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Chapter by Chapter Bewdley to Beijing!

         

Shortcuts -   Ch1   Ch2   Ch3   Ch4   Ch5   Ch6   Ch7   Ch8   Ch9
Ch10   Ch11   Ch12   Ch13  Ch14  Ch15  Ch16  Ch17  Ch18
Ch19  Ch20  Ch21  Ch22  Ch23  Ch24  Ch25 

You can download a complete Sample Chapter here

Chapter 1 ~  ‘Never Right’

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Reactions of friends, family and colleagues to a plan to cycle either to Sydney or Vladivostok vary from enthusiastic support to the conviction that I must be nuts (‘never right’). A crisis is averted by a barman working in a café in Northern France
 

 

Chapter 2 ~ Sunny Delight

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France, Germany, Austria, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Greece. Europe is sweltering in a heat wave. For the best part of two years there will be no roof over my head, no central heating, no soft mattress, and no hot bath or shower in the mornings. No fridge, no washing machine, no cooker, no toaster, no radio, no TV. No early morning cup of coffee. No Bach. Am I insane? Perhaps this is what the journey is about: discovering the true worth of the things and people I am leaving behind. Which will I miss the most and for the longest? Maybe the answers will surprise me.
 

Chapter 3 ~ Mountain Biking

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The vertical landscape of Northern Turkey provides some of the hardest cycling of the entire journey. Dogs are a menace in the mountain villages and the roads are usually either too steep or the surfaces too poor for me to outpace them. Fortunately the human inhabitants are more kindly disposed to strangers than their dogs and whenever I stop to rest I am plied with free teas and questions but I decline the lifts: I have vowed to cycle the route and cycle it I will. If you can’t be bothered to do something properly, then why do it at all?
 

Chapter 4 ~  ‘Always Right’

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I enter Iran (a theocracy run by despotic, fanatical and virulently anti-western zealots) with apprehension but the principal source of angst turns out to be an opinionated Slovenian cyclist. We seem to be diametrically opposed in almost everything, our exchanges ending in a series of frustrating culs-de-sac. He has no apparent sense of humour, is a poor listener, and he appears to have forgotten my name… I have become appalled by the notion that ‘Never Right’ might be stuck with ‘Always Right’ until India or beyond.
 
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Chapter 5 ~ Travelling Light

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We are defined in the material West by the careers we follow, the homes in which we live, the cars we drive, the clothes we wear, the belongings with which we choose to surround ourselves and the company we keep, but I have left almost all of these distinguishing marks behind along with the music I love. So who am I? No longer surrounded by the people and possessions that used to remind me, define me and bind me, I am free to be whomsoever I like. I am travelling light in every sense – maybe I can even be myself for a while. After ridding myself of the turbulent Slovenian I am able to get on much better with the locals.
 

Chapter 6 ~ Zam-Zam, Cockroaches and Moby Dick

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Opportunistic microbes multiply in the developing world along with violations of human rights. The ride from Esfahan through Iran’s rugged and spectacular mountain and desert landscapes to Shiraz is followed by a debilitating stomach bug and ten days of convalescing in a squalid hotel in Kerman, where I rendezvous with a demented German cyclist for moral support during the dangerous ride through the bandit-infested, drug-running area of Baluchistan. He too is as sick as a dog but – unlike the Slovenian – has a refreshingly subversive outlook on life and a sardonic sense of humour. We compare journeys and bowel problems.
 

Chapter 7 ~ Savouring Moments

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Thus I find myself heading towards Zahedan and the Pakistan border with an unemployable, flatulent, misogynistic German endorphin junkie. At the oasis city of Bam we encounter the remarkable Alois: A real-life, Austrian version of Indiana Jones, he is unfailingly optimistic and gregarious and one of those rare people who radiates energy and confidence. It is impossible not to loathe him. Our paths are to cross several times during the forthcoming ride to Quetta …
 

Chapter 8 ~ Bandit Country

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An Australian I met in Istanbul forwarded the following heart-warming email from his brother: As for the touring English fellah he’s pretty brave (or stupid) taking his bike through Pakistan. Is he going to cycle through Baluchistan????? It is fucking dangerous there – our bus got stranded in the middle of the night there and the guys from Karachi were shitting themselves – surely that must be saying something! Nonetheless I arrive in Quetta debilitated by bacilli but otherwise unscathed following an unforgettable six-day desert ride from the Iranian border accompanied by an antisocial, iconoclastic, nihilistic freak, a living, breathing oxymoron who by his own admission would rather fornicate with a goat than one of the world’s most beautiful women…
 
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Chapter 9 ~ Engine Trouble

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The solitary ride from Quetta to Lahore is accomplished despite the onset of a viral infection and a disastrous loss of appetite. Sick and overcome by lethargy, I am unable to deal with the insatiable curiosity of the locals. Lahore is full of cricket, pollution, motor rickshaws, people and more male inquisitiveness. My hotel room is full of ants and mice. I am full of apathy. My stomach is empty because it can’t cope with the greasy food. Emaciated, I decide to leave Pakistan before the food kills me.
 

Chapter 10 ~ Accident-prone Drivers

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Revitalised by Indian food, I head south from Amritsar through Rajasthan to the romantic desert fortress of Jaisalmer. Between Ahmadebad and Bombay the NH8 becomes one of the busiest and most dangerous racetracks in India and I reflect that the rigid hierarchy that exists on Indian roads is similar to the caste system. Local cyclists leave the road whenever a lorry or bus sounds its horn, but brought up with a more democratic version of the Highway Code, I cannot bring myself to follow their example, and instead of adopting a sensible policy of self preservation I cling obstinately to the road, foolishly trying to instil in these yobbos some British etiquette.
 

Chapter 11 ~ ‘Foot Odour’ and ‘Special’ Tea

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The journey south has been accompanied by a gradual increase in heat and humidity and even the morning freshness has disappeared. In Kerala, where I celebrate Christmas Eve by dining on shark and toasting absent friends in beer served in a teapot (‘special’ tea), I reflect on the nature of loneliness and how odd it is that one can feel so much more alone on a crowded beach than when camping out in the middle of a desert.
 

Chapter 12 ~  ‘A Long Way from France’

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I make my way north from the sacred town of Kanniyakumari on India’s southern tip to the thriving southern city of Bangalore via Madurai and the spectacular hill stations of Kodaikanal and Ooty.
 
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Chapter 13 ~ Maintaining Momentum

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Deafened by horns, poisoned by exhaust smoke and periodically blinded by dust, I wonder at times a trifle wistfully if I wouldn’t have been better off travelling by train after all. From Hyderabad I head east before following the frenetic coast road north to Calcutta, stopping at Puri to spend time with a couple of fellow eccentrics going around the world crammed into a tiny Citroen 2CV. Sandra and Elliott left England on the same day as I did and it has become a standing joke that a man on a bicycle has kept up with their car all the way to Esfahan, Goa, Puri, and finally, Calcutta.
 

Chapter 14 ~ Grand Trunk Road Rage

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My mood is becoming increasingly morose, relieved by occasional flashes of fury directed against the bicycle, the perforated road surfaces (does anyone else ever wonder why level crossings are called ‘level’ when they so emphatically aren’t?), the traffic, myself, but most often of all, other people. Cycling from Calcutta to Delhi on Kipling’s ‘River of Life’ (India’s lethal Grand Trunk Road), I find patience in short supply, both with the abominable driving and the crowds: …peace, privacy, anonymity and space are all vital to my sanity and India is slowly but surely driving me crazy.

Chapter 15 ~ Closing the Loop

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Klompjes (Dutch for ‘Little Clogs’) is to accompany me from Delhi to Turpan in China. For the second time on the journey I am extremely lucky not to lose my wallet, and recalling all the other times since leaving home I have narrowly avoided disaster, I wonder despite myself if there isn’t some supernatural force protecting me: Somewhere in the prodigious Hindu Pantheon there is bound to be a God who looks after fools.
 

Chapter 16 ~ Pakistan Revisited

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A long and volatile relationship with the Grand Trunk Road finally came to an end upon our arrival at Peshawar’s Hadyat Hotel, 1,562 miles (2,499 kilometres) from Calcutta. Mercifully unaffected by ill health, the second crossing of Pakistan is infinitely more enjoyable than the first. The food is tasty and the locals are delightful. Klompjes provides all sorts of fascinating insights – ‘There are some lovely people in this country but some really stupid rules’ – into what it means to be a woman in an Islamic Republic.
 
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Chapter 17 ~ Klompjes, Rosie and the Karakoram Highway

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We encounter suspicious glares and showers of stones in the villages of Indus Kohistan. Further north on the Karakoram Highway, an engineering feat that has been described as the eighth wonder of the world, the air becomes thinner and the scenery ever more spectacular as we gain height to cycle amongst glaciers and snow-clad peaks (shining spires of vast natural cathedrals that deliver a summons far more powerful than any church, temple or mosque to give thanks to who or whatever is responsible for the wonders of creation).
 

Chapter 18 ~ Over the Top

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During the final ascent to the 4,700-metre Khunjerab Pass and the Chinese border we are defeated a mere 8 km from the pass by a blizzard and forced to get a lift to the top. A second lift takes us to Tashkurgan, where I struggle with chopsticks and hypothermia. Following the long descent from the scintillating peaks and the high, wide valleys of the Pamirs we arrive in Kashgar, an oasis trading post on the fabled Silk Road and one of the remotest areas in the world, where ancient Uighur traditions collide head-on with the disciplines imposed by Communist China.
 

Chapter 19 ~ Sand and Noodles

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Eight hundred miles of sand, gravel and rocky waste will have to be crossed before we reach the sweltering oasis city of Turpan. ‘Taklamakan’ is the Uighur word meaning ‘you go in but you don’t come out’ and the desert is a place of sinister repute. We are met with plates of noodles and much benign incomprehension from the Uighur oasis dwellers, but having fallen ill again, I have developed a most untimely loathing of noodles; in Chinese Turkestan there is little else to eat. We are fortunate to find shelter from one of the desert’s notorious sand storms inside an isolated filling station.
 

Chapter 20 ~ The Lungs of the Gobi (See Sample Chapter)

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I head east from Turpan across the Gobi Desert in a series of bitter personal duels with the wind – a powerful and fickle adversary, a callous, sly, ruthless and cynical bully… and yet I experience moments of immense peace during which I forget to miss Klompjes and simply marvel at where I am and what I’m doing: Maybe God doesn’t speak to us because we are always making too much noise (even in places of worship) to hear Him. If ever I come to acknowledge a divine presence the conversion will come at a moment and in a place like this, surrounded by silence and alone amidst a flawless natural beauty and grandeur that fill me with instinctive humility. My mind is uncluttered and receptive, alive to possibilities, a blank sheet of paper waiting to be filled.
 
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Chapter 21 ~ The End of the Civilised World

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The wind played cat and mouse with me all the way from Xingxingxia, stalking me across the gravel and scrub and the rocky escarpments looming out of the empty, biscuit-dry expanses of the Gobi.It chased me into isolated villages where it lashed the forlorn lines of beleaguered single -storey white-tiled buildings that lined the road, lifting surface dust into the air and bending poplars while I rested and refreshed myself on noodles and bowls of green tea. From Jiayuguan – the garrison at the western extremity of the Great Wall that for the Chinese marked the end of the civilised world – to Lanzhou my resolve is further tested by a series of mystifying punctures.
 

Chapter 22 ~ A Close Shave

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There is a fortnight’s delay in Lanzhou (the gateway to China’s Wild West and a city notorious for its pollution) while I wait for new inner tubes to arrive from England. I make the acquaintance of two Chinese students and a French traveller called Cyrille, and have my head shaved by a stunningly attractive prostitute working in a hairdressing salon. Her invitation held the promise not just of intense erotic pleasure, but fun.
 

Chapter 23 ~ Smiling at China

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The ‘insh’allah’ fatalism of Islam and the Hindu’s abdication of responsibility in the name of religion can appear irrational and deeply perplexing to the sceptical, existentialist European but the Chinese are a secular people too… My achievement in coming so far is miraculous and needs no justification, and not only do I receive delighted grins and thumbs-up signs at roadside halts but very often a free meal too. At one such restaurant / dormitory I fall instantly, hopelessly and inappropriately in love with the wife of the proprietor. I think she is a little in love with me too…
 

Chapter 24 ~ Man With No Name

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I’ve had Beijing in my sights for so long now that each remaining day separating me from my objective is in danger of simply becoming an obstacle to be overcome rather than an adventure to be relished. Crowds continue to form whenever I stop, but I find them less intrusive and alienating than the Indian variety; Chinese fascination is somehow more discreet
 

Chapter 25 ~ Homeward Bound

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The journey east ends when the Russian Embassy in Beijing refuses to issue a visa and I am forced to abandon plans to continue on to Vladivostok. Swallowing my disappointment, I fly to Frankfurt before cycling back home across Europe. The story ends where it began – in a café in Northern France; I want to shake the barman’s hand, buy him a drink and explain how his intervention fifteen months earlier had rescued the journey, but he isn’t there and tracing him is impossible as I don’t even know his name.
 
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