I hold my breath, unable to move in case the smallest sound alerts the hunter to my position. I have chosen a hiding place far too small for my long limbs. My muscles tense, and I can feel each individual sinew stiffen. Footsteps pad closer. And closer. I shut my eyes, willing myself to be smaller, quieter, invisible.

A rustling sound, a pause, and then "I've found you!" as the chairs are pulled back with glee. I stare into the face of a triumphant four-year-old, and sheepishly crawl out from under the kitchen table.

"Ok, Danny, it's my turn to count. You go hide."

We are in Almaty, Kazakhstan, exactly half way through our journey, both in distance and in time.


As I take my turn and count in this game of hide-and-go-seek, I think back over the last week. The ride from Semey to Almaty - from the north to the south of Kazakhstan - took a hard three days, and the memories are a jumble.

The road south of Semey had disintegrated until it hardly resembled a road at all. Potholes forced cars to navigate a tenuous, narrow route through the least of the damage, even if this meant driving on the wrong side of the road.

Once, the road opened up in front of me, exposing a hole so deep that my bike was launched fully into it, and I heard a thud as its underbelly collided with the unmoving surface below. I gritted my teeth, fully expecting to topple off, or for my bike to split in half under me, but Piza pulled herself through with only a deep gouge to her metal frame as a reminder of the pockmarked road.

I saw my first snake on the second day. I nearly missed it, as I was distracted by a giant, silver-green bug that was biting me through my motorbike jacket. At first I thought the snake was a stray cord flapping across the road in the wind. Silver, metallic, it writhed its way to safety on the other side.

Before the morning was out, I had been stung by two wasps as well: the first managed to crawl down my back, where it stung me four times; the second was scooped up my sleeve by the wind, stinging me twice.

Browned reds replaced the dull greens of the steppe. Heat enveloped us, and our black riding jackets become furnaces in which we slowly cooked.

Desperate for relief, we stopped at a small river for a swim.

We stripped off, ignoring the stares of passing drivers, and sank into the cool water. We didn't mind that a local was washing his old carpets fifty metres upstream of us.


Refreshed, we continued. That night we caught our first glimpses of the Tien Shan mountains - which can be translated as "the mountains of heaven" - rows of conical perfection, white, serene - that form the natural border between Kazakhstan and China.

We camped in foothills that resembled the toes of a giant and watched as the Tien Shan mountains were coloured pink by the setting sun.

Our campsite was infested with grasshoppers that night, huge creatures that seemed to get themselves everywhere. The next morning I heated hot water for my tea, but before I could pour it a grasshopper jumped in and quickly boiled itself. I drank the water, but tried to avoid the yellow goo that had oozed from the creature.

Riding through the arid landscape on the third day, I caught sight of a stray sunflower. More flowers followed and for one glorious hour we were surrounded with pinks, lavenders, yellows and creams as we travelled through a more fertile landscape.

Back in the heat, we stopped for another swim, at a lake so flat it was almost impossible to tell where sea met sky, and a distant island looked like it was suspended in space.

We peeled off our gear and nearly jumped in before we realised there was a snake swimming right where we were about to enter. We threw stones at the snake until it eventually slithered off, leaving us to soak in peace.

While we were filling up with petrol that afternoon, Misha decided we needed an icecream. Disappearing for a few minutes into a group of shops clustered around the road, he re-emerged carrying four mouth-wateringly cool icecreams.

He warned me that my icecream would quickly melt, but I ignored him, filling my water containers before turning to my treat. I took one bite before the icecream slid off the cone and onto the dusty ground of the fuel station. Scooping it up with a grimy hand, I managed to salvage most of it anyway.

We saw several displays of Kazakh military power on our ride south.

At one stage, we passed dozens of aircraft hangers, carefully covered with soil and tussock so that from the air they would blend into the steppe. After pulling into a nearby truck-stop for lunch, our meal was interrupted three times by the ear-splitting sound of MiG jet fighters taking off.

On another occasion, we saw perhaps twenty Kazakh tanks rumbling along in a field next to the road. When we stopped to take photos, some of the men on the tanks beckoned us over, while others took photos of us on their cellphones, as intrigued by four strange men on motorbikes as we were by their huge green tanks.

We arrived in Almaty exhausted, sweaty and in need of a clean - us, our bikes, and our clothes. The city was howling in the grip of a dust storm. The realisation that every hotel and accommodation option in town was too expensive for us was bitterly disappointing. We were forced to camp in the mountains behind Almaty, and make our way into the city during daylight to apply for visas and do the countless jobs we had accumulated.

After my hopes for rest and refreshment, I was grumpy, tired and frustrated.

"... twenty eight ... twenty nine ... thirty! Ready or not, here I come!"

I opened my eyes and looked around me. I was in the living room of a nice, modern family home.

It was Sunday night, which was "family night" in this household, and we were playing hide-and-go-seek with the kids, followed by rounds of duck-duck-goose and what's-the-time-mr-wolf.

Dinner had been a feast, our first home-cooked meal in months, and we were clean, freshly clothed, and content.

That day, we had met an ex-patriate NZ family that had warmly welcomed us into their home, giving us an open invitation to stay as long as we needed to rest and gain energy for the next stage of our journey.

As I walked through the rooms of the house, looking for family members hidden behind curtains and behind doors, I felt the closest I had been to home in a long time.

Although I did not know this family, the love they had shown us made their house feel like a home. A smile broke out across my face, and I marvelled at the huge impact an offer of hospitality can make.

* To help Rob and his mates reach their fundraising target for the Living Hope charitable organisation in Vladivostok and for more information on their journey, click here.