Rest in a corner and call it a day
Or be like a beacon and show us the way
Wherever it leads you, follow your road
Freedom will feed you and carry your load
How Far Have They Got?
Many thanks to those that have donated.
Week 9 Summary: Uzbekistan, Tajikistan (Not!), Uzbekistan (Again!), Kyrgyzstan and China
Through the 5000 mile barrier. This week: 377 miles, 23,687ft climbing and 34:53 hours riding
Accumulated totals: 5046 miles, 109,215ft climbing and 390:28 hours riding
Day 59: Sunday August 11th: Trains, Dogs, Prayers and the first tough climb
After camping in some rough ground behind a petrol station we were woken around 5ish with freight trains rattling along, incessant dog barking and the call to morning prayers.
So it was an early start, with a bowl of museli and yoghurt, and on the road just after 6. We were heading for Kokand around 105 miles away athough this may have to be amended as there is a lot of climbing today.
The first part was just a steady climb going through little villages and towns. We stopped at the small town of Angren for a coffee and water. Once again we were short of Uzbekistan Soms. We located a bank but it was closed (Sunday). Fortunately, this time, we did have US dollars.
As we went further the road ramped up a little but nothing too serious. We stopped for a photo-shoot with some Chinese students by a dam on a lake. We exchanged contact details which may come in handy when we enter China next week.
As we got closer to the major climb we stopped at a tiny shop and sat in the shade. We chatted with the owner and managed to exchange some US dollars for Som. At least we could eat! The owner wanted to take us fishing in the river below, but we had no time so we said our thanks, done the selfie, and moved on to the infamous hairpins.
As we started climbing the signs just repeated themselves; ‘12% for the next 2km’, then again and again. We just got into the rhythm and rode. We stopped for water and ice cream when we were about a third of the way up. After the normal photo-shoot on we went, up and up through some terrific scenery and horrendous hairpins [Switch backs!: Ed], everyone waving and tooting their horns and cars and lorries breaking down as we carried on climbing. On we went Keith leading the way with me and Linney at the back. Linney of course was only lagging because of the photographs; both taking and being taken of!
As we waited at the top there was a tunnel with an army patrol guy who made a cross with his arms. Keith went over to see the guy while I was busy taking photographs. Keith was thinking were not allowed through the tunnel, but it transpired we were not allowed to take photographs in the tunnel. No problem.
We went through this tunnel and the next one before starting the decent. However we stopped for lunch before the descent really got going and discussed our options.
We decided to go for Kokand and book a hotel. I said ‘no problem we will be there before 7’. It was already 4 :30 with over 40 miles to go!
We started the descent and it was worth all the climbing with a wide road and a fairly good surface. Linney did hit a pot-hole which made his handle bars drop a little. After less than 45 minutes we had covered half the distance to Kokand. The shout went up ‘do we want to stop’. ‘Carry on’ was the reply. The road flattened out after the descent but we still kept up the pace, riding hard.
As we enter the busy city Linney switched into overdrive trying to skip lights and jump the queues as normal I tend to hang back then which nearly caused a pile up between me and Keith, but with good skills he managed to avert the danger.
As we pulled up to the Silk Road Hotel, it was 6:59. We’d done it easily. I went through the booking-in process as they assured us we could pay by MasterCard in the morning. They also gave us a complementary beer.
It was a really nice hotel so after a good shower it was down to the restaurant for another well earned beer and some good food.
Day 60: Monday August 12th: Bike Repairs (Again)
We had a really good meal last night and a great nights sleep. It’s amazing how much you like a bed after camping. I don’t think I’m designed to sleep on the floor.
Breakfast was at 7 and we were all ready to attack the big spread. We were not disappointed, though the waiters were fussing around Keith a bit more than he liked. I left Linney and Keith as they were on their 3rd sitting to go and start the palaver of paying the bill. We thought the card machine was out of action but the hotel manager phoned me and said no problem he would take us to the bank! Well in Uzbekistan it’s never that easy but eventually we found an ATM that had US dollars not Som. The deal was done!
Then we a big photo-shoot outside the hotel before we could get going around 08:30. With a plan to ride about 80 miles to Andijan. From the profile it looked like up-hill after the first 20 miles but with no major climbs.
We got out of the city pretty quickly and soon hit a good pace; it must have been the good breakfast. We kept the pace up for a couple of hours on surprisingly good roads. Keith gave a shout to say he had a problem with his back wheel so we pulled over adjacent to some melon sellers. Keith had his back wheel off and tightened a few spokes and got the wheel as true as he could. Linney really helped out and got a free melon from the guys and bought two extra ones for later.
Around the 40 mile mark we stopped for a cup of tea, like all English gentlemen should. It was green tea of course but we are getting to like it. We discussed what we could do about Keith’s wheel. The plan was to nurse it through to Osh tomorrow and then see if we could purchase a new one there.
As we moved on with a planned lunch stop in a town called Shankhrikhan. We soon arrived and passed two bike shops. We had no luck in them, but one of the guys took us to a bike repair place around the corner (just like Dad’s back garden back in the day). Sure enough the guy managed to repair the wheel; the rim has split, so he reamed the spoke-hole out with a file, put a washer on the spoke nut and trued the wheel up all for the princely sum 10,000 Som! We gave him 15,000 Som, which is about £1.50. We will still need to replace the wheel ASAP, but least it will get us through the next few days, we hope.
After the customary photo-shoot, and an extra one with Linney’s new Mum [Dale is determined to get Keith married off: Ed], we moved around the corner for some peace and quiet and to have a bowl of Yak soup and bread.
We then just rolled into the surprisingly big city of Andijan located a hotel (which was not as nice as yesterdays – we do have a budget!). We showered then went to the ATM again and found a restaurant for a few beers and a meal.
Day 61: Tuesday August 13th: Into Kyrgyzstan
For the first time on the Tour we slept untill 08:00. Not intentionally; we forgot to set the alarm. We still made time for breakfast as it’s going to be a long day, with a border crossing and some serious climbing.
We got going just after 9 through the busy city of Andijan. It was a relief to get out.
The border was around the 30 mile mark just before the City of Osh. Keith’s front pannier completely broke off just before the border and he ended up strapping it to the back of the bike as we all rolled into the border crossing.
The Uzbekistan side was the normal chaotic queues and hustle and bustle, but we got through pretty quick. Then came the Kyrgyzstan side; it was the worst border crossing ever as fighting broke out in the queues with children crying, shouting and screaming. As we were tourists we go to the front, but that really makes you feel guilty, with all the others pushing and shoving. It was horrible to see.
We finally got through and rolled into Osh, first to the market, as Linney had located some bike repair places. Once again it was chaotic, one guy seemed to understand what we wanted and took the pannier around a couple of repair places. They ended up fixing it with torx self tapping screwsso we’ll see how long this lasts. We also managed to stock up nuts, bolts, jubilee clips and tie wraps – just in case.
We had lunch and managed to find some Kyrgyzstan currency, before we made our way out of the busy hilly city. Keith and I had a run in with a driver at a roundabout, and then Linney nearly got wiped out by a taxi driver. After that we met a couple from Estonia who were cycling the other way; had a nice chat with them before we set off again.
We then started the climbing. With over 50 miles to the town of Sary Tash we had decided to camp after getting as far as we can. Linney had identified a potential site. It looked like a lovely spot for camping and the 50 miles seemed do-able.
With the road steadily getting steeper we just kept going through little villages. It was very rural with young guys on horse-back herding cattle, all the children waving etc. We stocked up on provisions where we could and carried on. The campsite Linney had chosen was up a track going steeply up the bank; it looked good, but not worth the extra work! Just down the road we found a shop selling beer, so bought a few each and decided to settle for a nice spot in a cow field overlooking the mountains.
We didn’t cook but just had a tea and a few snacks with the beers and then early to bed.
Day 62: Wednesday August 14th: Towards the Taldyk Pass
It was a good nights sleep considering we camped. We got up just after 6 and had a breakfast of jam, Nutella and bread washed down with coffee; not bad at all.
We were on the road just after 7 knowing we had a big days climbing. The first part was just a steady climb for 10 or so miles, then it ramped up with switch-backs every so often, it took us around 2 1/2 hours to reach the summit at about 2340 metres. We stopped for photos and admired the view, with the knowledge that we had another massive ascent either later today or early tomorrow depending on progress.
The plan was to enjoy the descent and take as many photos as possible then have lunch in the town of Gulcha. We all enjoyed the ride down. Many touring motorcycles passed us with a cheery wave and before we knew it we were outside a cafe with WIFI in Gulcha. Just outside we met 3 German cycle-tourists going the other way; once again we swapped stories and chatted about the forthcoming climbs etc.
After a nice lunch we discussed the options for the rest of today; we decided it would be best to go about 70 miles, camp out again, and then do the final push to the Kyrgyzstan border town tomorrow.
We carried on following the Gurda River, going through the strange sensation when it looks like you are going downhill when it fact you are climbing.
Just before we thought about stopping, we met a guy walking pulling a trolley (Forrest Gump!) [His name is Ben Viatte and he styles himself the Global Pilgrim: Ed], he seemed pretty happy. We stopped in a shop about 200m away and Forrest came bounding in, said hi and wanted to know what we were up to, he turned out to be a really nice guy, from the Czech Republic but with Swiss parents. He had been on the road for 3 years picking up the languages and dress-code as he went. [I added some pictures below: Ed]. We left him in his own little world. Really nice guy; a bit bonkers, but everyone to their own.
With around 20 miles to go it was just a matter of riding it out and choosing a decent campsite and getting an evening meal. We sorted the meal out and had the standard lagman (noodle broth) with melon for afters. Sadly though no beers. We found a shop and my eyes lit up when they came out, but to no avail; it will be a dry night tonight.
With the sun setting and the wind getting up it was time to find the site. Within 5 mins we were setting up camp. I was dispatched to find some rocks to knock the pegs in. Keith had forgot to pack a mallet.
Looks like being a windy night and cold nightand I’m actually in the sleeping bag for the first time . Early night; if you can’t have a beer go to bed.
Day 63: Thursday August 15th: Over the Taldyk Pass
As we camped again last night we were up early though as we had gone through another time-zone it does not get light until 6am. Breakfast was the same as yesterday; coffee, bread and jam except without the Nutella; we finished that yesterday.
We were on the road just after 7 and rode through the first village as the sun was coming over the mountains. Very nice but then some dogs chased us and a stroppy teenager threw a stone at Keith; brave lad! We just smiled and gave him the normal “hello” and rode on.
Within 10 miles we started the ascent of the Taldyk Pass which rising to a height of 3600 metres or so. This was really tough going and it took us nearly three hours to reach the summit. Very ,very tough riding. Of course we had a little bit of a photo-shoot at the top, then a little descent, then another climb to the summit on the other side of the mountain, another photo-shoot with some locals and then, finally, a well earned descent.
Very early into the descent Linney noticed a lone cyclist coming up the other way. It only the guy from “Staple” [a village about 3 miles from Aylesham, Kent, UK: Ed] whose name was Ted. Gavin had mentioned him earlier [probably a week ago: Ed]. We stopped and had a chat and a few photos. We all promise to meet up in the Black Pig in November, then we are on are way again.
We stopped in Sary Tash for a bowl of soup, and fill up with water and chocolate bars: these are our replacements for melons and ice-creams.
We then started the next steady climb. The first 15 miles were all very good,with the sun shining and the snow-capped Himalayas to the right of us. [directly south they can probably see the mountains of Kashmir: Ed] Then the second climb of the day started and with weary legs it was difficult to get the muscles going but we soon got into the swing of it.
This climb was a lot more exposed than the last but luckily we did have a bit of a tail-wind. As the road got steeper up our Garmins sent us down a track (marked yellow on the map and probably the old road). It was a bit of a no-brainer with the state of our bikes, so we took the high road!. This was tough but the scenery was unbelievable. Now it is behind us it seems well worth it – half-way up you may have got a different answer! This was actually higher than the Taldyk Pass by a couple of hundred metres.
Then it was the descent accompanied by a massive cross-wind; I was sure I would have been blown off my road bike! We all enjoyed it tough and we stopped often for great photos.
I noticed Keith’s back wheel was buckled again and he said his brakes were not working, so we stopped and changed the pads on his rear wheel. We then took it easy for the rest of the descent and we still had one little climb left as well.
We managed to get to the border town of Irkeshtam which apparently is built out of old railway carriages and lorry containers. We booked into the hostel; In retrospect our tents would probably have been better and cleaner. We were now ready for our border crossing into China tomorrow.
Keith put the temporary “Kevlar spoke” back on to his rear wheel and changed the pads in his and Linney’s brakes.
Day 64: Friday August 16th: Border Crossing to China
We had stopped in a hotel/shack about 50m from the first Kyrgyzstan check point, and although the place was dirty and a bit of a tip, we were just as dirty, so it all worked out. As a bonus they had decent WIFI and the young guy spoke a bit of English.
We had breakfast at the shack; fried eggs and fritters, and then packed our bags onto the bikes ready for the border to open at 08:00. We made ourway to the first checkpoint, showed our passport and visa to the guard, who then instructed us to go to the building over the road for the formal checks. We sailed through these and rode the bikes for a 2 miles to the first China checkpoint.
It was the same again; all passports and visas checked, then all the bags off the bikes and scanned, then physically searched. Everything had to be out of the panniers and saddle bags. It was all very polite and civil but surprisingly they were not interested in the phones or laptops.
They then explained that we would need to go through another checkpoint about 50 miles away but with the proviso that no cycling was allowed between them. We had heard about this so we were not surprised. So all the bikes, with luggage and u spiled into the minibus for the hours drive to thenext checkpoint. Basically it was in the middle of nowhere. Once again our passports and visas were checked and our bags scanned. Then it was back in the minibus for another 20 mins to another checkpoint.
We arrived at this checkpoint about 13:45. The driver explained that they would be closed for lunch and would re-open at 14:30. Not too bad we thought. Well 14:30 came and went and we ended up waiting until 16:30 before they finally opened the gates and let us in for yet more passport, visa and baggage checks. This time we also had to fill out a tourist form. All this took at least another 2 hours before we were finally out of the search area.
With the clocks moving forward 2 hours and the time it had taken to get through all the checks we decided to get a taxi to Kashgar. We rode out of the search area and then came to a car-park. I asked the first guy I saw ‘how much for a ride to Kashgar’, he said ‘400 Yen’ (about £45), so we loaded the bikes and baggage into his pick-up truck and set off for Kashgar. We thought it’s be about an hours drive. After two extended police checks we finally made it to the outskirts of Kashgar where the driver dropped us off. It was a bit of hassle paying him as we tried to tell him we needed an ATM but ended up paying him in $US after he had got someone to verify the exchange rate.
Well the plan was to ride into the bustling city of Kashgar and find a hotel. This certainly did not go to plan! The hotels were either fully booked or could not let foreign nationals stay. It was getting very late about 10:30. We even had a local couple doing their best for us. To no avail. They finally suggested a place where we could camp for the night again!
As we had not eaten properly since breakfast we decided to eat first then locate the campsite the local couple had suggested. With the fully loaded bikes we had to find a place to eat where we could also look after the bikes. We soon located a suitable place and order a massive Chinese meal. It was gone midnight before we finished our meal and we made our way to the so called site which was under construction. We ended up sleeping on benches and the floor. After four nights on the road we were all filthy dirty and tired. We just need some proper rest.
Day 65: Saturday August 17th: Rest day Kashgar
After the worst nights sleep in living memory we wearily discussed our options; find a place to stay, clean ourselves up and locate a bike shop. We managed to drag out leaving the park benches until just before 08:00 and had a bit of a wash with a garden hose. Then Keith had a cunning plan! He tried to smarted himself up a little as he was going to be our first point of contact should we locate a place to stay.
The streets were pretty deserted as we cycled into the city and after about a mile Linney spotted what he thought was a hostel. While Linney and I hid outside, Keith went in. It was a hostel and they had a 12 bed dormitory available for tonight though we could not book in until 10:00 at least we could get a shower and clean up. We had one more possible option; a 5 star hotel on the edge of the city. So we decided to see if we could get a room there. We rode on to this place which was a massive 15 story block. They must have room here so with Linney & I hiding around the corner Keith made his way in. He come out and said they only had one luxury suite available at £120 the night for all three of us. No brainer: “let’s have it”. We have only spent a shilling on accommodation for the last four nights.
We must have looked a right sight as we wearily loaded up all our baggage onto a trolley. Even the porter was reluctant to come near us. Keith then came back from the front desk and said they had managed to find us a slightly cheaper room. I think they felt sorry for us.
We all had a great power shower, shave and felt a lot better, then went down to a 5 star buffet breakfast. It was difficult to get Linney out of there but we needed to find a bike shop.
We found the two bikes shops next door to each other. The first one did not seem very helpful but the second one could not do enough for us. We ended up buying a wheel off a brand new bike after a little bit of bargaining and pleading. They also trued Keith’s front wheel up.
After this, over lunch, we decided to have another rest day on Sunday to sort out the SIM cards for our mobiles.
Everyday and ALL the Details
“My name is Ben Viatte and I’m just like you: I’m not quite sure how I got here.
My search started 9 years ago, when I closed my eyes for the first time: I saw that I was free. So I started travelling the world in search of a new mindset. My current pilgrimage is bringing me on foot from Europe, through Northern asia, to holy India.”
See how Ben and Jess are getting on as they take a more southern route across Asia to India. You can catch up with them here. An excerpt is below.
They have now reached Georgia (the country not the US state obviously) and have cycled 3000+ miles.