Day 23 - Tamgar to Bishkek:
Our last day. It was around 200 miles to Bishkek airport by the most direct route, but we wanted to take a longer and more challenging path.
The sun was up early and we soon had sausage, eggs and coffee going on the stove. From our vantage point above the lake Dave spotted an excellent location for hole 11 of T.L.C.E.P. See the first photo.
Needing a long iron from the hillside tee to clear the road and as much beach as possible, John was delighted to pick the 8-iron. Dave F had the 9, whilst I was quietly confident with my wedge.
John’s teeshot did indeed carry the furthest onto the middle of the beach, but mine and Dave’s balls disappeared into the surf. Once we were all back on the sand however, John realised that his club was a poor choice for traversing a 250 yard ‘bunker’. We all put another ball each onto the lake after that, but my club selection was totally vindicated as I won the hole using only 14 strokes. Dave took 17 shots, whilst John (22
strokes) may as well have stayed in his sleeping bag.
The scores after 11 holes: DP = 20, DF = 24, JR = 26. We planned to make a 7-hole course later in the day to make it up to 18.
We left most of the camping gear behind for locals/travellers, and I finally admitted that there was no point bringing the two 20 litre spare fuel tanks any further. The guidebooks urge caution but are a little outdated on this score, as on some stretches of road there are more petrol stations than cars. In the last three countries there were certainly more per mile than in the UK on the roads we used.
At the western end of Issyk Kol we diverted from the direct road to Bishkek onto the A367 through Kochkor and Chaek. The road quickly became a dirt track, sloping slowly upwards through the valleys. Sat nav didn’t work out here, and we began to realise that the track was winding so much that our estimates of distance and time were way out. The condition of the track was very poor with potholes, large loose rocks
and ruts. It warranted a speed of 25 mph or less, but we wanted to reach the high passes before nightfall and pushed on at double that.
The car, which had held up gloriously so far, was receiving some serious abuse. We were already astonished that the springs had held on for 6000 miles by then, but to survive this last section intact was simply freakish. The final 30 mile climb up to the M41 highway took us through a ravine next to a raging river. Dave F drove it beautifully, but I winced at every blind bend anticipating the oncoming truck that would surely push us into the water and rocks below. Just before we reached the M41 something did go on the suspension – we thought the left rear, though it wasn't a spring – and as I swapped into the driver's seat Dave advised that she was now “a bit squirmy”.
“A bit squirmy”........ no kidding, there.
The M41 highway is the primary route linking the capital city Bishkek with Osh, the second largest. There is a lot of traffic. The road is a regional attraction in its
own right as it winds and snakes steeply over several high passes. After Osh the road is commonly known as the Pamir Highway, and a 4x4 is recommended. We joined the road just before the Too Ashuu pass, climbing to more than 3,400m about sea level before descending towards Bishkek.
Our last petrol stop did not have 95-octane, and Spinx(!) could only maintain 25mph at 4000 revs on the weak 92-brew inside of her. It was a long climb to the top of the pass, and we hoped to stop for 7 holes of golf at the top. We passed above the first layer of clouds, and then the snowline, and as we reached the summit it was actually snowing.
There was a bit of a layby at the top but not much room to swing a meercat and as hgv’s roared past, kicking up slush in the failing light I stopped to take a photo and the coolant flooded out once more. No golf to be had here.
The start of the downslope was a 2 mile tunnel through the mountain. Cars could squeeze past each other in the darkness
but trucks had to wait for a green light. The road surface in the tunnel it was terrible, though you could barely see it through the collecting smoke and fumes. Huge extractor fans punctuated the walls, and though they made little difference to the pall , the roaring sound effect was like passing a freight train every 50 metres.
The tunnel spat us out still more than 11,000 feet high and onto the steep winding descent. The brakes were fine but that ‘squirminess’ made some corners feel like you were drifting, others like the back was stepping out. Brake, steer, correct, double-back, brake, steer, correct, double-back. Repeat, repeat, repeat. At 9000 feet we stopped for two cowboys driving their 20 horses up the pass. At 7000 feet we met 200 sheep also going up and over, skipping in and out of the waiting cars and trucks.
Finally the slope shallowed and the gorge opened to give us a brief view of a beautiful red setting sun. One last cop stopped us at the bottom to say who-knows-what then shake my hand. John took over the driving for the last stretch through the night -
towards the airport and our flights home. Epilogue:
The car really was the star. All three of us have travelled widely enough to be confident about making our plans happen and adapting where necessary, but this journey was different as the whole premise surrounded the durability of a 15 year old family sedan: Front wheel drive, 130k on the clock, on its 7th owner who bought it 3 years ago for just £589 as a part-ex to clear. Other than swapping out the alloys for steel wheels the Mondeo had no extra mods at all. Two spare tyres went unused. Two puncture repair cannisters went unused. Two fuel cans went unused. The socket set, the screwdrivers, the hoseclips, the duct tape, the pliers, the spare bulbs, the bungee cords, the jump leads, the footpump - all unused. And because all that fitted in the boot alongside 3 rucksacks and 3 sets of camping gear, the roofrack went unused.
So after covering 6482 miles in just 23 days - much across some truly terrible surfaces, at speed, in all conditions, whilst fully laden with us and our stuff - the only things to fail were 3 fuses, an o-ring and whatever came loose on the right-rear on the last day. Utterly astonishing.
So what's next? We're thinking Africa, north to south, next year. I'd love to try it in another Ford Mondeo just for the symmetry and the challenge, but I have a feeling that only a big 4x4 will do. If anyone has any suggestions for either the route or the vehicle, or wants to come along, let me know.
I said in the first post that I'd cut out the cheesiness, but here at the end of this blog I just can't resist. My favourite quote, by T.E. Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia): "All men dream: but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake in the day to find that it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dreams with open eyes, to make it possible."
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