From Turkey to Iran, epic trip continues on the Silk Roads to Shanghai

Maghnus Collins


Maghnus Collins

Limerick’s intrepid traveller Maghnus Collins gives the Limerick Leader an exclusive update from Iran as he and David Burns continue their Silk Roads to Shanghai journey in aid of Self Help Africa:

Limerick’s intrepid traveller Maghnus Collins gives the Limerick Leader an exclusive update from Iran as he and David Burns continue their Silk Roads to Shanghai journey in aid of Self Help Africa:

“Turkey might be nice!” Burnsy squinted at the camera and responded sharply to my enquiry as to his opinion of Turkey.

Rain spilled onto us and our bikes, wetting us from the outside. Sweat collected beneath our waterproof clothes and wet us from the inside. A stiff headwind seemed to be consciously testing what little resolve we had left.

It had been 14 days and 1650km since we left Istanbul. Visas and preparations contrived to leave us 336 hours to cross Turkey before midnight on April 11 when our Iranian visas would expire. At 8pm on the 11th the border came into view. We had made it with four hours to spare.

Grand ideas of peddling through Iran, images of running in the shadow of the Himalayas and dreams of water and rafts on the mighty Yangtze River had bullied Turkey to the periphery of our minds.

That same mind’s eye, though, deemed Turkey a necessary gateway to the real adventure, a warm up. We paid lip-service to the potential difficulty, conscious more of over-confidence than real apprehension.

What was Turkey compared to a wealth of experience in climbing and climates from Malawi to Mont Blanc?

We left Istanbul the morning after our flight touched down and headed East. A mild day and relatively flat and windless conditions seemed to confirm, or rather affirm our complacence.

By the afternoon of our second day we had covered the distance from Limerick to Dublin without fuss and all seemed to bode well for our 130km a day target.

Turkey, however, cared little for our best laid plans and by nightfall the battle had begun.

We had eaten lunch at sea-level in t-shirts and shorts and sat in the shade as our thermometers showed 30c. Four hours later I was huddled in an abandoned hut at the apex of a mountain pass wearing every item of clothes I had.

We had climbed over 2500m in the space of 20km and I was now surrounded by a blanket of snow waiting for Burnsy.

The climb’s effects were visible on my clothes and soon the moisture began to freeze resulting in more frustration than sympathy for Burnsy’s plight. It transpired that the strain of the pass had been too much for his new chain and after only 200km a link had snapped.

An hour of repairs had been the result. We camped at altitude without light enough to enable a descent and thus began a pattern which would make Turkey the struggle it became.

Through a combination of circumstance and strain we spent our mornings descending mountains into valleys of scalding heat only to find ourselves climbing up again through the afternoons and evenings.

By day we struggled to keep cool as temperatures touched 36 c. By night we nursed sun-burn as the needle dipped below freezing. Our sleeping bags were designed for desert life as we prepared for the Iranian deserts and so sleep was fitful at best. The rolling hills dictated that progress was slow thereby necessitating long days. We had twelve hours of light a day and we were on the saddles for ten of those.

Food was plentiful but time was not and as I write I am the makings of a stone lighter than when I left. On April 7 we camped 600km from the Iranian border with four days left. We had cycled for ten days and over one hundred hours, yet Turkey demanded more.

Muscles had ceased to be painful and even sun-burn no longer stung, however, we could not shake what felt like a full-body exhaustion. Tiredness trumped all other emotion and even anger demanded too much fuel to muster.

Between April 7 and 8 pm on April 11 we cycled without passion or plan. We simply slept, ate and cycled.

The final days were punctuated with the beginnings of the recent Turkish storms. Persistence borne of indifference saw us come through a storm on our final mountain pass and the last stretch to Iran was one of headwinds and rain.

Turkey had demanded more than we ever imagined but in return gave more than we could have expected. We are leaner, fitter and most importantly humbler for having gone through it.

Turkey was not a gateway to adventure. Turkey was an adventure.

Maghnus Collins and David Burns are on a 16,000km journey called Silk Roads to Shanghai in aid of Self Help Africa. For more see