Leg 4 Summary: across Kazakhstan
From Day 35 (July 18th) to Day 43 (July 26th)
Leg 4 totals: 660.0 miles, 4,428ft and 53:00 hours riding
Accumulated totals: 3587.4 miles, 75,513ft and 272.36 hours riding
Day 35: Thursday July 18th: Into Kazakhstan
All the best and Happy Birthday to our sister Joanne and good luck with all the wedding shenanigans in Italy coming up. Have a great day and a fabulous holiday.
We nearly had a disco experience at last nights restaurant! We were the only other people in the restaurant with two Russian ladies who wanted a dance. Obviously I was up for it but the other two only wanted an ice cream – so I went for an ice cream too and the opportunity passed.
With the supermarket shop still open we added some pot noddle stuff to our camping store as we were all still not sure what we had to eat.
We had breakfast in the room: fruit, muesli, fruit and coffee – all good. Then we all had the normal ablutions in the eastern fashion which is hard on the legs – Keith then pointed out that the next door lavatory was in the European style!
We were on the road around 07:30 with a view to going to the local supermarket to pick up some water but it did not open till 08:00 so we moved on to the local garage.
Then we started the ride to the border on rough un-made roads. With 80 miles and a border crossing this could be a long day. We were soon passed by the guys who stayed at the same place as us – they waved and tooted us ‘good luck’.
Before we knew it we were at the Russian border. All went well and we then passed on to the Kazakhstan border control with a mile ride between. We queued up behind about 20 cars and then a nice girl came up and said in perfect English ‘have you got a problem?’. Keith said ‘are we in the right queue?’, she said ‘go to the front’, so we did and they let us through. On we went through an open gate when the shout went up ‘stop!’ Linney and I turned around and the guard just said ‘wait here’.
So we had to wait there. We showed are passports to the guy, and then waited and waited for around 3 hours. The border control guys were all quite nice and had a chat and a laugh with us. One even had a go on Linney`s bike, it was just so slow. Then they waved us through, and after another little wait we went through the passport control procedure. All done in around 3 ½ hours – not too bad.
We had a little snack and then set off on clear flat rolling roads. The best we had seen since Germany which seems long ago. The quality of the road and the tail wind made our minds up to head for Oral [Oral (Kazakh: Орал, romanized: Oral), Ural’sk (Russian: Уральск) in Russian, formerly known as Yaitsk (Russian: Яицк, until 1775): Ed].
After another 60 ish miles, with a decent speed and a few little breaks we were soon on the outskirts of the city. With Linney in full map reading mode we made our way to a hotel. The guy was really helpful, but they had no rooms. He made a few calls, but the hotel was too far away. The next plan was to find a bar with WIFI, have a beer and find a place to stay, the plan worked and the beer was excellent (a bit like the end of the film “Ice cold in Alex”.
Linney booked an apartment and we spent the extra £1, we tried to phone the guy but got into some language issues, but thought we had to meet him in 10 mins at the apartment just around the block. Keith went to the ATM as this place will break the bank!
As Linney and I were waiting this guy came out of a bar and with a smile introduced himself as an English language teacher – result – we got him to talk to the apartment owner and it was all sorted in 10 mins. We arranged to meet the guy in the bar after we had all showered and cleaned up. It took Keith & I about 5 mins but Linney, naturally, a bit longer. The teacher guy (Kanat) was really keen to chat with us and then invited us to his school the next day. We arranged to meet him at 10:30 the next day, all quite convenient as we had arranged to check out of the apartment at 10:00. The guy then walked with us past his School (Number 7) on to a fancy restaurant, we really are living the high life today. We all had a great meal washed down with a few beers, then went back to our apartment.
The last few days in Russia have been really tough. Long days on shitty tracks, with no sign of improvement. But we made it into Kazakhstan after a 4 hour wait at the border and what a difference it has been already. Lovely smooth roads, and the people have been so friendly, beeping their horns, waving and stopping us for photos. Even pulling over in their cars/lorries for a selfie with us. I can only hope it continues. Looking forward to a more relaxing morning tomorrow and then possibly our first night under the stars as we go go further into the wilderness. [Linford]
Day 36: Friday July 19th: South with the Oral River
We all thought we had a little lie in this morning, though we were still confused with the time zone! Anyway Keith and Linney went out to the supermarket and bike shop to get some breakfast things and get more inner tubes at 26″. I stayed behind and repaired my two inner tubes. They were back in 20 mins as it was still too early for the bike shop, but they had the breakfast stuff. After breakfast they tried the bike shop again to no avail.
We checked out of the apartment with no problems and then made are way to Oral school number 7 to meet Kanat and his pupils. As we arrived at the school gates and walked in we where all a bit nervous – not sure what to expect. Linney phoned Kanat and he duly came out with a big smile on his face and walked us into the school and the classroom.
Our first surprise was that they were all adults! It transpired they were trainee English Teachers. We sat down in front of the class and introduced ourselves, me first, then Linney and Keith. At first is was all a bit weird with the two lecturers asking most of the questions and me with my speech impediment getting all the countries mixed up! Then it all opened up with questions flying everywhere. We were like celebrities and then the selfies started. Obviously Keith & I were not in the same demand as Linney. He was signing autographs like a really big cheese. We finished off with a couple of group shots and even the class next door got involved.
We finally got on our bikes around 11:30, with a rough plan of doing around 80 miles then trying our luck at a truckers hostel or camping. We soon hit the road out of the city and started to roll. At around 20 mile mark Linney got a bit scared that I may sail past a truckers café so he pulled out all the stops and made sure we stopped. The locals were again very hospitable and we had a salad, soup and coffee before setting off again. We were making really good time.
Even a Police vehicle waved at us and Linney gave the driver a ‘high five’ as we rode past. Also all the fruit sellers and drivers were honking their horns and waving at us. I must admit it does spur us on. Before we knew it we were closing in on the truckers hostel.
Well when we got there it was the polar opposite of last nights apartment: four in a room on bunk beds and we had a guest in our room. Then had to pay extra for a shower! This is not what us celebrities are used to.
We had a few beers in the café and then showered as best we could. The water smelt like it came from the ditch outside. Anyway the guests all seemed very friendly and we sat and had a chat and a beer with them before we made our way to the other café.
After a slow start the owner started to open up and said she had a friend who worked in London. Before we knew it we had a video conference with her via WhatsApp and then a photograph with the owner to send to her friend. We are still living the big ‘I am’ life style.
Then it was off to our prison bunks. I felt sorry for the guy sharing with Keith and I: well he should have spent the extra £1.
Day 37: Saturday July 20th: From Europe to Asia
We all got up really early, Linney’s alarm went off at 05:30 – he must have really wanted to get going, but I think he did not have a clue on the time-zone. Anyway up we got, breakfast in the café (not the good café, it wasn’t open): custard roll two meat and potato fritters for Keith & Linney and a couple of mugs of coffee.
We set off at around 07:15 and it was getting hot already. The plan, stan, was just to ride until we couldn’t ride anymore. We had suppliers for camping and just needed to make sure we had enough water. Linney had looked at the route: stops were few and far between but we had potential places at 45 miles, 90 miles then a town on the river at 126 miles – which seemed too much!
Off we set keeping a steady pace and with the Steppe marmots in abundance, jumping around the side of the road and keeping us occupied. Before we knew it we were at the first stop where we had a coffee and soft drink. We then moved next door as it seemed better. Keith was a bit late as he got involved with some locals with selfies.
Keith commandeered a table and ordered for me as I was trying to sort out a solar panel charger. My spare tyre is getting in the way and I need to rearrange it. Anyway, I come in to three fried eggs & bread: it seems pretty standard fare in these parts. They they have meat pasta and it’s all very friendly with a few photographs
Linney gave us the good news – the next stop in 46 miles, so off we set, the road was still pretty good but not as smooth as yesterday although we were still getting the horns blowing and people waving at us, which really boosts our morale. As the stops are few and far between we have started to carry extra water and break the sections up with a little rest every now and again.
As we had one of these little breaks, we noticed a Police car go past. About 10 miles down the road they pulled us over: for speeding? They just wanted to know want we were up to and we had a little chat and a few photographs. We were soon back on are way.
We hit the 90 mile mark in good time, stopped for some drinks and then pushed on to Inderbor town with the bridge across the Oral (Ural) river – the bridge that crosses from Europe to Asia.
We all felt smashed especially as Keith had had a mad hour coming from the last stop, pushing hard at high speeds. I for one was glad when he pulled up and said ‘carry on I need to tighten my front pannier’. The speed came down to a more reasonable pace.
With 10 miles to we all started to feel the strain and then we had a head wind for a couple of miles it was like riding in treacle! But as you do we pushed through and sailed into Inderbor and Asia.
We found the only hotel in town and settled in for the night after a few beers and food.
Worryingly though the beers are becoming a little bit more difficult to source.
Day 38: Sunday July 21st: First Camels
After we found a little hotel/hostel in the town we were unsure if the deal included any food but sure enough the lady knocked on the door with a couple of trays of food. Excellent! It was quite good rice and chicken with salad, Keith and Linney were pleased as I could just lift my chicken off the bowl.
Then we thought we had ordered a couple of beers each, though it turnedout to be tea!
We did manage to find some beers later.
In the morning it was a gamble again as we ordered breakfast at 07:00. Nothing turned up so we dug into our supplies, and then hit the road just before 08:00.
On the first section we had to retrace our route back over the river,where we stopped for water and then hit the road proper. Linney had done his research: a breakfast stop at 16 miles, then a 34 mile section and then a 24 mile section to finish with one possible place to stay. But we were not very hopeful of this.
We cruised the first section and stopped for breakfast. After this the road had started to get a little bit rough. Linney spotted a rotten cow carcass in the ditch by the side of the road and Keith went down and salvaged the skull and horns for some pictures. Not for me!
As we put on the miles Keith spotted the first camels by the side of the road, I had noticed two on our side of the road but thought they were horses! We stopped for some pictures and then pushed on. Further on we saw a shepherd with his herd of goats driving them across the road.
There really is not much on this road, so we carried on nearly to the end point. We stopped at a petrol station for an ice cream – Kazazh petrol stations do not do ice creams, much to Keith disgust! He settled for a chocolate bar, then was dismayed when the girl behind the counter tipped herself with a chocolate bar rather than giving him the change. A bit of a mistake on her part, she soon relented and gave him is change, or we would still be there.
With around 2 miles to go we pulled over and chatted to some local young lads. They said there was an hotel about 3 miles down the main road, but also made a few laughs and giggles, hence we decided to stock up on supplies in the village supermarket first.
As we came out of the shop a shady guy approached us, asked us where were heading and staying, we told him what we were doing, then he said come back to his house, we could camp there. So we followed him home. It later transpired that it was his parents house. We arrived at the house all hot and sweaty and then we were ushered into a large shed with seats and a basic kitchen.
Within minutes they were serving us with a bowl of yogurt drink “kumys” not ideal but we all tried it, then homemade bread, jam and sugar. Keith politely ask the guy how to eat it. He just picked up a lump of bread stuck it in the jam then put it straight in his mouth – pretty easy really. The came the tea “char” which was really good.
We then started to ask were we could put up our tents and went out into the garden and decided on two pitches. Linney & Keith started to get the tents ready while I tried to look busy. I did strike a little bit lucky as I was talking to the older guy and he said why not sleep in the big shed were we had just eaten. Result all around – so the tents were put away for another day.
Now it’s shower time! It was a wooden shack at the bottom of next doors garden with an 80 gallon plastic drum on the top. Though I must say it did work and we did feel a lot cleaner afterwards. We asked the guy where the local ATM was and he offered to walk down with us. Unfortunately it did not work so he flagged a passing car down and they gave us a lift to the next one. It seems to be a local thing that you can flag cars down and ask for a lift. We also got some beers for our host and us and then made are way back, via another flagged down car.
We later found out it was an anniversary party for the guys parents over the weekend, we sat outside on an old hay cart chatted and shared the beers. Then the old guy got some dried salted perch out to go with the beers. I quickly reverted back to vegetarian and offered Keith up to taste it. Later I saw him throw it in the long grass!
The party just kept on going with all the men sitting on the old hay cart, guys playing the guitar and dombyra (a long-necked Kazakh lute) and singing partisan songs all very lively. More food was served: meat soup with fresh bread, fruits and more char, all served up by the ladies but they did not join in. We eventually was able to go to bed around midnight, a really long, but great day.
Day 39: Monday July 22nd: Home Cooking
We woke up pretty early considering how late we got to bed last night and had to go through the none European ablutions test again in the morning, well I did! I walked around the shed three times, then went for it, really scared I would fall in and then that would be that last they heard from me! Linney & Keith decided to wait.
As we were getting our kit ready breakfast was prepared: porridge, bread and jam and char. Very nice! We had to drag Linney away. The older guy explained the best route to Atyrau was out of the village then over the river, not what we had in mind, but he assured us the road was better that way, he even hand drew us a map. I wrote a thank you note to them with a gift of English money. We did not want to offend them but really wanted to show our gratitude. After the customary photo shoot and handshakes the older guy escorted us out of the village to the new bridge a distance of about 5 miles in his 4 wheel drive Lada. We said are final farewell to him as we carried on.
We have planned a relatively steady day in the saddle around 55 miles with a plan of getting to a bike shop in Atyrau. With no real urgency we just ghosted through the miles and stopped at a little truck stop for a coffee. The proprietor and her family were really nice so we went through the photo shoot routine again, the lovely lady came out with bottles of water and coke for us, we took on the water but thanked her for the coke and said we had no room.
Then Linney said he needed to clean his teeth, never seen it before but he managed to open his front pannier bag, get his wash bag out locate his tooth brush and paste and clean his teeth all on the go. Keith and I can barely manage a wave!
As we go closer to Atyrau the traffic built up. The waving and horn blowing stopped as a good will gesture, now it just meant ‘get out of the way’. We tried to find a bike shop. Found one but it did not have the gear we wanted so we made our way to the hotel that Linney had booked. We booked in no problem and I went to the bar to order a beer – no alcohol, he has only booked a dry hotel!
We went out later to locate the last cycling shop on our list. The Hotel receptionist ordered us a taxi and told us how much to pay. She even gave us her number in case we got into trouble. We went nt to the shop and managed to get some inner tubes but not pannier brackets. We got a taxi back into town where, as anticipated, the driver tried to rip us off. We phoned the lady from the hotel who managed to sort it out. The taxi driver was not happy.
We had a meal then went back to the hotel to rest up and start to plan the next few days.
Day 40: Tuesday July 23rd: Salt Pans and Snakes
Linney and Keith went down for a coffee in the hotel around 21:00. I was busy catching up on the blog stuff, then the hotel dished out another meal for them chicken and rice, still no beer so I was OK with that.
We were up at the normal time just after 06:00. After getting ready we went down for our fried egg breakfast. It had a little twist today: fried bread not fresh.
We were just about to hit the road when we noticed Linney’s back tyre was a little flat, which is a little concerning as his spare is very dodgy too. We gave it a bit of air and we’ll see how we go.
Linney expertly got us out of the city in under 20 mins, mainly because we were on the dry side of the city! Then on the road to Dossor against a bit of a head wind which looked like it would stay with us all day. Hey ho!, just have to pedal a little harder.
We stopped at little truck stop for a coffee and cake. Well I had the last bit of cake and pulled the vegetarian card again. Keith and Linney had a potato fritter (it’s a gamble what is inside them), then went next door to the garage to see if we could get an ice cream – no luck. We filled up with water and took on some extra water, as the next stop, looked like it was just a picnic stop, in around 24 miles time.
Still pushing against an ever increasing head wind we pedalled on, looking at the dried out salt lakes. Then Linney made a little bit of a girlie dance on his bike – only he can do that. Then he shouted snake! Keith was on its trail like a flash, jumping off his bike and handing it to me. All I could see was bloody desert but then finally a spotted it. Keith chased it down the bank, then dangerously back up the bank towards me, clicking madly on his camera. I was ready to ditch his bike if it came any closer to me, luckily it went down a hole about a metre before it reached us. When it all calmed down Linney identified the snake as a fast slow worm or “tardum velox vermis” we will have to wait for the editor (Dale’s gone all Boris with his Latin: Ed) to confirm this exciting discovery.
Before we knew it we were approaching the second stop: not the picnic site we thoughtbut a little café, with some very pleasant girls serving. We had coffee and the normal fare: a meat goulash thing for Linney and Keith and rice for me – all very good. We all had a really good rest as the head wind was taking its toll a little. Keith made the effort to say come on “lets go” (the only phrase the Kazakhi’s know) so Linney and I followed, though Linney stalled at the entrance spotting a Praying mantis or “Orantes mantis” once again the ED will confirm the species (Dales got the hang of Google Translate: Ed).
Just as Keith and I were pulling out onto the road we heard a shout from Linney ‘I have a flat!’ Back we turned. His tyre is worn out. Keith cut up a plastic bottle to cover the two worst wear patches on the tyre, fitted a new inner tube and off we set again. Within a mile, another puncture.The plastic had rubbed on the inner tube. We tried Linneys spare tyre that does not sit correctly on the wheel, still no good, so went with the worm tyre at a lower pressure hopefully that will work. On we went for the last 18 mile. Thankfully it lasted!
On the way to Dossor both Linney and Keith cut up some old truck inner tubes to patch up the tyre when we get to our unknown hotel/camp tonight. We stopped just outside Dossor. Keith ordered a coffee, I quickly done the maths we were less than 5 miles from the town, so I had a beer. In the end we all had a beer.
We rolled into the town with Linney at the helm guiding us to the hotel/hostel which we duly found with ease. We managed to book in easily: the guy and his wife were very helpful and gave us a bucket and sponge to clean our bikes down. Linney had a plan to line his tyre with the old truck inner tube so he started on that. I cleaned and serviced my bike as best I could. Keith did the same to Linneys and then went down to the supermarket and bank with the hostel owner.
I cleaned Keiths bike and then when he returned told him he had loose spokes on the back wheel and a broken spoke on the front wheel – not good, but repairable, which Keith easily managed.
The place didn’t have a shower but I manged a bucket wash before the water ran out, so we just went out as we were. Eventually we found a place that was open athough it was only traditional Kazazh food which was good for us.
Then it was back to the hostel for some well-earned rest.
Day 41: Wednesday July 24th: Flats and Markets
Happy 60th Birthday to Ray Skelton: a true athlete and a valuable member of many of our Tours. We were all stirring in our beds, Ray would have been doing star jumps or some yoga pose, but as laid back athletes, we just laid about knackered!
The owner knocked on the door to say breakfast was ready. We had to go over to the annex and Linney was impressed with the ceiling detail: he is getting right into his architecture. We were more impressed with the breakfast: three fried eggs, home-made bread and biscuits and char – all good.
We set off about 08:15 with cloudy skies, and as it is Ray’s birthday Keith did the weather report: sorry Ray not raining, but overcast until the afternoon. We soon made our way out of the small town into a bit of a head-wind, with the knowledge that there is not a lot going on this road today, just a matter of riding through the head-wind. Easy – really better than working for a living.
After a couple of hours of riding we did spot a small truck stop where we managed to get a coffee and replenish our water supply. There was another stop about an hours ride away and that’s were we planned to have our lunch stop. On we went into the head-wind again. We are getting used to these Kazazh stops. I had the fried rice, with Keith and Linney having the pasta and dumplings.
After lunch we knew we had about a 40 mile ride with nothing between. Allegedly the wind was going to die down, according to Keith’s weather App. Just after this stop Linney had the first of his back tyre incidents, with a really worn out back tyre, in which he had glued strips of an old truck inner tube onto the inside to try and protect it. Well this did not work: the patches rubbed on the tube causing punctures. We tried Linney’s spare tyre again, with no luck as very soon half of it had come off the rim again. So back to the old tyre, with less pressure than normal. We still had around 20 miles to go before we hit Kulsary, even then we did not know if we could get a replacement tyre there.
With a bit of luck we were soon at another truck stop 10 miles from the town. Keiths app was correct, the sun was out and the wind had died down so we made good progress. We had the normal coffee, soft drinks and photographs with the locals before we headed to Kulsary.
As we entered the town it was the normal chaos: cars and buses everywhere. Linney was leading the way and then he stopped and said he’d just spotted some cycle tyres in a market over the road about 50m away. I could just about see the entrance to the market stalls, never mind the tyres. Sure enough there were a couple of stores selling tyres and such. I looked after the bikes while Linney and Keith investigated further. They came back with two tyres, quality unknown but 100% better that what we currently have, another great result.
With still no hotel booked we carried on into the town chatting with the locals via their open car windows – all good fun – then found the hotel. Within 20 minutes we were all sorted. With a plan to find a place to eat, and sort the tyres out in the morning. After a quick shower we set of for the restaurant, for some well-earned food.
All in all a pretty frustrating day in the saddle, but all’s well that ends well.
Day 42: Thursday July 25th: Fellow Cyclist
Breakfast at the hotel was not until 08.00, so it was up at the normal time, then sort the bikes out and replace Linney’s tyre. With that done and all the bags loaded we went for breakfast: cottage cheese, fried eggs, yoghurt, bread and char tea.
We were on our bikes rolling just after 9. This was not a problem as we only had 60 odd miles to do today (easy!). We stopped just of town to stock up on water and the normal photo shoot. We soon made it out of town on a long road with a little head wind.
Once again we get pulled over by some security guys who want the customary photos and a telephone conversation with their friend who spoke English. Off we went again, with both the temperature and wind rising. Next the familiar shout went up Linneys rear tyre had disintergrated – it only lasted 12 miles. Obviously it was made in the same place and same quality as the cleats Dave Austen once brought on a previous tour.
We swapped the rear tyre for his spare, thinking and hoping this one is better. Off we went again at a slow pace into the ever increasing headwind. We were following a railway line and after 2 1/2 hours riding we had only covered 24 miles.
Linney spotted a railway halt and tried to knock on the door to get more water to no answer, so we had 10 minutes in the shade. We then heard a train come, we all had the same thought let’s jump on it, unfortunately it was going the wrong way! Though the guy did come out with his flags, shooed the camels of the track and then waved the train through.
We asked if he had any water and he just pointed over the track and gave us a bucket with a rope on. We found the well and lifted the cover and lowered the bucket. The water was cold and looked OK but we ran it through our water purifier and drank it no problem. After filling all our water bottles up we set off again. The temperature was rising now, and this coupled with the head wind made for extremely difficult cycling.
We limped along to the next truck stop. Had lunch and I had a power nap: Linney obviously captured it on his phone. When we came out the heat was unbelievable – 40 plus degrees so we decided to lay in the shade for a while. About 45 mins later we set off with the knowledge that we had around 30 miles to go. On we went pushing against the head wind in soaring temperatures. We thought there might be a truck stop in 12 miles and this took us over an hour and half.
Here we filled up on soft drinks and snacks and rested up with the final 18miles left to go. We also stocked up to camp if required. It was still tough going but we pulled through. A car stopped and offered Keith and I water, which we thankfully received and he ended up giving us the 5 Litre bottle.
As we pulled into the stop pictures of kebabs, chicken and pizza were on the wall. Linney said I don’t think this is the stop but Keith and I just looked and said ‘we are eating’. The only other people in the place are a load of mums, grandparents and children having some sort of party with really loud music. I was too knackered to join in.
After we finished eating we cycled down the road about a mile and came to the hostel that Linney had pin-dropped earlier. They had a room, so it was literally a cup of tea (no beer), shower and bed.
We had arranged for an early breakfast at 5 in the morning in an attempt to beat the heat.
Day 43: Friday July 26th: Plains and Trains
Keith set his alarm for 04:45 and it was a bit of a shock to the system when it went off, but we all knew it would be a lot cooler riding in the morning. When we went around to the eating area you could tell we were all thinking the same thing: that wind seems worse than yesterday.
After breakfast we packed up all the gear and set off and sure enough the wind was worse and we were struggling to ride above 6 mph. We just toiled along using every bit of energy we had. Linney and I stopped and waited for Kieth and he explained that his crank was making a horrible noise. He stopped and tightened it up but the noise was still there.
We finally made it to our first stop at 36 miles and had lunch and took on loads of fluids. When we were ready to we realised that Keith’s crank needed to be stripped down and cleaned out. We tried to carry on but to no avail. Linney checked the mapand it looked like there was a train station further on, so we limped to the station and found out there was a train to Beyneu in 3 1/2 hours time.
We all sat down and took stock and finally decided to take the train for the last 20 miles and use the time to service the bikes etc. Obviously getting three fully laden bikes onto an already over crowed train was a bit of a nightmare but we managed it. Tt was the same at Beyneu station – but all part of the journey.
We eventually got out of the station and found an hotel in the city chao. We settled down with a beer and this always seems to make thing right.