Kyrgyzstan Bike- Packing Day 7: Ghastly Gradients lead to glamping
It’s not often I get off my bike and elect to push, especially with a fully laden bike. I just find it so much harder than pedalling, so you must know, that when I do get off, the gradient is simply ghastly.
It all begins pleasantly enough, as we head out of town and into a lush gorge. We know that Tjibel Pass lies ahead, taking us to 3215m, but we are not perturbed. We can see it snaking up into the distance and indeed at first it lulls us into a false sense of security with sweeping switchbacks and a rugged, but ride-able surface.
Gradually, however, it gets progressively rougher and steeper and it begins to dawn on us that this is no picnic! I stay on the bike until I simply cannot turn the pedals any longer, then I am forced to dismount.
Pushing requires me to hold the handlebar with my left hand and the back of the saddle with my right, my arm straight out behind me.
My weight is forwards and I push my heels down with each long stride, in order to stretch my calves and hamstrings. I can feel my back going into a spasm. Every now and again I have to change position- both hands on bars, lean all the way forwards and push with all my might, “Flip, this is hard! Kati how steep is this?” Answer: “F@kken steep!!”
I later check the GPS – 17 %!
It goes on in this vane for the next 6km. I ride whenever I can, but it’s mainly pushing and it takes us 2.5 hours to complete this section (including a brief lunch break)
The view from up top is amazing! What a relief it is to ride again, as we fly down a roller coaster descent towards Son Kul Lake, which beckons in the distance. Our approach takes us on single tracks across open plains teeming with horses, cows and sheep, with authentic nomadic yurt camps dotted all around.
We have heard that you can sleep in a tourist yurt and are intent on a night of glamping. The lake is huge though. We fear it may still be a long ride to find a commercial camp and it is getting very cold with rain threatening. Using hand signals, we ask a horseman about sleeping in a yurt and he gives us a gold-toothed grin and nods enthusiastically, then leads us to his family yurt and calls out his wife. It is clear he intends for us to stay with them! We peer into the dark, crowded, dingy yurt and feign total misunderstanding. The wife, clearly also not keen on her husband’s plan, points the way to a row of yurts 3km away.
“Ragmat, thank you” and we are on our way. Shoo, no ways we were sleeping in there! (I’ll admit there are definite limits to my enthusiasm for grass roots experiences)
The camp is everything we imagined. Steve and I get one Yurt and Kati another. Each has a fireplace inside with bright carpets and cot-style beds with bedding and pillows. There is another donkey shower and to crown it all proper, spanking clean sit toilets set over a long drop – Yay! We are fed a simple, but delicious and plentiful dinner and the fires are lit – soon the yurt is like a sauna.
Sitting on the bed, I glance up at the roof. The apex is designed in the shape of the Kyrgyz flag. Then I see that the plastic cover is missing over 1/5 of the top. I can see the sky. “Steve, check this out. There’s an opening in the plastic covering”, “No, there’s not. It’s an illusion. Your mind is playing tricks on you”, “No it’s not, I’m telling you, I am looking at the sky!”, “I’ll show you it’s not”. He grabs his shoe and throws it up at the roof. It goes right through and luckily comes back down again and does not stay on the roof. “you’re right!”, “Told you!” Now he’s worried,” what if it rains?”, “It rained earlier and we didn’t notice anything. I think it’s ok. It’s getting mighty warm in here. We can use the fresh air”
I am so hot that I go to sleep in nothing but my G-string. I wake at 02h30 in the morning absolutely frozen. The fire is long out and the air is icy cold. I grope about in the dark and put on everything I can find, but I am still shivering. I remember the 3rd unused bed that’s piled with all our stuff and carefully extract the blanket while trying not to dislodge everything on top. This more or less does the trick, but not quite. I remember Steve’s puffer jacket hanging on the end of the bed. I put that on and pull up the hood. Finally, I am warm. I curl into the Foetal position and return to the deepest sleep I’ve had in a long time, helped, no doubt by the blissfully soft mattress – my hips are bruised from sleeping night after night with nothing but the thin, leaking thermarest between me and the hard ground.