Shit got weird today:At about 80 km/h and leaning heavily into a corner on a winding mountain road, a spider made an appearance inside my helmet.How did I know it was a spider? Because it ran across my face.As I said, shit got weird.
— Nicholas Moses
World traveller and international playboy
I wanted to start this post with this quote from my friend Nick because it reminded me of when shit got weird for me recently.
I was happily riding from Pichilemu to Chillán, my third stop in Chile, merrily, merrily on the Chilean N-S highway when a excruciating pain in my right arm made me release the throttle and drop down to zero speed on the hard shoulder. It felt like I had pulled a muscle and been sprinkled with acid and been injected something very thick, all at the same time. I pulled up my sleeve and couldn’t see any trace of any living creature that could have produced it but a swelling was starting to breakout so when I arrived to Chillán, the nice lady managing the rundown guesthouse where I was staying immediately sentenced: Mosquito! And proceded to rub some vinegar on my arm and even gave me the bottle to keep in my room.
The jacket slept on the floor while I slept on the bed and the next day I set off normally, with my pain considerably lessened. That was the day I met Benoit and Steph, thanks to the timely warning of Benoit’s sister, Hélène, and they advised me to take a detour through some dirt tracks to the East. They also treated me to their awesome coffee and crêpes. If you are ever in Los Angeles, Chile, drop by the Café Francés for a taste of France! I took that secondary road and camped for the night near Curacautín. The jacket slept inside the tent with me.
After that nice camp where I made a fire and grilled the awesome sandwich that Benoit and Steph had given me, I started on my way to Villarrica and while I was driving around town looking for the hostel that the Pichilemu hostel manager had recommended, BANG! Excruciating pain, pulled muscle, cut throttle, pull sleeve up. I can’t believe it! A second bite! There must be something up my sleeve, I decided, and rode the rest of the way with my jacket half on-half off. When I got to the hostel I pulled my sleeve inside out, removed the elbow pad and found absolutely nothing. I bet you can see the shit getting weirder. Anyway, the jacket slept two days hanging from the bunk bed.
And off to Antillanca after a rest day in beautiful Villarrica, I stopped at the side of the road when I met two Argentinean riders on their way to Chiloé. We had a nice chat and I told them about the weird things happening to my arm and pulled up my sleeve to show them. As soon as I did, a half-alive yellow jacket bee fell to the ground.
It’s actually a wasp but I don’t care, looks like a bee to me and I started cursing bees, insects in general, probably Chile and whatever came to my mind, pulled up my sleeve again to look at my arm when a second wasp fell to the ground. A SECOND WASP! Can you believe it? I lived for 5 days with one wasp up my sleeve and 3 days with two of them. It’s lucky I’m not allergic. And also lucky they didn’t bite me more than once each!
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.