Cycling Iran – an unforgettably inspired ride

It was midnight and Nic and I were headed to a campsite in the park amongst a swelling crowd just coming out to eat and socialize, being the Ramadan. We had spent the last few hours sharing a picnic with Sorayya's family including rice, lavosh, cheese, yogurt, salad, meat, grilled tomato, tea and coffee.
 

“Enjoy your adventure,” Sorayya pleaded as we left her and her family last night from Shah Goli Park, Tabriz.

“There are those of us – that can not do what you can, we envy you, and must experience from you, please appreciate it.”

It was midnight and Nic and I were headed to a campsite in the park amongst a swelling crowd just coming out to eat and socialize, being the Ramadan. We had spent the last few hours sharing a picnic with Sorayya’s family including rice, lavosh, cheese, yogurt, salad, meat, grilled tomato, tea and coffee. We hungrily devoured their food (Being Ramadan, food is hard to find before 9pm) as they devoured all the information they could about us, our countries, our expedition. I was tired – so maybe not the best company, but the parting words struck deep with me.

Nic and I had been arguing, being tired and hungry, of course, and may not have joined the family picnic, but they had asked us so politely we could not refuse. Yes, we have been arguing, a general argue about everything. Its tough. We are cycling in the heat, communicating with language barriers, taking in so much new sensory information all the time and have a huge vision with an ever growing attached to do list.

Our education program. Fundraising. Rich multimedia. Stories. Interviews. Platforms. Visas. Business commitments. A wedding. Conferences and event planning.

However, having these things, the ability to do these things is a freedom. Our choice. Do I appreciate the freedom I have? It’s not fair that the same rights to social media and travel is denied others. It is not denied to me, therefore – I have a responsibility to travel and share the stories of those to those that can not themselves.

Meet Akbar.

Akbar got the phone call from someone who had driven past us on route32, that we were coming his way. Immediately, he jumped on his roadie in suit pants, last moment sticking a photo album of other passing cycle tourers he had accumulated the past 10 years – down the front of his shirt and rode 35km until he found us. We were escaping the late afternoon heat on the the side of the road and cooking a penne pasta lunch. Funnily, I had just been dreaming of an ice cold sweet drink and there appeared Akbar with two cold orange sodas and two cold pineapple juices for us – tucked in a small top tube frame bag. His English was better than our Persian, but limited. However, smiles and bikes talk for themselves.

The hills and landscape is absolutely magnificent, as we continue riding east, with our new friend, whom we learn is an ultra marathon runner and has explored many of the mountain ranges we cycle through.

The past couple days Nic and I had been against a headwind, and this afternoon was no different. Gusting at us at 25km an hour, we steadily rode upwards, a slow climb of 1,400meters elevation. Akbar smiled at us and we smiled at him and gave our best efforts on our Moots with gear weighing about 15kilos (me) and 30kilos (Nic). Akbar insisted on getting us a cold drink along the way and was intent on taking us to his friend’s restaurant where we could eat and sleep. However, as the sun started to set, it was clear we would never make our destination in the light at our crawling pace. Akbar got busy on the phone as just after Marand, the road took a steeper course and a distant thunderstorm moved in. A couple of Akbar’s friends arrived and slowly drove in a car behind us the next hour and a half to keep us safe in the darkness and rain. When we finally reached the restaurant, the owner was ready for us with food, and more friends were waiting to meet us. It was a party! Eslam kindly took over as our host, and with a Phd in Forestry had a lot to teach us. “Ask me anything about Iran.” he told us, “Anything you want to know.”

But, I’m getting ahead of myself here. Akbar, who is he? This kind man, who at a moments notice took off to look after a couple of cyclists. He looked after our dinner and prepaid our breakfast, only leaving us with a cozy place to sleep – out of the rain, with contacts in Tehran, certain that he looked after our every need.

He would love to travel and has cycled toured in Iran, but getting visas and securing the financial capital required is a task near impossible. He must live through our adventure, and by supporting us – he is part of the World By Cycle achievement. Akbar is a gentleman and a hero of the project. His kindness, generosity, and warmth is not unique to him, we are learning but are common traits of the Iranian people. In just three days of cycling many strangers have approached us to offer us their home, some clothes, some food. Our first day in Iran, tired, I stupidly left my iPhone on a busy city street bench. We rode off as a group of children came towards us. 20mins later I realized and cycled back. Sitting on the bench were a couple men and beside them my phone, untouched.

The next day, as we struggled to find a camp, a couple of kind men offered us their quarry and provided breakfast the following morning!

Why is it that I never knew how open and warm Iranians are? In the city, young men and women talk openly to us about their feelings, their views and opinions. They embrace us as we are and want to learn what they can. This is the exchange- we can provide a window and conversation unrestricted. But more than that, the exchange is the opportunity for locals to share and provide us a good experience of their home. And rightfully. It is a beautiful home with much to be proud of.

I am so glad to know this now. To know of the history and diversity, the depth and the kindness of the people of Iran. Did you know Iran accepts more refugees than any other country – I didn’t. Did you know that Tabriz has more professional cyclists in Asia tours than any other city, I didn’t. Naser, our new friend of ours from the cycle shop, put it this way: “Iran is good people.”

He organized his staff to cycle us around the city – what a treat! Helped us find the best cycle shop – Saeed’s (who wanted to give our bikes a free service), and provided us much info about our cycling route over non alcoholic beers!

Iran has a wealth of wind farms, alternative green technologies, recycled leather and shoe industries, and a long list I’m just now beginning to learn about.

I’m so glad I know now. Because I can tell you. And you can tell your friends. And we can all work together to recognize and see clearly the truths of our world, the truths of people, and the potential that travel and vicarious experience can offer us all.

Thanks to Sorayya for reminding me. And to you, readers, for journeying with us! Special thanks to three people in the UK- Green Coaching, Kevin and Marion who surprised our inbox with 5 meals each in Tehran. Maybe we will be able to share them with new friends we find there next week!

If you are keen to support an aspect of the expedition, such as the educational platform, video production, education team or just keep us going, fueled by coffee visit http://worldbycycle.info/mobilise/

At the end of the month we will be selecting one contributor to win a soft bamboo Rapanui tee!

Wicked! fueling up on a brew now and headed for the Caspian Sea!

Note: due to filters on Facebook and Flickr – find our photos on Google+


  • Madina

    Awesome entry …I enjoyed it very much…it is great that you are bringing human perspective into light for us to see Iranians as simply as ‘Iran good people’ 🙂 hope to see more thank you and enjoy..

    • Kristina Stoney

      Thanks Madina for sharing! Yes, Iran is a diverse and friendly country, well worth a visit! We appriciate your feedback too, a lot! Where are you writing from?

  • susan arney

    What an amazing story of wonderfully generous people….it made me a little teary!The pictures show such a colourful collection of people just willing to share. Thank you for opening our eyes once again to yet another fascinating country & culture. No doubt they will be talking about Nic & Kristina for many days to come too!

    🙂 xo

  • mehdi

    Hi my name is Mehdi ‘re Good. Wanted to talk with you Because I did not know English well. I did not break because it was Ramadan. Cafe owner Mirage City – East Azarbaijan 07/25/2012

    • Kristina Stoney

      And it was WONDERFUL meeting you! Thank you for your kindness and looking forward to staying in touch!

  • Ali

    Enjoyed reading this energizing and fresh view of the country I was born in. Glad you two stopped by our little corner.

    • Kristina Stoney

      Thanks Ali! It was so great to meet you! Funny how folks of similar ilk are drawn to each other, your the first person we met in Tehran and of course we have so much in common! Looking forward to meeting up in the days to come 🙂

  • Kristina Stoney
  • susan arney

    Loved reading Sorayya’s response! :)Once again the theme for Iran has been one of a people who are generous, giving & so kind …