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Kyrgyzstan 2021 Part 2

2021-09-08 by Quinlan Pfifferoutsideadventurebikepacking

Start with part 1, over here.

Day 5

I think day five is really when we reached peak injury but also kind of found our groove: I was starting to get tendonitis in both of my achilles tendons, the shitty grips I had purchased were really starting to hurt my hands (they’d compressed into nothing), and Megan’s lower lip had swollen up like a balloon due to bad sunburn. The high elevation sun was pretty brutal. We were better about sunscreen/sleeves/protection after that. On the flipside, I felt like we were really in it and had adapted to the daily rhythm of food, ride, camp.

After a cold night of sleep, the sun hit us and we were able to make it out of camp after lingering for just a little bit. We had a nice, morning-chill ride to At-Bashy, maybe 10 miles or so. I went without socks and it felt nice. After airing down the tires just a little bit, even the washboard didn’t phase me. It was a very pleasant morning.

In At-Bashy we took our time and just ate a bunch of things. We had our first Manti, which were full of fat and amazing, then some more at a small restaurant, and I was cornered by a random group of locals and had some more Kumis from a bucket in a shipping container. The rest of the morning was kind of giggly.

The day was mostly spent slogging in the sun uphill. We were on dirt for a good few hours, before skipping the turn to Tash Rabat and just getting on the highway. It was the weirdest, longest climb of my life: One perfectly straight, uphill road forever. I was lost in thought (and Neuromancer) when I looked up and Megan was gone, looking around I saw that she’d gone to what appeared to be a closed, log-cabin cafe.

A woman came out and offered us some coke, which turned into food, which was very nice. We had a good unexpected time there. The hostess was very friendly and we were able to chat just a little bit and enjoy some bread, dumpling-like things full of mutton and oil, and some coca-cola. It was very welcome.

From there we continued up, again, until we finally crested the hill and found our turn-off up into the pass we were supposed to go to. We randomly ran into a Silk Road Mountain Race driving back from somehwere, but we didn’t get to chat much. We continued on.

A stream we were depending on wasn’t flowing, so we turned around and dropped 2000 feet back to the valley floor for water and camped. The campsite was very pretty but smelled kind of like cow poop- common around here but funny. We’d get wafts of it all night through the tent wall. Dinner was some poorly cooked egg noodles and lentils- any food is great when you’re super hungry but it wasn’t our best culinary moment.

We ended up doing sixty miles, a few of which we’d have to repeat the following morning.

Day 6

Day 6 was a trial- it was cold in the night so M didn’t sleep well in her quilt and I didn’t fare that much better in my battered old sleeping bag. There was some frost outside when we woke up. I’d forgotten to put the fuel canister in my with me, so I had to stick it in my shirt for thirty minutes or so in the morning just to get it hot enough to work.

It took us about 45 minutes to get back to our high point from the previous day, which was nice. From there we should have just turned around again and gotten on the road that goes through the pass, because the route traverses up game trails to basically the same point. It took us forever. Most of the time we couldn’t ride because the singletrack was too deep and narrow (“It’s like bumper cars” - M) or there was just no track at all. Lots of hike-a-bike. At least the view from the top was pretty.

It wasn’t easy to get back to the road, either: We had to drop down into a ravine and then push our bikes up the other side. Very steep cow trails. I wanted to do the whole adventure for some reason but M had suggested the road. We should’ve done the road: The view was the same and you could actually ride. Ain’t no brutality like meaningless brutality.

After some riding around on the valley floor through some sandstone formations and looking at the increasingly ugly weather behind us, we began the long climb up MELS pass. The rain chased us and eventually hit us pretty much as it was getting hard. It was an amazing climb: We’d turn a corner thinking we were near the top and we would just see more switchbacks climbing up the pass at increasing angles. It was amazing. I called a particularly rough section the “mindbender”.

The sun poked out just as we got to the top, in time for some pictures, before coming right back. We had a very amazing descent through granite formations, past a few yurts, and then dropped into the best views on the trip: Forever in all directions, an amazing gorge and rock formations. It was like we’d dropped off the edge of the earth into some otherworldly place. Pictures don’t do it justice but every new turn was breathtaking.

After dropping 5000 feet and stopping to check out a small, ruined graveyard, we made it to Baetov: My left achilles was rapidly deteriorating so it was nice to arrive at our destination. We ate at a place named “Big Burger” that didn’t have any burgers, and then found lodging at a guesthouse just named “Desperation”. It was very coldwar era. We managed to top-up on supplies, too, mostly with candy, peanuts and weird little wafers.

We felt lucky to be in a guesthouse that night, becase a thunderstorm rolled in just as it was getting dark. They also made us a second dinner, which was great.

Day 7

We slept pretty well in the desperation guesthouse. They were accomodating and made breakfast for us at around 6:30AM and then we were off into the sun after packing our groceries- mine was mostly peanuts. It was an easy 20 miles where we stopped at a cute little place called the Nomad’s Valley Shop; they were in the middle of renovating but opened up for us and we had lunch. We even had a good spot to charge, and real coffee at the end. It was magical.

The kids outside kept comparing our tire sizes.

We headed up a gravel road later and it just kept going straight up- another pass. We climbed for a bit and then grabbed water just before it got real steep. A family was there and they kept feeding us berries. They were kind of bitter and acidic but not bad.

It of course rained on us as we climbed the pass, and all-told took us about seven hours from the Nomad’s cafe to the top of the pass. We pressed on as it got dark and wet and cold towards Song-kul where we stayed at a yurt camp for the night. It was good to be inside and for another night, and to have some hot food.

Day 8

I slept extremely well and then we had a great breakfast. Little thin crepes. We packed up soon after and were headed out, kind of following the west edge of the lake. The trail was basically just grass, though. Sometimes it was a game trail, sometimes it was gravel, sometimes nothing. It took a long time to go ~15 miles or whatever to the next pass.

We descended way down from the pass into a small village where we had lunch- it was very a very animated affair and a duo of old men kept trying to talk with us. I’m not really sure what we said or what they were asking but it was entertaining for all.

We did a lot of pedaling on flat dirt roads, with some pavement, getting blasted by construction truck dust the whole time. It was kind of a brutal journey towards Chayek. We found a random, small restaurant on the side of the road and huddled in just in time to hide from some thunderstorms that rolled in. It was really nice to sit and drink tea under a tarp listening to the rain.

We stayed there almost until dark, then struggled to find a campsite a little ways down. This was the point in the trip where I started getting chased by random dogs, they don’t like fatbike tires I guess. We eventually pitched the tent just a little ways off the main road, behind a small bend. Our first attempt found us at the foot of some small lake made completely of tar, which was really creepy in the dark, so we just turned back and found what we could. We did 60+ miles, mostly downhill, which was great for morale.

Day 9

We bailed out of the next-to-the-road campspot and started going uphill, forever. We basically wouldn’t stop going uphill until days later when we crested Karakol Pass. The morning was spent along a river in the sun, for miles and miles and miles until we eventually arrived at Kysyl-oi, a small touristy town. We had lunch at Katya’s guesthouse, accompanied by some conversation with a Kyrgyz local studying english. It was nice, but expensive for the area. The Kekemeren river that we had been next to all day looked like a supreme amount of fun and I’d love to come back to boat it.

We climbed some more, in the sun and out of it, until we reached another small town (Kojomkul) and our last resupply. We lucked out and got the shop just before they closed, and managed to stock up with chips and other carb-age. We packed everything up and rolled north, where we cut east at the river and watched the rain hit us.

“We are in the valley, I think it will rain all day long” - A random local on a fishing trip passing us by.

We continued on for a while but were eventually completely soaked and dead, and decided to pitch camp. Everything was very wet and morale was pretty low. We huddled in the tent waiting for the rain to pass, which it never really did. We didn’t even eat dinner: Just some bread that Megan bought and some expired cheese that only I touched.

Day 10

On day 10, we stayed in the tent. For a long time. We snoozed and cooked and talked and tried to decide what to do: If we were frozen going over either of the two remaining mountain passes, we risked being in a really bad spot. If we didn’t get back to Bishkek in time, we wouldn’t be able to A) get a PCR test to get on our flight or B) get on our flight at all. It was a worried couple hours.

We hit a gap in the weather, and coupled with our feet in plastic bags and “battle ponchoes” that I’d made us out of an emergency blanket, we did really well. It rained on us (already wet) for a little bit but then the sun came out and we were able to dry out quite a lot. We felt very lucky.

We made okay progress for starting late in the day and made camp as soon as more rain threatened- a five minute shower sent us scurrying to erect the shelter. Luckily we had a good campspot and it was still early enough to enjoy the evening so we weren’t too mad. We ate a lot of noodles and went to bed earlyish.

The evening was very eventful: * Megan ripped her pad at midnight and we had to spend 30 minutes or so patching it on both sides * It got cold enough that our breath froze on the inside of the tent * The ice melted away later when it started to rain on us * My sleeping bag got soaked because I kept getting pressed up against the side of the tent.

It was good fun.

Day 11

Spirits were high and dry as we set out: We found a good bubble of clear, almost warm weather and followed it all the way to the top of karakol pass. This pass took us way less time than we expected and were pleasantly surprised when we dropped down the other side before noon.

We figured Kaegti pass would take us a long time as well so we didn’t waste much on the descent, even though it was also amazing. Long, crazy, sweeping views across the valley and on the snow-dusted mountains nearby. We had a snack at our turn off and just kept pedaling up.

It was definitely the most substantial pass of our trip being at 12,500ft, with mostly hike-a-bike after the first seven miles. A rockslide had taken out the actual switchbacks, and for a while in the middle we were just pushing our bikes around on loose rock. We encounted a pair of bikepackers from Belgium/Germany who were doing the route in the other direction- they said they felt it was more rideable that way. I can see it.

It was amazing to punch up and through to the other side of the pass: Fog and a cold wind were belching through the snow at the top. This song was playing when I finally crested the final switchback and the whole thing felt very eventful.

I know I keep saying the descents were amazing- but the one down the other side of Kageti pass really was. We went from being able to see nothing in this super thick fog, to bursting through into a golden valley with these sharp, rising walls. It was incredible, if cold.

We descended FOREVER, past all sorts of amazing small alpine lakes and rocks and even a couple of waterfalls. And horses, of course. Always, there are horses. We camped near a river towards the end of the valley, but ended up hiding in our tent because of the mosquitoes. We didn’t even put the rain cover up. It was fantastic.

Day 12

The last day, and not much to report- we descended until it was flat, then we rode 40 miles of washboard gravel into town along the nasty canals. The nerves in my hands were on full mutiny and both achilles had long since given up the ghost, but we made it into town before noon, and we were fully covid tested almost immediately. We even found a carwash to pressure-wash the bikes. It was good to just be in town and have everything taken care of.

I picked up a minor stomach bug or something, but we celebrated with a big dinner and even some wine at Sierra Coffee, where we would end up going a total of six times. I joked to Megan in the peak of our “Maybe we should bail” rainy tent time that I’d never actually completed a bikepacking trip as intended: I’d bailed or switched every single time. Well, heres one to be proud of.