Bike-Packing Day 4: Cracking Karakol
Last night we polished off 2 more of the 5 x freeze dried meals we’ve packed, plus 3 of the 6 x cuppa soups and we’ve used at least half of the milo, which leaves 1x freeze dried, 3 x soups, 4 x 2 min noodles, 3 x smash and 3 x tuna sachets to see us through today and half of tomorrow. We start with a noodle & coffee breakfast and thus fortified pack up camp and head up a spectacular, lush valley, towards Karakol Pass. Yurt camps and herds of horses and sheep abound. The photo opportunities are endless and progress is slow, as we snap away around every corner.
At one point we are startled by a galloping horseman coming up behind us at a frantic pace, then cries of “hello Steven” as he dashes past – it’s Cammo! He continues his crazy pace for a short while, then slows to a canter – an impressive show of bravado and we watch him as he travels across the river to the opposite side of the valley and disappears into the mountains. Where could he be going? Scouting out a suitable location for a Summer yurt camp maybe?
The emergency Far and Fast Bars that I’ve stashed way down at the bottom of my panniers for just that – emergencies – quickly make their way to the surface and my stocks are severely depleted as the 3 of us tuck in, feeling the inadequacy of breakfast and, no doubt, the effects of a massive day yesterday with basically no breakfast or lunch!!
Steve is particularly bothered by this inadequate nutrition and grumbles loudly about riding on empty, but we really have no choice under the circumstances. He refuses to continue at one point, sitting at the side of the road and digging for his secret chocolate stash. I coax him on with promises of a lavish lunch just around the corner (as soon as Kati approves a suitable spot). Well it isn’t entirely untrue – the last packet of 2 min noodles mixed with the last 3 cuppa soups for starters, followed by a main course of smash with a splash of olive oil plus salt & pepper and for dessert, 1 square of chocolate each-Yum! “Now let’s go climb that pass…”
It’s such a glorious day and the riding is relatively easy thus far. I love climbing and am in my element. Buoyed, no doubt, by our carb-rich lunch, I think to myself, “we are going to cream Karakol”.
No sooner has the thought run through my mind, than a slew of well-worn clichés follow: “don’t count your chickens before they hatch”, “don’t jump the gun”, “to assume makes an ass if you and me”… etc, etc, etc
We round the bend and BAM, the clichés hit me slap, bang in the face! An impassable snow drift lies off to the left, blocking the road. Ok, don’t panic. Let’s get around this next bend and then assess our options. Another drift lies round the next bend, but this one we can wade through. We then leave the bikes and Kati goes down and I go up to check out the lay of the land. Meantime Steve is chugging along merrily oblivious of what’s to come…
By the time he arrives we have a solution, which again involves removing bags and doing multiple journeys, but we’re becoming old hands at this and after all, nothing could be as bad as Kegeti! An hour later and we’ve by-passed the snow.
We ride on a few meters and then my heart really sinks as I catch sight of the neck, encased in a mound of snow so thick, it would be sheer madness to attempt it. We ride on anyway, determined not to give up and lo and behold – a sharp turn to the right takes us up an alternate winter road.
My heart soars as I follow the road up and up and around a corner and straight into … a complete dead end of snow as far as the eye can see!! Kati comes up some way behind and I turn to say “we’re totally screwed”, when she looks to her left and says “no, look, the road takes a sharp turn to the left here across this patch of snow”. I am so relieved! (Just seconds before thoughts of our forced turn-around a mere 30m from Atsunta summit in Georgia last year, were rearing their ugly heads).
We leave Steve to watch the bikes and decide to test the route all the way to the summit on foot. It’s a bit of a trek, but Hallelujah, all clear! One final 3-way push, pull, steer to get the bikes individually up a steep slope and we are once again pedalling and soon reach the top. We may not have exactly creamed it, but we’ve definitely cracked it!
One or two obstacles on the way down prove to be no problem for us now (except when Kati decides to take what she thinks is a short cut and ends up waist-deep in snow) and we are rewarded for our exertions in the form of the most spectacular valley any of us has ever seen.
Mile after mile of smooth downhill double-track with a profusion of wildflowers in every direction. A camera simply cannot do it justice! Our biggest dilemma is deciding where to camp for the night, since so many wonderful options present themselves.
The dilemma is so great that we keep going into the next valley and completely miss our chance to sleep amidst the flowers, as the terrain changes dramatically from one valley to the next.
We end up simply pitching our tents next to the road and as we are preparing our dinner of tuna and smash, “our” horses and herdsmen from yesterday come trotting past again – seems they too have not yet found the perfect spot…