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Cycling trip from Yerevan (Armenia) to Erbil (Iraq) 1000KM+

This article is the archive copy. The original article was in Russian and was placed on the website of the biggest cycling club of Armenia — VeloClub.

Good afternoon.

After Batumi, Crimea, and a number of other challenges, I wanted to do something that really would go beyond the normal. Being a completely simple person, I wanted to do something that would show the extent to which seemingly incredible things can be done by an ordinary person who has only a desire and an unshakable confidence in success. I decided to arrange another cycling trip, in a format in which no one had done it before. Due to the fact that I was thinking about the next challenge during the most fierce struggle with terrorists in Syria and Iraq, as the next destination I chose Iraq. In particular — Erbil, located about 70 kilometers from the capital of ISIS (at that time) — Mosul.

The road was expected to be interesting in everything: the total path was more than a thousand kilometers and contained three different challenges, namely:
- Armenia: I planned to drive almost 400 kilometers to the Armenian-Iranian border along the roads that our cyclists don’t ride because of their tremendous complexity. The difficulty was firstly in a very low quality of asphalting, secondly — half of this path ran through very cold lands where snow can be found even in summer, and thirdly: relief. The number of uphills at an angle of 12% + is incredibly high.
- The second challenge was supposed to be already in Iran. I had to drive a little more than 400 kilometers in that part of Iran called “Iranian Azerbaijan”, or “Western Azerbaijan Province”. A little more than 100% of these lands are populated by Turks and Azerbaijanis. There are very few Iranians, there are no Kurds at all.
- The third challenge, of course, was to cross the Iran-Iraq border and cycle to Erbil (about 180 kilometers).

The added complexity turned out to be the selected date.
Initially, I planned to leave on May 10th. The forecast showed +28 (Celsius) in Armenia, +32 in Iran and +35 in Iraq. Due to the fact that I had to go south all the time, every day the temperature had to increase and it was in my interests to finish the challenge asap before I cooked.

A pleasant surprise for me was the joining of my friend Armen to my trip. A little lyrical digression …

It so happened that on April 30th we cycled with our VeloClub to Garni. Having reached the final gathering point and started making barbecue from sausages, we talked with Armen and in the meantime I said that I was going on a long trip on May 10th - a day after Victory Day. In fact, very few people knew about my trip, despite the fact that I had been preparing for it for quite some time. Only a few knew about my actual intention to go, and almost no one knew — the date of start. In any case, Armen very enthusiastically accepted my intention to go, and expressed a desire to join. At the first minute I did not attach much importance to his words, thinking that by the evening he would change his mind and forget all our talk, however, in the evening the same day we were already sitting at my house and discussing the details of the trip. Despite all my explanations about the riskiness of the undertaking, as well as listing all the risks associated with crossing the border, driving in Iran, and moving around the Azerbaijani provinces, without any hesitation Armen agreed to go with me to the Iran-Iraq border (he couldn’t go to Iraq for a number of objective reasons, one of which was the lack of a necessary visa). I really liked his mood so much that I instantly moved the trip date from the 10th to the 6th.

And we back to our preparatory work.

To increase the level of complexity, I decided not to take almost anything out with me:

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Removable underwear, equipment: gloves + protector for the wrist (I had an injury), cycling jerseys and pants. Pants (turning into breeches), a thin hoodie, a hat and two bandanas. Armen had the same set.

I tried to minimize things so that in the end our backpacks did not exceed 3.5 kg in weight / each.

First Aid Kit:

“Mezim” tabs for the stomach, “Strepsils” for the throat and “Melatonin” for sleep.

“Bacitracin” ointment for wounds, hydrogen peroxide, “Diprelief” (anesthesia) for fresh injuries of muscles and joints, “Diclac” gel, “Chondroxide” for joints, “Psylo-balm” for skin injuries / burns / insect bites, as well as a special cream for cyclists against scuffs and other skin injuries .

Several patches of different sizes, a medical patch, a bandage for fixing, a mesh for fixing, female night pads (cut in two, used to avoid scuffing in the foot, toes), a condom (could be used as a tourniquet to stop the blood, or for transferring large amounts of water), as well as sponges and a sterile medical bandage. Add to this a 45UV tanning cream, and we get a first-aid kit weighing 550 grams.

All this fit here in such a bag (left). Armen took only clothes + wet wipes + one spare chamber under his 29 “wheel bike:

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For my bike we made a rag cover, because it shone too much in the sun. According to the configuration of the bikes: the overall gearset “Shimano Deore / XT”. From differences I can mention Crankbrothers eggbeaters 2 pedals (my bike) and Armen’s 29“ wheels.

Money is boring.
Therefore, I decided not to take them almost. My budget for the whole trip was $ 16. All my bank cards I left at home.

Part 1: Armenia.

Day 1: Yerevan — Yeghegnadzor.

At 10:40 we were already in Yeraskh breaking 66KM.

It should be noted that we were going to adhere to a diet according to which we had two water bottles. One had plain water, and the second had isotonic in it(High5 Isotonic), on the side we could only drink black tea (extra caffeine + strengthen the stomach). For food, we used sweet nuts (such as pistachios in honey / sugar), or dried fruits. During the day, we planned to eat something light once / twice, consisting of more complex carbohydrates, such as bread with cheese / fruits / vegetables. In short, we planned all of the above with the condition that there would be no acquaintances around and we would rely solely on ourselves, but… you know, life is so unpredictable :D

In Yeghegnadzor, we stopped at the house of my friend Sako. Together with Sako, Vahan and Artem — our came from Yerevan to join us this evening and wish us safe trip we made this evening unforgettable (and not sporty at all :D )

On this day we rode 116KM

Day 2: Yeghegnadzor — Goris.

We left Yeghegnadzor at 10:00AM

After 30 kilometers, we realized that our muscles did not have time to recover normally over night. It was said that this year Armen and I cycled only a few times (This could sound strange, but for me the most important thing was to complete the challenge rather than thinking about my physical form.) and did not accustom our body to such loads.

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At the Goris passes, having reached the place called “Զանգեր” (Bells), we saw the snow, and a little bit later the rain has started.
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In terms of complexity, these uphills significantly exceeded the “Karki” passes that were after Yeraskh day before.
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At 70m kilometer the air temperature dropped to +7

At 90th kilometer, muscle weakness has reached the peak. By the 95th kilometer, my rear wheel had a puncture (which before that had not been pierced for more than 2,000 kilometers!) and we began to drive in fast bursts, stopping to inflate the tire every 3–4 minutes.
Half an hour before the next city (Goris), the rain did not stop and darkness fell. We turned on the flashlights so that oncoming cars could see us and descend into Goris, still inflating the wheel every few minutes.
The last 15 minutes I was driving literally “on the rim”, because the camera in the tire went down 90%.
Rain and wind did not stop this evening. We went to the “Takarik” cafe to hide from cold.

In Goris, we met a wonderful man — Harutyun who hosted us at his place.

On this day, we drove 116KM.

Day 3: Goris.

The next day, Harutyun suggested us to stay for a few days more, and after some discussion we decided to stay in Goris for another day to give the muscles a little rest, and at the same time to explore this city, which I heard a lot about, but was here for the first time.

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In addition to interesting architecture and many historic buildings Harutyun’s brother — Arthur, introduced us to the brainchild of his company, namely, 3D-printer of Armenian production
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I was so carried away by his work that the guys offered to take a picture of me and “draw” it on one of their devices. The photo was taken against a white wall, then they moved it into a computer and transferred the image to the device that painted my sketch.

Walking around the city a little more and finding a car from the game Mafia

Despite Harutyun’s modesty and a request not to photograph him again, I can’t help but say a few words about this amazingly talented person with whom we talked for more than a day. Besides the fact that he is a very good sculptor, very interesting and creative, I was amazed at the similarity of our musical tastes, his playing the guitar and his ability to draw amazingly well. Some of his works, photographed with his permission, I will upload to my Facebook album later.

At the end of the day, I asked him to make a couple of strokes on the sketch that was received by the machine in his brother’s office a few hours earlier so I could have one more bright memory of our meeting.

Day 4: Goris — Kapan.

So the next day came, muscle fatigue was no longer felt, but there was a general feeling of weakness. We said goodbye to Harut and hit the road at 9:30AM

However, by the 35th kilometer I felt very bad, the temperature rose and I had to lie down at the side of the road to get a little rest. After about twenty minutes, it became obvious that I got cold. I probably caught a cold that night when we got to Goris, but the disease got to me just now. Every minute it only got worse, we had almost passed the climbs, then there was a descent to Kapan ahead, but I simply could not go further. At that moment, I barely had the strength to get up somehow, and with great difficulty I decided to drive the remaining several tens of kilometers, since the whole challenge was at risk, and I could not afford it. Armen, as a true friend, was interested in my health every couple of minutes and checked the temperature while I was lying, while he himself stood in the sun trying to catch a car and convince drivers to take me to the next city. After some time, he managed to stop the car, whose driver gladly agreed to help. We put my bike in the salon, I sat in front, and Armen said that he was coming down to us in the city on a bike. So, for the first time in my life that I ride (since 07/01/2013) I used the car to complete the bike trip.

The driver of the car was from Kapan. His name was David and he worked and lived in Yerevan, but periodically came to his native city to his relatives and friends. Seeing that I dressed in all I had and my swimming eyes , David began to tell me the story of Armenia, Syunik region and Vasak Suni, on my turn I was trying to answered in a monosyllabic way, trying to somehow keep up the conversation. The whole view from the window merged into one general blurred picture, and anxiety about the continuation of the challenge wandered in my mind. I was angry that I did not bring a windstopper with me, but I ruled out any option to interrupt the challenge. About two o’clock we were already in Kapan, where David took me to his house. His mother gave me some pills and gave the couch where I could fall asleep. An hour and a half or two Armen joined us. I slept until 8 pm. Then the owners of the house gave us tea and some food. Toward nine, David invited us to go with him and his friends for dinner at a restaurant, from where we returned after midnight. I felt better already. Regardless of anything, the next day we had to move on.

I written this day in such details not so that the reader would be imbued with pain and suffering :D but so that the reader sees that it does not matter how much you are physically prepared, informed, trained, and so on. There are bad days, and there are frankly bad ones, but this is no reason to doubt the success of the plan. Someone else could call this day a disaster for the whole challenge, but the failure begins in our minds. Physically, you can be arbitrarily weak, however, as long as you are not defeated in your mind, nothing can stop you. I would thank Armen again — he did as a loyal friend does. I would do the same.

On this day, 80 kilometers were covered.

Day 5: Kapan — Agarak.

I slept for 7 hours, woke up at 8:00 AM.
Sore throat, slight chills in the body. He put on everything that was. Must go.

We decided to go non-stop. There is a hard road ahead to Meghri itself, there is nowhere to stop before, so there is no other way out.

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2535 meters above the sea level. With the weather that day, we were very lucky. There were no more lifts ahead, although there were frankly little strength left. We had to get to the border before dark. Getting ready for a steep, long descent.

We went to bed at 10:30PM after taking a hot shower.
On this day, we drove 84KM.
So, the budget for Armenia (406 km) amounted to $ 9.

Part 2: Iran.

Day 6: Agarak — Khoy.

Woke up at 5:30 from severe sore throat.
Started cycling at 6:30AM.

At 10:30 we reached Jolfa — the first Iranian city.
Everywhere Azerbaijanis and Turks. The word Azerbaijan is found on almost every sign and big board.
For safety (Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict), we presented ourselves as local Russians from Moscow who have been cycling to Kurdistan from Yerevan. Local knowledge of Russian at the level of “Priwet Towarisch!”

We got to some flea market in the city center surrounded by a huge number of people. All attention is riveted to us: our view (all that cycling clothes and stuff) does not fit into the usual framework for the locals. As open feet (any part) are offensive in Iran I decided to tightened my socks a little so that my open legs were not very visible.
So we were standing in the center of the market trying to figure out where to buy bread. To the right are Azerbaijani shops with sweets, to the left are open cafes awash with Azerbaijanis and Turks. The sellers with the carts loaded talking Turkish and we have no idea what’s happening. We feel like deeply conspiratorial agents behind enemy lines with an incredibly secret super important mission :D We stood for a couple of minutes, imbued with the atmosphere and then went on.

Found where to buy bread, ate. At 12:30PM the state of health again worsens. Because of a sore throat, I stopped talking.

We ride around the city, the whole city is covered with propaganda leaflets, because — the election. Passing by the headquarters of one of the candidates, we suddenly made friends with him, and most probably we got involved in his elections campaign (I assume :D ). Seeing how tired we were, he invited us to come in. We were given rice, all kinds of food and tea.

They also took a picture of us, because helping tourists from distant lands (Moscow) is a plus in the campaign m? :) Anyway we were very thankful to them for that generous gesture ❤

We ride around the city further. I decided to conduct an experiment. I approached to some governmental institution. At the entrance to the building I saw several locals, walked over, asked how to get somewhere, they answered, I thanked, stood still for minute, waited for them to ask me something. One of the locals asked me where I am from. I answered that I am an Armenian from Armenia. Guy reaction (epic!): eyebrows slowly raised, head slightly squinting .. saying..“Armeniaa …. hmmmm …. emmmmm …. mmm ….. wellllcomme ….” then a light smile in which one could read “Today you, mortal, can live as I won’t share your small secret” :D in intonation felt a penetrating severity and hopelessness, probably relating to our situation.
I smiled, said goodbye and cycled back to Armen.

An hour later we made friends on the street with one Azerbaijani guy. On his turn he stopped his friend, so made friends with his friend as well :)), all together we went to some hotel to understand whether it is possible to get cheap accommodation somewhere here.

Since no one knew the language (Neither Russian, nor English), the hotel administrator asked one of the hotel guests to help with translation. The guest was an Iranian from the United States, whose name was Richard.

Made friends with Richard. Told him that we are Armenians. He advised us to introduce ourselves as Russians and not show passports to anyone. By this time, Armen and I were already speaking Russian to each other, and I was calling Armen as “Artyom” (Obviously because Armen is the most common Armenian name in the world though :D). The hotel administrator said that for less than $ 35 a double room could not be provided. Richard insisted that they solve the problem with our accommodation within our budget, and our friend whom we met on the street together with the hotel administrator found some place in a few hundred meters away from the hotel. We were told that there is a hostel that is ready to host us. Richard gave us $ 15 and said that this is enough for me and Armen. We thanked him and went to the hostel with our Azerbaijani friend.

While Armen was moving our bikes up I was left alone with Ali so I took out our Armenian passports and together with 15$ that we got from Richard passed to Ali. His eyes, full of surprise and suspicion, began to run around. After copying our data, he came to our room and handed over the passports, advising to hide them and not to show to anyone. I suppose there were reasons :). To all the guests who were in the next room and looked at us with Armen as to aliens, Ali represented us as Russians from Moscow.

Surprisingly I saw the Armenian tricolor on the tapes from medals for some martial arts on the wall in the lobby. I decided to ask the guests what are these medals? They told me that these tapes are the flags of Armenia, and that the co-owner of the hostel, brother of Ali, represented Iran at the wrestling championships in Armenia some time ago. Without thinking twice, I went into his office and said that I wanted to take a picture with a representative of such strength and courage.

A little later, I asked Ali to take me to the pharmacy and explain to them what I needed. I was given several different pills and syrups from cold. According to Ali’s recommendation, I drank all these syrup tablets every 8 hours for the next few days, as without them, the strength was going away and it was unbearable pain in the throat and in the body overall. Armen prepared 15 cups of tea for me, which I drank all the time in the hope of somehow recovering in the morning again.

On this day we drove 164km.

Day 7: Hoi — Urmia.

On 60 kilometers before reaching the city, we made friends with a family of native Iranians who went on vacation. They invited us to try local dishes. It was not sporty, but I was so happy meeting these people and had so many questions that I couldn’t hesitate ❤

On this day, we drove 136km in 7 hours 34 minutes.
So, the budget for Iran (440km) amounted to $ 15 (I had 1$ left for the rest of the trip).

Part 3: Iraq.

Day 8: Urmia — Haji Omaran.

Woke up at 9:00AM. For the first time in our trip, I slept well.

At 10:10AM we reached the Terminal (local bus station). Armen took a ticket to Tabriz for 10:30. I agreed with the driver that he will help Armen in Tabriz to get a ticket to Jolfa (from there it’s very close to the border)

The turtle decided to go with me to Iraq despite my offer to go back with Armen. At 10:25AM, I cycled towards the city of Piransher, the only completely Kurdish city in this province.

Despite the fact that I was planning to spend the night in Piransher, the more I approached Piransher (there are only 15 kilometers from it to the border), the more I wanted to cross the border today.

Arrived in Piransher I stumbled upon a young guy who was fluent in English. It turned out this 14-year-old boy from Canada, comes to Piransher every year for a month and a half to stay with his relatives. He told me where the cafe is and took me there. I ordered something with something (Really didn’t know what I was ordering) for my 1$ nodding to everything the cashier asked. A few minutes later they brought me hot tea and a sandwich with a sandwich (yes, exactly).

While talking enthusiastically with my young friend, I did not notice how a crowd of people gathered around us and a tiny cafe was filled of people. The guy translated to me that they first time see the cyclist from distant lands. I said that I am an Armenian from Armenia (I assumed that it’s safe as Kurdish do not have any problems with Armenians), and that I am going to Iraq. Locals were very surprised.
A few minutes later a Very Serious Man came in a cafe in traditional Kurdish clothes of black color. When he went into the cafe — everyone abruptly stood up. I also got up, chewing on a sandwich and moving my hand to the unknown person. He shook my hand, kissed my left cheek, then my right — a traditional local respectful greeting. Then he greeted me and said something else. I greeted him in response on Kurdish (I knew a few words). The boy from Canada explained that this is the most popular candidate for mayor of the city. After asking me a few questions about my trip, the future mayor said that he would be very happy if I stay in Piransher for a few days. I thanked him, but said that I had to refuse, because I want to cross the border with Iraq today. With the same very serious expression on his face (very. Seriously it was epic!), he said goodbye to me, placed his right hand to his heart, said something to the cafe owner and left. Several dozen people left with him. The kid said that it’s paid for me and that I can order whatever I want. I thanked, said that I had more than enough tea and a sandwich with a sandwich — and went out (And I saved my dollar :D ). There was no limit to my pleasure in being close to achieving the goal, and I joyfully rode forward.
I was extremely tired and I drank all possible pills, syrups and every possible medicine I had to keep my muscles working and by 7:30PM I reached the border.

I got the stamp in my passport. The next step: the border guard said that they should put my bike in an X-ray machine (in which bags are usually placed). I explained that the bike can not be placed in it. They asked why, and I said that the problem is in geometry. Anyway they tried to put the bike in the X-ray by all means but nothing worked. They say that maybe I was carrying cocaine in tires. I said that if they could find cocaine in them, I will share a half of it with them :D. They smiled, called someone, he came and looked, called someone, he called someone else, and this one already called to some other guy. Obviously, they had no experience with cyclists though.

After long discussions among themselves, one of the customs officers asked: “what you do live” — ​​by this time I already had an impressive experience of communicating in English with people who do not know English and I somehow understood what he meant. “You mean now? What I’m going to do right now after crossing the border?” — I asked. after his nod, I made a tired grimace (although I was already dead-tired by today’s exhausting ride to the limit) and said — “I go Haji-Omaran sleep. sleep. Tomorrow sun, sun (pointing to the horizon) sun go up — I go up Erbil”.
Apparently my answer satisfied him, for he breathed a sigh of relief and said “ok go sleep”. Obviously, he was worried about whether I would go to Erbil in such darkness. But I’m not a fool (lol). I couldn’t miss the chance spending the night in an Iraqi village among a population that does not understand who I am, having no friends in a couple of hundred kilometers radius and having no connection — so exciting!

On the ninth day, I cycled to Erbil.

That day I overcame about 190 kilometers of distance (almost zero uphills and luck with wind), thereby winding up the final distance meter somewhere up to 1040 km.

Part 4: Iraq (Going to Erbil)

Day 9: Haji Omaran — Erbil.

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I don’t know how I could continue my cycling feeling so exhausted and out of the pills but I’ve also managed to save a bird that was fallen on the road ❤
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One of the latest pictures taken during my cycling journey.

And then I reached Erbil. Unfortunately I wasn’t allowed to take many pics because of war and army control, however, the rest of the trip was as amazing as it started. Iraqi Kurdistan was an amazingly interesting place with very nice people, very interesting traditions and culture that I can talk about for hours. Alas, on this page there was not enough space to describe the last day of the trip and my acquaintance with Iraq, I have written down all the details in the description of the photos uploaded in my Facebook album, here.

And now it’s time for a few drama words.

Many asked me the same question: why? I suppose the reader could also ask this question. Perhaps for himself, s/he already decided that it was “just great!”, “Interesting!”, “Fun!”, But I will allow myself to answer in more detail.

I always said that it was important for me to prove that the only factor affecting my actions would my desire regardless of difficulty and circumstances.
However, in this challenge I had no doubt about my desires. Most of all I wanted to show how strong is our mind. I wanted to show how any ordinary person from the far, unknown place who has a simple job, without money, clothes and anything, break away from all the conditions he is used to and get lost in the unknown. There can always be awful weather or social conditions, there can be war, there can be constant tension and complete isolation from the outside world, however, as long as we follow the right course in our mind, everything will be fine. It is enough to doubt only for a moment, to allow fear to penetrate the halls of our mind, and fear will receive food for its development. Fear is the unacceptable currency from which the facade of our freedom of mind is built.

Never allow yourself to doubt your possibilities, because if you say that you cannot do something — you will be absolutely right, just as if you say that you can.

Separately, I would like to express my gratitude to Armen. I am very glad that, as a young guy without the experience of long trips, he not only joined me, but also very steadfastly withstood all the difficulties that came across our path. I am really pleased to see that there are people who value the expansion of their horizons with such journeys much more than the purchase of new mobile phones, laptops and other hi-tech garbage. Thank you Armen jan ❤.

Get out of your comfort zone. Don’t let any worry to limit your desires and actions. You have only one life and no one will live it instead of you.

Thanks to all ❤.

Written by

Cognitive Science and Behavioral Economics enthusiast. In IT for over 12 years. Here I write about Project and Product Management. My website: keepsimple.io

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