Kyrgyzstan Bike-Packing Day 13: Getting off the beaten track
As we head out past the next yurt camp, we see about 15 top end cross country mountain bikes lying on the grass. We pull in to see what’s what and sure enough, it’s for a group of Israelis on an organized tour. Their local Kyrgyz guides are cleaning and prepping the bikes for the day. We guess they’ll probably come flying past us at some stage, since we’re so heavy, but we don’t see them again.
We start with a long climb, following yet another heavily raging river and cross some rickety wooden bridges. They’re not too bad, as long as you don’t look down and avoid the sharp nails and broken slats!
We encounter hardly any cars on the pass, except for a hysterical boxy ambulance that looks like it came straight out of Noddy & Mr Plod. The blue light flashes constantly, but clearly the operators are in no rush, stopping to pose for selfies above the river. Once over the other side, though, a convoy of identical, numbered 4x4s comes filing past, presumably a group of tourists headed back to Bishkek on a more adventurous route. A few minutes later, here comes another train, kicking up dust and stones. When we reach the obscure turn-off that takes us away from the road and onto a small dual track heading up the mountain, we are mightily relieved.
The riding is challenging, but sublime. We are in the middle of nowhere with wilderness all around and only the odd abandoned, dilapidated shed with dangling scarecrow to make you wonder at what must happen here. I am reminded of the Kapokkraal, Slaapkranz, Bontehoek sections of Freedom Challenge. After about 2 hours of climbing, we come out on top of an expansive plateau and the 360 views are breath-taking. The rough and ready descent is fast and exciting, but we need to take care not to go too fast, as we must remember the panniers, which tend to pop off their racks if subjected to too much bumping.
At around 16h30 we start contemplating a campsite. There is a slow, wide river and plenty of grassy riverbank, but we know we have to cross this tomorrow and are sincerely hoping for a bridge. We decide to ride on to the spot where we think the bridge may be, so that we don’t get any nasty surprises in the morning. Sure enough, there it is and the steep climb that follows. We are relieved and decide to camp right here by the bridge and tackle the climb tomorrow. We are in full view of the road and Kati is uneasy, but we convince her it’s so desolate, it’s unlikely we’ll see anyone.
We take turns with the usual bathing and washing of clothes and have our early warning system “OI!”, on standby should anyone get taken by surprise. Kati is just finishing up when a small white car comes sailing over the bridge. The driver screeches to a halt, jumps out, and greets us enthusiastically, all golden – toothed smiles. We do the usual nodding, gesturing, i- translating thing. He lives just 10km down the way. We should come for some food & drink. We politely decline (under the circumstances that may prove tricky) and wave him on his way. I think the word spreads, because a little while later a local farmer/herdsman comes walking by to say hi. He’s friendly enough and clearly just curious about these crazy cyclists.
Ok, so we saw 2 people, but that was it. No more cars, not even any animals. We enjoy our rice & veggie dinner and set some aside for breakfast, then settle in for what we hope will be a peaceful night.