Shiny new wheels for the bicycle ๐Ÿ‘Curious how smooth the bearings in the SP pv-8 (front) and Shimano FH-T670 (rear) hubs will roll!

Six days of exploring Limburg by cycle with @florianne ๐Ÿšดโ€โ™€๏ธโค๏ธ๐Ÿšดโ€โ™‚๏ธ osm.org/?mlat=50.95397&mlon=5.

๐Ÿ‡ง๐Ÿ‡ช๐Ÿ‡ฏ๐Ÿ‡ต On February 14th I left home on two wheels heading for Tokyo. Yesterday my dream came to fruition after what has been the adventure of a lifetime. Many thanks to all the kind strangers and friends that crossed my path along the way. May I one day return the favor. I would also like to thank everyone that supported my world bicycle relief campaign. Together we made a significant and lasting impact on the lives of thirty-five children in rural Sub-Saharan Africa. Finally, I'd like to thank everyone that followed my adventure. I hope it may inspire your next adventure. Love, Floris. osm.org/?mlat=35.68&mlon=139.7

South Korea - four rivers trail. After the ferry from China, I set off from Incheon for a short ride to Seoul. It was a sunny day and it was great to see all the recreational cyclists out and about. It reminded me of a mild spring Sunday morning along de schelde back home. I even rode in a pace line for a while. In Seoul I was hosted by Jo Anna and her husband in their traditional Korean home with two cats ๐Ÿฑ. She'd invited some friends over and we got to share stories, food and drink: a great time. The next day I set off to visit Seoul, hiking the old city wall, counting the number of cafes (seriously, coffee is big business here) and visiting a number of palaces and the Jongmyo shrine. These are places of sanctuary right in the middle of a sprawling city. It was also interesting to see the importance of the spirit world in Korean mythology. After Seoul I followed the Hangang south towards the heart of the southern peninsula. Along the way I passed along the highest point on the path (530ish m), met a few friendly dogs, cats and other cyclists and been enjoying the midday warmth. It does cool down during the night and most mornings are misty. Cycling here is very different from China, with purpose build cycle paths far away from traffic. The infrastructure with public toilets and rest areas is the best I've ever seen anywhere. Camping has been a breeze as well. All of this makes cycling very accessible, as evident by the large number of Koreans on their bikes. Which has led resulted in numerous photos ๐Ÿ™‚. It hasn't been the most adventurous touring, but it's nonetheless been very enjoyable. I'm now taking a rest day in Daegu (not that the cycling has been very tiring!), the third largest city in South Korea. Tomorrow I'm continuing south towards the port city of Busan. Annyeonghasaeyo! osm.org/?mlat=35.866667&mlon=1

China - the yellow sea. Fifty five days and 4 500km after entering China, I reached the shores of the yellow sea in Qingdao! A huge milestone as China was a big challenge due to its sheer size and visa limits. While it's still early to reflect, China did surprise me in a number of ways. For one, it's much more developed than I anticipated. Secondly, the road conditions were the best of my entire trip so far and the highspeed rail is an engineering marvel. Also camping was fairly straightforward in the (populated) east and the food was tasty! On the other hand, my route after Xi'an quickly became monotonous and was often filled with trucks. This combined with the large distances made cycling feel like a chore. Fortunately, podcasts provided some distraction (thanks Sam Harris!) and helped to drown out the excessive honking from other road users (really, it's crazy). One other unexpected difficulty was the feeling of isolation as it's really challenging to communicate with local people. Overall, I'm very grateful though that I've been able to catch a glimpse of the diverse and exotic cultures in China. As for the rest of my trip: on Friday I'm crossing the yellow sea by ferry to Incheon, South Korea. But first I'm spending my last days in China exploring Qingdao. Its brief occupation by Germany at the beginning of the previous century makes it an interesting place in China. Even more so as it is the hometown of the Tsingtao beer ๐Ÿบ Talking about drinks: mark December 20th in your calendars as I'll be inviting all my supporters for a chat and drink back home ๐Ÿฅ‚More info to follow soon! Love, Floris osm.org/?mlat=36.0833&mlon=120

Throwback to October 27 2012 when Lasse, Sander and I set off for an overnighter in the south of Belgium on what was to be my first taste of bicycle touring! The hoge venen is the largest nature reserve in Belgium and it has been the backdrop to many of our outdoor adventures. I remember that at one point my rear rack came loose and dragged behind my bicycle for a while. Luckily we managed to fix it somehow. Sander was riding Lasse's old mountainbike and Lasse was on the classic Surely LHT. Unfortunately my bicycle was stolen some time later, but I'm still using the same panniers! A fun weekend that led to many more trips and a great reminder that you don't have to go far for adventure! #2012 osm.org/?mlat=50.5318&mlon=6.1

China - Qinghai. Cycling south from Zhangye, I entered a new province: Qinghai. Here on the edge of the Tibetan plateau you get a sense of the Tibetan culture and Buddhism without actually having to go to Tibet (which involves an expensive permit). The camel caravan sculptures reminded me that after eight months of cycling, I'm still following the silk road. Eleanor and I had to part ways at this point, as I had to get a move on with my sixty day visa. The weather took a cold turn: one morning most of my water had frozen overnight. Fortunately there was a three hour climb waiting to warm up ๐Ÿ˜…. In such cold weather it's critical to regulate body temperature, as too much sweating will leave you shivering in the descent. Still, you can see me with most of my clothes on ready for the descent in the fourth picture. I zoomed through Xining, the capital of Qinghai province, eager to get to the Buddhist valleys to the south. The way to Tongren was filled with numerous Buddhist shrines: stupas, statues, murals and prayer flags lining the roads. I left the valley towards Tongren in favour of a road through the mountains to Guashize monastery. While exploring the monastery buildings I was ushered over by two young monks. From translating with the phone I found out that they were born in Tongren but came to the monastery at the age of sixteen, where they have now been for two years. This was followed by an impromptu photoshoot (I have a dozen more photos ๐Ÿ˜) and sharing the result over wechat! By way of a parting gift, they offered me a large pot of yakh yoghurt: a very delicious snack! Feeling grateful for this encounter, I set off in the midday sun to ride another day ๐ŸŒž osm.org/?mlat=35.5161&mlon=102

China - Gansu, Mati Si grottoes. These Buddhist temples are located 60km south of Zhangye. On our way there Eleanor and I cycled through colourful autumn landscapes, past farmers harvesting the last of their crop. Most of the temples around Mati Si are carved into a rock cliff, so it looks like they are hanging from the rock. Inside, the grottoes are decorated with many Buddha statues and colorful paint and wood work. The most spectacular temple is the southern one, which is known as the horseshoe temple. At the bottom there are numerous niches with Buddhist artwork, but the most interesting part is carved out of the cliff face above. It was fun to explore the many little grottoes by following narrow corridors and climbing (sometimes literally) steep staircases hewn from the rock. Not for the claustrophobic or those afraid of heights! It's seriously impressive that all of this was carved out over 700 years ago. We spend the night camping just outside the temple, which meant a prime view the next morning. Unfortunately the infrared light of the night cameras interfered with my night photography, so no star filled skies this time. osm.org/?mlat=38.4843&mlon=100

China - Gansu, Zhangye. After the rainbow mountains, Eleanor and I cycled to Zhangye. Zhangye is a city in the hexi corridor along the silk road. Despite being an old trading outpost, the city nowadays feels very modern (like most Chinese cities). Upon arrival we were immediately welcomed by some patriotic Chinese youth. The tower in the next photo is a pagoda, which are everywhere around China. Zhangye houses china's largest reclining Buddha. Although we didn't visit the temple, we did manage a peek from the entrance. Another (unfortunately) common sight is that of street dogs in China, they're typically small and rather cute. They seem to be able to fend for themselves though ๐Ÿ‘Š A special mention goes to the mechanics that fixed the kickstand of my bicycle. Some spectacular welding and grinding means the bicycle is freed from being precariously balanced against foreign objects. Lastly, we witnessed a bizarre public auctioning of what I think was jewelry. The guy fired up the crowd, urging them to offer money. Though it looked like some element of chance was involved as well. As fixing the kickstand took quite some time, I decided to take an unexpected rest day. Hopefully this won't interfere with my tight 60 day schedule for crossing China. To be continued! osm.org/?mlat=38.9248&mlon=100

China - Gansu. Last week was China's national holiday. In many towns this meant markets with excellent street food. The usual setup involves a big cooking pot suspended over a fire where noodles and veg are cooked in a spicy, oily broth. This lovely couple made us a bowl of delicious noodles. After stuffing ourselves, we pedaled onwards to Danxia national park. On the way we passed a mountain range and canyon, the milky way came out to say hello and there were a number of shooting stars in the night sky. We stayed in a hotel close to the park so we could catch the sunrise on the mountains. The aptly named rainbow mountains are called a geological wonder of the world and I was keen to find out more. The morning light made the red and yellow colours stand out. It was very crowded though and the park was my first taste of packaged tourism in China: hot air balloons, powered paragliders and even helicopters all flew overhead. Still, the rainbow mountains were a stunning sight. And who better to have as a companion than Eleanor, who is a geologist ๐Ÿ‘ osm.org/?mlat=38.91555&mlon=10

China - Gansu. From Urumqi I took the overnight sleeper train to Dunhuang. Doing so, I sped through 1000km of dessert and I saved time on my sixty day visa. The train ride took 14 hours and costed 260RMB (33 euro). It is actually a comfortable way to travel ๐Ÿ˜…. In Dunhuang I visited the Mogao caves, a collection of more than 400 caves filled with Buddha artwork: Buddha statues and murals dating back to the fourth century AD. It was interesting to see how well the clay stucco artwork preserved after all this time. After spending the night in a futuristic capsule, I set off east again. The next three days I cycled mostly through dessert along the Hexi corridor. Just like in the time of the silk road, long stretches of sand were broken up by the occasional oasis. Favorable winds on day two meant I broke the 200k barrier (i.e. a double metric century). Road works had me covered in dust by the many trucks passing by. I arrived in Jiayuguan around noon, where I met up with with Eleneaor @cycletothesunblog with whom I caught my first glimpse of the great wall. Funneled in by mountains to the north and south, silk road travellers would cross the Jiayuguan pass where they'd hit the western frontier of the Ming dynasty China. They would be welcomed by the frontier fortress build here. While the fortress appears to be totally rebuild today, it was nonetheless exciting to finally arrive at the great wall of China! Eleanor and I engaged in conversation typical to long distance tourers: bicycles, climate, home, memorable moments and places and our plans for the future. We decided to cycle together for the coming days, so I'm happy to report that I'm ๐Ÿšด back in a team now ๐Ÿ‘Š. Bai-bai, Floris. osm.org/?mlat=40.1421&mlon=94.

Shepherds on horse back working hard to herd their sheep to one side of the road. No, the truck at the end did not plough through! Here in Xinjiang there are fences on both sides of the road, so shepherds are restricted to the roads for herding their flocks. osm.org/?mlat=43.8253&mlon=87.

China - Xinjiang. After weighing my options I decided to cycle from Qulja to Urumqi, through the Thian Shan mountains. Leaving the city to the south, the road climbed up to a 3150m. The rocky hilltops contrasted beautifully with the greenery below. On the top I was met by prayer flags and a lovely family from the south of whom the daughter knew English. While conversation mostly resolved around our travels, it was nice to have a chat. I was pretty cold after our chat, so I flew down the mountain in search of warmer weather. The good roads mean that I can once again enjoy descends at full speed ๐Ÿš€. Going east now there were beautiful valley views with lovely autumn colours. The roads were filled with animals, which slowed and halted traffic. Sheppards have begun breaking down their yurts in favor of warmer places to spend the winter. East of Tekes I followed quiet back roads through small villages towards an artificial lake. Hitting the main road again I tried to get on the S315 but was stopped several times by police, saying it's too dangerous. In the end I was fortunate to find a small, unpaved road free from checkpoints and went north that way. It turned out to be the hardest climb of the past two weeks. I'm glad I did though because the views were - once again - rewarding: many yurts along a wide valley surrounded by hills. The next day I followed the G217 north to Kuytun. This stretch is known as the Duku highway and it cuts straight through the Thian Shan mountain range with a tunnel pass at 3390m. It's popular with Chinese (touring) cyclists and I was lucky to meet a few on the northern side. There was a powering of snow near the top, but the sun was out and it was perfect cycling weather. Just before Kuytun I met a friendly local cyclist, who helped me through yet another police checkpoint and together we pitched the tent. From there the 300km to Urumqi were boring, with the occasional police escort and colorful fields of cotton and peppers to liven things up a bit. Cycle touring in Xinjiang has been a challenge though, because of the omnipresent police. I'm happy to be boarding a train to Dunhuang tomorrow. From Xinjiang with love, Floris โค๏ธ osm.org/?mlat=43.8225&mlon=87.

Eleven days ago I set off from Almaty, Kazachstan for the People's Republic of China. While the 300km to the border were mostly empty, I did encounter some friendly locals! Someone even offered me Tengeh (the local currency), that was a first on this trip. After cycling through 7km of nomans and a surprisingly quick border crossing I entered the far East: China! It's amazing to think that I came all this way by bicycle: 13 000km in a little over seven months. What struck me immediately was how much more people there were around (and this is a relatively unpopulated area by Chinese standards) and the higher level of development compared to central Asia: good, clean roads and high rises. But also: the omnipresence of the police. From the border I cycled to Qulja, a city of 500 000 inhabitants (small by Chinese standards, but twice as much as Ghent for example). Along the way I was treated to a 10am red bull (the cans look very different and you can't crush them on they're empty!), the delicious Chinese cuisine (very, very welcome after central Asia) and to the drying of recently harvested corn. With all this human activity around, finding a place to camp reminded me of western Europe: set up late and leave early. Having arrived early in Qulja, I spend the afternoon deciding what to do next: skip the heavily policed Xinjiang province or try to cycle through it. To be continued in the next post! osm.org/?mlat=44.2125&mlon=80.

30 July - 6 August, Tadzjikistan: Wakhan valley and Zorgul nature reserve to Murgab. We set off with a band of three from Khorog: Willem, Beat and me to take on the Wakhan valley. This section continues along the Panji river with the border with Afghanistan. It is notorious among cyclists for its bad roads. The first couple of days we passed many villag(ergs), some of them cooling down in the water. On the first night we were invited to camp in someone's garden, as our host claimed there were bears and wolfs in the area (highly doubtful). Still, it was a good opportunity to look inside one of the Pamir houses, with their special square shaped Pamir roofs. On day three we relaxed in the Bibi Fatima hotsprings. The way up there was in an old lada, with typical Pamir music ๐ŸŽถ. After Shitkarv the road surface became very bad with slow stretches of loose gravel. It didn't get much better for the next five days: lots of dust, rocks, boulders and washboard. The ultimate gear test. From Langar we climbed away from Wakhan, towards Khargush (3900m). The going was slow, but we were slowly making our way on to the Pamir plateau. After Khargush we cycled three days through the remote Zorgul nature reserve. Its snow capped peaks feed the blue lakes below, which ultimately flow into the Pamir and the mighty Panji river. Here we spotted a group of camels on the Afghan side of the river. The wildlife consisted mostly of weasels, although Ibex, Marco Polo sheep and snow leopards are also indigenous in the area. On our last night in Zorkul we hit another hot spring. This one was so hot that I couldn't stay in longer than a minute or two before going out to cool down. On the last day to Murgab we rejoiced as we hit pavement once we rejoined the Pamir highway. The town of Murgab is a pretty depressing place: it has no electricity and the town looks like it's set in a post-apocalyptic world with its Bazar erected out of shipping containers. Still it was a good place for a rest and to restock my diminishing food supply (mostly snickers and rice ๐Ÿ˜). As oatmeal isn't available in the area, I'd often eat Buckwheat for breakfast (and dinner) instead. I did manage to find a Banana! osm.org/?mlat=36.743611&mlon=7

20-28 July 2018, Tadzjikistan: Northern road from Dushanbe to Khorog. After a few days of rest and a new chain, cassette and brake pads I felt ready to take on the Pamirs. We set off with a group of eight riders from Dushanbe. The first day the scenery gradually changed from suburbea to nature. The road was good and the sun was shining bright. It was in fact very hot. On day two we passed a huge construction site for a hydroelectric dam. Tadzjikistan is a poor on natural resources, but its many snow covered mountains do provide plenty of water. On day three the heat was exhausting,. Combined with a lingering tummy bug (two weeks at the time) I felt very ill by the end of the day. I decided to take two days off in the strange town of Tavildara, hoping the rest and a course of antibiotics would improve my health. For two days I didn't see much else other than the toilet and my bed. I was the first of our band of eight, forced to take time off due to illness. Over the coming weeks each of us would fell sick for a day or two. It took another two weeks for my ingestial track to recover fully. This is normal amongst cyclists in the pamirs however. After the rest, I set off towards the Saghirdasht pass at 5:30am. I reached the 3250m high top by 13h. Having not eaten anything in the last 36 hours, I felt like shit but I had made it over the pass! An unlikely prospect in my bed the day prior. I celebrated with a double portion of lunch noodles ๐Ÿ˜Š. The next morning I reached the Panji river in Qal'ai Khumb. This river forms the natural border with Afghanistan on the other side. The next three days saw me ride over some horrible roads but through spectacular valleys and canyons and over small hills along the river. All the while I could see villages and Afghans on the other side of the river. I shared the road with monstrously big trucks which, I assumed, transported goods to my destination: Khorog. Before Rushan the road improved and my shortly after my GBAO permit was checked: I was now in the autonomous region of Gorno-Badakhshan. This area of Tadzjikistan is much less populated and even less wealthy than the west. Time for a muchuneeded day of rest and lots food. osm.org/?mlat=37.483333&mlon=7

This week I made my way from Karakol, Kyrgyzstan to Alamty, Kazachstan through the Karkara valley. On my last night camping in Kyrgyzstan a curious sheppard on horse back came over. The language barrier meant conversation was difficult, but the tent and the petrol stove intrigued him greatly. I figured it's not too different from the yurts and dung stoves typical to Kyrgyz nomads. I woke up to a cold morning and crossed the border to Kazakhstan the next day. The crossing only took 15 minutes and went super smooth, quite different from the other stan crossings! In the next town I met Rebecca and Thomas, a lovely couple Parisien who rented push bikes in Almaty and were on their way to the Issyk kul lake. They reminded me that it doesn't take much to go on a bicycle trip, willingness being the most important. Cycling along a big, paved(!) road I was relieved that the average Kazach driver is much more respectful of cyclists than the drivers in Kyrgyzstan. No near passes or evacuating into the dirt over here! After Kegen another couple crossed my path, fellow Belgians this time! We exchanged routes and experiences and reminisced about home, as is common among long distance tourers. That night I camped near the fast flowing Charyn river at the start of the popular canyon. Perfect for a swim! The next two days I followed the 200km canal to Almaty, on the recommendation of the Belgians. On the left the canal cut its way through the landscape, to a backdrop of the mountains on the Kyrgyz/Kazach border. The canal is primarily used for irrigating the many apple orchards to the east of the apple city Almaty (aka the original big apple). It was the capital until '97, when Astana took the crown. Today it's still the biggest city in Kazakhstan and the cultural capital. The city has a very western vibe, springled with Soviet influences. I'm here to catch a flight to Hong Kong later today, for a week of fun away from the bicycle with my dear cousin Tim. On Sept 10th I continue east from Almaty towards China. But first, a holiday within a holiday ๐Ÿ˜„ osm.org/?mlat=43.2775&mlon=76.

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