I was to attend TEDx Kish in Iran. In my head, it worked like the perfect plan. It was on my way to Malaysia, and I would be able to spend a week in beautiful Kish, swim in its gorgeous sea, train in its hot and humid conditions and acclimatise for my upcoming race. I saw a cyclist at the conference with a mountain bike. I went up to him to ask if he knew of places where I could rent a bike and/or mtb groups that trained in the area which I could join. Kourosh said he himself is from Tehran but he’ll ask around and let me know.
I spotted Kourosh on the last day as he was driving away in his car. He stopped to tell me that a friend of his has a bike that he’s happy to lend me for the day, and he could take me cycling around Kish. He himself was driving back to Tehran therefore relatively flexible with time. I told him that I’ve been doing some research, Kish is a small coral island, which means that with its flat sandy/coral surface, there is no where to practice my mountain biking skills. It might make more sense to go to Qeshm, a bigger island in the Gulf, which has a more diverse landscape and we might find more suitable terrain for mountain biking there. Did he fancy joining me for a ride in Qeshm instead, and then he can make his way to Tehran from there?
He had another idea… why don’t I join him on his road trip to Tehran? I will have access to his mtb and can ride to my heart’s content. After some debating, I said goodbye to the stunning waters of Kish with its coral reefs and schools of really beautiful fish that danced around me as I swam to and fro in the lady’s beach, and hopped on the ferry with Kourosh and the dozen other lorries and trucks to commence our 1800km ride to Tehran.
Our early morning start was replaced by a leisurely afternoon start, due to the delayed ferry crossing. We stopped at a shop to stock up on food and the salesman gave us two options: the highway that took 3 hours to Shiraz, or scenic route up and through the mountains which took around 7 hours. Scenic route and mountains was decided, I needed a place to mountain bike!
We started off on the flat, camels galore, passing by the dome like shapes indicating the location of subterranean canals found in the desert until we finally reached the mountains. Soon the road sign warnings of camel crossings were replaced by deer crossings. The barren mountains started to loom around us, exposing millions of years worth of bedding planes and sediment surfaces in all their different colours and widths. Each bend in the road would unravel a different pattern, different colours of rocks and soil, different shapes and rhythms, and different shrubs and flora which the goats were feasting upon. There is such intricate detail and extraordinary beauty in something that at first glance appears as void and empty. We stopped by the road side and got the mountain bike out.
I initially took to the mountains, slowly trying to find my confidence in rolling over rocks and uneven ground. However, it didn’t take long to realise that if we hoped to get anywhere near Shiraz by the end of the night, I had to give up the mountains, hit the tarmac and chase behind the car as fast as I could. Every now and again, I’d come across a tiny road side village where the little kids would come laughing and yelling after me, either on their own bikes or running beside me. The women would smile, wave me on and the lads would hit the road on the motorbikes along side me.
I’d find Kourosh behind every bend, keeping a watchful eye and at the same time occupying himself with his camera or in his own world, soaking up the beautiful silence around him. I climbed back in the car when darkness fell, at around 8pm. ‘How much longer do we have until Shiraz?’ I asked. ‘Don’t ask.’ he said. ‘Are we even halfway there yet?’ He chuckled. We still had a good 500km to go, and it takes a long while to put 500km behind us in these narrow, windy roads.
Kourosh entertained me with stories of when he rode his bike from Tehran to Kish – a journey that took him 45 days. He pointed at the places which he’d spent the night, the adventures and people met. After a while, not even Kourosh’s stories could keep me awake, and I nodded off to sleep. 12am, and we were still no where close. We took to desperate measures, and took turns driving whilst the other one slept. We were meant to stay the night at Kourosh’s friend’s, but by the time we rolled into Shiraz, it was 3am. We parked the car by a red salt lake by the side of the road and desperately tried to find a comfortable position to sleep. We woke up 4 hours later with a crooked neck, legs jammed, sticky, smelly and sweaty and not feeling rested at all. We had another 2 days of this ahead of us!
‘Kourosh,’ I said. ‘ This is no training ground for me – let’s drive as fast as we can towards Tehran, get it over with, and then I’ll be able to resume training there.’ He agreed, he knows some great mountain biking locations in Tehran which he can take me to. So we headed out of Shiraz and into a little village in an oasis high up in the mountains. We trekked to the very top where the last building was a tiny little cafe, and to my delight the owner was making the most of the morning breeze and pumping some weights. Excited, I asked if I could make use of his weights? Imagine a girl with a long flowy red and white skirt, flip flops and a ridiculous smile saying that to you in the middle of nowhere in the heart of the desert in Iran. In normal circumstances I would have spared him the heart attack, but I really needed to train! And so whilst breakfast was being prepared I got into my routine of dead lifts and bench presses trying to console myself that I would at least get some training in for the day.
It all started with an email – out of the blue.
“We are pleased to invite you to be part of Xterra Langkawi 2015…”