Dutchman Peter STEGEMAN contributes to conservation of the environment in our region. He does his best to move around the city on foot only. Besides walking, his long-time passion is cycling in the Atyrau suburbs and further in the steppe.
Cycling is not just his own personal hobby, he also strives to make it popular among his friends. Atyrau Outdoors, a WhatsApp group of two wheeler fans, includes about 80 members of different nationalities and ages. The oldest one is 64. The group is open to everybody who is willing to join and has a reliable bicycle, while getting in shape is just a matter of time. Once a year, the group gathers as many participants as possible for a 100 km marathon.
The number of participants in the weekly team varies constantly, as some are on vacation and others are on shift, but this number mostly ranges from 3 to 10 people. The group gathers every weekend almost in any weather. All the more so as cyclists prefer to ride off-road in the steppe, rather than following highways and existing bicycle paths. Every trip route is selected depending on the shape of the participants, because the group includes both trained athletes, who prefer to travel on long distances, and beginners, who are not yet ready to take risks and go far away from the city. The only thing that remains unchanged when selecting the route is that the group prefers to head upwind so as to catch downwind on the way back. However, wind direction in Atyrau changes so often that wind conditions not always turn out as expected.
THINGS TO TAKE ALONG
Peter works at NCOC. He first came to Atyrau in 2010 (Atyrau Outdoors was established earlier in 2007). The Netherlands is known for its long cycling history: many guides claim that it has more bikes than residents. The explanation for this is simple. Many Dutch have 2 bicycles: a simpler one to move around the city and a “high-end” one for sports activities and weekend out-of-town trips.
A bicycle is not just a way to get around for the Dutch, but rather a lifestyle. Everybody rides bicycles in this country, from children to the royal couple. Naturally, as soon as Peter found out about such group in Atyrau, he became its active member. However, he admits that cycling here differs a lot from riding his bicycle around the city like he is used to back home. You need a mountain bike to ride in the vicinity of Atyrau and suburban steppe. It does not have to be expensive and high-end, but first and foremost, it shall be reliable. Good bicycles can be found at local stores. Before going on a trip, you first need to take safety precautions, so a safety helmet is a must. Cyclists always take along a spare wheel and a tool kit for wheel replacement and other minor repairs. They often come across nails and spikes on their way. Sunglasses, sunscreen and mosquito spray become the best companions for athletes in summer. What is also needed is as much water as possible.
DOWN THE URAL RIVER TO THE CASPIAN SEA
In the past, the founders of Atyrau Outdoors developed certain routes that Peter’s group follows today. The routes have catchy, sometimes funny names, that have been given due to certain associations or situations that cyclists encountered along the route: Kilimanjaro, Fuji, etc. The summer weather enables cyclists to travel a distance of 80 to 90 km, while the cold winter cools their enthusiasm down to 40 to 45 km. On the plus side, in winter they can reach the Caspian Sea on the Ural River ice. Another popular destination is a beautiful small lake in the direction of Almaly.
The group keeps an on-line diary and publishes short reports in social media. Our travellers often take pictures of the steppe fauna: lizards, snakes, badgers, foxes. But the most common encounters are certainly those with sheep, or sometimes camels, grazing in the steppe. The group members are so excited about cycling that they take their two wheeled friends to travel across the country: some rode the routes of the Charyn Canyon, while others conquered the Ustyurt Plateau in Mangystau.
ALSO A WALKER
“I worked in Atyrau from 2010 to 2014, and came back in 2017. I have two sons, who are 29 and 27 years old, and a daughter, who is 24 now. My wife divides her time between our home in the Netherlands and the apartment in Atyrau,” Peter tells about himself. Regular bicycle trips help him stay fit at 59 years of age. According to him, cycling does not induce excessive stress on the joints, especially the knees, unlike jogging. And he is not planning to quit for many years to come. Peter also does yoga twice a week and circuit training once a week (a series of exercises alternately following each other). Many members of their team get to work on a bicycle, but Peter goes on foot, and generally prefers to walk around the city, even when he goes grocery shopping. He believes that all these good habits benefit not only him but also the environment.
by Zulfiya ISKALIYEVA