Where in the world is the Pamir Highway, and why would you want to go there on a bike?
If you are a pub quiz nerd with an interest in former Soviet republics, you already know. But for the rest of us, the Pamirs are a central Asian mountain range squished between the Hindu Kush, Tian Shan and Himalaya mountains.
Although a seasoned commuter and mountain biker, this was to be my first real experience cycle touring. Perhaps not geographically the easiest of cycle tours, Banks Peninsula rewards you with spectacular views, exhilarating downhills, gruelling uphills, and - once off the main roads - relatively stress free riding.
In 1929 my father, Ray Chapman-Taylor, and his friend Ray Williams decided to bike home to Napier from Otago via the Haast Pass and the West Coast. They mounted basic bikes with no gears and rudimentary brakes on a route with no bridges and only a cattle track across the mountains. What follows is best said in his own words.
Wet, hungry, and far from home. Soggy clothes, soaked shoes and grumbling tummies. After riding all morning through the tail of a typhoon, we didn't want to slosh into a Japanese restaurant in that state. I tried drying out by standing under the vent outside the kitchen. I wrung out my shirt and socks. I got no drier, but now I smelled of noodles.
What do you do in the middle of the mountains when two large, thuggish Chinese men get out of a car and stride purposefully towards you? You smile and say thank you for the stale bread and peaches they are offering you! Never before on a cycle tour have I benefited from so much food and encouragement.
A bicycle tour through Uganda that kicked off with a ride on the back of a scooter-taxi to catch a leaky fishing boat across Africa's largest lake promised to be a unique adventure. And it was.
"Wow! Amazing! You're cycling to the bottom of South America. Is it all downhill?". Alan and I looked at each other in amusement and suggested that we expected a few uphill sections.
Hero Cycles is the world's largest manufacturer of bikes, spitting out a whopping six million a year. You're unlikely to find one at your local bike shop but as any seasoned traveller can attest, they are the 'people's car' of India.On previous trips I had mused about touring local-style around the sub-continent. Eventually I ran out of excuses and abandoned my quiver of bicycles in New Zealand in favour of a sturdy Hero.
Trev and I were filthy. Sweat, caked with red dust, covered our bodies and permeated every accessible orifice. It had been a long, hard day... and on the map, May River looked like a great place to camp. We allowed ourselves to fantasise about plunging into the cool waters, or even indulging in a splash bath out of our billy.
A month ambling around the South of France on our push bikes... scorching hot days, lazy picnic lunches, curious cafés and a generous helping of old world culture.
Heat rising off the tarmac roasts me. My legs are locked into a rhythm as I push the pedals around. All I can hear is my own panting and the ring of cowbells floating across alpine meadows. After two hours of climbing I approach the summit of Hourquette d'Ancizon, a back road close to today's stage of the Tour de France.
I woke early. Having spent the past week bedridden with a raging fever, I was eager to leave Chitral's dusty streets. As I cycled through the bazaar on my way out of town, I passed the day's slaughter being brought to market. Cuts of meat lay in rusty wheelbarrows.