I’m bored. And I’m sweating. For days I have been driving through always the same desert step in a heat of 40 degrees on average. In Russia, in Kazakhstan and in Uzbekistan. Between my planned stops (and yes, here you have to plan how much water, petrol and food to take with you) are often 500 kilometers without any civilization. Somehow I had imagined my arrival to the “Stans” different. A bit more 1001 nights, a little less remote area.
I try to keep myself happy with an audiobook, but the voice of the woman reading “I am Malala” goes terribly on my nerves after an hour. At a large construction site I stop. One of the construction workers gesturing vigorously and shouting something. A good opportunity to get rid of the annoying voice in my ears. But even without listening to the audiobook I initially don’t understand what the men want from me. They cross their arms to a X. “Road closed?” I ask. They nod. “How long?” One of the construction workers is shaking his head, making wide circular motions with his arms and pointing to the only other road that is leading inlands. Not exactly the direction I wanted to go. I sigh. I probably have no other choice. So I turn my bike and continue driving this road leading right to the middle of nowhere, seeing only deserted step to the horizon.
When you travel there will always be things you can’t completely understand and that even locals can’t really explain. For example: Why can petrol in Uzbekistan from a particular season on only be purchase in the capital Tashkent – or in old plastic water bottles on the black market? Why have all mosquitoes of Kazakhstan decided to live in this one small village in the desert and only bite me and nobody else? Why are Uzbek border guards allowed to browse each photo and video on your phone (and show bikini photos to all their colleagues …)? And why the hell can a perfect asphalt road turn into quicksand within seconds?
As it turns out, the redirection the construction workers gave me is a detour of not less than 250 kilometers. Out of nowhere the perfect asphalt road turns into a small sand track after 100 of them. I know that my road tires are useless here. Still, I try not to lose my confidence and rely on all the things that I have ever learned before. And I do the only thing that normally helps in sand: accelerate. The first 10 km this strategy works quite well, even though the motorcycle careens dangerously several times. But at one point I oversee a sanddune, catch it with the front wheel at around 60 km/h and have no chance to correct the mistake. In a split second I find myself ten feet away from my bike on the ground. My head hurts, I feel pressure on my chest and I hardly can breath. Cautiously I move my arms, hands, legs and feet. At least that parts of my body still work. When I turn my head and look at my motorcycle, I see the handlebar bent in a way it shouldn’t be. “Fuck!” I think. If I could I would curse loudly. But my mouth is dry and sandy.
I don’t know how long I lay there in the sand without moving. Apparently I’ve hit my head hard enough to not even think about trying to lift my bike or inspect the damage. Quite a while later I start from my trance when I hear a car coming closer. It takes all my strength and concentration to get up. A Jeep slips through the sand and stops in front of me. Three times I have to point to my lying motorcycle and ask the Asian driver for help before he even makes a move to get out of his car. Besides of raising her eyebrow his wife in the passenger seat doesn’t move at all. Nevertheless, with his help I lift the bike. And even though my windshield and cockpit look desolate the bike starts without any problem. I can not even say thank you as quick as the guy disappears in his huge Jeep and takes off. “Pull yourself together!” I say to myself instead several times, trying not to cry. Highly concentrated and carefully I start the bike and steer it through the dirt track with a snail’s pace. Several times I almost get stuck in the sand and when I finally see the road being paved with asphalt at the horizon I start to cry in relief.
I knew from the beginning that on a long journey like mine the moment will come where something goes wrong. That I might have problems with my bike, get stuck at a border or simply might fall or have an accident. But I had probably not expected to experience the unpleasant sides of traveling so early. And I did not know before that it would take some courage to just go on.
I make a two-day break in Beineu, a small village in Kazakhstan’s no man’s land. The first day I spend on laying in bed and staring at the ceiling. I feel sick and miserable, my head hurts, and I could burst in tears even though I actually don’t count myself to the category crybaby. The friendly owner of the hotel is checking regularly on me, but every human contact makes my eyes water again. At one point I pretend to be sleeping to soothe him. On day two I force myself to eat again and to inspect my bike’s damage. With the support of the owner of the hotel and a Russian motorcyclist, who is staying at Beineu too, I repair my windshield with cable ties and a little violence and try to bent the handlebar back to where it belongs. With repairing my motorcycle as well my psychological recovery seems to progress. At the end of the day I can smile again – also about the first scratches on the side of my bike. I’m even a bit proud. I had mastered a difficult situation within my possibilities quite well. And I had never questioned whether I should continue this journey. Now that I had finally reached the old Silk Road, I would not let my experiences be ruined by a small incident.
A few days later, I look happily over the roofs of the sand-colored houses of old Khiva and the beautiful mosaics of Samarkand’s Registon. That I just had an accident and that I was laying in bed parallelized is forgotten. Most of the following 1001 nights will probably not be a nightmare.
This article was written for Glamour Germany. Click here for the german version.