Croatia to Kyrgyzstan

Will Evans is a professional ski instructor and passionate adventurer.  Last year he cycled all the way from Croatia to Kyrgyzstan.  Over the course of the next few months he will tell us the story of his overland Odyssey, as well as what motivated him to undertake such an adventure, and what personal challenges he faced on the way.

 

Over to Will:

“It’s hard to explain exactly the appeal of spending 3 and a half months alone riding a bicycle through various types of tortuous terrain and I’m not sure exactly why I decided to do it.  I asked my housemate, Jamie, who cycled with me to Istanbul what he thought it was that drove me to embark on such a journey;

“Because you have a personality disorder which makes you feel worthless unless you achieve weird hare-brained and sadistic challenges.”

That maybe a touch harsh but there is probably an element of truth in it, and I get easily disillusioned once I am in a settled routine.

Having spent 3 winters in Canada and Europe as a ski instructor and passing summers tree-planting, building, landscape gardening and working in pubs, I found myself living back home in an uninspiring office job selling ingredients to food processing companies.  After a month or so of selling frozen, diced carrots and drums of raspberry puree, my mind turned to the world map and how I could break free from the doldrums of preserved cuisine. I’d cycled around France and Norway a few years previously and I enjoyed the simplicity, freedom, low costs and adventure of travelling by bicycle, so by mid winter, and after 4 months of rain and darkness, I started buying maps and reading reports on the Internet.

 

Will Evans – Winter in Canada

I decided on a route through Eastern Europe, Turkey and Central Asia ending up in Kashmir. I basically looked at the atlas and decided what sounded the most exciting and exotic, read up on the area and, if it was possible, decided I would go there.  I left my carrot-selling job and began ski instructing and working in a bar in Verbier, Switzerland, planning to set off in late April 2008.

“Unfortunately, a skiing accident resulted in a broken jaw, cheekbone, eye socket, nose and losing 4 front teeth; so rather than the steppes of Asia, I was back in England slurping on my mothers pureed dinners through a straw.”

As such, it wasn’t until May 2009 that I jumped on an easy jet flight to Split, Croatia with the plan of reaching Islamabad, Pakistan, by late August.  I had cycled to Spit from Geneva the previous summer once I was back on solids and fit, and the Dalmatian coast is a stunning place to start.  The first 3 weeks on the road were spent with my aforementioned housemate/psychologist cycling the coast of Croatia, Bosnia, Montenegro and then the hills of Albania, Macedonia and Greece.  The scenery was stunning with shimmering clear seas and whitewashed villages. We camped in olive groves, on beaches, woodland and any places where we were unlikely to get into too much trouble.

he one memorable exception was above the Greek port of Thessolinka, where fully armoured police with flashlights and rifles charged towards us as we erected our tent and pointed their gun muzzles in our faces and searched our bags.

“We were ordered to keep our hands up and to fetch our passports, which proved quite a testing operation, but after a 10 minute altercation and a telling off for being camped on military land we were free to carry on!”

 

Will Evans cycles through flooding in Greece

From Montenegro onwards one would cycle through a Muslim village one minute and an hour later through a Christian village, giving a great sense of where the Ottoman Empire had once stretched to. In the hills of northern Greece near the Bulgarian border the villages were overwhelmingly Muslim and it was fascinating to see such cultural differences in such short distances.  The trip passed relatively incident free, although poor foresight on the small Croatian island of Hvar meant we were forced to dig up potatoes and onions for the evening feast, when all shops were closed on Sundays!

We arrived in Istanbul via a complex spaghetti layout of terrifying 8 lane motorways feeling shattered, but hugely satisfied, to reach such a symbolic place, bridging Asia and Europe.  I had never been outside of Western Europe or North America, so to travel to places such as Albania and Macedonia was really eye-opening. I particularly remember being exultant at crossing the border from Albania into Macedonia:

“I had lost a pair of shorts with all my Albanian money and there were no ATMs in rural Albania, so I spent a day and a half with only a bread roll and a tin of sardines; not much fuel for the hills of the interior.”

 

The Road to Central Asia, in Turkey

After 5 days in Istanbul, where I spent far too much time in consulates arranging onward visas, Jamie decided cycling everyday and camping in various degrees of discomfort was not something he wished to continue.  He had also been continually taking anti inflammatory pills for his left knee.  I was sad to see him go and daunted by the prospect of 3 months of my own company.   But having the complete freedom to do as I please, to go at whatever pace I feel like and not have to worry about the needs of another person, took my journey into an entirely new dimension.  So I felt no inclination to give up now: the interior of Turkey and the lands of central Asia stretched before me, filling me with nervous anticipation in preparation for more hare-brained, sadistic challenges.”

 

In next month’s issue, Will sets out on his own across the steppes of Central Asia. Destination: Kyrgyzstan.

 

Courtesy of “Beyond Limits Magazine” 

       

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