It was the Best of Times, It was the Worst of Times

Posted by James Anderton on January 8th, 2019

A few best of, worst of, longest, shortest etc from my time on a bike:

Best country: Peru. As someone who loves cycling up and down mountains Peru is cycling heaven.

Worst country: Kazakhstan. To be fair I only saw the worst of Kazakhstan between Aktau and Beyneu. Awful roads in a boundless desert in suffering heat.

Longest Day: United Arab Emirates. 207km. Lovely tailwind and boring road on the way to Abu Dhabi.

Shortest day: 3km. I did my back in camping in China in freezing conditions. Spent the night in my tent sleeping with my knees tucked under my chin as it was the only position that wasn't agony. Happily there was a town 3km back so I returned in the morning and holed out in a hotel wondering if my trip was over. I was fine in 3 days.

Best moment: Coming out of the Kazakhstan desert. After a week of pain on one of the world's worst roads in 40 degrees heat I came across a shop with a fridge. The fridge was not only plugged in but plugged into electricity that actually worked. I opened the fridge and all it contained was water, ice cream and beer. I almost fainted with happiness.

Worst moment: I may well have witnessed a murder in Uzbekistan. I didn't stick around to find out. I was in the endless desert of Uzbekistan when I came across a restaurant in the middle of nowhere. Grateful for the opportunity for a meal I pulled over. The only customers were three tough looking locals enjoying an afternoon piss up. I sat down out of their way and ordered the only thing on the menu. Mutton and rice. A tourist in these parts being something of a rarity I soon attracted their attention. One, who looked like an Uzbeki version of Mike Tyson, came over and started speaking rapid fire Uzbeki at me. Least I think it was Uzbeki. It could have been anything. I didn't understand a word but smiled a lot and accepted a shot of vodka. He kept shaking my hand over and over again. He was very drunk. Eventually some guy walks in and he shakily gets up and goes over to speak to him. They start having a conversation. This conversation gradually escalates into a full on argument. Next thing you know they are shouting and gesticulating wildly until Uzbeki Mike has had enough. He grabs the guy by the head and slams him into the stone wall with all his might. The man's knees buckle and he drops to floor like a sack of spuds. Blood is pouring from his head. It briefly makes me think of Joe Pesci's final moments in Goodfellas. I stare open mouthed and decide it's time to leave. At which point his two friends see the blood pouring from the victims head and look aghast at Uzbeki Mike. They jump on him and all three are now rolling around the floor having a fist fight. Right next to the door I would like to leave from. I try saying 'Excuse me' and 'If you don't mind' with little effect until the owner of the restaurant opens a window and suggests I jump through. I don't think twice, get on my bike and speed off down the road ashamed that I seem more concerned by the mutton and rice I've left behind on the table than the man dying on the restaurant floor. I have no idea if the guy survived or not. I have to be honest it did not look good for him. There was no hospital for hundreds of miles and I doubt anyone would've called him an ambulance. Down the road I start to get all paranoid. At some point the three hard nuts are going to sober up and remember the cyclist who saw everything. I camp well out of sight that night. Easier said than done in the desert. A couple of anxious days later I make it to the Tajikistan border and that was the end of that. Thinking about it later there was nothing to be paranoid about. They wouldn't have given me a second thought. There is no law and order in such a place. There would of been no investigation. Local rules of vengeance would hold sway. I've forgotten the blood but I can't shake the sound of skull cracking on stone.

Easiest country: South Korea. Four Rivers cycle path. Dead flat. No traffic. Little wind.

Hardest country: Mongolia. Terrible roads. Very windy. Rarely sure where I was going. Long distances between towns. Brilliant though.

Hottest day: Bay of Bengal, Burma

Coldest day: Caught in a snowstorm up Taldyk pass in Kyrgystan.

Longest climb: Alto de Letras. 80km in Colombia

Most expensive country: Norway. £2 for a twix. Not even king size.

Cheapest country: Ecuador.

Number of nights spent in a foreign prison: One. I was very grateful for my night in jail. I was cycling through a biblical downpour in the high Andes of Peru when I came across a tiny mountain town. Cold and wet I was keen for some kind of shelter other than my tent. There was no hotel option but one of the locals suggested I ask at the police station. The police station was little more than a shack and I ask the one policeman in charge if there is anywhere in this town I can get a bed for the night. He said 'Sure, right here' and pointed me towards one of two empty cells. We spent the evening sharing a bottle of whiskey whilst he showed me pictures of his family back in Lima. I think he just wanted some company. I got to spend the evening warm and dry on a prison bunk bed. I had visions of being joined by a bunch of 'banditos' during the night but fortunately this never happened. It's fair to say you've lived a sheltered life if you've never spent a night in a foreign prison. Technically I wasn't under arrest. The cell was not locked. Still counts though.

Worst crash: Wiping out on ice in a dark tunnel in Sichuan, China was horrible.

Most punctures in a day: 7 one miserable day in the north of Chile rocking my new South American tyres. Didn't take long for me to realise why they were so cheap.

Scariest moment: Close encounter with a Grizzly in Yukon, Canada

Longest run of wild camping: 70 nights. USA/Canada 2019.

Most lost: Colombia. I decided to take a back road north from Fortalecillas. Enjoyed a lovely day on quiet roads through a deep forest. The road eventually faded into a dirt road, then into a bumpy dirt road, then into a narrow path before ending at a river with no bridge. Lovely camping spot. Figured I'd have no choice but to go back the way I came in the morning. As i was packing up my tent the next day I had the good fortune or gross misfortune (I still can't decide which) to meet the Crocodile Dundee of Colombia. Wearing nothing but a cowboy hat, a pair of shorts and a huge knife. I ask him if there is anyway to get to the road to Alpujarra from here. He nods and says follow me. Next thing I know I'm dragging my bike through dense jungle above a rapid river. El Dundee takes a couple of panniers whilst I struggle with the rest. Within a few minutes he takes the rest and I have a couple of panniers. I think he saw me out in the middle of nowhere on a bicycle and assumed I was as tough as him. How wrong he was. At one point I slip, lose grip on one of my panniers which proceeds to bounce down the bank and into the river. Whilst I wail like a girl he bounds down the bank, jumps in the river, swims downstream, fetches my pannier, comes back and drops the pannier at my feet. We continue deep into the jungle. I now realise how committed I am to following this guy. I can't possibly get all my gear back the way I came myself. I can't ask him to go back. On we go. Eventually we come to a clearing and a tiny wooden shack where El Dundee lives. He makes me coffee that tasted suspiciously of mud and then points me on my way to the road in rapid fire Spanish. I think I get the gist of it, thank him profusely and head off back into the jungle. Jungle and bicycles don't go very well so now I have 2 flat tyres and am literally dragging my bike along overgrown paths. No point in fixing the punctures as I'd only get another immediately. Need to find this road. I go on and on. It is hot. Sweat pours out. I'm thirsty. There's no sign of the road. The path gets more faint and more overgrown the further I go along. I pause. All I can hear is the monotonous chirping of the grasshoppers. I am hopelessly lost. Maybe the road is just up ahead. Maybe I have gone completely the wrong way and am heading deep into the unknown low on water, low on food and lugging a bicycle with 2 flat tyres. I decide to go back. I blunder through the jungle for a few hours. The sun begins to go down. Eventually I come across the clearing and the shack of El Dundee just as the jungle was beginning to melt into the darkness. He was lying stark naked in a hammock. He just laughed when he saw me. He threw me up a hammock and I slept exhausted. In the morning he escorted me all the way to the road. Along the way I showed him the path I had taken and he shook his head and smiled. I had gone completely the wrong way. Never been so glad to see a road again. I fixed my punctures, gave El Dundee a big hug and cycled off.

Best city to cycle in and out of: Seoul. Cycle lanes following rivers away from all traffic.

Worst city to cycle in and out of: Istanbul. Crazy traffic through suburbs that just go on, and on, and on....

Highest I've been on a bicycle: Dirt road pass at 5400m near Huancavelica in Peru.

Lowest I've been on a bicycle: -410m. Dead Sea, Jordan. The lowest point on earth in fact.

Best tailwind:Iceland. Coming out of the wilderness that is the middle of the country I was swept up by the most amazing tailwind. It had me doing 45km/hr whilst pedalling gently. I passed 2 cyclists going the other way. I stopped to say hello and they just looked at me with hatred in their eyes.

Worst headwind: I remember a shocker in the Gobi desert but the worst was in Patagonia on Christmas day. I only had 30km to go to El Calafate. It took me 6 hours.

Most water I've carried:15l heading off into the Uzbekistan desert from the border towards Nukus

Best beer: Argentina. The country has an excellent array of craft beers. Cerveza Beagle, the beer of Tierra del Fuego is particularly good.

Worst beer: Mongolia. It didn't taste like beer. I don't want to know what it was.

Longest time I've spent cycling across a country: China. Nearly 4 months.

Shortest time I've spent cycling across a country: Lichtenstein. 1 hour.

Country where I've met the most cycle tourers: Tajikistan. The Pamir Highway. Very popular and for good reason.