I left Mary soon after 5 and just before sunrise. The cycling was perfect with a quiet road and moderate temperatures. The UNESCO site of Merv was certainly worth visiting and as the buildings are somewhat spread out, it was ideal on a bike. At 7am there was also nobody around including ticket sellers!) and I had the place to myself. The road through the oasis is perfect asphalt and the lush greenery contrasts with the desert around it.
After a quick breakfast in Bayramly, It was time to continue. The main road is in reasonable condition and wide so the few passing cars and trucks were no issue.
The fun cycling experience however soon ended as I reached the desert again. A strong headwind kicked up which made the going really tough and by this time the sun was beating down intensely. I checked the Garmin and the temperature was reading 50.5C and it was still only 10:45. The wind could only be compared to a hot hair dryer and to make things more unpleasant, fine grains of sand were being blasted into me. My body was totally dry as any sweat was immediately being evaported. I had drunk over 2 liters of water in the last hour and still I was gulping continually more.
I took shelter with some watermelon sellers at the side of the road who offered me unlimited supplies of their wares. They told me the town I was aiming for was now just 5km away.
Being aware that it was not going to get any cooler, I headed off back into the wind. The next 7km (not the promised 5!) were some of the toughest I can remember and I needed 2 stops before I reached the sanctuary of an air conditioned truck stop. Above the restaurant were large rooms with mats and pillows on the floor where you could lie down. The air conditioners ran continuously which was typical here as people do not pay for their electricity. My hosts in Ashgabat had also continually left their lights on inside.
The break was perfect and the restaurant offered some decent soup, bread and melon. It was mid afternoon and I had 2 days left on my transit visa. The wind was still blowing and even to walk outside to the toilet was a painful experience. The family running the truck stop took me as a guest and we drank tea in their special super air conditioned room. Conversation was in russian thanks to my small travel dictionary. I assessed the options and realised that other than riding through the night, the remaining 250km were not going to be possible by bike in the remaining time in these conditions. The owner hooked me up with a truck and so my onward travel plans were now sorted.
I expected to the trip to Turkmenabat to be around 3 hours by truck, but the lift turned into an all night epic journey. I had the luxury of the bed behind the 2 drivers in the cab. Except for the lack of air conditioning and my sweaty body sticking to the mattress this was comfortable enough. We were fully loaded with bottles of coca cola which must have been too much for the truck. We drove at a maximum of 35km/hr and every few minutes the hazard warning lights were turned on and the co driver got out his torch to check the bulging sides to ensure no cargo was being lost. We then had a longer break due to collapsed suspension. “Machine broken” the Turmen driver told me. This was turning into quite a desert adventure but probably just daily business for these guys.
Finally after an hour or so of wrenching and a further few hours driving, we arrived in Turkmenabat just as the sun was rising. Turkmenabat is a fairly large (for Turkmenistan) city and spread out. After being refused to get a room at the hotel there, I jumped in a taxi (all Turkmen drivers are unofficial taxis) and headed to the border. The desert, wind and sand had really broken me. The sky was clear and it was setting up to be another baking hot day.