Summer Solstice, and we were desperate for shorter, cooler days to begin.
Early on the road we saw at great distance (typical on the steppe), a small figure of a cyclist cruising towards us. Stopping to chat, it was a Japanese guy cycling around the world. Named Yuhei, we were impressed that he was alone, and tried to help by detailing cafes behind us and warning him of the road to Shalkar. He returned the favour, mentioning a cafe not too far away but nothing afterwards for a long long time, warning us that the roads began to get bad again, and also sharing a story from Uzbekistan, where as he was cycling he got jumped by two guys in a van who literally beat him with sticks and stole his gear, breaking his arm in the process. Impressively, he flew home to recover, and then returned to Uzbekistan to continue, dedication!
We made it to the cafe an exhausted mess, and sat out of the heat for the day, making terrible distance. Whilst there Kieran drank 7 litres without once going to the toilet, and hours later when he did, he was still dehydrated…
Over the days we came across a house where, desperate for water, we knocked, and a man sold us (at dramatically inflated prices) bottles of cold carbonated water. The next day the same man drove past to sell us more cold water, at no better a price but we were so hot it was worth paying. Our food rotted beyond our ability to deal with it, and we went down to the three tins of meat we’d saved for emergencies (basically dog food made with fat instead of gravy) and a few biscuits. Camping one night we heard howling dogs/wolves, and saw a couple of them walking around the rim of the dried lakebed we were near, but they didn’t come close.
Getting close to Aral’sk, we were woken up one morning to a horseman in balaclava who said nothing and left as we got out the tent, and on the road three trucks in convoy pulled up and introduced us to a hitchhiker they were giving a lift to who had been around India and China for the past eight months.
Some factors of the heat that makes this difficult.
– The sun rises at 6am and there is no shelter, so it hits the tent as soon as it rises turning our tent into a furnace. Combined with the hot nights it makes rest very difficult to get.
– Unlike the heat in Europe, it is literally high temperatures from around 8am to 7pm, there is no ‘midday heat’, it is just constant.
– There is very little to no shelter; no foliage, no buildings, no clouds, no geographical features (not even dunes), just the occasional roofed bench, so we are constantly exposed to the heat.
– It is so hot that uncovered skin can actually feel the burn, pulling up our sleeves or trouser legs and our skin literally stings, instantly.
– Food goes bad within a day and water reaches difficult to drink temperatures within hours. Also, we have to ration both.
– Everything becomes hot to the touch, so sitting down on the road, sand, or even on our bags is difficult.
– There is no wind, and when there is it is hot (think opening an oven door) and whips up tornadoes and fine sand which gets everywhere, sticking to us because we’re sweating.
– We have to endure these factors whilst walking approximately 25km a day, hauling 20kg rucksacks and pushing a much heavier cart.
Over the days Kieran once became light-headed and suffered a nosebleed, and Arjun had a couple of full on panic attacks where he crawled under the cart and poured water on himself. It is extremely hot.