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Off the Rails: Moscow to Beijing on Recumbent Bikes


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Off the Rails: Moscow to Beijing on Recumbent Bikes


Tim Cope
Chris Hatherly


Boeken over reizen met de ligfiets


Summersdale Publishers












Beide auteurs wonnen de Australische 'Young Adventurer of the Year Award.' Hun bekendheid danken Cope & Hatherly vooral aan de reis die zij gedurende 14 maanden in 1999 en 2000 per ligfiets maakten van Moskou naar Peking. Tijdens deze reis maakten zij filmopnamen, waarvan in 2002 een TV-documentaire werd gemaakt voor de Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) waarmee zij verschillende prijzen wonnen. Er is inmiddels met hulp van de Australia National Geographic ook een DVD van de reis beschikbaar. In 2003 verscheen het boek van de fietstocht, net als de TV documentaire getiteld Off the rails, en gepubliceerd door Penguin Australia / Viking. Uit de ondertitel van het boek (`Moscow to Beijng by bike') bleek in eerste instantie overigens nog niet dat de reis per ligfiets was afgelegd. Dat is met de tweede druk uit 2004 veranderd. Toch is voor de ligfiets in dit reisverhaal geen grote rol weggelegd, meende het blad VeloVision in een bespreking: "The recumbents are largely incidental - the real interest in this book is the interaction of the two authors and with the people they meet. They get into plenty of sticky situations, fall out but pull through. Definitely in the better class of travel writing with - as I prefer - plenty of direct speech rather than too much straight description. Very enjoyable." Cope heeft inmiddels een eigen website:


In de handel verkrijgbaar voor ? euro.


Hieronder vind je een kort verslag van de reis, overgenomen van de beschrijving die ABC geeft van de TV documentaire `Off the Rails- Across Siberia by Bicycle' (2002).
"Waist deep in a melting pool of snow, feet slipping on the icy bottom, the bikes sinking further, we pushed on. Around us the mist lowered as darkness descended upon the Taiga forest. "No, go back, its pointless!" Villagers had cried, seeing us ride by. We were coming to realise the wisdom in their words. The road had become a series of swimming-pool
size puddles that were growing as the two metres of snow continued to melt. Ahead, five, ten, twenty kilometres of pushing, trudging? We didn't know..."
It was March, the beginning of Spring in the Northwest corner of Russia. Struggling to make 6km a day, Chris Hatherly and Tim Cope, both 21-year-old Australians had embarked on an epic journey. Their dream; to cycle 10,000km on recumbent bicycles across Russia, Siberia, Mongolia, and Northern China, finishing in Tianamen Square, Beijing.
This is the unlikely story of two young Australians determined to live a dream. As the adventure unfolds, extreme physical and mental challenges bring them not only close to themselves but the human face of Russian society. From isolated villages in Siberia to industrial cities, they are compelled to continue on a journey that was ruled out of possibility, not least by the Russians. A bike snaps in two on the Siberian plains, they experience frostbite whilst cycling in -20 and are adopted by a village family. Chris must have a toe amputated. In Omsk, western Siberia, the trip suffers its lowest morale. It's either hang on, and take hold of things or abandon mission.
They continue. Across the plains of southern Siberia they cycle, tormented by mosquitoes through the dense Taiga forest, and eventually push 1000km along the BAM railway on the way to Lake Baikal (the largest body of fresh water in the world). Their doubts in the journey gradually fade. In their cycling, somewhat nomadic lifestyle, and the smiles of countless children day in day out, Tim and Chris experience a satisfying simplicity. As they progress east and are plagued by bicycle breakdowns, they are further astounded by the generous, warm hospitality of the Russians. Inspired by the people, bathed in the long awaited warmth of Summer, the desire to keep going is confirmed. The latter part of the journey takes them to areas more influenced by Asian cultures than Russian. In the Altai Mountains of southern Siberia Chris and Tim meet up with two English friends for a two-week hiking journey. High above the Taiga, upon the Steppe from which spectacular mountains lurch, they come across a nomadic family of Altai people. As the fascinated family looks on, Brendon plays the didgeridoo that reverberates around their smoky circular home. From the steppe, to a high mountain crossing across glaciers Tim and Chris feel the benefits of an enriching adventure. It has marked the final chapter in the Russian leg. After almost a year in the country, having learnt the language and gone through every season it is time for the final run home- across Mongolia into China to Beijing.

Mongolia is at once a mystifying, and yet surprising place. Forced to cross the border by train, they step out into a world where they cannot speak a word of the language. In the dark they set up their bicycles whilst children crowd around, grabbing at things, eventually stealing some. On their first evening Chris and Tim are chased out of the village in the dark by children shouting abuse and hurling stones. They are soon out of the village though, and find themselves cycling over olive green hills and mountains, steppe, devoid of trees. In the landscape they experience a traditional nomadic culture still largely intact. There are no trees, no fences, thousands of "Yurt" tents, and almost no roads between them and the Chinese border in the southeast. Their unique bicycles, rather like couches on wheels attract more attention than usual: they drive children in hysterics but also are the ticket to gaining insight into the lives of countless families. The challenge in Mongolia peaks as they cross through the Gobi desert. Escaping the approaching jaws of Winter, they ride a fine line along the sandy wheel tracks between having enough food and water, and not. 22 days without as much as a simple wash, having drunken the final litres of water, the border of China comes blissfully into sight.
China was always going to be a challenge of a different sort: officially it is illegal for foreigners to travel by means of bicycle in China. Approaching the border, they realise that if things go wrong the cycling journey will end there. It doesn't. After smuggling the bicycles through in a Chinese van, they unload in the border town and ride off on the only road: south. Soon
they are following a long black strip of bitumen that merges into the hazy horizon. The cold is on its way though. The nights begin to drop well below zero, and in an attempt to prevent another dose of frostbite they use their Gore-Tex gloves as socks. China is a country they know the least about. Besides not knowing any of the language, their only map is the hotocopied corner of an Atlas. The road suddenly disintegrates in the southern reaches of the Gobi desert-where and how far is Beijing? Perhaps they had become complacent, or simply overt in their presence, but 400km into China they are arrested. In a police office they are at first interrogated in Chinese to no avail. Then the local English teacher comes to the rescue. They have ridden into a closed town. In a twist of events, the following two days under arrest become a positive experience when the teacher convinces the police to let them visit the local school. Chris and Tim find themselves discussing their journey with a hysterical crowd of students before being taken out for lunch by the very police that had arrested them! Eventually put on a train to Beijing, Tim and Chris get out at the next station possible, and make their escape during the middle of the night. Beijing is several hundred kilometres ahead, and they are free.
October the 24th, exactly 13 months to the day that Chris and Tim had met in Moscow, they roll onto Tianamen square Beijing. Miraculously they have made it, and for moments as they push their way around the square, their smiles are irrepressible.

Tim and Chris reflect that the expedition has not just been about cycling. It has taken them from high peaks, to the Siberian forests, through the Arctic winter, and importantly into the homes of countless Russians and Mongolians who were always ready to help two young Australians along their way. The differing elements of the journey had helped them uncover the mystery of such far away places as Russia: a country that had existed as more of a myth than reality during upbringing in Australia. Furthermore they have learnt the value of staying determined, sticking to dreams, and appreciating life as a whole.
Returning to Australia, the now 22 year olds Tim and Chris have surely grown since those first few pedals forward... 2.0

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