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Things We Don't Know

by Tara

Two years ago, the sheer number of unknowns regarding this adventure were mind blowing. We had no first-hand knowledge, no experience, and honestly, for all of our preparation, no idea what we were doing. Instead of letting this get in the way of following our dreams, we researched as much as we could, told ourselves we were ready, and ultimately, closed our eyes as we dove head first into a sea of uncertainties.

I used to be a person who wanted an itinerary for a trip. I liked to have everything planned. At the very least, I wanted to know where I would be spending the night! Tyler was perhaps even more obsessed than I, but on a larger scale, wanting all aspects of logistics nicely pinned down, then tied with a neat little bow.

We've come a long way over the past five hundred and some odd days. We've learned, sometimes the hard way, to loosen up, let go, and trust that we'll have the strength and smarts to handle every situation we're faced with. And its a good thing, too, because otherwise these unknowns would have surely driven us insane.

Compartmentalizing and focusing on one challenge at a time is the only way I know how to maintain happiness and sanity living a life like this. We must wake up each morning having the drive to make things happen, faith that everything will work out, and above all, an intense focus on the present moment.

One thing at a time, bird by bird, we figure out what to do. We don't have to get to Malaysia today, we just have to focus on the kilometer in front of us. We don't have to climb the mountain all in one go, we simply have to take it one hundred meters at a time. For the past year and a half, we've dealt with issues large and small, always coming out on the other side feeling empowered.

Back in England, figuring out how we'd cross Russia, Mongolia and China in order to resume cycling in Southeast Asia was still a distant and murky unknown. That unclear future is no longer safely in the distance.

We managed to get a car easily, thus clearing the our most major of hurdles: actually being able to see Russia without spending six months or more cycling across it. Even so, it still feels like there are mountains of things we have yet to figure out.

I have a growing sense of dread about this middle section. Though I know we'll only have to do one thing at a time, right now, I feel like there's a huge barrier between us and Vietnam. There are so many things to figure out before we get there, before we can just start cycling slowly again.

In order to relieve myself of the zillion fears racing through my brain, consuming and overwhelming me, I'm starting a list.

Things We Don't Know

  1. How and where are we going to sell our car?

  2. If we sell our car, how are we going get out of Russia without hefty fines or other problems stemming from the fact that we no longer have it?

  3. If we get out of Russia, will we get into Mongolia without a car (I've read you can't ride through the border on a bike)?

  4. If we get into Mongolia, how hard will it be to get visas for China in Ulaan-Bator?

  5. What will we do if we don't get visas for China?

  6. How hard will it be to cycle through Mongolia, if we do?

  7. If we cycle Mongolia, will we cycle a loop starting and ending in Ulaan-Bator, or will we ride through the Gobi desert into China?

  8. If we cycle Mongolia, will we encounter icy river crossings? If so, how will we deal with them?

  9. If we cycle Mongolia, I am imagining it will be the most difficult cycling we've done so far. How unfit will we be after several months off?

  10. How will we cycle Mongolia at all? By the time we figure all of this out, it will be winter there.

  11. How will we get our bikes on a train through China?

  12. How will we make it to Thailand by Christmas/New Years to see my family?

I will be so relieved when we are in Vietnam. Maybe, just maybe, by then, we won't have as many logistics to think about!

In Years Past and Future
2009 - Conquering Julierpass


Drive to Vietnam.
Posted by Ana on August 30th, 2010 at 6:00 PM
If it were legal to do so, we absolutely would. We've looked into the logistics of it more than once , but we're still not sure if it is possible. If anyone out there can help, we'd appreciate it!
Posted by Tyler on September 1st, 2010 at 7:12 AM
THE Rough Guide says: ''Driving a car across China is an appealing idea but an experience currently forbidden to foreign tourists.''

The Lonely Planet guide says: ''Don't even bother. Driving around China is impossible unless you have a residency permit.''

Australia's leading travel agency specialising in China travel emailed: ''It is not possible to take a foreign car or for a foreign driver to drive a car in China, we are sorry we cannot help you.''

Countless hours of trawling the internet at different China travel sites confirmed the advice that foreigners are not allowed to take cars into China.

They are all wrong. You can - but you have to really want to. And you have to be very persistent.

In typical stubborn fashion, I looked for a way around these supposed prohibitions. In early 2008, I emailed the Chinese government tour company CITS and, describing our preferred route, asked if it was possible. It advised that we could drive across China if we joined a group and accepted the services of an official guide.

We would need permits from each provincial government along the way, Chinese registration for our car, insurance, security clearances and a Chinese driver's licence. Once we agreed to these conditions, CITS quoted a staggering $26,000 for one month. A flurry of emails saw the price halved. It was still far more than I could afford. But the Silk Road beckoned. The more I looked into it, the more I wanted to do it.

Staying up one night and chasing internet link after link, hour after hour, I chanced upon NAVO tour guides. I looked at NAVO's website and exchanged emails. NAVO told me it caters for groups from Europe, travelling west to east, entering China from Russia or Mongolia. It had never had an inquiry from Australia, had never before collected anyone from the southern borders and dealt only with groups of two or more cars. Over several emails, in which NAVO told me to look for a companion car in order to create a group, I cheekily suggested that we could be a group if that was required - a group of one. The reply came through that my joke satisfied the bureaucrats.

Endless negotiations and haggling saw NAVO quote about a quarter of the original price from CITS - and the paperwork began. It needed 100 days to get all the permits. The local government of every province had to approve our route. Central security in Beijing had to vet our application. The army had to check our intended schedule to ensure it did not threaten national security. NAVO finally contracted to escort us from the Laos border, to Chengdu, north to Xian, then west across the Silk Road to Kashgar and on to Kyrgyzstan.

On Driving Through China
Posted by Tyler on September 1st, 2010 at 7:38 AM
Getting your bike on a train in China is easy, from what I've heard. John & Gayle ( did it a couple times and had positive reports. For cycling in Mongolia, talk to Tom Allen of Ride Earth. He did a recent report on our site about his experience. If you can't cross the Russian-Mongolia border by bike, you can guarantee there will be a bus or taxi driver willing to perform the service for you. That's 3 questions answered :)
Posted by Friedel on September 1st, 2010 at 9:27 AM
I tried to buy John Faines book, but apparently this reading pleasure will be for Australian readers only...I read what I found online following the link and it was great!
Posted by Nadine on September 9th, 2010 at 8:47 PM
Can driving the car across the China,No problem !!!
Thai people done alot... Thailand to Laos easy...Laos to China a little hard
We must do and have...
1.Own car
2.The document of the car
3.International driver license
***Take all to China tour agency at the border to do it for us around 3 hours Finish!!!
Posted by Nipun on January 24th, 2011 at 10:19 PM