Thursday, 11 August 2016

The Shit that Goes Wrong

I’ve been dying to write a blog post for ages but I’ve been stuck in the debilitating conundrum of either making a video, or sticking up a written piece.  So, in an effort to make up for my lack of writing I’ve decided to write a short post about everything of immediate interest, all in one fell swoop and with a focus on keeping waffle to a minimum. I believe I have a tendency to maximise waffle!  Think of it as a running roundup of the trip’s quirkier events. Like Sport Sunday, but with bicycles and a romantic subplot. I think I’m already starting to waffle! Anyway, I’m also sometimes going to work backwards. Partly because we’re in Iran and they write backwards, and partly in order to jog my memory. So apologies if it reads like were going in the opposite direction. And, just to confuse things even more, this time I’m going to work retrospectively forwards.

I’m going to focus on three themes: shit that goes wrong, people who are gas tickets altogether, and meltdowns! As it's difficult to write about everything that goes wrong in one go I will write about one of each theme when possible, and update additional shit going wrong etc. as the weeks go by. Everybody always wants to hear about the shit that goes wrong. Just part of the human condition I suppose.

Meltdown Countdown #20
(I don’t know if there have even been 20 meltdowns but I’m gonna run with this figure until further notice)

At the moment we are sitting in a café in Tabriz after having cycled nearly 8,000 kilometres since central South Korea. We burned through 132 of those eclectic kilometres yesterday in a push to get to Tabriz for a two day break, which we had been foaming at the mouth to take. I mean foaming at the mouth both literally and metaphorically. The last 900 kilometres in Iran have seen a solid build-up of spittle develop in my mouth corners due to the sun operating from about 32 feet above our heads. The only thing that gives me conflicted, and pained empathetic comfort is that Stef has to cycle in a head scarf, long sleeves and leggings, ha ha, sorry Stef. I wouldn’t be surprised if you see her on the news streaking through Turkey once we cross the border. That would go down as the best meltdown yet if it happens: fingers crossed, it would make for a great blog post!

We’d been about even on our meltdown count up to Iran. It turns out that this was primarily due to cycling attire that is climate appropriate. For instance in the Hexi Corridor in China, when it dropped to around minus 13, or the day we left Korea when it was minus 15, I didn’t once consider cycling in my underwear. Luckily I didn’t have to.  As I write this Stef is vigorously contesting the increase in her meltdown count. I’m claiming that as another meltdown.

So I suppose I’d better define “meltdown” in the context of this journey, just so we know what we’re dealing with here.

Meltdown: a flair-up in complex and fiery negative emotion, usually spontaneous and completely uncalled for, that is passively misdirected at either the nearest inanimate object, or person, and invariably resulting from one of the 5 following conditions: tiredness, hunger, thirst, temperature (too hot or too cold), or the X factor (not the TV show, although that would be an appropriate and well-directed meltdown).  Any expression of legitimate grievances do not count as “meltdowns”

I was unable to find a photo of my meltdown. So, instead, here I am sharing a private joke with a Chinese baby

In China the first major meltdown on the Meltdown Countdown 2016 went to me (Nick). Here’s how the Meltdown went down.

We bought the amazing treat of two Dove/Galaxy chocolate bars and cycled about 80 kilometres before lunch, on one of the first days when the temperature had notably increased. This was okay though because chocolate time was just around the corner! Also, we were running a little late for lunch and I was feeling a little tired. This was okay though because chocolate time was just around the corner!  It turns out that a little bit of three meltdown conditions can be the magic number on the path to the Meltdown Countdown.  I had been dreaming about the two Dove bars that Stef was carrying for the previous 40 kilometres or so, and the sweet, beautiful, sugary chocolate time was almost upon us.

We pulled in, and ate a completely unsatisfying lunch in one of the many Chinese restaurants that nuke their food with Sichuan pepper. This was okay though because chocolate time was just around the corner. I burst out the door to retrieve the two bars of silky chocolatey goodness only to find that they had both reached a molten hot liquid state! But, drink them as hot chocolate, the reasonable person might say. Not me! I took the pure, unbridled meltdown option and threw the two bars on the floor in an apoplectic state of fury while cursing and blinding at the utter injustice of the universe. This was possibly the worst day of my life. And all because the lady loves to melt the Milk Tray (sorry).

Meltdown Countdown Count Nick 1 Stef 0


People who are gas tickets altogether

A gas ticket of a magician was breathing and juggling fire on the ferry-crossing from Korea to China, while a large group of increasingly drunk and rowdy men in the front row got their tops off for a combination of the craic, and the increase in temperature from the fireballs the magician was spitting in their direction.  This was the last thing we expected to see on a ferry crossing. Either health and safety regulations got lost in translation in international waters, or they just figure that fun with fire on the boat trumps potential consequences. I vouch for the latter, and I’d hazard a guess that the topless Korean men who subsequently began a chest slapping competition while laughing heartily as the flames got ever more intense and closer, had the same inclination.

The Flaming Ceiling ferry-fire act begins

 I just about resisted the temptation to join in with some unbridled, fiery chest slapping.


First top off and up for a song before act 2 of Flaming Ceiling begins
Gas tickets altogether so they were!


Shit that goes wrong

We’ve been lucky enough on this trip to have very, very little go wrong and when shit does go wrong it’s usually only very little: melting Dove bars being a prime example. Also, when I say “lucky”, actually the trip running so smoothly is in large part due to the organisational prowess of the Almighty Grand Mufti, Ayatollah, Chief Justice Stef Russell.

That said, there have been a few things that are retrospectively high in comedic/idiotic value. For instance; within a week of leaving from South Korea our knees switched to 90-year- old-arthritic-grandparent mode. Neither of us piped up about it because it seemed inconsequential at first. In fact even as the pain developed neither of us piped up about it as it got to the stage in each of us that it could have spelled the end of the trip. PANIC! And herein lies the classic idiocy of the human condition: it’s not a problem until you admit to yourself and others that it’s a problem. Add to that the classic Irish condition of “sure twill be grand” and you’re looking for trouble. Anyway, eventually and tentatively, piping up teased itself out and we tried to figure out a solution. The state of us! It really could have gotten to a journey stopping stage. The combination of cold weather, low-rider, big-pimpin’ saddle positions, and recalcitrance is never a good thing.

We unfortunately have no photos of swollen knees that clearly reflect the pain we felt. So instead here are happier times in Kyrgyzstan, with fully operational knee joints. Also, on closer inspection I think you'll find that the light was very sympathetic to the pythons/guns/pipes/solicitors!
 So after about a week of nascent arthritis, we both sat in a café trying to figure out what we could do. Then suddenly, and glaringly the angle of our saddles became completely apparent. Why it hadn’t before is a mystery; maybe it was the excitement of embarking, or the focus on the freezing temperatures, who knows. Either way, we adjusted our saddle positions and since then we have had the knees of juvenile kangaroos on lunar bouncy castles.


Ah life is good on the road! It’s not all meltdowns, fire breathing head-bangers and knee pain. Sometimes you get a hundred kilometres of downhill with a tail wind on a smooth road. It’s on those days where no one throws a hissy fit, breaths fire or aches in baleful pain!

Thanks for reading. Delighted to get that out of my system!