Longest day in the saddle

Posted by Krista
Khiva, Uzbekistan

krista and full moon

With the alarm clock still ringing in my ears, we dragged ourselves out of bed. It was 5am, yet light had already crept into the sky. Looking outside, I noticed immediately that the wind had already begun to blow dust up around the streets and swept courtyards of Nukus. The bowing branches and bending grasses indicated the wind was from the north-west. Yes! The perfect direction for a tailwind!

As soon as we left the ordered, wide and straight Soviet streets of town, the desert was upon us. Orangey-brown sand dunes rose either side of the road, held together by scrubby bushes, dry and prickly. Comical desert rodents scratched around in the sand and when they heard the whirr of our wheels, stood upright, alert, then ran quickly back to their burrows.

The desert was so hot that, even after swigging mouthfuls of water, my mouth soon became completely dry again. My lips cracked and bled and it was hard to swallow without my throat sticking together. But the tailwind was still with us, making the pedalling almost effortless, and a young boy named Rustam made my day when he proffered a litre of cold, fizzy mineral water to drink when we passed his home.

We were moving so quickly that by 9am, we had already covered 50kms. It was at that point that Dan suggested we try and make it all the way to Khiva that day – we weren’t quite sure how far it was, and didn’t think it would beat my personal record of 180 km in a day that I set in Vietnam 11 years ago – but it would definitely beat the distance record of 110 km for this trip.

The desert petered out when we entered Khorezm , the region fed by the Amu Darya which flows from the fast-shrinking Aral Sea all the way to Afghanistan. Village life and greenery surrounded us once more. Ordered canals criss-crossed the patchwork land, and groups of children, wound up in scarves and gloves, worked all day in the fields.

Some people waved and called for us to stop, but we kept on going, determined to achieve this physical and mental goal. A man on a motorbike invited us to stay at his house, explaining that he’d hosted a cyclist a couple of years ago. We declined his offer, he sped off, but came racing back 15 minutes later with a letter, written in English, from the Bristolian cyclist, thanking him for his hospitality. He hoped that this proof would persuade us to take up his kind offer and stay for the night with him and his family, but we still held the ancient city of Khiva in mind.

Evening arrived and we began to feel weary, our bums sore, our faces sunburned and squinting. When we stopped to ask for directions, a man assured us that Khiva was only 30 kms further. We’d already ridden 140 kms – it would mean a total of 170 for the day. I would be just 10 kms shy of my personal best.


Unable to continue without food, we stopped briefly to eat fish, which was caught in the river just behind the small teahouse. 10 kms further on, we sat at the side of the road, eating ice cream, needing all the energy we could get. When we asked the ice cream seller how far to go now, she scratched 13 in the sand, and we were relieved.

Darkness arrived and the nearly full moon rose in the sky. We were knackered, but Khiva still eluded us. On and on we went, 13kms, 14, 15,20…30…40… on a long, straight road directly south – realising that the all estimations of distance we’d been given had been wrong and that Khiva was still much further on.

We’d passed some camping spots a few kms back where we could have hidden amongst trees for the night and slept, but now it was dark and these places were much harder to see. We thought maybe we’d ask to sleep in a teahouse, but even they were difficult to see.

I shone my headtorch onto the odometer and watched the kilometres pass… as we clocked180 km we cheered that we’d beaten my previous record for the longest day in the saddle. And upon reaching 195km, we finally arrived in Khiva, the old city rising before us, its city wall, crafted in mud, towering above us in the moonlight, like a strange and bulbous sleeping animal.

We were elated.

And here are some of the sights that greeted us in the morning…




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