The desert plains in Kazakhstan saw the rate of car horns increased from about a third of passing vehicles to more like 4/5ths, the eager encouragement of drivers equaling our growing dismay and subsequent attempts at mindfulness on the matter.
However, the most distinctive sound was the camels bursting out sound like hairy ragged wind bags, in between a cow's moo and a wolf's howl. All of them looked as if they had just left a trainee barbershop, sporting every conceivable hair style over their heads and bodies. This potent diversity in hide colour, hair state, humps and size give them a human aspect in the sheer variety of how they look. We are more sensitive to this in humans, but difference is even clearer in observing these beasts.
Then across border into Uzbekistan, there was extreme but wholly accepted and police-enforced white privilege in the queue, Uzbeks waiting for hours in queues in the heat but we were forcibly motioned through to the front. Then again the locals aren't hauled in by border money exchangers and ruthlessly offered rates at a 40% discount, without having internet or chance to check the fair rates... The equally remorseless heat forced us into a truckers border cafe, replete with massage chairs at 10p a pop - vigorous to the point of painful like a Swedish massage execute by Schwarznegger himself (admittedly Austrian). Some truckers from Bukhara were giving us the eyes to the point where not joining them would have constituted an offense, they were taking a driving lunch necking neat vodka out of delicate porcelain bowls. The ringleader's impossibly coarse humour was only rescued through an equally rustic but seemingly well meaning manner: there was an invitation to celebrate Eid the next day in Bukhara 1000 km away, he may as well have been offering a dinner in the London Eye.
On our first Uzbek evening, a fleeting Corsac fox crossed our path at sunset, he held a delicate pace so light of tread to not even leave an imprint on the sand, he seemed our equivalent in the wild as our few finger-width tires carry us along next to the monstrous 16-wheelers. When camping out here, the land seems to bend the night-sky to encase you in a dome, and one can see why the ancients thought the sky was held around the earth in a concentric celestial hemisphere. The day had been one of smooth and colourful flow, enjoyed as a rich seam of experience, with few imperfections to scatter our momentum.
The next day was the typical reversion of this, we enjoyed a delayed start through weariness and mechanical problems, followed by a searingly hot lunch stop in Jasliq - the only habitation for hundreds of km in either direction in the desert. The town's single cafe had continued to frustrate us with a expansive repertoire of bread and burnt meat grizzle, so we eventually resorted to commandeering the kitchen and cooking up an omelette and sausage dish, which likely represented the culinary peak of the town for several years. To broil the misery even further, We set off on the wrong road out of town had to clamber our way through and out of an industrial complex back to the main road. It was in this fried state that we chanced upon Mikey.
Mikey dressed fully in coordinated brown and khaki casual outdoor gear, in sharp contrast to our sportif lycra and jerseys. A man of slight and sinewy build, and a face as on an elf holding a large range of potential ages. Heading the same way, we started off not knowing how long we would spend together, but quickly feeling it could work for a longer time. He as excitable in conversation, initially verging on jabbering which we later together stemmed from his solo desert isolation and time away from native english speakers. His conversational input stemmed to a more sophisticated flow after a day or so, after the excess of thoughts had worked their way through out of his lips.
He was also a rare breed of American with an utter mastery of dry wit and sarcasm, catching each of us out several times, as we are all so used to taking all Americans at their word. His pace and rhythm neatly matched ours, and not once did I feel any holding the other up, quite some feat in cycle-touring. Indeed he came to the rescue that evening when our cheap multi-fuel stove's mechanism broke, likely irreparably. He had a trove of top-of-the-line outdoor gear, as he received a pro discount from his day job as a hiking guide in the Grand Canyon. His full mesh tent weighed about the same as a loaf of bread, and he also explained to us the micro-light movement of 'cold soaking' grains to save on stove fuel weight, grudgingly we had to employ this later on. This spider and scorpion-free view of the stars was washed down with the last of our Kazakh cognac and chocolate, whilst a new and highly enjoyable companion was on hand to dilute the occasionally fraying duality of our party.
Mikey made a couple of revelations later on in the second day, one of which shocked and appalled me to the core, the other was a brief surprise that fell away soon after - I'll let those of you who know me well to work out which is which.
Firstly, after I had made a very lightly lecherous lecture on initial impressions of the Central Asian women, I asked Mikey his valued input on the topic: he said he was into guys, and that there was likely pretty slim pickings here for him in this rather repressed country.
Secondly, he admitted that back at home, he had all but given up food, and instead washed down 5 Soylent shakes a day to get his 3000 calories. A crime to any gourmand, although understandable given the desert fare.