This is where the rally started to get very tough.
Kazakhstan was completely desolate. We'd travel 100s of miles a day and see absolutely nothing but camels and the occasional corrupt policeman trying to squeeze a bribe out of us.
It was here that we learnt a harsh lesson as we naively ignored the locals and instead took a shorter google maps route. It took us east from Makat along an old Soviet road. I use the term road loosely as I've seen minefields in Helmand with more level ground. It was literally 100% potholes and washboard gravel. It was so bad that even the mental Russian truck drivers wouldn't go on it. They'd crafted a makeshift track in the sand/dirt besides the main road which we had no choice but to follow.
While the off-road riding was fun at times, after a full day of little progress it quickly nackered us out. My road tyres were ok on the hard mud but as soon as any sand or wet mud appeared that was it. I'd have a relentless struggle trying to fight the bikes constant jack knifing and sliding. It was like ice skating on stilts, literally impossible to stay up. After one too many falls, all of the warning lights came on and the bike wouldn't start for hours. After taking most of the bike apart we eventually realised a lump of sand had got into the easily accessible earth wires. It literally just needed one brush to clear it and it was completely fine. Hindsight ay.
After beating the Makat road, the rest of Kazakhstan got extremely tedious. The roads improved but still had their fair share of hideous potholes to keep you on your toes. As I seemed to be riding the only motorcycle in Kazakhstan, the locals were very nice(especially on the Russian border), but they'd actually follow me and wait till i stopped just to try and get photos with the bike. Something that was nice at first but soon started to annoy me. Similar feelings that Ewan Mcgreggor experienced in the Long way round. While on the other hand the police would pull me over every 100 meters and try to get bribes out of me. Obviously after realising we weren't going to pay a penny they would then try for a photo too. Classic.
Eventually we found civilisation and reached their strange capital city, Astana. Over the top flashing fairy lights cover almost every oil bought building. After getting stopped twice on the same 5meter stretch of road by two different police cars, I was done with this place. I found a garage quickly, borrowed some tools from one of the nicest guys in Kazakhstan (photo at bottom) and then smashed out several 14 hour days to reach the border and be free of the corruption and camels.
Mongolia was also a very strange experience. My Go Pro sacked it on day one meaning my photos of the place are limited. The place was the goal of this leg of the trip and the highs and lows that I experienced here really defined the journey. From the start I split from all the others due to a lengthy border crossing and teared it into the fun dirt and gravel roads across the Mongol Altai mountains. Kids on horseback asked for chocolate as I thumped it past them, by now if I actually had chocolate there was no way I was handing it to a slightly chubby kid lurking around the border road. I'd been riding for 30 days straight and already lost half my body weight, if i was going to give away food it'd only be to somebody who looked like they needed it more than I did.
Unfortunately the fun dirt roads didn't last and the crappy sand and gravel of the Makat road started to re emerge. As I got further and further away from civilisation, rather typically I got my first puncture of the entire trip. Straight away I could see the puncture was too wide to be properly fixed, but I plugged it anyway and inflated my tyres using my only 3 Co2 canisters, knowing full well that if it failed or punctured again it'd be game over and I'd be living with the goats. A prospect that seemed more appealing than continuing the ride on these pile of crap washboard roads that were rattling my bike and bones as if it were a pneumatic drill.
Alas I carried on and just before sunset the only other person I'd seen all day, decided to warn me about wolves tearing me to pieces at night, but then very kindly gave me some much needed mutton. Not sure what to do with this information though I thanked her via google translate and I camped anyway. What a spot I found as well!
From the next morning I headed deep into the Gobi Desert on my bodged tyre. These were easily the toughest days. The sand was just simply too deep for my tyres and to top it off the road was littered with protruding rocks, so any falls I did have always had the probability of writing my bike off or impaling me.
The going was tough, I could barely manage 5 miles of fighting the terrain without having a rest. I would say I got used to it, but it was just impossible. Now I could really have done with a standard 21 inch off road wheel, or at the very least some dirt tyres. But clearly my 17 inch would have to suffice. Mile after gruelling mile we carried on, by now I had the cars with me and typically enough, that worked to my disadvantage. A protruding rock punctured the Polos fuel tank and I had to ride back through the terrible terrain to find help for them. Eventually, with the polo being towed we continued, the sand turned to horrendous washboard gravel with small breaks for supremely deep river crossings or dried out quick sand crossings. The going was extremely tough, with the only breaks I got from the washboard roads was falling off the bike in deep sand and then subsequently helping push the cars out of the same patch I'd just struggled through.
The bike started to feel the strain too, the constant vibrations from the horrendous road had cracked the seal for the front forks (common problem). By the end of the day the poor Honda's forks were shaken so much they had leaked all over my front brakes, making them completely redundant. A few deep river crossings replaced the lost fork oil with muddy water just to make it even more perilous, but still the old boy carried on. While times were tough for myself the bike felt like it could have carried on till the moon. After every drop, crash or beach the bike would just start up again instantly and sound as good as it did on day 1, mile 1, all while running on a bodged puncture.
It's reliability in these shit times definitely saved my life. Having lost the cars again I carried on and finally made it to the legendary Oasis guest house in the capital city. As I rode in, pretty much everyone (on BMW GS1200s obviously) looked on in amazement at how I'd come through the Gobi desert on the tyres and the bike I had. They didn't comment on the impressiveness of the feat, but more the stupidity. Which I think is fair enough. But as soon as they saw the Honda badge they commended the reliability of my trusted Herbert and I'm sure a part of them understood. Crossing the Gobi desert on a GS would have been quite fun i imagine, but crossing it on a CB500x with small road tyres was an achievement to be proud of.
Despite arguably being the least kitted out to do the task by a long long way, I wouldn't do this on any other vehicle. Herbert has been incredible and I feel so attached to him already. I admit it would have been more enjoyable on larger off road tyres, but it's been one hell of an experience.
Couple of Mongolian bikers I bumped into near the capital
Trying to fix the Polos punctured fuel tank
Two Kazakhs I met before Hastily leaving Astana