The best things in Kyrgyzstan don't come easy

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December 16th 2013
Published: December 16th 2013
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Ah les montagnes KirghizAh les montagnes KirghizAh les montagnes Kirghiz

Mountains in Western Kyrgyzstan. My challenge.
Cycling from Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, to Taraz, Kazakhstan, through the mountains in November 2013.

I’m excited to share this blog entry with you as it retraces a very special part of my trip. It was time for me to leave Kyrgyzstan as winter was approaching very fast (beginning of November). It had already snowed in Bishkek and the people I talked to either advised me to catch a ride to Taraz, Kazakhstan, or at least to take the northern road to avoid the mountains. These people don’t know me very well, do they? I had come to Kyrgyzstan to enjoy the mountains and I was going to one more time before heading south to Uzbekistan and the flat (boring?) desert. I decided to take the road that goes through Talas, and this meant I was going to climb 2 mountain passes at 3500m and 3300m of altitude (Bishkek being at 800m).

I rode the 400km from Bishkek to Taraz (Kazakhstan) in 4 days (4 nights) and I had a great time! It was as hard as expected (even harder maybe) but the scenery and the experience were highly worth the pain! James cycled with me for the first 50km towards
A last challenge in KyrgyzstanA last challenge in KyrgyzstanA last challenge in Kyrgyzstan

un dernier challenge au Kirghizstan
Kara-Balta. It was nice to have company on the flat but dusty stretch of road outside Bishkek. Things got serious right after he turned around. James had warned me that I would be climbing steeply for at least 45km to reach the top of the first pass at 3586m. I camped about halfway on the first night. It was cold and rocky… In the morning I put on my ski gloves to get rid of the frost on my tent and bike. The water inside my bottles froze… and the ice didn’t melt at all the whole following day! In spite of the cold, I only wore a tee-shirt and I was still sweating (definitely carrying too much!). When I thought it was almost over, the twisting road got even steeper. The view was spectacular! These last few months I have fallen in love with mountains. The scenery they offer is simply stunning (my favorite English word!); the air up there is so fresh and the coolness seems to clarify my thoughts. I love how quiet it gets the higher up you go. And mountains also present a serious physical challenge (especially on a bike with 4 panniers) that transforms
Yep, it was chillyYep, it was chillyYep, it was chilly

il faisait froid, sans dec!
into an electrifying reward once conquered. Just before reaching the top, I got off my bike, went over the handrail off a sharp bend to admire the view down below. At the bottom of the mountains a few trucks looked like ants. I thought of my Dad who probably would have liked to climb this one with me, and of course I thought of Becky, far away in China, who couldn’t possibly imagine what I was going through, or why I would want to go through this… I left a long scream out! I was cold, my legs were burning, my back was all wet, but I felt so free and alive, and so content!

Farther down (well, up actually!) 3 Kyrgyz men waved me over and invited me for a drink. They pulled a bottle of vodka from the trunk of their car and here we were having shots by the side of the road! Haha! This warmed me up! 200 meters farther, I was on top of the pass, ready to enter the 8km-long tunnel. The police waved me to the side and we talked for a long time about my bike, my impressions on their country, my life in China… but when I shook their hands and said goodbye, they told me I couldn’t ride my bike through the tunnel, and I should wait for a truck to put my bike in… I waited 15min but no truck showed up so I went back to see the policemen and I begged them to let me go… for 10 minutes! They must have been tired of my non-stop complaining (how French, right?) because they eventually agreed! I cycled hard through the long, dark and uphill tunnel and was very relieved to get to the other side, where the police had stopped traffic for me! How nice! As soon as I got out, I put on my sweater, winter jacket, gloves and hat to head downhill! I spent the second night camping in a very beautiful spot, by a frozen river, about 400m from the road. I had to break the ice to get to the water (my face and butt will never forget!). After dinner I stepped out of my tent to admire the stars. It was all quiet except for the occasional ice breaking somewhere close: memorable night!

The next morning was a lot less

November 2013
glamorous when I realized I would be facing strong headwind on my way to the second pass at 3330m… Good thing I met a nice Kyrgyz family who invited me for lunch in one of these trailers by the side of the road. I had a warm soup with potatoes and a big piece of lamb. It was nice especially since there wouldn’t be a single place to stop at on the way up to the pass. The family invited me to join them for a few days in southern Kyrgyzstan. When I told them I was going the opposite direction, the mother (a widow) asked if I could take her with me… I told her I would love to but I was already carrying too much and was afraid her gold teeth would weigh too much for my chicken legs!

On the way up many cars stopped by to ask me if I wanted a ride. One car even asked me to jump in when there were only 800m left before the top! A freezing wind greeted me at the top. Once again, I took off my sweaty t-shirt (cold shirtless Frenchman at 3330m!) and put on everything I had: sweater, 2 jackets, 2 pairs of gloves, my hat, and wool socks and, for the first time, I took off my sneakers to wear my winter boots. You’d think that going downhill on a bike should be fun and relaxing… My French bottom! It was freezing and miserable! The only good thing was that the wind was so strong I barely needed to use the brakes, even though it was at least a 10% decline! I was happy to leave the cold mountains behind but I know I will miss the challenge and the picturesque landscape they provide.

The rest of my journey was not as easy as expected, mainly because of the wind. I went through many small villages where most wooden houses looked alike. Why are most Kygyz houses painted in white and sky blue? Is it the only color available in the paint shops or does it have a special meaning? The weather was nice and it seemed like every woman had taken the colorful blankets and carpets out on the fences. The road leading to Taraz, Kazakhstan, became quieter as I got closer to the border. Then there was no tarmac anymore… I
Great scenery!Great scenery!Great scenery!

November 2013
must have gotten lost, which is pretty incredible since there was only a single road the entire way from Talas! Eventually I reached the border. The officials there worked very slowly and the line was quite long. I got angry at several people who tried to cut the line. Once outside, I walked back to my bike where a guard was checking it out very closely. He asked me what I was carrying in the panniers and then asked that I give him my sunglasses or my helmet… Man, I don’t know if you realized but your country is extremely windy, sunny and dusty, and for the helmet, Dude, the drivers in your country are completely nuts! Good bye Kyrgyzstan! You are engraved in my memory.

Je suis content de partager ce blog avec vous car il retrace un parcours tres particulier dans mon periple. Pour quitter le Kirghizstan, j’avais 3 choix. Le premier etait de redescendre jusqu’a Osh pour rentrer en Ouzbekistan par la Vallee Fergana. L’avantage aurait ete de filer pendant une semaine plein sud afin de semer la neige et le froid loin derriere. Mais j’avais déjà parcouru cette route avec mes parents en septembre et la perspective de refaire plus ou moins le meme trajet (pendant une semaine)ne m’enchantait guere. De plus, j’avais demande un visa 2 entrees pour le Kazakhstan et ca aurait ete dommage de ne pas m’en servir. J’ai donc opte pour le passage au Kazakhstan afin d’entrer a Tashkent, la capitale de l’Ouzbekistan par le nord. Depuis Bishkek, il y a 2 routes qui rejoignent le Kazakhstan. La premiere est plus directe car elle contourne le massif montagneux de l’ouest du Kirghizstan et la deuxieme passe par 2 cols a 3500m et 3300m (sachant que Bishkek, mon point de depart, se trouve a 800m d’altititude). Pouvez-vous deviner quel chemin j’ai choisi d’emprunter? Evidemment, le plus difficile!

Comme vous avez du vous en rendre compte par la plupart de mes blogs depuis le mois de mai 2013, j’ai developpe un fort penchant pour les montagnes. Les paysages en altitude sont simplement epoustoufflants. Et puis, l’air y est frais, le froid semble clarifier mon esprit. J’adore le silence des montagnes et le point de vue si different qu’elles offrent du haut. Je ne pouvais laisser passer l’occasion de grimper de nouveaux cols, probablement les derniers pendant un bon moment car
La paixLa paixLa paix

At peace.
les mois a venir s’annoncent assez plats…

J’ai effectue les 400km entre Bishkek (Kirghizstan) et Taraz au Kazakhstan en 4 jours et 4 nuits. Et comme prevu, ce fut difficile mais le paysage tellement gratifiant! J’ai dormi dans le froid et chaque matin j’ai enfile mes gants de ski pour degivrer ma tente. Vous verrez sur les photos que mes bouteilles d’eau ont gele a l’interieur de la tente chaque nuit. Lors de la 2e etape, en montant a 3586m puis dans la descente qui suit, la glace dans mon bidon n’a pas fondu de la journee! J’ai dormi a mi-chemin du premier col de… 45km! 45km de montee, de lacets! J’etais en tee-shirt, a transpirer malgre le froid. En haut, juste avant le tunnel, j’au pu beneficier d’un superbe point de vue ou je pouvais me rendre compte du chemin parcouru lors des 15 derniers km, avec quelques camions en contrebas. J’etais en haut; j’avais souffert, j’avais eu chaud, froid, tres froid; les cuisses me brulaient. Je pensais a mes parents qui etaient avec moi au Kirghizstan en septembre, et combien mon pere aurait aime monter ce col (avec les sacoches?) et puis j’ai pense a Becky, si
In the summer there are yurts everywhereIn the summer there are yurts everywhereIn the summer there are yurts everywhere

and people can eat and sleep there. In the winter, they close down.
loin en Chine, qui ne pouvait imaginer ce que j’endurais (ou pourquoi je voulais endurer tout ceci) sur mon fichu velo au milieu de l’Asie Centrale. J’ai pose ma bicyclette, enjambe la rembarde, admire les monts enneiges et j’ai crie de hargne, de fatigue mais de plaisir et de fierte aussi!

En arrivant tout en haut, a l’entrée du tunnel de 8km, 3 Kirghiz m’enterpellent et me font signe de venir boire un coup. Ils sortent une bouteille de Vodka et nous voila a trinquer au bord de la route! J 200m plus loin, la police me fait signe de m’arreter et on discute au moins 10 minutes. Je leurs dis evidemment que la montee a ete difficile et que je roule depuis la Chine et quand je les salue pour m’en aller, ils m’annoncent finalement que je ne peux pas traverse le tunnel a velo! Il faut que je monte le velo dans un camion… J’attends 15min, mais pas le moindre camion ne passe. J’insiste a nouveau aupres des policiers (pendant 5 minutes non-stop a taper au carreau de leur bureau chauffe!). Finalement ils ont du en avoir assez de m’ecouter me plaindre (si francais, hein?!) et ils me donnent leur accord pour filer dans le tunnel: 8km de montee a fond! Je ne comptais pas m’eterniser dans le noir et dans le froid du tunnel, donc j’ai roule a bloc et je fus tres content de voir la lumiere de l’autre cote et… que la route descende finalement! J’enfile un pull, une veste, les gants et le bonnet et allez, feu pour une longue descente sur la M41!

Cette 2e nuit, j’ai pique la tente dans un bel endroit tres tranquille a 300m de la route, le long d’une riviere toute gelee. J’ai casse la glace pour me laver (mon visage et mes fesses s’en souviennent encore!) et a la nuit tombee, le ciel s’est illumine d’un million d’etoiles. C’etait moi, les etoiles,le silence parfois interrompu par le bruit de la glace qui craque: memorable!

Le lendemain fut moins langoureux avec un bon vent glacial dans la tronche! Haha! Vers midi, il etait temps pour moi de quitter la M41 pour prendre une petite route qui indiquait la ville de Talas a plus de 100km… et devinez quoi? Bien oui, forcement, ca montait! A l’intersection de la route de Talas, je m’arrete pour prendre toute

November 2013
une famille en photo. On discute puis ils m’invitent a manger dans une caravane: sympa! Je savoure une soupe de pommes de terre et de riz avec un gros morceau d’agneau: je fais le plein d’energie avant le second col. La mere de famille, veuve, voudrait apparemment bien que je l’emmene sur mon porte-baggage… la prochaine fois, ok? Je reprends la route avec le sourire.

Le vent est gele et ca monte raide mais je sais qu’il n’y a que 12km jusqu’au sommet et qu’ensuite, je pourrai me la couler douce pour une longue descente! Plusieurs 4x4 s’arretent pour me proposer de m’emmener au sommet. Je refuse evidemment. Le plus drole, c’est quand ils me proposent de mettre le velo dans le coffre alors qu’il ne me reste que 800m a parcourir… En haut il y a de la neige partout et un vent absolument glacial! Petite photo rapide et j’enfile tous mes habits chauds: pull en laine, doudoune, manteau, 2 paires de gants, bonnet ainsi que mes chaussettes en laine et pour la premiere fois, je quitte mes baskets pour mettre mes souliers d’hiver. Je pensais pouvoir savourer la descente, mais rien du tout! Il caille! Le vent est tellement fort que je n’ai presque pas besoin de freiner alors que ca descend a au moins 10%! Incroyable! Voila, j’en ai fini avec les grosses montagnes. Je suis content car il commence a faire tres froid la haut mais je sais aussi qu’elles vont me manquer.

Le reste du trajet s’etale au milieu de vallons tout jaunes, avec quelques bergers a dos de cheval. Je traverse beaucoup de petits villages ou toutes les maisons se ressemblent: ells sont en bois et ont ete peintes en blanc et bleu ciel (la seule peinture disponible en grand quantite dans le pays?). Il y a du soleil, les femmes ont sorti les couettes et les tapis ultra-colores sur les palissades a l’exterieur. Le soir il fait toujours froid mais ce n’est rien compare aux temperatures negatives en haut des massifs. Les montagnes sont maintenant sur ma gauche (au sud) et je sais qu’elles vont disparaitre doucement. Je suis la route qui mene a la frontier Kazakh. Elle est bordee d’arbres. Il n’y a pas une seule voiture… La route devient un chemin de terre… je me suis trompe de direction! Apres un detour de 20km (comment ai-je pu me tromper,
getting highergetting highergetting higher

on monte en altitude
il n’y avait qu’une seule et unique route!) je suis au poste de frontiere. Les gardes frontaliers font leur travail a 2 a l’heure… j’attends plus d’une heure avant d’acceder au guichet. Quelques personnes essaient de couper la file d’attente, je me mets en colere . Une fois mon passeport tamponne, je retourne a mon velo dehors. Un garde est en train de l’inspecter. Il me demande ce que je transporte avant de me demander de lui donner mes lunettes ou mon casque… Tu reves, Mec! Je ne sais pas si tu as vu, mais il y a beaucoup de soleil et de poussiere dans ton pays, et plein de chauffards! Bye Bye Kirghizstan! C’etait super! Ces souvenirs sont graves a jamais dans ma memoire.

Additional photos below
Photos: 96, Displayed: 33


leaving Bishkekleaving Bishkek
leaving Bishkek

au depart de Bishkek
sur la routesur la route
sur la route

by the road

oui, il fait froid
morning icemorning ice
morning ice

la glace ne fondra pas de la journee

ca monte
suffering in the uphillsuffering in the uphill
suffering in the uphill

je souffre dans la montee
going upgoing up
going up

ca monte! Ma route au col a 3586m

17th December 2013

You are amazing.....and maybe a bit crazy (LOL)
If they had read any of your blogs they would clearly know you would not leave the mountains, that you thrive on the challenge and that you love the road less traveled. Free, alive and does not get any better than that. Can't wait for more!
17th December 2013

You are a glutton for punishment...
I would have accepted the lifts going up the mountains!
18th December 2013

What an incredible journey. Stunning scenery as a reward. I'm glad you've shared it with the rest of us.....who are definitely NOT biking up those hills!
19th December 2013

Thanks! It was tough but the difficulty makes it all the more exciting!
Thanks for your message.

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