabul is surrounded by mountains rising 2/300m above the centre. Houses creep up in every small space available.

Agustin doing the tourist thing.

Ali, the only Dari speaker among us, trying to de-escalate the rather escalated situation. The horse owner charged per lap of the field. Agustin made four whole laps, but the owner counted every rotation of the horse, even those on one spot, as a full lap. He claimed 15 laps.

Locals will always be fascinated to see what westerners have inside their cars. I didn't see any other white people in the whole city who weren't driving blacked out Toyata pick-ups. No exceptions!

Kabul by night

Background: Bush Bazaar. A market selling anything military related. So called from the Bush days as most of the products on sale here are stolen from ambushed NATO supply trucks (supposedly belonging to Bush). A great place for cyclists to buy energy bars, head lamps, winter boots and so on.

This is the typical layout of a shop. The idea being to get as much stuff as you can on display. There is no "out the back" - if you can't see it, you can't buy it! Afghans work long hours, more than in the West, but take it much easier while doing so, as seen here.

Bicycle shop!


Kabul river runs through the centre of town.

The parks leave a lot to be desired. Frequented mostly my heroin addicts.

A very unfortunate rubbish truck

From the East to Pakistan to Afghanistan!

The 7 storey electronics market selling nothing but TVs, laptops, generators and not much else!

The blimp that you can see in the sky (centre-left) is used by the American forces to monitor activity on the ground (It is unmanned with cameras). There are a dozen or so scattered above Kabul.

Dried and threaded dates

Pakols on sale

Hijabs for women. These scarves would have been deemed too colourful during Taliban times.

I tried but failed to understand what was going on here. I saw many kids picking up old Monster cans (which I never saw on sale), stretching them out and filling them with something else before reselling them.


Considering that Afghanistan is landlocked and has a very slow transport system, I'd be reluctant to buy unrefrigerated fish here.

DIY bazaar

People selling whatever they have. I'd imagine it's impossible to find what you're looking for here.


Carrot and Banana smoothies

Exchanging money always drew a crowd. We were apprehended by police for the fourth time that day about 5 seconds after I took this photo.

This man was a hero, making eating pomegranates a true pleasure. Afghans often add salt.

While trying to avoid the checkpoints and get to the bus station at 4am in the morning I had the opportunity to witness what happens at night on the streets. Unfortunately I deleted a photo of dozens of homeless market stall owners sleeping in lines on the street next to tiny fires made from litter.

Cycling in the Kunduz desert on my way out of Afghanistan to Tajikstan.

I reached the Afghan/Tajik border at around 8pm and was told it was closed and that I must sleep in the last town. I wasn't happy about this but one of the soldiers showed me a safe place to sleep. On the way there a blacked-out Toyota Land Cruiser rolled its windows down. It was the chief of police. I told him I didn't think it was safe for me to go back to the town and so he opened the border for me!
I am making this journey from England to India in aid of St. Margaret's Hospice. To read a short paragraph about why I want to help them raise funds and to donate please click here.