Although I record a lot of footage during my bike rides, unexpected things always happen. Events that caught me off guard so I didn't have time to turn on the camera or even think about recording it. Or in hindsight I realized that what I had done, was actually dangerous. And then there are those situations where the only thing you can think of at that moment is 'how will I manage to get myself out of here?' All these three things happened to me during my journey from Asia to Europe with Basanti.
Killing a goat on the Pamir Highway
It happened on the fifth day after I left Dusjanbe, the capital city of Tajikistan. I was riding on the M41, also known as the Pamir Highway. It is not a typical highway and while some parts are paved, the stretch around Murghab is mostly unpaved. I was trying to ride 235 kilometers that day while being at altitudes between 3500 and 4500 meters.
The day started well. I left the tiny little village of Alichur and was heading towards Murghab, the main city in the Pamir area at 3600 meters of altitude. It is a medium sized town, and I arrived there around lunch time. I stopped to eat some 'laghman’, a Central Asian dish with noodles, meat and some vegetables. After finishing my meal, I was in a hurry to get on Basanti again. My goal was to reach Karakul Lake that day, which was still a long ride.
I started Basanti and quickly picked up speed as the road in Murghab was surprisingly well paved. I think I was riding about 60 kilometers per hour when I noticed a goat being chased by a dog. I could tell that the goat was in full panic mode and heading straight towards me. I knew that the goat and I would run into each other because there was no time to stop Basanti or move out of the way. This was it, I thought. I will crash my bike and it will be the end of my journey with Basanti.
I braced myself and continued riding straight ahead. Before I knew it, my front wheel hit the goat head on. The goat flew to the side, while I miraculously still found myself sitting on Basanti. When I looked in the rear mirror, I saw the goat lying on the ground with all of his four legs up in the air. I knew without a doubt that the goat was dead. I stopped, breathing heavily while the adrenaline rushed through my body. My eyes were wide open and the only thing that went through my mind was 'what had happened just now? How come I didn't crash when the goat hit my wheel?'
Suddenly another thought came up. What if some of the villagers would come after me because I had killed their goat? I saw a man in a military uniform standing on the side of the road. He had seen the entire thing happening, and he noticed me looking at him with frightened eyes. He returned my look, and said in a panicky voice, 'go, go, go'.
I gave Basanti full throttle and sped away, riding as fast as I could. For the next hour or so, I could not stop thinking about the fact that I had killed a goat with Basanti and that I had fled the scene afraid to be chased by upset villagers. It was a very surreal experience, one that I will certainly never forget.
Riding through a minefield in Bosnia
Many months before I reached Bosnia, other motorcyclists had warned me about this country. They told me not to go off-road in Bosnia, because there are still thousands of mines left from the recent war. So when I crossed the border into Bosnia from Montenegro, I told myself not to go off-road and to stay on paved roads. I really didn't want to risk hitting a landmine and end my journey prematurely.
When I started riding towards Mostar in the Herzegovina part of Bosnia-Herzegovina I checked my Maps.me-app as usual to find small roads that would also take me to Mostar.
I found a small road that started out very nice. It had two lanes, was well paved and it went through different villages and beautiful nature. I was very pleased that I found this alternative route.
The further I drove, the smaller the road became until it gradually turned into an unpaved road. It still looked like a main road though, so I figured it wouldn’t be a problem. But slowly I started to think 'Would there really be mines here' and 'could I be driving towards a minefield?' Probably not, I said to myself.
So I just continued and thought it would soon become a normal road again. Instead, the road became smaller and smaller, until it was just a dirt track. Tree branches were hanging over the path, and I had to push them away while driving and had to hide behind my windshield to avoid leaves and smaller branches hitting my face.
At some point I started to wonder how long it had been that someone other than me actually traveled this road. I began to calculate. When was the war and when did they put the mines in the ground? Was that 20 years ago too? And could these trees and branches be 20 years old?
Finally I reached a paved road again, without blowing Basanti and myself to pieces over a landmine. I was quite relieved to see that road and told myself that next time I should just turn around and go back the same way in such a situation!
When I posted my video of that ride on YouTube, hundreds of people warned me about the danger of mines in Bosnia. Everytime I read such a comment, I wanted to say 'Yes, I was aware of it and didn’t really plan to ride such track!’. I always tell myself beforehand that when it gets too tricky, I can turn around and go back. But I guess I’m the type of person who prefers to move forward instead of going back the way I came. Even when I’m riding in a potential minefield...
Breaking down in Iran
My third untold story happened in Iran. On that day I left Sari, a village close to the Caspian sea, in order to ride towards Mashhad where I had to pick up my visa for Turkmenistan. I decided to take some backroads on my way there. I started that day in a good mood, looking forward to new adventures in beautiful Iran.
In the previous weeks, it had rained a lot in Iran. In the south of the country, people were killed by floods due to the rain. Also in the north of Iran you could tell that there was a lot more water than normal.
The trail I found on maps.me turned out to be muddy and full of rocks. The road had even partly been washed away due to the heavy rains. At a certain point I went down a steep slope. As I drove down, it crossed my mind that going down was a lot easier than going up on this trail. The slope was steep, slippery, muddy and Basanti was fully loaded with spare parts and my luggage. Luckily, gravity was helping me, and slowly, very slowly, I went down. While going down my GoPro battery died and that is where my video recording ended that day, at the beginning of what would be my toughest day on the bike so far.
It is not uncommon for my GoPro batteries to go down during a ride. Normally I just put a new one in, but during that ride down I was not thinking about my next YouTube-video. The only thing I could think about was how will I get out of this situation I got myself in! Because when I reached the bottom of the steep hill, I stood in front of a river that was furiously flowing thanks to the heavy rains that had fallen before. There was no bridge in sight, and it would not be possible to ride Basanti across this deep, fast-flowing river.
The only thing I could do, was getting back up that mountain I just got down from. At the same time I realised that I would not come across locals on my way back, because they all knew that this road had a dead end. I was the only person crazy enough to go down and that meant that I would be the only person crazy enough to go back up that hill.
I started riding again, slowly making my way up. I slipped and Basanti turned over right in a sharp turn. I was able to lift her up, but when I tried riding again I realised that I was in the middle of a steep hairpin curve and my back tyre was stuck in between rocks and sticky mud.
While desperately trying to release Basanti, I used too much clutch and burned the clutch plates. My own (inexperienced) diagnosis was that I had broken the clutch cable. I had a spare clutch cable with me, but thought that if I would change it now, there was a huge chance it would break again as it was still a long way up. I didn't want to risk losing my spare part for that. So I decided to leave Basanti behind with all my stuff on her. I would not be able to push her to the top myself, and decided to seek help. So I started walking up in full motor gear and I even carried my helmet with me. I don't know exactly why I did that, probably just the habit of never leaving my valuable helmet laying around somewhere.
In my full gear and dragging my helmet with me, I walked up the mountain. I was sweating like hell and it seemed forever before I reached the top. How long the walk was in real time, I don't know but my guess is about one hour. By the time I reached the top, I was shattered. I started to feel desperate, and needed to find people to help me. So when I saw a house in the distance, I walked towards it right away. When I arrived at the house, I saw two elderly people working in their garden.
They shouted out in Persian 'are you ok?', and I shook my head to let them know: ‘No, I am not'. They noticed the serious look on my face and immediately came to my rescue. Although they couldn't speak English and me no Persian, they understood what had to be done. They called for some sheepherders to help and with the five of us, we pushed and pulled Basanti back to the top of the mountain. By the time we returned to their house, it was already dark and I stayed the night with them.
When Basanti broke down, I became quite nervous, and when climbing back up the hill looking for help, I was in survival mode. It never crossed my mind to turn the camera back on. So the video of that day did not show how deep I had gone. Not only Basanti had a breakdown, but I was very close to one that day too. Luckily, I found help and I was able to continue my journey further into Central Asia.