Cycling the Stans: The Silk Road from Uzbekistan to Kyrgyzstan

The soldier used his index fingers to make two pointed ears and said one word.


He didn’t invite us into the safety of his checkpoint hut so we set off, the darkness beyond our headlamp beams suddenly menacing.

Then two noises exploded from the night. An awful, savage baying then, seconds later, a scream of terror so visceral I thought Jack had been torn off his bike.

He would later tell me the scream seemed not to come from his body, like an involuntary reaction to a primal threat.

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I turned and the wolf’s immense form and open jaws loomed metres from my bike, its coat shining silvery white in my torch beam. Jack yelled “Go, go, go, go, go, go!” and we pedalled like the clappers, both bellowing without making the decision to do so, as if prompted by some primitive instinct. I didn’t look back.

Jack did, he thinks the wolf chased us for about 100m before falling back into the night.
We cycled feverishly the final kilometres into Murghab, a small town in the Pamir mountain range of Tajikistan, our breath finally slowing as houses grew denser and the safety of the town enveloped us.

It had been over a month since my brother, Jack, and I set off from Samarkand, Uzbekistan, on bikes and carrying all we’d need to survive for the roughly 2500km to Kyrgyzstan’s capital, Bishkek. Although I’d happily never again look a wolf in the eye, it was my intention in cycling this corner of the world to seek a more raw connection to the wilderness; to experience the Silk Road as the ancient explorers did.

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