Kazakhstan to Iran

So, It’s been a while! I’ve been back on two wheels for a couple of weeks now after been stuck in Almaty for a whole month! There are definitely worse places to be stuck and I was lucky to be surrounded by great people and beautiful places however it was still very frustrating. My bike needed a new clutch (kindly sent out by Ducati North America!) and two new valves. Unfortunately it took forever to get the valves sent out. Ducati Almaty prioritised me at every opportunity and, when the parts arrived, got them fitted as soon as possible. 

I’m so grateful to all of the people I met in Almaty for their hospitality and generosity, the acts of which are too numerous to list! 

Some of my adventures in Almaty include;

A trip to the rock carvings with Dima and Polina - we had to ride off road for a while to get to the site which was great fun, after looking at some of the carvings we climbed one of the large hills and took in the view. There was a big castle built there for the movie ‘Nomads’ which could also be seen across the river.  

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Visits to the mountains - Vladimir took me to Shimbulak Ski Resort, we had hoped to snowboard but it had been raining and as it is the end of the season the slopes were very icy. We settled for a  mulled wine and enjoyed what we could see from the gondola, which wasn’t much because of all the clouds! 

A ride/hike to see a waterfall - This was another trip with Dima and Polina, we rode to a national park where we walked a couple of miles to the waterfall before heading back down, catching some dinner at a trout farm and eating ‘Kazakh fish and chips’. The ride back was stunning, with the sun setting and petals blowing off of the trees.  

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Visiting the lakes - One of the many lakes around Almaty, apparently they are all different colours!  

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Watching practice days at Sokol racetrack - Ducati Almaty offer track days at Sokol, an hour or so out of the city. It was great watching the riders and we even had a couple of GoKart races which were fun.  

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I’m happy to be back on the move although I have had to retrace my route through Kazakhstan for almost two thousand miles. Originally I had intended to travel down through Uzbekistan then Turkmenistan and into Iran. Turkmenistan did not respond to my visa submission; Apparently it is the second hardest country to obtain a visa for after North Korea and has a 70% rejection rate. So, a change of plan! I’m currently on a boat across the Caspian Sea to Baku, Azerbaijan, from Aktau, a town in western Kazakhstan. luckily I arrived just in time and did not have to wait long for a boat (they don’t have schedules). 

On my way to Aktau I stayed with Rinat who was a great host and took me to a Motorcycle Festival on the outskirts of Baikonur, this was great fun but having had little sleep the night before and arriving late in Aktobe the next day meant I was super tired and started to make mistakes, little things like forgetting to put earplugs in when I rode and bigger things like losing my glasses and starting to fall asleep while riding, assisted by the endless and unchanging desert in front of me. Central Kazakhstan is also very windy which made riding strenuous. I was able to get new glasses in Aktobe and was grateful for a good nights sleep in Uralsk. 

I also had my first puncture when attempting to leave Atyrau for Aktau, I managed to repair it in order to get back to Atyrau but the tire was already damaged. I’m very fortunate to have made great friends in Almaty and Dima sent a new tire overnight as there were none available in my location. I had stopped at a garage/engineers with a bike parked outside and asked them for help locating and changing a tire, Alexander was endlessly helpful. He drove me around the city looking for a tire and when we couldn’t find one helped arrange delivery with Dima and then collected the tire from the airport at 5am! Once the tire arrived he took me to a mechanic who could fit it. Nobody would take payment for their assistance or work. This is a characteristic that repeatedly astounded me in Kazakhstan; unimaginable kindness. 

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I eventually reached Baku after days on the ship from Aktau, we had to wait outside the port for a day until another ship left, we got off of the boat at about 9PM and I didn't clear customs until 1:30AM after paying some extortionate port charges and even a fee to use the ramp getting off of the boat. This being said everybody at both ports and on the ship was so friendly even if the process was as confusing and long winded as possible. 

I entered Iran a couple of days ago and have been enjoying the amazing scenery, buildings, food and people so far. I'm looking forward to the next few days and my onward journey into Pakistan! I will try not to leave it so long between updates next time! 

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Austria to Kazakhstan

It’s hard to comprehend how far I have travelled in the last 20 days. Austria feels like a lifetime a go and is another planet compared to the landscape of the last few days. I have ridden from alpine mountains through endless fields in Russia to the steppe and desert of Kazakhstan and have returned to rolling hills and mountains on the horizon as I approach Almaty in the south. 

 

After Austria I rode to Budapest where I stayed with Tim, had a beautiful meal with his family and got a tour of the city at night in his URAL sidecar. An experience I’ll never forget.  

 

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From Budapest I headed through Slovakia, camping in Košice. On the ride in I rode past a large building, completely derilict, now home to Roma Gypsies. It was a pretty shocking site. After chatting with Viktor, whose parents owned the campsite, he offered to take me to the shops to get dinner and then show me Lunik 9. Lunik 9 is something that has to be seen to be believed. A whole district of a city comprising maybe 10/15 high rise flats that are all in ruins and piled high with rubbish. I think the main thing that shocked me is that such poverty can exist so close to home and within the EU. 

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I left Slovakia and headed to Lublin, Poland. After crossing the border I immediately felt more relaxed. I stayed by a big lake surrounded by forests. The next day I attempted to cross the Ukrainian border but was rejected due to only having copies of the bike registration. I returned to Lublin and Ducati sent out the originals for delivery the next day. I took the bike for a service in Warsaw to make the most of the lost day and succefully crossed the border the morning after. Ukraine was the start of the long and straight roads which have been unchanging throughout the former Soviet Union with the exception of their condition. Potholes became regular obstacles which managed to shake free the boots which were strapped to my bike. Thankfully RevIt! are sending new ones to Almaty!

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I entered Russia with relative ease, friendly border guards took interest in my bike and the trip and we managed to fill in all necessary paperwork even with the large language barrier. Russia was a demonstration in the meaning of vast. Black fields stretched on forever as did the straight roads between cities. I stayed in Kursk the first night, then Voronezh where I met Alexander. Alexander pulled up next to me on his motorbike at some traffic lights as I entered the city, he asked me if I wanted a coffee and I followed him to his house where he showed me all sorts of photos before showing me to my hotel and convincing the receptionist to let me park my bike in their garage. He returned with his son (who spoke English) and we chatted about the trip and my plans.

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I left Voronezh the next morning and spent a night in Saratov before heading to the Kazakhstan border and on to Uralsk. I stayed there two nights to recover a bit from racing my Russian visa expiry and to get insurance to ride in Kazakhstan. The road to the border and from the border to Uralsk were abysmal with craters in the road and some sections completely demolished. The landscape completely changed from Russia’s black agricultural land to dusty steppe complete with eagles, tumbleweeds and camels. Great for a day but pretty monotonous after three. Steppe became desert and then, as I approached Kyzylorda, green crept back into the land. Through Shymkent and on to Taraz I was back in rolling hills with mountains as a backdrop. I’m heading for Almaty tomorrow to meet the Ducati team there and will spend a few days with them exploring the area. I’m super exited to explore and happy that my bike will be getting some TLC!

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20 days on the road have flown by.

Thanks for reading! Don’t forget to sponsor my Movember Fundraising Attempt: https://mobro.co/9838737

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England to Austria

It’s so hard to put the last 5 days in to words. I’ve travelled over 1000 Miles through 5 countries in as many days and experienced so much already. The weather has turned from thunderstorms and torrential rain to 20 degree sunshine which has made things way easier and more enjoyable. Day one and two were really hard work, I was putting in big miles (405 Miles on day two) through France with a horrific headwind the whole way. It was also chucking it down and cold. Putting a tent up in a thunderstorm on day one was really deflating after the great send off from The Bike Shed. I was lucky enough to be setting up camp opposite a fellow biker in a motorhome who brought me an umbrella and a beer. Friendly faces have been everywhere from that point. People have stopped to chat at petrol stations and rest stops.

I spent day 3 crossing Mt Blanc and heading to Bologna to tour the Ducati factory and hang out with the scrambler team which was great fun! They were kind enough to get me a hotel for the night. It was really strange seeing the place where my bike was built! I actually ended up riding through Mt Blanc with one glove on - I managed to pull the lining out and could not get my hand back in at the toll for the tunnel. I spent the next 25 KM praying my hand wouldn’t fall off as I carved through snowy mountains with no place to pull over. I got to the bottom of the mountain and was greeted by views like this. 

 

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Petrol station at the bottom of the valley 9 AM

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The spot where I managed to pull over and sort out my glove

 

The great weather continued through Bologna and on to Venice at lunch the next day - the guy in the car park even let me off my parking fee (€18!!!!) as I only stayed just over an hour. It was nice to have a little walk around somewhere so picturesque after only having seen motorways and stopped at petrol stations most of the time.  

 

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After lunch I continued to Slovenia to meet Jon who had emailed me whilst I was in Bologna. There was a big crash which caused a massive tailback which in turn caused another lorry crash on the motorway just before the border. Filtering for 30 mins between massive trucks and cars with their doors open whilst hauling my wide set up was really challenging and I was pretty wiped out when It cleared. I got to Jon in Kamnik, Slovenia around 7:30PM and the generosity started immediately, a huge bed with fresh sheets and towels, food, beer, great conversations, a lovely family and a great plan for the next day. We headed in to the town for a beer at a bar which was motorbike mad and then called it a night. The next morning we headed to see the capital Ljubljana, which was stunning. Wide streets and magnificent buildings lining a beautiful river.

 

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We headed back to Kamnik to a party at the same bar as last night where they were celebrating the start of the riding season. So many nice bikes! After that we rode to lake Bled which was stunning with great roads followed by more great roads out from Lake Bled and up to the Austrian border, where Jon and I parted ways. 

  

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Jon and I at Lake Bled 

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Posing at the other side of the lake and continuing to park whereever we want! 

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Parting ways at the top of the mountains before Austria

 

I headed through the tunnel to Austria and came out to the best 25 minutes of road I have ever experienced. Hairpins and back to back turns (I’ve uploaded footage to YouTube for any road geeks!) the Loibl Pass was a dream. Unfortunately no campsites are open yet in Austria as the summer season doesn’t officially seem to start until the end of the month so I had to find the cheapest hotel possible. On to Budapest today to stay with another kind stranger!  

The Bike Shed & More

I was lucky enough to spend yesterday filming at The Bike Shed’s Shoreditch HQ. I sat down and had a chat with Dan Jones about the trip, the motivation/inspiration behind it, and motorcyclings affect on our mental health. It’s reassuring to hear that the story around this trip is relatable for so many bikers - Hopefully as more people see this journey they will be able to see similarities in their own relationship with motorbikes (or whatever else helps you!).

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The guys from Malle London also made an appearance to help install the ‘Max’ panniers and ‘Vincent’ duffle onto the Desert Sled. Robert and Johnny have been so helpful in working out which bits of kit to take and their products are truly a cut above the rest. 

 Photo by The Bike Shed

Photo by The Bike Shed

The Bike Shed have been the leaders in this custom motorcycle wave since it began and are an institution that I have greatly admired over the last 5 years or so that I have been reading their blogs and attending their events. They also help run the London Distinguished Gentleman’s Ride, which rasises money for Movember. It was an honour to hang out with them and I can’t wait to show you the video!

Check out The Bike Shed here:

www.thebikeshed.cc

Check out Malle London here:

www.mallelondon.com

Battling the Beast from the East!

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Today I arrived home safe and sound with a Ducati Scrambler ‘Desert Sled’ after a two day battle with the beast from the east! Having never ridden this bike before me and cinematic extraordinaire, Emma Hiley, drove up to Silverstone Race Circuit on Thursday (1st March) and I attempted to ride the bike 125 miles back home.  

The roads were really not ideal and there were a couple of hair raising moments. The tarmac on the M40 had either been crushed or exploded due to the temperature dropping to -6 degrees celsius. The obstacle was unavoidable and I went over a mound of concrete and rock sticking out of the road. The bike went a bit sideways but I managed to stay on top of it and we carried on. 

We had issues with freezing screen wash in Emma’s car on the way there and the way back and, after stopping in Beaconsfield to clear the windscreen, we decided the weather had become too bad to continue riding in. After I secured the bike, we hopped in Emma’s car and drove back to stay at hers.

I was very generously offered a lift to collect the bike this morning and managed to ride it home without a hitch! I can’t wait to start the world tour on this machine! 

Stay safe in the snow! 

 

Henry

 

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Thanks for looking!

Thanks for checking out the project - I am going to be updating this blog page in the lead up to my departure as well as whilst I am travelling. Be sure to check back for the latest developments. If you want to see more you can follow me on Instagram @henrycrew (www.instagram.com/henrycrew).

Cheers!

Henry