It was already August 24th, only 5 days before China and I wanted to spend a couple of days by the famed Issyk Kul lake so I headed back on the Eastern road, the same I had taken to come from Song Kul, on my way to Richard’s camp site from the previous days. I had the coordinates so it should be an easy job, if only my GPS and my phone charger hadn’t broken somewhere in Uzbekistan (the GPS maybe before, Astrakhan I think). But there I was, speeding through the Kyrgyz roads, not fearing any policeman. I had already been stopped once and I had been let go with a reprimand and an instruction to go slower. And then I see once more, the orange rod pointing at me and telling me to pull over. Since the police officer spoke a bit of English, the following conversation ensued:
Police: What speed were you going?
P: It’s too fast
M: What’s the maximum speed?
M: Oh, maybe I was going 40
P: No, cars are going 40. You overtake cars, you going faster
M: Oh… (you smart, me not like)
P: You pay shtraf?
M: Because I didn’t know
P: Oh, go slowly then. Where are you going?
M: To Issyk Kul
Police: From here to Issyk Kul, maybe 50 or 60 km/h
Me: Thank you! – I said while I accelereated back to 70 kph
Issyk Kul was still more than 200km away so it was out of the question that I follow his instructions. Somewhere along the way I met Lorraine so a brief stop was mandatory to introduce ourselves, she’s also part of the China group and the 5th I meet, still 4 to go. We had a short chat by the side of the road, she was on the way to Bishkek to get a bigger gas tank for her new bike and I was going the opposite way and still a long way from my destination.
I did get there around 5PM after stopping for some late lunch on shore, only to find the supposed camp site occupied by locals enjoying the lake so I decided there could be no better activity than some exercise and I dropped my bike in the sand. That always implies some sweating and swearing.
Not happy with the result I asked some locals to help me pick it up and started turning it around so that I could get out of the sandy area and wait for Richard and the other on a harder surface but not before bogging down the bike in the sand so deep that I had absolutely no idea of what to do with it.
Not long after, Richard finally appeared and he knew what to do: push it to the side, cover the hole and then put it back upright. The others (Chris and Neil) had stayed at Iain’s camp site not very far from there. We set up camp and were almost ready to start cooking and enjoying an evening by the lake when a huge storm hit the lake and we had to move the tents from the shore to a sheltered spot in between some bushes and go to bed without supper (and with wet clothes).
It’s not the first rain I’ve seen and it’s certainly not the first time it’s rained when I have decided to take a rest at the beach (remember Sunny Beach and Sinop). Maybe I’ll be luckier in South East Asia?
On the morning of August 16th we had to meet Neil to ride out together. We would only ride a short time together because I was going to take the Jalal-Abad to Kazarman trail and they were taking the highway because their bikes weren’t in great shape. We were late and Neil had left and I still had to top up so I sent Chris away, there was no point in holding him back; he was riding with Neil and I was riding alone. Alone, no one to follow, no one following me. I was confident because the bike was in great shape and happy because I could ride at my own pace and I wasn’t in any hurry to go anywhere.
I had told the guys that I would spend two nights in the wild and then go to Bishkek but as I started riding and taking in the scenery, I told myself that I had no constraints and I may as well take my time. I could even do this trail in 5 days instead of the planned 3 and I would still be on time to go to Torugart.
The first day was pretty quiet, I took my time to weave my way up to the first high pass and enjoy the views and it was amazing. The beautiful roads, the humbling landscapes and the silence. Every time I stopped and cut the engine, there was absolute silence. Nothing. I made some videos of the road until my battery ran out but they are taking a very long time to upload. Around 5 or 6 in the afternoon, I was topping up in Kazarman. The tank was almost full but when you don’t know what the road ahead is like and how many days and kilometers it can still take, it’s better to have a full tank.
It is almost funny how 5km before a town the road becomes tarmac and stays like that for 5km on the other side and when it ended it was getting late and I started thinking that I should find a camp site. The problem was that there was no space at the side of the road to go off-road. On one side the mountain and on the other the valley. And that’s when I wasn’t riding through a canyon. It was getting dark and started to get nervous, looking at the smallest space behind a bush (there weren’t many bushes). Let’s check this one, oh, it’s a dump, can’t camp here. Until I found a big sort of plain where I could follow an old forgotten trail and set up my tent.
As soon as I stopped the bike and turned around I realized that there was a town in the valley and maybe I could be seen from there. It’s not good but it was already getting dark so I had no choice, I pitched my tent, cooked myself some rice and tuna with cashew nuts for dinner and when I was finished I covered the bike and went to bed. It was really comfy in the tent but seeing the town had obviously disturbed me and when during the night I heard the wind play with the bike’s cover, I thought someone was trying to steal from me. When it lasted for half an hour I concluded that it was just the wind and went to sleep again.
Camping alone in the wild is very special. There’s just you and the nature and then when it gets dark there is only one thing left to do: go to bed. And when the sun comes out, you wake up and get ready. At 8AM I was already on the road on my way to Song Kul. Would I get there today? Would I finally see snow? After a noodles breakfast I set off to find out. Not long later I came to another mountain pass that also had a sign indicating the start of the Ak-Tal region.
And then I saw it 😀
Maybe a little zoom on that?
Enough rest and contemplation, I set off and around 11am I had arrived to the town of Ak-Tal. I went into the shop and bought a couple of things. It felt good to have some bread and some Coke while the kids looked at my bike and at me. They shared some Cheetos and I shared some bread until they had to go. And then it happened. There are moments when you see the most unexpected thing and you camera is not with you but they stay in your mind forever. One of the kids picked up a bicycle wheel from where he presumably had left it before, grabbed a piece of wire that was probably his too and went away hoop rolling. I thought that only happened in very old comic books!
But it was time to go, this was my second day in the wild by myself and I was getting closer to my target so I set myself on the road again after a short “chat” with one of the many town drunks and pretty soon I was up on the high mountains again at 3000m of altitude and I saw in the distance a deep blue spot.
From the shore.
Before arriving here I had thought I would be able to swim in the lake and camp there for the night but when I got there it was 2pm and it was quite chilly. My summer sleeping bag was not ready for that so after a piece of bread and a drink I went on my way back towards civilization. At first I thought I could go back to Bishkek that day but when I started trying to get on the trail to Chayek, a local on a 4WD told me not to go that way and asked me for a cigarette (a lot of people in this far away parts of Kyrgyzstan ask foreigners for cigarettes). I turned around and decided to take the standard road that tourist minibuses take to get here. I didn’t.
I ended up on the road Cédric had told me about: 72 hairpin turns on a dirt road wide as a car dropping several hundred meters. Stunning.
After a while I realized that because I got lost so many times before taking that road and that I was now on the long road to Bishkek instead of the short one, I wasn’t going to get there that day and turned back a bit to a very nice spot by a stream that I had spotted on the way. I had started very early anyway and it was already 5pm. I had earned myself the right to an early camp and the spot was simply irresistible.
I hid behind a little mound and set up camp, then I went to wash the dishes, my clothes and myself in the river before making myself some dinner and setting on the side of the little hill I was behind to read. A perfect day was coming to an end. I went to bed early, days are long in the saddle but they don’t feel like it when you are riding the beautiful roads I had been riding.
The next morning I still had another high pass and still some more beautiful roads to ride before getting back to civilization. Here’s the full photo gallery fo my trip to Song Kul. Finally I took only two nights to get to Bishkek through that road but it was very comfortable and relaxing to know that I could have taken four.
Arrived in Bishkek I was very tired and couldn’t find most of the guesthouses mentioned in the Lonely Planet (or any other fwiw) and I met two cyclists (one of them was I think Austrian and the other one was Uzbek from Bukhara) and they recommended an expensive hotel called the Alpinist. I checked in there for the first night because I didn’t want to turn in circles around the city anymore. The next day I went to the Sakura guesthouse where Neil and Chris were and checked in there. It was 8 times cheaper.