Kyrgyzstan Bike-Packing Day 15: Hit by the storm!
I wake at 05h30 with a bulging bladder. We’ve agreed 08h00 breakfast, but there’s no ways I can hold it until then. What the heck, I’m going. I creep through their room and this time make sure to position myself directly over the triangle. The evidence of last night’s shame he evaporated, thank goodness! I creep back inside and with no power available for blogging, I do a meditation and some stretching until the others wake up.
At breakfast we enquire about the weather. The old man assures us no rain. The son says it will likely rain on Arabel Pass. We make sure our wet weather kit is close to hand just in case. As we are saying our goodbyes, Grandpa comes with a huge, round loaf for us to take with us. We are thrilled – this is actually all we wanted after all, but we got a whole lot more into the bargain!!
We have sunshine and great riding with plenty of cold river crossings until lunchtime, when we park by the riverside, dry our socks and enjoy our lovely loaf, washed down with coffee. We then start up the pass and the storm clouds are gathering thick and fast. It gets decidedly colder as we climb and great, fat drops fall intermittently. I am not worried. This has happened before and it always blows over. Mr Cautious, on the other hand, is all doom and gloom, “We should put up the tent and sit it out until this blows over. It’s madness to head into altitude in these conditions. This how people die of exposure”. “Nah, don’t be a ninny, it’s only rain”. It’s coming down heavier now and the temperature has plummeted. We pull on our warm kit, covered by rain jacket and pants and continue on. It’s cold, but we are climbing and well- kitted, so it’s really not so bad, but Steve is still muttering… then the hail starts (it’s actually better, as not so wet) and then great flashes of lightening and the hail turns to pelting rain.
There is an old caravan parked by the roadside. We try the door, but it’s locked. We hunker on the downwind side and are surprisingly well protected from the wind and rain. We watch the impressive lightning flashes and decide we probably shouldn’t lean on the steel container! Kati whips out her flask and dispenses hot water – it’s delicious, still slightly flavoured with some or other alcohol from her recent trip to Nepal.
When the rain lightens, we continue on, but it’s not long before it come bucketing down again and as we crest the summit and start heading down, the wind chill factor really kicks in. We are FROZEN!! We spy a yurt a little way off the road and decide to ask for shelter. A young boy opens up and stares curiously. He calls his Mom.
They can hardly say no to 3 bedraggled, shivering, pitiful travellers, now can they?
We strip off our dripping kit and are ushered in once again to sit on skins at the low table set in the centre of the yurt. There is a young child sleeping blissfully off to the side. She does not stir. Kati leans back onto what looks like a bunched-up blanket, when our hostess cries out in alarm and jumps up – there is a baby nestled under the blanket! Kati almost sat on it!! She picks her up, still blissfully snoozing, and moves her next to her sibling. We all laugh sheepishly, phew, that was close!
“I hope she doesn’t feel she needs to feed us”, I say, as she lights the kettle and busily cleans the cluttered table and lays down a clean, plastic cloth, but I sense the usual Chai ritual is about to begin…
Sure enough, her husband arrives on cue, out comes the great, big loaf, the butter, cream and jam and we are served steaming bowls of veggie soup – it is Heaven and we are warming up rapidly inside and out. When the door is briefly opened, I notice a deep gash on the side of one of the horse’s faces. I indicate my question and the husband howls like a wolf and makes biting gestures “a wolf attacked it??” “Yes, wolf”, “No way! Right here by the yurt?”, Nods, “Yes”.
Holy shit! The last guy wasn’t kidding. There really are wolves about.
He asks if we have a knife and makes neck-cutting gestures and baa-ing noises, indicating slaughtering sheep. I have no idea what he is trying to say. Maybe he thinks we kill sheep for food?! Or maybe he wants a knife to slaughter sheep? Steve fetches his Swiss Army knife. He is fascinated with all the bits and pieces, but shakes his head – too small. He hangs onto it though, and Steve leaves it as a gift.
We linger until the weather clears somewhat, then pay them for their hospitality and head back out into the elements. It’s far from over, but we can’t hang around all day.
We get down the pass and onto a big dirt road with lots of trucks, which spew dirt onto us as they whizz by. It’s pretty grim. Bizarrely, after the pristine wilderness, there is a giant electricity distribution centre, which looks quite out of place. We stay on the road for about 4 km, then Kati says the GPS indicates a left-hand turn. We are thrilled to be leaving the road, but see no obvious track? This must be the part we’ve read about, where we bundu bash straight across the veld towards Dzhuku Pass…We leave the road and head down towards the river. It is flowing pretty strongly and there’s no getting around it. We have to cross somewhere. We bite the bullet and wade headlong in to the icy waters, which come thigh-deep, soaking our rain pants and panniers (hope they’re indeed waterproof as they claim to be!). There are a few more crossings, after which we wade ankle-deep in marshy bog, before we reach some rideable dry river bed. This is fun, we think, happy to be off the big, busy road, but our euphoria is short-lived as the rideable surface once again gives way to great, bumpy clumps of water-logged grass. We ride for a while, bumping along, but it’s hard on the legs and the bikes, with mud building up on the tyres and the panniers bouncing alarmingly. In the interests of body and bike preservation, we get off and push, sinking in to spongey marsh with each step.
The going is painfully slow. Is it this neck we go through or the next one? We are unsure. Kati has followed the lower line indicated on the GPS and Steve and I have stayed high – either way, it’s a slog and we are starting to flag, when a perfect rainbow frames the sky and lifts our spirits. Kati photographs it from her viewpoint and we from ours and we both head for the pot of gold and finally meet up again at the turn-off point and head together over the neck towards the Pass. It’s mainly a walk through the bog in the rain, with a series of big boulders to cross, before we reach a beautiful lake set at 3800 m.
Decision time. It is getting late. We have perhaps 2 hours of daylight left. Do we trundle on in the rain and down the reputedly rugged pass to try and get to lower altitude or do we camp here? We are not sure how bad the pass is, could take more than 2 hours to descend. Best we set up camp here and hope for better weather tomorrow. We wait for a brief gap in the rain, then hurriedly put up the tents and dive for cover as the next downpour hits. We get out of our wet kit and pile on all the dry clothes we have. It’s FREEZING! (never ignore the advice of drunken Canadian- “sleep below 3000m”), but we really have no choice, so we endeavour to make the best of it.
It rains and rains and rains and rains. We open the zip a crack and peer out at the thick cloud that covers the snow-capped mountains all around. This is not going anywhere soon.
We haul out the cooker and the trusty little wooden chopping board and I set up a mini kitchen on top of a plastic bag and a dishcloth and proceed to cut up an onion, a very soggy red pepper and some garlic, which I place in the pot, ready to fry up into a sauce with some olive oil and tomato paste. We need water though and Kati has the second pot & cooker plus the pasta.
“Kati, Bring the pasta and whatever water is on your bike” Answer: “I’m not getting out of this tent until it stops raining!”
Well that’s that then…It’s soon too dark to cook anyway and still it rains continuously. No pee-ing, no teeth brushing. We put a lid on the chopped veggies and set them aside for tomorrow. No dinner tonight. Just as well we got the soup and bread earlier. We decide to zip our sleeping bags together and snuggle up for extra warmth. I have a raging headache – probably dehydration (I’ve hardly drunk any water all day) or altitude, or both. Myprodols and water are on the bike, which is in the pouring rain, so that’s not an option. Suck it up and try to sleep.
Easier said than done. We thought we were alone in this pristine lakeside wilderness, but turns out to be far from the case. There’re all sorts of comings and goings, with great flocks of sheep passing by and shepherds with flashlights scanning the surroundings. We hear definite jackal cries. They obviously hear them too. Hope there are no wolves about! But we are comforted by the presence of a smorgasbord of easy targets and are sure we at the very bottom of the menu.