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Silk Road 1200
Ride dates: September 21-25, 2018
by Paul van Wersch

I first heard about the Silk Route 1200 in 2015. It was my first year of Randonneuring and I had just gotten back from PBP. While watching far too many YouTube videos of other people's PBP experiences I noticed a suggested video entitled Silk Route 1200. If I hadn't already decided to do it after reading the title, I certainly had by the time I finished watching the video.

Fast forward 3 years and one event cancellation later and my wife and I were thrilled to find out that the arcane and expensive Visa process for entering Uzbekistan had been replaced by a three day online one at a cost of $20 US! So with flights booked we were off to spend September in Central Asia.

The route began in Tashkent, the Capitol, then headed west to Samarkand for the first overnight. The plan from there was to head north to a fortress built by Alexander the Great and then finish the day in Bukhara. Days three and four were just tracing our route backwards. Before I left home there were 26 or so riders registered for the ride. By the time we were lined up at the start on the 21'st, there were only 13. By the time we left the start, we were down to 12! Heinz, one of the Austrian riders had been up all night with intestinal issues but managed to get himself together for the photo, Afterwards, he decided he was in no condition to ride so headed back to bed.

We slowly made our way out of Tashkent for what was going to be a fairly flat 308 km leg. As we got further from the Capitol the road conditions started to deteriorate and I learned that I had to push my water bottles back into their cage every 5 minutes or so if I didn't want them flying out on a particularly bad section. The drivers on the whole were pretty courteous, though I believe Uzbek cars must self destruct if their horns are not pressed at least once per minute! The temperature didn't go above 30 the first day which was a bonus but the sun was still pretty intense reflecting off the sand. And while we managed to avoid any serious blowing sand there was always a fine coat of the stuff covering everything. I rode most of the first day yo-yoing with Ferdinand, an Austrian rider, and Alexander, a Russian rider (there were 7 Russian riders, 4 of them named either Alexie or Alexander!). After a couple of intermediate controls at roadside cafes, we eventually made our way to Samarkand. Samarkand was Tamerlane's Capitol and as a result there are some spectacular buildings there dating from around the 15th century, many of which have been restored. The route into town was chosen so as to ride by most of the main sites and they are all well lit at night so almost more impressive if you happened to be a late arrival. The overnight was in a dorm room 100 meters from Samarkand's main tourist attraction, the Registan. After eating dinner (food was amazing) I was in bed not long after 8.

Day 2 was to be 350km and also have a bit of an elevation profile. After breakfast I was on the road by about 4:15. Several riders had already left including one who had ridden right through. This part of the route was different than in previous years. This year's version was actually the Silk Route 1317 due to this detour out to Nurata, location of one of the many fortresses Alexander built on his conquests. The road surfaces did not improve but the desert was spectacular and we were slowly making our way to the high point of the ride at about 1000 meters. Nurata was the second control of the day and 180 km into the stage. It was located at a Guest House and the food spread was awe inspiring. My 2 riding partners from the day before were already there including Alexander who had ridden straight through. After reluctantly leaving the banquet, I headed out first and rode past the fortress and then through a graveyard on the way out of town. About an hour after leaving the control I came to a fork in the road with a police car blocking my route. The officer was chatting with a friend and they both became very interested in my bike, but under no circumstances would they let me through telling instead to detour right. After about ten minutes Ferdinand joined me at the conference and we decided just to head out on the detour and take the first opportunity to rejoin the original route. This was easier said than done as police were blocking the next couple of possibilities to get back on track. To cut to the chase, we ended up doing an extra 60 kms on some of the most desolate roads of the entire event! Eventually the support crew caught up with us and refilled or dwindling water supplies and we were on our way again knowing that the next day's route would be adjusted to take into account the extra kms ridden and to avoid the same detour. The rest of that day was fairly uneventfully except for a 10 km stretch close to the overnight which we road in the dark and where more of the road was pothole than road.

I got up at 6 the next morning, ate left over plov(a rice and mutton dish), got the new route for the day and was off by 6:30. I saw just how bad the road was when I retraced my route from the night before! The route took we through the center of a thronging Sunday market which I had to dismount for and then it was into the new route and a straight shot back to Samarkand. Around 9am, I started feeling ill and I suspected it was the left over mutton. I didn't eat again for the rest of the day. Most of the rest of that day was spent in survival mode trying not to over exert and get a little bit of liquid down. Around mid afternoon, I was waved down by Arthur (the cyclist whose YouTube video first interested me in this ride) who was not riding in this year's event, but was patrolling the route on a dirt bike. He made me drink some juice and kept suggesting I take a nap (after commenting on how terrible I looked!). I did both, and it may have saved my ride. That was the last time I saw Arthur on the ride, but I truly appreciate what he did for me. I caught up with Ferdinand who had passed me while I was sleeping and we limped into the overnight together as he was also suffering from stomach issues. We arrived at 8:30 pm and I went right to sleep without eating and didn't get up until 4:30 the next morning.

I managed to eat a bowl and a half of porridge before heading out a little after 5. I don't remember a lot from day 4 as I was still having stomach issues, but at least I could eat a little. A highlight was an ice cream mid afternoon! As per the previous day, I also took a nap in the afternoon which helped immeasurably. I rolled into the last control in the late afternoon just in time to see Ferdinand climb out of a side room where he had been napping. Apparently he left early that morning as he couldn't sleep. He didn't seem to be feeling much better and we decided to just soft peddle the last hundred km to the finish. Interestingly, that stretch of road which had seemed so bad on day one was looking pretty good! We arrived back at the hostel around 9 pm where I was looking forward to sleep and Ferdinand was catching his flight home in just 4 hours.

Overall, it was a fantastic ride. The drivers generally gave us lots of room and the people were always friendly and interested in what we were doing. The road surfaces, well that was another matter. I pledged on several occasions to never again complain about our BC roads, or at least I think that is what I pledged! Anyway, this is a ride I will most likely do again.

Go to: Paul's Photos (15 Images, Google Photos)


November 11, 2018