The high price for cheap gear

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By bicycle through Kyrgyzstan

Country: Kyrgyzstan

From 38 km before Ala-Bel Pass to Bishkek
Days on the bike: 3

Kilometers cycled: 107.2
Average Kilometers per day: 35.7
Total Kilometers cycled till Bishkek: 7775.66
Total days traveled till Bishkek: 396
Lesson learned: 25 and 38 kilometers is no difference for car drivers
Laughed about: Funny voices of the Tajik dubs of Jurassic Park
Most wonderful miracle: Reaching the 3175 Meters Mountain Pass
Food we ate: Boiled eggs, salami and the best vodka ever
Greatest obstacle: Freezing cold wind in a wet jacket

We enjoyed a night of shelter and a hot shower before we made our way to the Ala-Bel mountain pass. It was said to be only 25 kilometers away and even though we knew that the way was probably going to be steep and hard we were full of enthusiasm for this new adventure. 3175 meters above sea level was the highest spot that we have had to cycle so far – if not even the highest spot that I have found myself in my entire life.

The snowy peaks were still so far away - but we would get closer and closer

The snowy peaks were still so far away – but we would get closer and closer

The long and winding road

The vegetation decreased and the snow-covered mountain walls came closer and closer. We crossed a small mountain creek, passed several herds of horses and donkeys and hardly recognized the uphill. We had found a low but constant average speed of nearly 10 km/h and were able to enjoy the view without salty sweat running into the eyes. The last five kilometers were harder but soon the speedometer showed the revealing 25 kilometers. Right behind the corner there must be the pass. We took some pictures, ate the last bit of honey with some hard bread and mentally prepared for the last few meters until we recognized that we had cheered too soon. Right behind the corner there was no sign, no beautiful view on the other side of the mountains. Instead we spotted the street winding up higher and higher into the next mountain. Did we really need to get all that way up? We did.

Honey was sold on the side of the street

Honey was sold on the side of the street

But it could not be far anymore, so we hit the pedals harder and harder. After another five kilometers the snow walls reached the floor, two kilometers further we found ourselves on an endlessly steep uphill. The air was thin, the sun had already disappeared behind the mountains and we just wanted to arrive. In the end we managed no more than one kilometer without a break. The pass had been closed over night but in the morning snow had been cleared of the streets. For the last 8 km we had to cycle a strong 12% of uphill, but then it was done. We had reached the Ala-Bel Pass! Instead of the promised 25 kilometers we had been fighting with the mountains for 38 kilometers. For a car driver the difference is small, but for us it was more than 2 ½ hours of extra pedaling and we arrived far later than we expected to.

I have never been prouder of myself

I have never been prouder of myself

The high price for cheap winter gear

We found ourselves in the shade and the wind blew really hard. I wore my fleece and jacket and they both were wet of the sweat. My shoes had two big holes each and we had given our gloves away in Turkey already.

I was completely exhausted and Roberto was little better only. But boy we were so proud of ourselves. Roberto found some woolen socks and we used them as gloves for the downhill. This was the part that I had been looking forward to for such a long time. I could just sit, watch, enjoy the cooling wind in my face and see the speedometer showing higher and higher numbers. But only four kilometers later I found myself in a far worse state of being than riding uphill. The freezing wind got inside my shoes and inside the wet jacket.

Animals and honey stands is all we see for a few hours

Animals and honey stands is all we see for a few hours

The woolen replacement gloves were not windproof at all and I could not feel my hands anymore. Tears ran out of my eyes, partly for exhaustion, party for the wind and partly of suffering from the cold so much. I stopped. What should we do? If we camped close I would probably not find a minute of sleep. Our sleeping bags were not made for this kind of weather and my only jacket was completely wet. I would need to change my entire wardrobe but I had not enough warm clothing left. In the map I found a village only some 10 kilometers away. I could not move a single meter further and Roberto offered me to stop a truck. While he pulled out the sleeping bag and wrapped it around me, he waved his hands towards all the trucks that went in our direction.

There was even snow on the walls facing south. It was really cold

There was even snow on the walls facing south. It was really cold

Camping inside a truck

We were in luck. A Tajik truck stopped and offered to take us with them. But they only had space for one bicycle. While the others but the bike into the truck Roberto managed to stop another truck with another space for a bike. We both got into our trucks and followed each other. My drivers were very nice, they were big fans of Georgian Pop music and they turned the heater on the maximum. I tried to talk to them but was shaking so badly that I was unable to control my teeth. Words just did not come out. After about 30 minutes my feet were the last ones to come back to life.

The village did not offer any guesthouse, hotel or home stay, not even a yurt. Actually I do not think that anybody really lived in any of the five huts. We decided to continue until we had found a place to spend the night. It was not long after that we found ourselves heading towards the second and with 3500 meters even higher mountain pass. It was dark outside and both trucks stopped. The pass was closed and would not open until the following morning. We would have to spend the night inside the trucks.

Following Roberto's Inge Greindl-truck down the high mountain Pass.

Following Roberto’s Inge Greindl-truck down the high mountain Pass.

The tastiest vodka ever

Roberto and I visited each other in the other trucks, my drivers offered some slices of his sausage, I offered some of our bread and boiled eggs and one of Roberto’s drivers shared his small bottle of vodka. Never in my life have I tasted a better vodka. I felt the heat rising inside me and felt cozy.

Later at night we all went back to “our” trucks and prepared for the night. Suddenly a DVD-player appeared out of the nothing and we watched Jurassic Park in Tajik.

I spent most of the night in the front seat unsuccessfully trying to cover hands and feet against the cold. I hardly found an hour of sleep. It was just too cold. In the morning the truck’s thermometer showed -6°C. I did not want to know how low the temperature was during the night.

Watching back on the way

Back when we thought that we had nearly made it

An expensive loss

After sharing some cups of tea we headed towards the pass. The road was icy and we were forced to drive very slowly. When I saw the long tunnel without light and ventilation I was very glad to cross inside a vehicle and not on the bike. The view was beautiful and I could not stop staring down into the white landscape. Roberto decided to take a picture of it and that was when it hit him: somebody had stolen his camera. He usually stored it inside the camera case which again was stored inside the back pannier and he never, really never, leaves this bag alone. The only moment when he had not watched his bag was when he tried to stop the trucks, but he would have recognized a car stopping next to his bike and baggage. Somebody must have opened the pack pannier and the photo case, taken camera, the second objective and a box full of USB-sticks, an mp3-player and all memory cards, closed the camera case and again closed the back pannier. Until today it is a mystery to us how and when that could have happened.

The view from the (when engines are started) cozy warm truck into the icy mountain pass

The view from the (when engines are started) cozy warm truck into the icy mountain pass

Everything is grey

My drivers were very sorry for poor Roberto who sat in the snow on the pass not able to enjoy the view down into the valley anymore. His most important and most expensive working object was gone and so were all pictures from the Kyrgyz families that had given us shelter. We had promised to send the pictures to them once we had arrived to Bishkek.

The atmosphere got worse and worse and the general mood fell fast. Nobody spoke and we were happy when we finally arrived to the checkpoint further down in the valley where the truck drivers dropped us. The last 80 kilometers into Bishkek were flat, but the mood was still down. We had no eyes for the beauty on the way. We just smelled the city’s smog that blew around our noses and saw how the streets got dirtier. Everything appeared so grey and not welcoming at all.

Bazaars, children, mountains - nothing was really for interest for us.

Bazaars, children, mountains – nothing was really for interest for us.

Preparing for the month of catastrophes

We were lucky to find the Sabyrbek’s Hostel (Razzakov 21, opposite the German Embassy) soon where we took the cheapest two beds – inside a non-heated yurt. Bishkek is situated on only 800 meters above sea level, so nights turned pretty cold but not as cold as up in the mountains.

There was a lot to do for us in Bishkek and we were not even in the mood to start a single thing. Fortunately at this moment we did not know yet that Bishkek would not let us go for an entire month full of catastrophes.

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  1. Mladen says:

    where are you now ?

  2. Tasting Travels Team Tasting Travels Team says:

    Hey, we have just arrived to Xi’an, China, I will write about that place later. How are you? Where are you? All the best from
    Annika

  3. Hector says:

    Sorry to hear that you has such a bad experience, but there are lessons to be learned, specially about dangerous weather conditions. Please take care.

    • Tasting Travels Team Tasting Travels Team says:

      We will take much better care now. We just got a proper winter equipment and now we feel well prepared for cold weather. It is a pity that we had to learn our lesson on the hard way..

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