Currently in Chiang Mai, Thailand (06/12/2013) - 31200km cycled

9 Feb 2013

Cycling across the Iranian Desert – Camels Ahoy!

Posted by Will

I am sitting in a quiet library in the desert city of Tabas chewing my fingernails with impatience.  I want to get going now but my head tells me that’s not sensible.  The desert demands a great deal of patience.

Over the past six days I have cycled 600km from Esfahan to Tabas.  On average I’ve seen one village per day and that is set to continue.  Yesterday, there wasn’t a village at all – 200km without food, water or people – just sand, salt and a perfectly straight road.  In Tabas, I must fill myself and my bike with the essentials to keep myself from running out of steam.


Normally, I like to set my own pace, cycling as far as is comfortable in a day, but that’s not possible because I simply must get to the next supply point.  If I take too much food and water my bike is heavy and I won’t get to point B in time.  Too little and I’ll run out of energy.  It’s a fine balance and one that is easily toppled by the wind blowing in the wrong direction.

And, believe it or not at the beginning of February, my nose is sunburnt.  It is over 20C during the day and the sand and salt seem determined to reflect the sun’s rays onto my face.

There’s really nothing to complain about though.  Beautiful weather guaranteed every day, millions of stars guaranteed every night and water, salty though it is, tastes better for its rareness than any mountain stream.  Truck drivers are always friendly, offering food and water regularly, which casts out all my fear of being stranded, desperate in the middle of nowhere.  I can’t wait to get on the bike every morning to tackle the next leg of white, yellow and brown if only to look as far as possible in all directions and see nothing.


So far, I’ve stayed in three people’s houses, two mosques and once in the tent.  I’ve timed my crossing well so that I arrive in a village at the end of each day.  The villages are always fascinating places.  They are almost entirely self-sufficient due to their isolation and everyone knows each other like family.  In fact, these villages are like families.  Usually there is no police force so disputes are resolved internally.

Equally fascinating is the way these villages obtain their water.  The Iranian desert has a huge network of ‘qanats’ – underground aqueducts – which connect mountain reservoirs and springs with the local population.  These aqueducts were constructed hundreds of years ago on a slight downhill and stretch hundreds of kilometers across the desert.  Wells are built along the qanats to draw out the water.  Qanat water is stored in dome-shaped reservoirs in the village centre where it is cooled and kept fresh by wind-diverting towers.

I am glad to report that my camel-spotting has not been in vain.  On my second day I saw a large group grazing near the road and on my fifth I saw an even larger group crossing the road.  Both times my attempts to get near them were rewarded by a swift camel exodus.  Not taking into account their face (or their monotonous chewing), camels look much like horses.  Their legs are thinner though and of course they have their famous hump.  It’s remarkable how they manage to survive in such lifeless conditions.


Tomorrow I’ll set off for the 500km stretch to Mashhad during which I expect the weather to become colder and the wind to play a more divisive role.  My fingers are crossed for my Turkmenistan visa which is processing even slower than I had expected.

A final word: thank you all for the comments and messages recently. They have certainly given me a speed-spurt over the last few days.

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12 Comments already on “Cycling across the Iranian Desert – Camels Ahoy!”
  1. 11:08 ampermalink
    09 Feb 2013


    Wasn’t expecting any news so soon but really great to hear that you are making such good progress and have seen a camel too! Looks amazing! xx

  2. 11:29 ampermalink
    09 Feb 2013

    "Khosh" girl

    OH, like always , your hand writing is amazing ,the brilliant photo shoot angle , when i was reading your desert description i though i am cycling in the Iran desert and i test sand, salt water and hot weather by myself .
    i know u will succeed in your Turkestan visa like your wish about camel!!!
    you are a lucky man ( because you have long front head; this is Iranian idiom).
    take care
    have safe 500 km trip to Mashhad. xXx

  3. 12:16 pmpermalink
    09 Feb 2013


    Well done man…
    As Iranian now I feel motivated to start a journey to discover this part my of homeland.

  4. 1:12 pmpermalink
    09 Feb 2013


    Well done.My thoughts and prayers are with you

  5. 2:00 pmpermalink
    09 Feb 2013


    Hey Will! Keep up the great work brother! You’re living it! I hope your route, and one of my student trips will allow us to catch up again. You’re along way from Zakopane. Keep on keeping on! AMAZING!!!! Best of luck brother!

  6. 2:53 pmpermalink
    09 Feb 2013

    Mark E. Martin

    Your postings remind me of the ancient travelers of yore, not that I knew any of them personally, mind you.

    Still,from the Channel to, now, the dusty deserts of the ancient Middle East . . . on a bicycle no less. What an adventure!

    When you make it to the States I hope you come through Louisiana. Happy Mardi Gras wherever you are!

  7. 11:39 pmpermalink
    09 Feb 2013


    I am so amazed at how brave you are! Really glad to hear that you are well and being looked after along the way too. Keep going buddy- thinking of you xxx

  8. 8:27 ampermalink
    10 Feb 2013

    Sarah, Guy, Toby and Edward

    Camels are great aren’t they? XXXX

  9. 3:44 pmpermalink
    11 Feb 2013


    I love your blog so much. May I please ghost-write or edit your biography? Your experiences sound so incredible and your story-telling ability just gets better with each post!!! Miss you xx

  10. 11:14 ampermalink
    12 Feb 2013


    Great to hear from you again so soon.
    Your last post was incredibly moving. I still hadn’t got round to responding and here’s another! Having being concerned about you crossing the desert, it sounds as if, as usual, you have things taped! Well done and keep going. Your reports are wonderful and giving us all a fascinating insight to a part of the world that virtually none of us know. I am certainly learning a lot and loving hearing from you.
    Lots of love, Fran xx

  11. 2:01 pmpermalink
    04 Mar 2013


    Hey Super Will, great posts, I’m with you!! With your life you spread courage and determination.. Just keep going….

  12. 8:36 ampermalink
    02 Feb 2014

    Derek Cullen

    Hey, Brilliant blog and lots of great info in here for touring. Really appreciate your postings and sharing.

    Many thanks