This story is about what probably is the worst road I’ve ever taken but also one of the days with most riding fun so far on this trip. I’ve already mentioned this day a while ago, right after it happened, on this post.
After that rain, I didn’t want to stay by the lake anymore. The next day was probably going to be sunny but Richard had arranged with Neil, Iain and Chris to take together the dirt track to Naryn, the one I had seen on Cédric‘s map and I was thinking of taking the next day. Meeting was at 8:30 at the junction so we packed all our wet camping gear and went to meet the others. Advantages of traveling with other people there are many but one big disadvantage is that you lose sleep-time flexibility. Had I been alone, I would have slept in until my gear dried. It’s alright, the storm had sent us to bed really early so I got a lot of sleep. Lucky I did for I didn’t know it at the time but I was going to need all my energy that day.
Richard, Neil and Chris had inspected the first couple of kilometers of that road the previous day and they had found it to be appropriate, with some protruding rocks but doable. Or so they thought. Big mistake. If a road looks not too good but doable when it’s close to civilization, it will only get worse as it gets away from towns.
A beginning like this one:
Will never become tarmac or anything close to it once it gets away from civilization. And it didn’t, pretty soon Richard’s bike started falling to the ground of its own accord and just to not make it feel bad, mine too. At a rocky tight corner, the V-Strom’s bash plate touched the ground and the wheels lost adherence. I stopped my bike and tried to park it somewhere safe to help him. I chose the wrong spot and now 2 bikes were on the ground. Still, we kept on. The scenery was beautiful and we were riding as a group so tight spots could be worked out or around together. Richard was having a lot of trouble with the ground clearance of his bike and nearly decided to turn back after a couple of really bad bits of “road”. The road was so bad that I announced that if he did, I would also, not only because it was very hard but also because going down through the places where we had been going up would be very dangerous and no one should be left alone there. But he didn’t turn back.
After a couple of rough spots, we all agreed that the ones that were ahead would stop whenever the road became very bad in order to help Richard’s bike up. Either by holding it on the sides or whatever other means necessary and as a result, whenever we saw everyone stopped somewhere (I was riding behind Richard), it was time to freak out. It was at one of those places where everyone stopped that I was waiting to go up with everyone else strategically deployed on my path to help in case of need when I saw Iain waving at me to go forward and just past him, Richard go down a cliff. He looked puzzled when I refused to move forward and got off my bike until he turned around and saw what I had seen happen.
Priority shift. No more going up, better check what happened. Richard was alright, the bike seemed quite alright too but in a really bad position, you can see his helmet video here. It seemed like the bike wasn’t moving further down so Richard started unloading it while we go the rest of our bikes up through the same spot, carefully trying not to have a similar accident. I think I dropped the bike while going up but really, compared to Richard’s situation, I was alright and the guys helped me pick it up.
Once we had all our bikes up there, it was time to take the V-Strom back up. It took the five of us to bring it back up and once it was up he could assess the damage. Front fender was broken, bash plate was detached and gear lever was shot. Think, think, how to make a new gear lever?
Bush mechanics are a lot of fun (when it works). Most of the time you need to mentally review all your gear to find something that looks like the thing you broke and see if it fits. If you are lucky, it will. As it turns out, I had seen Richard’s spark plug remover recently and it looked like a gear lever so Iain and him set to make him a new gear lever. A couple of cable ties and some duct tape later (and a ratchet strap to hold the bash plate), he was set to go.
It didn’t get easier and soon we were dropping the bikes again. Richard even more since he was getting more and more tired. We were being so slow that not very far from the high pass, a VW Camper Van caught up with us. It was a German couple, Jo and Anika, their camper van all set for long distance travel, with 4WD and independent whatever on the four wheels to go up this terrible road. From then on, they stuck to us, helping us pick up the bikes when necessary and even making tea for us when we got to the high pass!
The other side of the mountain was really something else. It was just as beautiful and probably just as difficult but instead of rocky outcrops (there was still some), it was time for river crossings. The first one was an easy one, the second one was a bit more difficult but Jo and Anika arrived with a portable “bridge” right after we picked up Richard’s bike but right before it was my turn to cross :D.
All in all, it was easier than the other side but our feet were wet. The river crossings were not easy but all together, sometimes holding the bikes on the sides or pushing it when stuck, I managed to cross them all without falling in the water. And then we came to a big one. I have no direct pictures of it but it was a wide, deep, fast river followed by a very steep slope. Two Italian bikers had just crossed it in the opposite direction and we chatted with them about what was ahead each way. Despite our multiple warnings, they decided to go ahead even if it was already past 5PM.
Iain crossed the river. He just went for it, got stuck in the middle but with a bit of pushing he was pretty soon up the hill on the other side and we were all just looking at him wondering if we would be able to do the same safely. It was then that some local yurt-dwellers approached us and told us that we should go around instead of straight. There was another way actually, riding through a bunch of rocks and crossing three smaller streams onto a much less steep ramp.
That was the funny moment. Richard’s bike fell on dry ground but he must have been feeling hot and he went for the water. I did cross without much trouble but the sense of achievement got me in the end and I had to drop the bike right after crossing. In the video you can see Neil proposing me a path, me getting psyched to cross and finally crossing only to drop Z on the other side.
I got up quite alright after that and, as the Italians had said, that was the last of our river crossings… but not the last of our suffering that day. It was getting darker and colder and our feet were wet but it was time to find a campsite. Even if we were at 2761m of altitude. Potluck dinner it was that night and it didn’t turn out so bad. I cooked rice as usual with cashew nuts and dried raisins but this time Richard contributed some herrings in spicy tomato sauce. Best meal ever.
The previous statement might be an exaggeration but we had been riding hard the whole day and we hadn’t had lunch, or a proper breakfast. We went to bed in the cold, dark night and cold it was. I slept inside my sleeping bag with the silk liner and the +11 degrees (NOT) liner and most of my clothes on and even like that I had a very rough night. My feet felt like they were freezing the whole night and I had to get out of the tent to pee many times but we did wake up the next morning. There was frost on our tents! -1 on a +10 sleeping bag is not for the faint of heart.
The second day the road was much easier and as the altitude dropped we got under the tree line and the landscape changed radically. Also, there was bridges to cross the rivers. Not the safest bridges I’ve ever seen but they kept you dry.
Pretty soon (well past midday) we were in that hole they call Naryn and had checked ourselves in that hole that some called a hotel and which name I can’t remember. It would have been better to go to a guest house but we were too tired to search and we wanted a shower. The shower is also a whole other story. Some people got a shower, some people didn’t. In the end, the only ones who did get a working shower in the room were Chris and I so everyone came to our room for shower, even Jo and Anika.
Oh, I also met David and Lyn in Naryn, 2 days before entering China, there was only two other people I hadn’t met, Robin and Keely but that’s another story. We had just been in the most difficult road so far and wanted a shower and internet. We got the shower, internet not so much. Did I say Naryn was a hole. It’s also probably an exaggeration, the hotel I stayed in is probably the one to blame for that.
Here are some more videos of that day: