My boyfriend and I are currently in Iran, 5500 kilometres into a 10,000-kilometre cross-continent cycle tour. After finishing working the ski season in France, we had some free time (7 months to be exact) before we had to return back to Australia… what can we possibly do in 7 months? Try and get as close to Australia as possible, with a bicycle – this seemed logical to us; and so the plan to cycle from the French Alps to China’s Far East developed… and what better way to keep motivated than to raise funds and awareness about the global sanitation crisis.
This collection of photos gives a glimpse into the world of cycle touring - from the chilly mountain passes of France to the amazing hospitality of the Iranian people.
1. Total Freedom!!
After only 6 weeks of planning, we were on the road. Nothing could stop us - though the mountain passes in the Alps did slow us down a little. Our first week was spent in France with beautiful scenery and great roads - the perfect introduction to the world of cycle touring.
2. No pain, No gain!
Col du Lautaret (2058m) was the first mountain pass we conquered. It was cold, and snowy, with icy cold, strong winds. When we finally reached the top, we were extremely exhausted, but also on a high – this is however, when it really hit home; “We are really doing this, we are cycling cross countries… and this is only a taste of what’s to come.”
3. Cappuccino time
After crossing another mountain pass we arrived in Italia. I love Italy with it’s beautiful, cycle-friendly towns and cheap, yummy coffee. Enjoying a good Italian coffee while watching the world go by in a pretty Italian plaza was one of our favourite pastimes in Italy.
4. Who needs TV with a view like this?
After a long day cycling, there is nothing more rewarding than enjoying a beautiful sunset. This was the sunset view from our tent pitch on Hvar Island in Croatia.
5. It’s a small world after all…
Cycling in Europe and the Balkans made the world seem so small. Most countries took only a week to cross by bike, sometimes even less. While following the coastline in Croatia, we crossed into Bosnia for about 20km, before crossing back into Croatia again – which meant we crossed an entire country in only a couple of hours.
6. Home, Sweet, Home.
Our little tent is our home on the road; we’ve spent nights wild camping in fields, mosques, parks, outside restaurants and our personal favourite, at gas stations. Gas stations not only have water and toilets, the owners are usually very friendly, and want to share stories over cups of tea and coffee. This gas station was in Greece, near the Macedonian border. The owners let us camp and sheltered here from a thunderstorm, and gave us plenty of Greek coffee to keep us warm.
7. Let the games begin…
Turkey was when things got serious! Towns became few and fair between, the weather got painfully hot and dry and the roads were either surprisingly good, or absolutely terrible, either way they were always busy and mountainous.
8. Having a shoulder to lean on… and a bum to kick
I’d be lying if I said it was all fun and games… cycling every day, in heat, wind, rain, and over mountain passes or through deserts, can take it’s toll, and trying to keep motivated to get on the bike each day can be just as challenging as the actual cycling. Luckily I have my cycle buddy to keep me motivated – once in a while one of us needs a kick up the bum to get going again. This was taken in Cappadocia, Turkey on one of our well needed, rest days.
9. Taking the road… ‘most’ traveled?
Cycling through a country takes you off the tourist trail, and gives you the ability to visit beautiful ancient sites, without the crowds and tourist prices. This Caravanserai we stumbled across by accident on the way to Cappadocia. It’s a reminder that we are following one of the ancient Silk Road routes, and gives us that extra motivation and sense of achievement, which makes the rest of the day that much easier.
10. On top of the world
Tired, exhausted, relieved and… happy – just some of the mixed feelings we experience when reaching the top of a mountain pass. The Kizildag mountain pass we were lead to believe was the highest mountain pass in Turkey… we discovered a few days later that there were actually higher mountain passes in Turkey – unfortunately, we discovered that the hard way.
11. The simple things!
Just one shady tree can be the biggest savior on a day where temperatures can reach in the late 30’s, or even worse, the 40’s. We spotted this tree just off the road, before the ascent up another mountain pass in Turkey; this shady tree was the highlight of my day.
12. The power of the motorcar
You just don’t know whom you’re going to meet on the road… after crossing the border from Turkey into Iran we met a group of people, driving to Mongolia as part of the Mongol Rally. We learnt that in only a few days they had driven across Turkey, a distance that had taken us almost 6 weeks to complete.
13. A slice of Persian hospitality
Propaganda may lead us to believe that Iran is a dangerous country, full of terrorists and horrible people… that couldn’t be further from the truth. Since arriving in Iran we have been welcomed with open arms. After a tough few days cycling, our stay in Zanjan was a little slice of paradise – great food, plenty of drinks (non-alcoholic of course) amazing people and a comfortable bed, what more do you need? The hardest thing was leaving.
14. Restoring my faith in humanity
We were cycling down a busy road, hungry and thirsty - a car pulls over, and a very happy and friendly man gets out… before we know it he’s giving us fresh bread, olives, cheese and tea. He tells us his name is Ali Baba (no joke) and he’s on his way to Tabriz for the day. After making sure we are well fed, he’s off on his way again. But, the hospitality doesn’t end then… 80km and 8 hours later, a car pulls up, and we are surprised to see Ali. He gives us some more tea and cakes that he bought from a bakery in Tabriz, especially for us, as he knew he would pass us on the way back home. Amazing!!!
15. What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger!
There are times I love it, there are times I hate it… either way, it’s an amazing, eye-opening experience. Only by bicycle are we able to get so far off the tourist trail and interact with locals and truly experience their culture, without the influence of the tourist industry – and this is what I love about cycle touring. This is our 5000km photo, just outside the Iranian city, Zanjan.
So, why cycle in aid of the global sanitation crisis? Around the world, 2.5 billion people don’t have access to safe water, hygiene and sanitation. Even while toilets and sanitation remains a taboo subject, the UN estimates that 1.1 billion people defecate in the open, which is not only a symptom and a cause of unsanitary conditions, it also puts vulnerable women and children at risk of abuse and rape. In May of this year, two girls were found hung from a tree in India, after being repeatedly raped while “going to the toilet.” This is a stark reminder of why access to safe, private and hygienic toilets is so important.
Let’s break the taboo about sanitation and toilets – change can only occur if we start talking more about sanitation and, well, poo. Talking about these issues will help strengthen the cause, and prevent other women and children falling victim to such horrible crimes. This is what keeps us motivated… whether we are cycling over the 3rd mountain pass of the week, through hot and windy or wet weather or through a desolate desert, we know our efforts are worth it, even if our efforts only prevent one or two girls from suffering the same fate as the poor girls in India.
One way people can get involved in breaking the “sanitation taboo” is getting involved in World Toilet Day which is on 19th Nov 2014, you can read more about it at their official site, http://worldtoiletday.org. You can also donate to the cause. Follow our progress and visit our Facebook page!
Photos by Michael Cowgill