A Journey Beyond: Istanbul to Tehran, The Film + Q&A
Released just today, the film ‘A Journey Beyond’ follows Marc Maurer on a 5,600km journey from Istanbul, Turkey through the Caucasus Mountains to Tehran, Iran. Watch it here, see photos, and read a candid Q&A with Marc about this epic trip.
Traveling really opens your mind and connects people from different nations. Take Iran for example; cycling through the country has been such a positive experience and it really shows how wrong the picture ‘our’ media is selling us.”
Marc Maurer first got the bug for traveling by bicycle during a 6,000 kilometer journey from Cologne to Istanbul (that number includes riding the whole way back). A Journey Beyond was his second big bikepacking trip—and it was no accident that he started it from Istanbul, Turkey. Marc’s plan is to begin each trip where the last left off, eventually crossing the entire globe. So the next journey will start in Tehran, Iran… but who knows where it will end. Of course it’s exciting to look forward, but here is a Q/A with Marc and some incredible details about his last trip:
Where do you live and how old are you?
I’m 34 years old and I’m based in Cologne, Germany
Is “Istanbul – Tehran” your first long distance bike tour?
“Istanbul – Tehran” is my second longer bike trip. In June 2014 I cycled from Cologne to Istanbul and back again. My plan was to fly back to Germany from Istanbul, but when I arrived in Istanbul it felt kind of wrong to take the easy way home. So I decided to turn around and cycle back to Cologne. In the end I rode 6000km, covering 40.000 vertical meters, spent 54 days in the saddle and crossed 16 countries, kind of crazy for my first bigger trip.
Did you have a special preparation for this trip?
I didn’t really prepare especially for the trip, but I ride almost daily anyway. After a while your body (and legs) get used to riding longer distances. The first couple of days you might not be able to ride very long distances, but after a while you can easily ride 100+ km every day (depending on the roads, mountains, heat, etc). Everyday riding is the best training there is…
Eduard from “Veloküche” Shop in Cologne, is a bike mechanic and friend of mine. He gave me some lessons in solving minor technical problems. But during my two trips I didn’t had any technical problems at all, aside from a puncture or two.
In my opinion, the biggest challenge for a longer solo bicycle trip lies in your head. You have to spend day after day with yourself and your thoughts. Sometimes you don’t even talk to anybody for days. You really need to be able to enjoy – as well as cope – with being alone.
How did you manage the change in languages, were you able to communicate with locals ok?
I’ve travelled the world quite a bit and it’s the same in almost every country. Even if you don’t speak their language or if they don’t speak English at all, you can always communicate with people somehow. Sometimes the only chance to interact with the locals is in sign language. Most of the time it’s very entertaining (for both parties) and it quite often leads to funny misunderstandings.
In Turkey it was quite easy with English and sometimes even German, but it got more difficult in Georgia and Armenia, where the people rarely speak English at all. Iran was quite an experience, not many are able to speak English there (once you get off the beaten track), but the locals are so helpful and they really want to interact with you. They often call everybody they know to find someone who can speak English to translate. Quite a few times, they would even call people they didn’t know, like a local doctor or teacher, hoping they would know a few sentences in English. But it’s the same anywhere in the world, a smile and funny face is often enough…everybody understands a smile and laughter!
“At the stop, there were these mean looking soldiers… After some chit-chat, they warmed up and we drank a beer together…we had a great time with lots of joking around”
Which countries did you cross, and what was your impression of them?
I cycled through Turkey, Georgia, Armenia and Iran. The major impression in all four countries was the amazing hospitality and friendliness, and the diversity of the landscape and nature.
It started in Turkey with chai (tea) for free at almost every stop I made. In Georgia it was the incredible nature, with an enormous diversity for such a small country… the Black Sea, the really impressive and rough Caucasus Mountains and the semi deserts have been a fantastic place to ride, with great camping spots.
In Armenia the people are unbelievably friendly and curious – sometimes people would pay for your groceries or give you little gifts – resistance is futile! The country also has spectacular natural beauty, especially around Seevan Lake. It’s also very mountainous, with daily tough mountain rides.
In Iran everybody was waving along the way and wanted to shake your hand or take a picture with you. They just generally wanted to welcome you to the country. Iran is a place where even the police stop you just so they can invite you for a cup of tea! If you want to feel like a famous person, come to Iran!
Where did you sleep?
Most of the time I slept in my tent, just somewhere wild. Often in really beautiful surroundings but also next to highways, behind petrol stations etc… Sometimes I asked people if I could sleep on their property, which often lead to a free breakfast. When it was raining for days, and my clothes and myself needed to dry, or if my clothes and I needed a wash (longest time without a shower: 7 days) I spent a night at a hostel, a homestead, or very seldom a hotel. In Iran random people invite you to stay at their house and to be their guests – almost every day, and on most days, several times!
What was your nicest experience you had during your journey?
I had many great experiences during my trip. It’s difficult, if not impossible to pick one experience. In Armenia I made a quick stop to refill my water bottles. At the stop, there were these mean looking soldiers refilling the watertanks of their trucks. After some chit-chat, they warmed up and we drank beer together (they even challenged me to drink a beer in one go) and we had a great time together, with lots of joking around – all at eleven o’clock in the morning, right before a mountain climb…
In Georgia I came through a small village and saw some kids playing football on a small soccer field. It had been quite a tough day with a 120 km ride, so I decided to ask the kids if they knew a place where I could camp for the night. Of course they didn’t understand me, so I ended up playing football with them instead. Suddenly it started to rain quite heavily, so I just put my tent up on the soccer field and slipped in. Moments later a young boy came and invited my to sleep in his family’s house because of the heavy rain, but because the tent was already wet, I decided to stay put. After a while an old lady came, woke me up and gave me cheese, bread and homemade wine. In the morning the young boy came again, this time with bread, butter, hot tea and a bottle of chacha (really strong homemade alcohol, up to 70%!!!) For breakfast!!!
In Iran I was setting up camp under some trees on a patch of land, when two young guys came to say hello. I asked if it was ok for me to camp there and they said yes. We shook hands and they went off. After about 20min, they came back with a thermos flask with tea, a cup and sugar, plus a watermelon. They gave me the stuff and went off again. I had some tea, ate the water melon and went off to bed. About an hour later, I was woken up to the sound of a lot of voices and as I looked out of my tent, there were about 12 people with flash lights outside – the two guys had brought, more or less, half the village and they all wanted to say a “Hello”…
What was the average daily distance you were doing?
In average I did around 100 km per day, with an average of 1000 meters of climbing every day! The toughest day was the ride to, and up, the Georgian military highway to the Russian border…160km with an elevation gain of 3225 meters!
How do you manage to take so much time out, what do you do for a living?
I’m a Freelancer and at the moment I work as an exhibition builder, but actually I do anything for money. Traveling is a big part of my life and I do everything to see the world and make it a bit smaller. Traveling really opens your mind and connects people from different nations. Take Iran for example; cycling through the country has been such a positive experience and it really shows you how wrong the picture “our” media is selling us.
It sounds like there was some real diversity in the kind of terrain you were riding over, how did you go about choose your equipment for the trip?
When I plan a trip I don’t really have a fixed route… I just start and see how it goes, talk to locals or other travelers about routes, roads, places etc. When it comes to the equipment you need, it’s different. You have to know what the weather will be like, what the roads will be like, if it’s possible to buy spare parts if something breaks etc.
For bicycle touring or bikepacking it’s quite important to have reliable, lightweight gear, which is small in packing size. I chose a one person, 3-season tent, weighing only 1,2 kilos, which can withstand heavy rain and strong winds. In my opinion it is important that the tent is freestanding, so you can camp on surfaces were it’s not possible to use pegs. Finding the right sleeping bag is not easy (too hot, too cold…), but I went for a 850+ count down bag, which weighs only 500 grams and packs really small, with a temperature range from 2-10°C. But one of the most important things to me is the sleeping mat. I tried a few until I found the perfect one for me. It’s really important to have a good night’s sleep after a hard day in the saddle.
I have a multi-fuel stove that burns with more or less anything. In these countries it’s quite difficult to find gas or alcohol, but you will find petrol everywhere… and petrol is cheap, really cheap in these countries! Of course you don’t need all this “high-tech” stuff to do such trips, but for me it is definitely more fun to ride lightweight and to have really good reliable equipment with me!
Perhaps the most important stage in the development of a new bike is testing, that’s when the ideas behind the bike are proven. For Bombtrack Bicycle Co’s new Beyond, a beast of an all-road adventure rig, there was no better proving ground than Marc’s journey. Istanbul to Tehran was sponsored by Bombtrack and this trip became the test and launch for the Beyond. Here are a few questions about it:
What about your bike, did you modify it in any way for the trip, or keep it pretty much standard?
I only changed or added a few parts to make it suit my specific needs. I added a time trial bar for a more relaxed position in heavy head winds and for long, flat and straight roads. I fitted my trusted ‘flite’ saddle and added a dynamo hub for charging my phone, camera, MP3 player, lights etc. I also changed the tires as I needed something better suited for road and hard-pack riding. Most of the time I rode on paved roads, lets say around 70% of the time, so the need for a tire that runs well on asphalt was there.
I really liked the handlebar, it gives the possibility to ride in lots of different positions and it gives you a lot of control on difficult downhill patches with a rough surface. I also really liked the original setup of the drive train. The gear ratio was just perfect, both for climbing tough mountains, even fully loaded, and going high-speed on straight flat roads. Another great feature on the bike is, to have the possibility to mount up to 5 bottle cages!
Where do you think the bike feels best? Climbing, rolling dusty gravel, long tarmac-paved roads?
In my opinion the bike is great on all surfaces and for all conditions – it can take anything you throw at it!
Even fully loaded it’s very stiff and you can go just about everywhere with it. No matter if it’s off-road or on road. You can ride it very fast on paved roads and on gravel. In Georgia I had really bad “roads” for several days and the bikes performance was just brilliant! In Iran the roads are in really good condition; the asphalt is perfect. The Bombtrack Beyond’s performance in these long asphalt sections was also amazing! For me the Beyond is the “eierlegende Wollmilchsau” I don’t know what that is in English, like an animal that can provide you with everything you could possibly need.
The major impression in all four countries was the amazing hospitality and friendliness, and the diversity of the landscapes and nature”
Photos by: Ben McPherson, Joachim Rosenlund, & Marvin Beranek
Film Production: Marvin Beranek
Videography: Marvin Beranek, Joachim Rosenlund, Erdal Tosun, Eva Glaser