We rode out with Peter and Jacob at first light, heading north along the coast of the Caspian. It was great to have the company of other cyclists, especially ones as affable as Peter and Jacob! It was our first taste of the steppe, and it didn’t disappoint. It wasn’t long before a herd of camels, Bactrian and Dromedary alike, came into view. Cycling with Camels may not sound as glamorous as Swimming with Dolphins, but it felt like we had truly hit the Silk Road.
After 40k, Peter and Jacob turned around, and we went inland towards Shetpe. With out destination another 130k away, we pushed on across the steppe, which started to get hillier, broad bowl shaped valleys with steep sides and pancake flat bottoms.
It was also out first experience of Kazakh roadside manner. If in Turkey we were offered us tea, in Georgia wine and in Azerbaijan vodka, in Kazakhstan it was ‘Kazakh whisky’ (at least, that was what the man who gave it to us called it, as he relieved himself by the side of the road).
A little further and we stopped for lunch, after which Nick’s left knee started to play up, having so far avoided any injury.
This was particularly unfortunate timing given that we needed to cover an average of 160k a day for the next three days to make it to the border. And particularly ominous, people kept telling us how much worse the road got after Shetpe. A typical exchange:
Old man: ‘After Shetpe, it’s a horrible road, you know’
Me: ‘I don’t know’
Old man: ‘Well you know now…yes, you know!’
And with these reassuring words, we pushed on into Shetpe, cooked a restorative mountain of pasta, and crashed, unsure of what the next day was to bring.