Category Archives: Kazakhstan & Uzbekistan

London To Magadan 2016 – Road Of Bones – Crew Update -Tran-Siberian Highway and Mongolia

It’s been a while since my last crew report.

Many challenges and events have prevented me from posting earlier.

Departing from Almaty we started our way up back into Russia. It was not an easy task. Three bikes collapsed their shock absorbers with the potholed bitumen. Two bikes were loaded on the trailer and the third one was ridden to Russia with the shock in a less than satisfactory state. Apart from that, the exciting Tran-Siberian highway was waiting for us on the Russian side of the border.

Entering Russia for another night of camping before Krasnoyarsk, the town where we could get the shock absorbers fixed and continued on our way along the Tran-Siberian highway, a dream for many riders. Wooden Houses, and beautiful forests were our path to Yrkustk, a larger town very close to Lake Baikal. We went on a 2-day excursion to Lake Baikal and it was just amazing to be able to camp on the shore of the Lake and go for a hike to a secluded bay which had shamanic inscriptions on the rock.

Irkurst was also the place where we needed to get our visas for Mongolia, our destination for the following weeks.

Arriving in Mongolia we met Dianna, another member of our expedition (and the wife of one of our riders) and a second support vehicle for us to be able to take in all the pillion passengers in case of rough roads or rain. It was a prediction for what was to come.

Mongolia is absolutely stunning. Open prairies with no fences displayed a country where you can actually move around freely. Gers with families herding their sheep, cows and Yaks made the scenery more interesting. Two amazing camping nights in absolutely wonderful hills with great views brought us to Khovsgull Lake, where we stayed 3 nights enjoying the scenery and a rest.

The next section was what we came for. Three days riding on tough off road with wild camps separated us from the White Lake, another beautiful destination where we would stay in a Ger camp.

Open prairies of green hills with many tracks running towards the same point. Wide-open and free riding, Paradise!

The problem was, it had been raining for the past 10 days and this year was a particular wet one so the roads were very muddy and slippery. Deep river crossings, some with rough bridges made it even more challenging and exciting. Many riders fell and one had a broken collarbone, which sadly meant the end of his journey.

The next 2 nights of remote camping were amazing. Nomad kids on their horses came to check out our group and some really special cultural exchange ensued. Majestic eagles flying over the camp and herds of yaks and sheep passing through followed by men on horses or small bikes, the new version of Mongolia. These locals made us look bad riding through the muddy sections and river crossings sometimes with 3 people (the entire family) on the bike and still managing to get through with no problems.

All of the bikes and our support vehicle made it to the White Lake for another stunning view and a well deserved hot shower.

The next day we had only a small amount of off-road left to ride but that was enough for some more falls while crossing rivers and very muddy ground.

Reaching the bitumen we headed to Tseserleg, our last night before Ulan Batar, the Mongolian capital.

On the way To Ulan Batar we passed Karkhorin, the former Capital of Genghis Khan and home of the Erdene Zuu Monastery , a beautiful place where we encountered a man with a hunting eagle to show visitors.

After all those days and with the back-country still on everybody’ mind we found a deserved rest in Ulan Batar, we said goodbye to our rider with the broken collarbone.

While in the city some of our group visited the enormous statue of Genghis Khan and his horse. It was a beautiful way to say goodbye to Mongolia.

I write this report from the border with Russia, our last border crossing with the bikes before the end of the journey. I have time to write this due to a border shut down for a couple of hours for some unknown reason.

Once the border procedures are completed we are headed to camping spot to rest and prepare for the next phase of our expedition.

Now the journey has only two weeks left and we will ride the Tran-Siberian highway before diverging to the Road Of Bones. The adventure yet to come in the last phase in Russia will be on the next and last crew report, which hopefully will be written from Magadan, our final destination!

Danny

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London to Magadan – Crew Report – The next installment,

Our crossing into Uzbekistan was not easy. With one pedestrian only border and one for local cars only, Kazakhstan only allows foreign vehicles to cross in Allama with the trucks. It took 6 hrs of bureaucracy but the group handled it fine and as soon as we crossed the border the change of scenery was immediate. Green and trees suddenly became more frequent and a more Arab / less Russian atmosphere could be felt. The capital Tashkent was clean and tidy and provided a good rest.

 Over the next few days the expedition went down in a loop through Uzbekistan, and the main Silk Road towns of Samarkand and Bukhara. These jewels of the Silk Road were just amazing to experience. The riding did not have many highlights but the bad bitumen and the heat were our path To the ancient history which has not been explored by many people. What an amazing atmosphere to have the hotel right in the middle of the old town with the madrasahs (places of study) and old constructions that put you into an Arab context which differs a lot to our Western culture.

 Back To the capital Tashkent we went To Ferghana, Town on our way to the border with Kyrgyzstan. A problem with the trailer wheel bearing damaged the internal drum, which meant the crew spent the day fixing the problem so the trip could continue. Crossing the border to Kyrgyzstan was expected to be faster but as some participants needed to get their visas upon arrival. This delayed us and caused a late arrival at camp.

 The next three stunning riding days and camp nights brought us to the capital Bishkek. Kyrgyzstan is the Switzerland of central Asia. With mountain passes, reaching 3.5 thousand mts, amazing lakes with local families living in their huts and their herds of horses. 

 The dirt road riding through those passes just blew our minds. It was a challenge that the riders conquered with great competence. River crossings, steep roads and corrugated sections, all worth it. The Camping spots were amazing, we were totally immersed by nature.

 We used our time in Bishkek to re-organize and take a day rest from the bikes. A nice, vibrant capital that was a great a cultural experience.

 From Bishkek we bordered the great Issy-kull lake until we reached Karakol, our base for an excursion to Altyn Arashan, in the middle of the rugged mountains and a great free day to spend in nature and a perfect revitalizing bath in the natural hit springs.  For this excursion we left the bikes in Karakol and jumped in some mighty ex-military UAZ communication trucks from soviet era, which made the way up a lot more interesting. What an experience! 

 Back in Karakol, we headed back into Kazakhstan towards Almaty. Before reaching the border, one of our participants had a fall coming down on a slippery off-road section. The next day we would discover that his ankle was fractured and our dear friend Jeff would not be able to continue on towards Magadan. After the border some participants visited the great Charyn Canyon, and the group decided to camp before Almaty because the city was in red alert after a terrorist shooting.

IMG_0775 IMG_0763 IMG_0472To add more to the drama, on our way to scout for a camp site the trailer lost a wheel after a bearing collapse.  With three wheels on the trailer, an injured rider and a city in lock-down for that night, the group camped in the wind and rain that night.  What a day!!!!    None of that affected the mood of the group and between laughs and wines the group came together in the cook tent sheltering from the rain and remembering that days events. 

 Here in Almaty we are using the time to rest, service bikes, the support vehicle and trailer to prepare for the next phase of the expedition. From here it gets tougher. We head northeast into Russia and the Lake Baikal through the Tran Siberian highway, a loop into Mongolia and then our final stretch across the Road of Bones towards Magadan. It will get more and more challenging, it will require the best of all our riders and a great deal of teamwork!

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Until next report!!

 

Danny

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Day, 65 & 66 London to Magadan 2016 – Taldykorgan to Aleysk, Kazakhstan and back to Russia – KTM Biker

We left the Royal Petrol Travel Lodge at 08:15 and headed to a pre ordained campsite 640km away on our journey to the Russian border and on to Krasnoyarsk, Siberia. We had been warned via the Compass notes that this road was treacherous, bumpy, full of pot-holes and probably more dangerous than a dirt track. Sure enough the road was a bloody nightmare, a combination of the destination being 640km away combined with the road being bitumen meant that we hammered down this route at approximately 120kph, sometime a little faster and sometimes a little slower, but if we didn’t keep up the momentum and the pace we were never going to reach camp tonight and Irkutsk in five days time. Achieving our goal of arriving in Irkutsk by the evening of 28th July was important as our passports were scheduled to be processed by the Mongolian embassy on Friday morning 29th July at 9am. If we missed the Friday then we would have to wait until Monday 1st August before we could apply for our visa’s and that would delay our entry to Mongolia on 3rd August. Concentration was at the maximum, with your eyes 30 metres ahead searching for the pot-holes and in particular the bigger craters that if hit were going to blow your tyres, break your suspension or worse throw you off your bike. After 300km we stopped for lunch beside the road, it was the worse lunch site in all the previous 64 days but after 45 minutes searching it was the best we could find. We had very little shade, the ground was stoney mixed with cow shit and the grass non existent. However we made the best of it and enjoyed, sone salad, salami, tuna, cheese and bread. I was starting to feel a bit dodgy in the stomach area so I only had a small tuna sandwich, that however repeated on me all afternoon. With our bikes parked by the side of the road we became a magnet for dozens of inquisitive Kazakh’s, stopping introducing themselves and shaking our hands and marvelling at our motorcycles. At petrol stations and in town, I think I can vouch for us all that meeting the nosey locals is a pleasure, but when you are tired and just want to eat your lunch and take a nap, the enthusiastic Kazakh’s become a nuisance. To add insult to injury everyone you meet wants to shake your hand and with the standard of hygiene being so poor in Central Asia, every time you reciprocate you cringe with what germs you are collecting. However the Kazakh’s are lovely friendly people and greeting each other with a warm handshake is so important and the thought of not offering your hand and disrespecting the locals is not an option.

In the afternoon we continued our bone-shaker journey which was taking a toll on our bodies and bikes. The morning had been muggy to start and then hot, sticky and humid but by 3pm we could see black storm clouds gathering, rolling across the sky directly towards us. As the rain began to spit we stopped under a disused and derelict gas station in order to get our wet gear on, we had every intention to continue into the bad weather but within a few minutes we were engulfed in minor hurricane washed down with torrential rain. The sky went black, the wind picked up to gale force and we all huddled together under the petrol station canopy holding on to our bikes in case they got blown over (I am not kidding). A truck driver decided to also stop and to our good fortune he parked his forty foot trailer in front of the bikes and in the direction of the wind and rain, his lorry therefore acted as a wind break. Twenty minutes of biblical storm and it was all over, the rain and wind petered out and the sun came out following the weather fronts passing. We continued on this half road half pot-hole track until we reached a town called Aleysk, four of us had powered ahead, Bruce, Dennis, John and myself. Earlier we had agreed with the group that we would all rendezvous at a service station on the approach to Aleysk. It was now gone 7pm, the sky was very gloomy, everyone was exhausted and the thought of camping was beginning to look like the straw that might break the Camels back. With that thought in mind and me now feeling very dodgy in the stomach region ( It was worse than Man Flu, I thought I was going to die!!)Bruce and I decided to search for a hotel. We found one hotel that was .01 Stars staying there would be like staying as a guest in one of Jerry Springer’s American trailer trash contestants caravans! As we continued our search we got flagged down by a bunch of teenagers who miraculously spoke english and pointed us to a “Five Star Hotel” just around the corner. Compared to the competition, this new hotel was like the Dorchester in Park Lane but 5*? no, more like a one star. The only person in the hotel was the cleaner who, you guessed it, didn’t speak a word of english, however with sign language we worked out that they had 6 or 8 rooms free. The cleaner turned out to be the owners wife and hotel chef, she phoned her daughter and I had a perfect conversation in english with the daughter, we decided between us that they could room up all 17 of us and she would arrange for her mother to cook us a lovely meal of broth, lamb dumplings, salad and chips. Bruce and I then rode back to the service station and we all had a heart to heart meeting. By now it was after 7:30pm and Andrew wanted us to continue on our route and look for a campsite. Ian then made a call to arms speech, it reminded me of the following speech made by Henry V on the eve of the battle of Agincourt in 1415.
“He shall live this day and see old age,
Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours,
And say “tomorrow is St Crispin.”
Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars.
And say “those wounds I had on Crispin’s day”
Old men forget,yet all shall be forgot.
But he’ll remember, with advantages.
What feats he did that day. Then shall our names.
Familier in his mouth as household words…
Harry the King, Tony, Adrian, Bruce, Dennis, Pete and John.
Be in their flowing cups freshly rememb’red
This story, shall the good man teach his son;
And Crispin Crispian shall ne’er go by,
From this day to the end of the world,
But we in it shall be remembered-
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he today that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile,
This day so gentle on his condition;
And gentlemen in England now a-bed,
Shall think themselves accurs’d they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap while any speaks
That fought with us on St Crispins day”.

So Ian’s speech witnessed by me sat on my bike in the slips was very Shakespearean and basically said that if we were going to camp after a hard day in the saddle that we needed to start searching for a suitable campsite at or near 5pm, this would give us time to set up camp, sort the cook tent, erect all our individual tents and basically rest, recuperate, relax, refuel and sleep prior to another early start on the bike. It was often the case and certainly today that we were knackered after a tough day’s riding in poor conditions on dreadful roads and that trying to set up camp after 7:30pm was too little too late. This was not so much a criticism of Andrew’s leadership qualities more a critique of the scheduling set up by Compass, journeys of over 400km on impossible medieval roads is just not achievable with the objective of a camp at the end. On this occasion we decided as a “band of brothers” to spend the night at the hotel that Bruce and I had found. At the hotel, Pat sorted all the room arrangements while the boys sorted out the Landcruiser and trailer. I forgot to say in all the excitement that Ian & Leanne’s BMW GS 1200 Adventure had finally bitten the dust and with the shock absorber well and truly busted they had loaded the bike onto the trailer and joined passenger class alongside Danny, much to Ian’s annoyance.

I was quite prepared to sleep on the floor in the hotel function room but Pat found me a twin room with Pete. I exercised the loo prior to going straight to bed at 8:25pm without supper, god i felt so ill! Everybody else were treated to an excellent meal of meat, potatoes, salad and dumplings.

in the morning following a difficult night I rose like a phoenix ( I hope your not taking this too seriously!) And much to Ian’s annoyance decided that I was well and fit enough to ride my KTM pride and joy! ( Ian was hoping to ride my KTM with me ill, a passenger in the Toyota). The hotel was a big success and the rooms including evening meal (a big success) and breakfast for seventeen people the bill came to less than $300, yes $300 bucks!! back of the net, Compass paid, thank you Mick.

Today’s ride was another big one, over 600km followed by a camp, we had rough coordinates for a camp site but we also had to negotiate the Kazakh/Russian border, as soon as the coordinates were programmed into the Garmin GPS unit we set off. More poor pothole roads but to give us a head start we rose at 5am and were riding out before 7am. By 8am, our normal start time, we had covered over 100km, we had passed the two lakes that initially were our campsite destinations for the previous day and with the temperature nice and cool and the sun rising in the east we were making great progress. The countryside had returned to the Sreppes with wide open plains, many covered with corn, barley, wheat and sunflowers. The sunflowers reminded me of southern France, many a time I have sped through the French countryside dissecting fields of sunflowers and wishing that A, I had my camera and B, I knew what to do with it. Well here in Siberia I did have my camera and with Jeff’s tuition I had taken some moderately OK photograph’s with the featured image above being one example. All through the last two days riding Andrew had been nursing a broken shock absorber and because of this he had started off earlier than the rest of us in order to keep up the pace and basically give him a head start on the rest of us. With his shock absorber busted he was using his body, mainly his knees to absorb all the bumps in the road. This was the same problem as Ian & Leanne’s bike which had finally bitten the dust the previous day. We finally caught up Andrew at 10am and we rested by the side of the road. I had my binoculars in my top box and during our rest period I used them to spy on a Kazakhstan military underground missile bunker, we could clearly see the guard towers and the underground fast jet storage hangers. Whilst waiting for all the bikes to catch up we heard on the walkie talkies that Dennis’s bike had also broken his shock absorber and the KTM 1290 Super Adventure (I can’t believe I am reporting this, only BMW’s are allowed to break down!!) had been loaded on to the trailer. So now we had two bikes on the trailer both with broken/busted shock absorbers, one bike, Andrew’s a BMW GS 800 with a seriously malfunctioning shock absorber and to add insult to injury Petes Suzuki V-Strom was nursing a leaking radiator. We finally reached the border at 4:30pm, we filtered to the front which pissed off an angry Russian truck driver who tried to block our progress by opening his passenger door so as the bikes and Toyota couldn’t pass, unfortunately for him (I didn’t see any of this as I was already through the gate, the truck driver shouted at me but I just waved at him) Ian got out of his passenger seat in the Land-cruiser and kicked the truck door closed and remained there until everyone had passed, much to the annoyance of the angry Rasputin, Ian, you are such a geezer!

This was our quickest border checkout, we had all entered Russia by 6:30pm. Another 60km and we located a good campsite right next to a railway, close to a wood and adjacent to a swamp. We therefore had a noisey night with the railway, lots of mosquito’s and a camp fire for us to sit round drink vodka, Ballentine’s Scotch, red wine and put the world to rights. Leanne and Pat with the help of Lorraine and Kawangi made a hasty but magnificent chicken stir-fry.

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Day 64, London To Magadan 2016 – Almaty to Taldykorgan – KTM Biker

Hi guys, as you know if you have been following my blog, I was supposed to be camping today and therefore not posting a blog as the Kazakhstan countryside does not have wifi! However we had a long delay with our proposed fixing of the Compass trailer, last night Craig from Compass arrived from Melbourne with four axle stubs and overnight an engineering company attached the stubs to the axle. This morning another workshop specialising in welding is re-fitting the axle to the trailer. This being Kazakhstan, nothing opens until 10:00 am (they do work through to 7pm) so our proposed journey to a campsite on our way to Krasnoyarsk, a total journey distance over four days of 2540km, was delayed. Because of the delay, Bruce who is now firmly back on board organised a truck stop motel in Taldykorgan, so as with the delayed departure we could just crash in a hotel instead of setting up camp and cooking our own meal. I, like all the other members of the group are delighted that Bruce decided to stay, this good news will make our journey to Magadan that little bit easier. Most of the group waited at the Kasshol Hotel in Almaty until the trailer was back in one piece. A small group of riders, Bruce, John, Dennis and I left at 09:30 to check out the route and the condition of the roads, a much needed assessment of the conditions so as we could work out if a big delay in departure would be manageable in the dark. The roads were excellent, other than a small section of road works, no off-road and mostly bitumen all the way. The previous evening I had to wait until gone midnight before I could ride my bike home from the KTM garage. The delay was because they had to service a couple of ex-Dakar Rally bikes, two KTM 690 works enduro’s for two German and a Swedish adventure tourists. Sergei, the chief KTM mechanic promised he would finish my bike’s service by the end of the day and he was good as his word. Sergei spoke great english but I soon discovered that he had spent 14 years in Toronto as an oil and gas engineer and only came back to Almaty to take care of his aging parents. Seegei, gave my bike a full service, changed oil and air filters, exchanged the drive chain and front and rear sprockets and bolted my panniers to my bike frame.

The morning’s ride was very wet but otherwise straight forward with good roads all the way. We arrived in Taldykorgan at 2:30pm. Our hotel was brand new and attached to a large modern fuel station, car repair shop and vehicle cleaning business. It was similar to a Premier Inn lodge in the UK, basic, but good beds, clean aircon and super showers. With my KTM being stuck in the repair garage for two days I didn’t get the chance to clean it, so this was an excellent opportunity to give my bike a make-over, it came out of the cleaning zone like a brand new bike. In the afternoon, Bruce and I checked out the food options and booked a Steak house for 6pm. Bruce, Dennis and I all had our evening meal together in the steak house, John spent the early evening chatting with his wife back in Washington USA. The food at the steakhouse was great but we did need our iPhone Russian to English translator App to order from the menu. Whilst we were at the restaurant Bruce received a telephone call from Andrew saying that the group had left Almaty at 5pm and that they were only 70km away, with a ETA of 20:30. We booked the same steak house for all the riders for 21:00 pm.

With the trailer all fixed and the whole group settled in Taldykorgan, tomorrow we would be back on schedule with three days of camping on the horizon.

The featured image above is one that Jeff took early in the morning whilst we were in the high reaches of the Kyrgyzstan mountains, with the early morning sun shining brightly and illuminating the fine filament hairs of the mountain wild flowers.

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Day 62, London To Magadan 2016 – Almaty- KTM Biker

A short blog today, as not much happened, the featured image above was one of the last Jeff let me have and its such a gorgeous image that I wanted to publish it for all to see as it will be one of the last, as by now Jeff will be in the bosom of his family back in Tokyo. The picture is of us coming off the Tian Shan mountains and entering Altan Arashan.

Today I went to the Mall with Ian and Bruce, drank beer in the pub, and chose the healthy option of KFC for lunch, Bruce had a vegetarian pizza and Ian had Sushi. I purchased some more adhesive bandages for my shin wound which I opened up like a can of tuna with an old fashioned tin opener yesterday whilst at the KTM garage, I turned round to leave the work shop and smashed my shin right where the scar is against a sharp metal bar protruding from the bike lift, ouch!! Leanne and Pat did the food shopping for our four day camping excursion starting tomorrow, whilst Dan and Andrew prepare the trailer for its overnight works. I then did some shopping for ibuprofen, wet wipes, wine and Tequila and peanut M&M’s probably the five essentials for camping!

My bike service has been delayed, I am now writing in the present, about the only time in over 50 blogs that I have done so.My bike will now not be ready until 10:30pm, I really hope Sergei keeps his word and finishes my bike otherwise I won’t be leaving with the others tomorrow. I am now going out to visit the Almaty Cathedral known as the Ascension Cathedral, reputed to be the second tallest wooden building in the world when it was completed in 1907.

I will now be off line for four days whilst we head back over the mountains towards Russia, the four days will all be camping, so no wifi.

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Day 61, London To Magadan 2016 – Almaty, Kazakhstan – KTM Biker

I woke early this morning at 5:30am, we had some heavy downpours over night but now the morning sunrise was in full swing and it was looking like being a beautiful day.The lyrics from Elbow’s “One day like this” came to mind which starts “Drinking in the morning sun. Blinking in the morning sun. Shaking off a heavy one. Yeah, heavy like a loaded gun”. And later the chorus goes “Throw those curtains wide. One day like this a year will do me fine”> Well substitute tent door flaps for curtains and you will know how I felt this morning.

Andrew and the engineer grown-ups decided that if we unloaded as much weight as possible from the trailer and put that weight on the roof of the Toyota, and then drove very slowly, the trailer might just make it to Almaty, this indeed was the case with Danny arriving at the hotel two hours after us. Almaty seemed totally normal, there didn’t appear to be any hangover from the previous day’s terrorist attack. The hotel was very smart and centrally located in an upmarket part of town. Another good thing about the hotel was that it was next door to the main city hospital which allowed Danny and Ian to collect a wheel chair and push Jeff to the X-ray department. Four hours later we heard that Jeff had a fracture in one of his fibia bones and to the dismay and upset of the whole group this meant that his London to Magadan adventure was over. Jeff was sad but sanguine and set about sorting his affairs out including sorting flights home and arranging to ship his bike back to Hong Kong.

Also at the hotel was Bruce who had left us in Karakol to take his time thinking about whether to stay with the expedition or fly home. It was good to see Bruce and he appeared to be in fine spirits. The day before Bruce got caught up in the middle of the terrorist attack, he heard all the Police sirens whilst out on his bike visiting the KTM garage and being on a bike he was able to filter through the traffic and arrived at the shooting location where he saw a bullet strewn car and a dead Policeman with a blanket covering his face!! Bruce then doubled back, arrived at the Kazzhol Hotel which was locked off and he needed to show his passport in order to be allowed into the building. in the afternoon Dennis and I on the only two KTM’s rode out to the Almaty KTM dealership and later onto Freewheeled another motorbike shop that had sourced our tyres. The KTM garage is owned by Sergei who spoke good english and was personally going to service our two bikes. Sergei also believed he could permanently secure both my Touratec panniers to the frame of my bike, I asserted that I didn’t need to take them off until I got back to England, I just wanted them to not come off when I reach the Road of Bones in Siberia. Dennis and I had a good look round the KTM shop, bikers love Bike Shops. I tried to find a pair of goggles that would fit my helmet design, we will need protection from the dust later on the tour, I couldn’t find a suitable pair but I did buy some cool wrap round mirror sunglasses, OK so cool and mirror sunglasses is an oxymoron, but they completely cover my eyes, they were KTM branded, orange and I like them!!! Dennis and I then rode to the Freewheeling garage, which seemed to be run by a bunch of bikers, taking it easy and not worrying too much about work. All the tyres for all the bikes were waiting to be fitted except one!, yes my bike has a different back tyre to all the other bikes and my 18inch had not been ordered, damn and bollocks!! I asked to see the order list sent by Compass many weeks ago and sure enough Compass had failed to order my tyre, even though I had given them the correct details and paid for it, in addition Tony told me that he advised Compass that my bike had a singularly different size tyre to all the BMW’s and the 1290KTM of Dennis. If you remember back a few weeks when I had my blow out on the pot-holed roads leading into Stalingrad (I hope you are keeping up!) I ordered a new Heidenau Scout tyre to be delivered to Moscow and then found a Shinko off-road tyre in Stalingrad (Volgograd) this means I have a spare Heidenau on the roof of the Toyota. A bit of a lucky break but it did mean that I spent three hours in taxi’s ferrying around spare tyres in Almaty, I have now received an apology from Mick.

The next day was spent writing blogs, resting and fitting tyres, I then rode out of town to a place called Car City where I purchased a puncture repair kit and air pump generator that runs off a bike battery. Car City was a huge warehouse which housed hundreds of little independent shops that sold everything to do with cars and I do mean everything. The place was humming and I had difficulty in finding a parking place. I found what I was looking for and rode back to the KTM dealer in order to leave my bike for its service the following day. Because the sun was out and the temperature was in the mid 30’s I only had a tee shirt, shorts and flip flops, I could feel the atmospheric pressure changing and a few hundred metres before reaching KTM it started to spit with rain. I parked up just in time because an enormous storm ensued and the roads literally became rivers. This weather pattern is common in June and July when the heat in the day creates thunder and lightening storms in the late afternoon. Almaty is just below some huge mountains and the flood waters flow down from them into the city, because of this Almaty has a great system of dispersing the flood waters with canals in-between the trunk roads.

In the evening we had a briefing about the trailer situation, the only way that Compass could repair the axle was to fly out four spare axle stubs accompanied by Craig all the way from Melbourne. The axle stubs and accompanying spares needed to be chaperoned otherwise customs would take a week to clear four bits of metal that when packed up in a box look like missiles! Andrew and Danny found an engineering works that are prepared to work through the night on Thursday and all being well we will be able to continue our journey on Friday morning.

This evening, we had a farewell dinner for Jeff who was catching a plane at 11pm. The dinner was great, we all toasted Jeff, the girls cried and unknown to us prior to vacating the restaurant Jeff paid for the whole meal including all the drinks! Thank You Jeff. We were all very sad to be losing Jeff, I was losing a friend and photography mentor. Jeff is a lovely gentle person, he is a calming influence on everyone, he has a great sense of humour and is always positive and happy, he will be missed by all, but not forgotten, I will always retain Jeff as a friend and photography mentor via email and Facebook and I will one day visit him in Hong Kong where I have a close friend called Leander who lives close by on Lamama Island and or in Jeff’s other home in Tokyo, where I still have some old friends and partners in the Hobgoblin Japan pubs in Roppongi, Akasaka, Shibuya and Shinjuka. Good luck and a swift recovery from all your friends on the London to Magadan expedition 2016.

The above photograph is one that Jeff took at sunrise whilst at we were in the Shangri La, Heaven on Earth of Altan Arashan.

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Day 60, London To Magadan 2016 – Charyn Canyon, Kazakhstan – KTM Biker

At 8am we left the guesthouse in Karakol and headed for a mountain pass that would eventually take us to Charyn Canyon. Charyn Canyon (also spelt Sharyn)is on the Charyn river, 200 km east of Almaty and close to the Chinese border. Though much smaller than the Grand Canyon it has been described as equally impressive, I have now visited both and can vouch for that statement. The most striking difference is not the size but the amount of tourist visitors, the Grand Canyon is teeming with people from all over the world at Charyn Canyon we were the only visitors! we had the whole Canyon to ourselves. The photo I have shown above is in an area of the Canyon known as the Valley of Castles, I have more photo’s many with many of the Compass group in the foreground but I thought a stunning unadulterated panoramic vista of just the Canyon would give my blog readers the best chance of appreciating what several millennia of weathering action can produce. A footnote on my photo gallery, we are now back in Kazakhstan and as such, the Kazakh government blocks all unverified internet content, which means I can checkout the BBC website but I can’t checkout my own http://www.ktmbiker.com website and as a consequence I can’t edit or update the site with additional content including pictures, so you will have to wait a week until we re-enter Russia to see a wider selection of photograph’s.

An hour after we left Karakol we reached the foot of the mountain, it was a wet rainy day so most of the mountain was obscured by clouds. This was the lower slopes and usually this part of the ride is gentle, but not this time! In front of us was a steep section with the track made out of large pebbles of differing sizes but some as big as a fist, in-between the pebbles was loose gravel and the odd rock scree that had tumbled down from the cliff like mountain sides, add to this steady rain and a slippery surface. I was fourth out of 13 in line and as I followed Tony & Pat up this section, I concentrated as hard as I could to keep the bike upright, maintain traction and pick a route that was the most compacted, however all I could think of was, if the route through the pass is like this all the way we will never get to the top. In a situation like this, the bike veers from side to side and the tyres slip on the smooth wet loose pebbles, the most important thing is to make sure the bike is in off-road mode which allows the rear wheel to spin or traction control is turned off and to NOT STOP. The bike has to keep momentum, you have to keep that back wheel moving, stopping is curtains! because there is no level firm ground and it is so much harder to get going again, also this type of terrain on a steep incline does not allow for turning round and heading back down the mountain. So it’s full steam ahead, get your nose in front, squeeze the throttle,don’t worry whats behind you, as Simon Pavey the Australian ten times Dakar Rally rider who gave us some off-road trying says “don’t worry what your back wheel is doing just keep going forward”. I was following Tony on his BMW 1200GSA and on what turned out to be half way up the ascent of dread, he stopped, not fell, just stopped, I knew stopping was a bad option so I overtook him and powered up the top of the section, which turned out to be about a kilometre. At the top of this section, the road flattened out and improved, three of us got off the bikes and waited for the others, the next bike up was Ian & leanne who for the last few days have not had a shock absorber, which meant they felt every little bump, nook and cranny that the track could throw at them. Close behind them was Tony without Pam, when he stopped, Pam got off and walked up this section. The reason why Tony stopped was because his tank bag had slipped and was interfering with his steering. It took half an hour for everyone including Danny in the support vehicle to reach the top, a few stops and spills but happily no injuries, Lorraine got off the bike at the bottom of the mountain, as Jim could see in front of him how difficult the section was, Lorraine came up in the truck.

We all regrouped, marvelled at how crazily difficult this section was, got back on our bikes and continued our journey to the top of the pass. The track was still in poor condition, not helped by the rain but at least it was manageable or so we thought? An hour later as we rounded the peak we came across a section that was characterised by mud, deep ruts, loose pebbles and a 100 metre fall to our right! Was now at the back of the line and could see in the distance that someone had come off a bike and was trapped underneath. When something like this happens the group goes into hyper mode and those nearest the crisis do everything needed to help the injured party. Jeff was the unlucky rider, he had slipped on a nasty muddy rutted area and had fallen under the bike. Eventually the bike was lifted off Jeff and he hobbled into the Toyota. We all assembled at the bottom of the mountain, Danny returned on the back of Andrew to collect Jeff’s bike and we then loaded his bike onto the trailer. We were unsure how critical Jeff’s injury was, we knew it was his ankle and so decided to leave his boot on,which acted like a splint.

Because it was still raining we decided that instead of camping at Charyn Canyon we would all ride all the way to Almaty and book into the hotel a day early, however ten of us decided to do the detour and visit Charyn Canyon and the others carried on directly to Almaty. As soon as we left the Tian Shan mountain range which incidentally translates as “Heavenly Mountains” we enjoyed some super fast twisty roads as we rode into the Charyn valley. The official entrance to the Charyn National Park (set up in 2004) was 80km to the north but we discovered a short cut via an off-road sandy track that surprisingly was flat with very few pot holes. Ten miles down the track and we reached the gatehouse, it cost us 7,000 Tenge to $2 each, although they allow cars to drive the 500 metres to the Canyan vista, they guards refused to allow us to ride our bikes, so we parked up and walked. Charyn Canyon is a site to behold and considering I have never met anyone that has ever heard of it, I am so glad I have visited this amazing geological rock formation. We all had a great time, fooled about a bit and took loads of keep-sake pictures, including one of all ten of us in the foreground of the Canyon.

As soon as we left the National Park we stepped on the gas as we had 150km to go to reach Almaty. Ten miles down the road we met the other five bikes coming towards us, we stopped and discovered that Almaty was in the middle of a terrorist attack, three Islamist gunmen had laid siege to a Police station and at the current time five people were dead including some Policemen and nine injured. As a result Almaty, the capital city of Kazakhstan with a two million population was in lockdown with all schools, shopping centres and civic buildings closed and road blocks preventing any vehicles entering or leaving the city. To add insult to injury we discovered that our trailer had lost a wheel, one of the axle’s was broke beyond repair and therefore we had to again change our plans. Jim and Riaan our two resident engineers used a 3.5 tonnes strap to hold up the axle enough to reach a campsite 6km away off the main road and surrounded by hills. That evening everyone pulled together to sort out the truck and trailer, put up the cook tent, prepare a fabulous spaghetti bolognese and erect all the tents including Jeff’s and all just as the biggest storm that we have encountered hit us at full blast. We all sat in the cook tent, thats 17 of us with Jeff right next door nursing his poor ankle. The food was great and we raided Andrew’s stash of SA wine (proper wine!)and opened two bottles of Kyrgyzstan Cognac and a bottle of Calvados. It was Riaan’s 59th birthday, we sang him Happy Birthday as the rain poured down and toasted his good health. A very memorable day, “the best made plans of mice and men”.

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Day 54,London To Magadan 2016 – Tian Shan Mountains, Kyrgyzstan – KTM Biker

Today and yesterday are the two best motorcycle riding days of my life, the most beautiful, spectacular,breath-taking scenery, the most challenging and exhilarating physical riding, two fine summer days which because of altitude were only 21 degrees centigrade a perfect temperature, a host of unusual, interesting mountain dwelling Kyrgyzstan nomads to meet and lots of smiley kids to wave you on your way, pull funny faces when you stop and help pick your bike up when you are down. And to top it all a whole bunch of people who have not only bonded but become close friends, to share this pinnacle of the life changing adventure that we are all in the middle of. I know yesterday’s ride was awesome because I was there, and I know today’s ride is awesome because I can see into the future as I am writing this in the past!! I might be harping on about these two days as the best so far, but I have enjoyed the whole experience so far and I expect that Mongolia is going to vie with Kyrgyzstan as the standout mythical lonely planet country of the fifteen that we are visiting. Many adventurers that have completed this London to Magadan trip say that Kyrgyzstan is their favourite part of the four months long adventure. Kyrgyzstan’s history spans over 2000 years, encompassing a variety of cultures and empires. Although geographically isolated by its mountainous terrain, which has helped to preserve its ancient culture- Kyrgyzstan has been at the crossroads of several great civilisations, namely as part of the Silk Road and other cultural and commercial routes. Though long inhabited by a succession of independent tribes and clans, Kyrgyzstan has periodically come under foreign domination and attained sovereignty as a nation state, only after the break up of the Soviet Union in 1991. Kyrgyzstan is bordered by Kazakhstan to the north, Uzbekistan to the west, Tajikistan to the south west and China to the east.

Our magical overnight campsite, the one with the mountain stream, the river with the Grand Canyon rapids all surrounded by the Tian Shan mountains and the one which we slept under the clearest of moonlit sky’s had a sting in the tail! The entrance and exit to the site was via a steep incredibly rutted track that was covered in loose rocks and boulders. We left one by one in fits and starts following breakfast, which was scrambled eggs with lots of seasoning, pepper and flavoured with purple herbs found on the campsite, this, the culinary invention of Adrian and Kawangi (it might be a Balinese delicacy?). Third up the ramp was Pete, with no one really taking any notice it was two or three minutes until Leanne saw that he had crashed on the side of the incline and was laying under his bike, motionless..First to rush there on his bike was Tony and Bruce ( i have to say Bruce is your man in a crisis) Myself and Dennis were close behind on our bikes and Jim and Ian ran up the hill. We pulled the bike off Pete and told him to relax, no broken bones but a severely shaken Pete and a bruised ankle. When it had all calmed down the team decided that Pete would go in the Landcruiser as a passenger, Leanne would drive the truck and Danny would ride Petes bike, a pleasant change for Dan until you remember its a Suzuki, only joking!

We made off down a track that gently rose in elevation through the many fields that were being harvested. In one pasture four farm workers were cutting grass by hand, tying it in bunches and loading it on to a horse drawn flat bed cart, this grass was green but much of the surrounding fields were now a coppery, bronze colour also ripe for harvesting. These lower parts of the valley with the mountains in the distance are such a reminder of home, not as impressive as the mountains, plains and lakes of the higher altitudes but oh so cozy and welcoming, proper rolling countryside. Because the lower lying areas are not as treacherous as the high parts we all blast along the dusty tracks leaving plumes of brown dust trailing behind the bikes. When seen from a distance either in front or behind, this picture of dust strewn motorcycles is a striking one, unless of course you are riding behind eating the dust (a common occurrence!). I was trailing three of my colleagues and as they go up the hill circumnavigating the curvature of the climb, the site of all this energy being produced is mightily impressive. About an hour into the ride we started the real climb with as is so often the case weaving up and around the snaking S bends, half way up the first mountain pass we came to a mountainside Nomad village with four or five yurts and 60 to 70 horses, some of which were young foals. I slowed to a stop and greeted some of the children and noticed on the green pasture one of the women was milking a Mare, they obviously drink the milk but they also ferment it into a food stuff called Kumis which is a delicacy here in Kyrgyzstan, I have tried it, never again! We all congregated at the top of the pass which was called Kow Pass, i think it was only about 2500 metres above sea level. A few thousand metres beyond the Kow Pass and we arrived at the other side of the mountain and spread out before us was more of the Tian Shan Mountain range in all its glory. Not knowing what is round the corner is part of the excitement, this day could be subtitled “prepare to be wowed” and the wowing didn’t stop. I have taken a picture of these mountains but nothing can capture the eye popping view like the moment you are standing there, with not a whisper in the air, the sweet smell of summer in your nostrils and the jaw dropping site before you. The high snow topped peaks in the background half covered by light fluffy clouds, the brown lower mountains all folded over each other like a chocolate brownie cake mix and the differing shades of the summer pastures in the valley below and all shimmering in a heat haze that makes the very distant peaks difficult to focus on. From the top I could see Bruce and Dennis below chasing each other down the snakes that form the roads, I have clearly shown these Python shaped tracks on one of my photographs posted on this page. As I neared the bottom of the mountain, a warning came on my dashboard that said I was losing pressure in my rear tyre, true enough my rear tyre pressure had fallen from 39psi to 29psi. I kept going and hoped I could reach the rendezvous site a few miles ahead before my tyre pressure got too low. I reached sanctuary with still 20psi intact and Jim helped me out with his puncture repair kit and air pump which uses the power from the motorcycle battery. A few miles along we stopped for lunch in a village.

This afternoon we had to navigate two more mountain passes and then locate our campsite situated beside lake Ysyk-Kol on the high plane at over 3000 metres above sea level. The lower altitude riding, even though on gravel tracks was at full speed, we have got so used to these conditions and pretty good at avoiding the pot holes that we can speed along at up to 100kph in my case in 5th gear. I was first off after lunch, confident that I had the GPS track all the way to the campsite I went off like a scolded cat. Half an hour later I was caught by the others, although one by one, as everyone was spread out. I normally get caught because i stop to take pics and breathe in the atmosphere. I stopped a few times on this mountain. once to take some shots of four Yurts nestled under a cliff and beside a babbling brook, Jeff also stopped and photographed me shaking the hand of a little nomad boy that had ran all the way from his yurt when he saw me stop. I also stopped to take some pictures of the valley below. At the peak, instead of the normal steep descent, we descended only a few hundred feet and then laid out in front of us for as far as you could see was a high plane, interspersed with yurts, horses, sheep, goats, horses, donkeys, cows and nomads, many of which were on horseback, (thats the nomads not the sheep!). I imagined these scenes to be with me a few weeks hence when we reached Mongolia, I never realised that Kyrgyzstan was also a mountain paradise with a similar heritage, I can now understand why the Kyrgyzstan national flag has the tundig (the circular crown of a yurt) as its emblem within the design of the flag.

I feel strangely very attached to these high planes, they are so peaceful, so vast and so idyllic. When I decided to do this adventure I knew I wanted to do it, but I didn’t really know why? Up here on the Kyrgyzstan planes and I am sure it will be the same in Mongolia, I have had a minor epiphany! My late wife Tracey had her own Yurt at the bottom of our garden in Abingdon, it was her very special place. All the family enjoyed it, the grown up kids and their mates for parties, all the family for barbcues but it was a place of sanctuary, reflection, meditation and peace for Tracey,in the Spring and Summer every morning in the nice weather she would be sat outside the yurt crosslegged taking in the early morning sunshine eating her breakfast and watching her bees busily collecting nectar (her bees hives were only a metre from the yurt). So these high planes of Kyrgyzstan would have been a spiritual home to Tracey, she would have loved everything about this magical place,it is heaven on earth.

Day54 - Ian and Kid

The picture above is of a nomad horseman that I photographed as he rode past between me and a cluster of yurts. We also came across a nomad kindergarten, with lots of kids and lots of brightly coloured flags. All the nomads were so friendly, whenever we stopped to take photograph’s they stopped to say hello. One group of three guys and one girl screeched to a halt in their Audi Quattro, big smiles, big greetings and they wanted to take snaps of us and them next to our bikes, these guys gave me some loaves of bread and some salami to take away, all my pictures are on this page.

We finally reached a fork in the road with the left fork pointing to the campsite, just five kilometres ahead, but first we had to fix a puncture in Jeff’s rear tyre which because he had inner tubes and not tubeless meant taking the wheel off and tyre, and fitting a new tube. Then we had to cross a river ford that would cover about half the height of our bikes, a few of us had already crossed, so we waited for Riaan, Jeff, Tony, David and Danny to cross with our camera’s at the ready. I got some great pics, unfortunately no one came off! I didn’t mean that because a flooded bike would mean a longer delay as we would need to load the bike on the trailer. The next five kilometres was head long into the sunset over the high plane as fast as we all could go. Over the five km we must have passed a hundred yurts and interspersed with horses, foals and Audi Quattro’s. Finally we could see the others all parked by the side of the lake. As soon as Danny arrived we got our tents up, the cook tent and we all attended to our various chores.Everyone was blowing and puffing due to lack of oxygen and a couple had mild altitude sickness. Leanne and Pat went skinny dipping in the lake, many of the others also went swimming, whilst I jumped on my bike with just a tee shirt and shorts and went a mile back down the track to meet the neighbours. I parked up by a cluster of twelve or so yurts, got off the bike and introduced myself to a nomad family who invited me in to sit in their yurt and drink chai. I wouldn’t have normally done this but I noticed on the ride past that this small hamlet of yurts had westerners in the group and I was curious. Sure enough, into the yurt when they realised communication was not going great, came an American lady a couple of Germans and a Dutch couple who all spoke english. It appears that these westerners come every summer to get their back to nature fix, I was jealous. The American lady Jane told me that the Kyrgyzstan nomads only come to this high plane 3100 metres above sea level from May to September, they farm their horses, fish in the lake and generally enjoy life. In the winter they go back to their lowland villages as the planes are covered in snow.

For supper we had chilli, chick peas and chorizo, followed by a warm sleeping bag, this night it was really cold and I needed to put a fleece on to keep warm

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Day53, London to Magadan 2016 – Ming Kush Pass, Tien Shan Mountains – KTM Biker

The above picture is of myself, some children that visited us at our lunch break and Kawangi. Kawangi is the daughter of Adrian and Hera and sister of Samsara, she replaced Samsara in Tashkent and will ride as pillion to her Dad Adrian until we reach Ulan Bator when Hera returns for the final push to Magadan. Kawangi is 25 and studying Marketing at Brisbane University, just like her younger sister she has settled in well. Adrian and Hera own an up market beachside hotel and three restaurants in Bali, and they are obviously both excellent at bringing children up because their girls are delightful.

I woke up feeling hungry and better. Today I was getting back on the iron horse, but first I needed to eat, as it had now been over 80 hours since my last meal! We didn’t have a hot meal because we hadn’t erected the cook tent so I had three bowls of corn flakes and some fruit. My bike had a flat battery so we jumped started it and i went for a 20 minute run over the dunes to get some juice back in it. It was good to be back riding but I took it easy because I needed to build some strength up. We stopped at a petrol station that had 95 octane petrol, we had only filled up with 80octane in Uzbekistan, so it was a relief to find the good stuff. My bike probably like all the bikes cannot do all the things it should do on poor quality fuel. With 90+ octane I can re-engage the Traction Control and use my Off-Road mode which will be much needed today when we reach the mountains. Ten more miles and we left the bitumen road and began the gradual ascent to the Tien Shan mountains. Because Kyrgyzstan is landlocked and mountainous with much of its land surface being way above sea level, the temperatures are much cooler than Uzbekistan and the land is much more lush, green and fresh. These low lying areas had lots of cultivation with many golden fields of corn being harvested. I took a photo of a farmer sitting on a horse drawn combine harvester, which can not have been witnessed in the west since the 1920’s unless you are in Amish country in Pennsylvania. As we got higher the views of distant mountain ranges and the valleys below became more impressive and the people, animals and vegetation also became more interesting, I found it increasingly difficult to stay on the bike, not because I was falling off but because I needed to get my Cannon 7D out of my top box and take some pictures, by the end of this three day Mountain Pass extraordinary sojourn I had taken 579 photo’s! Like everywhere we have been, everyone we meet are so friendly, people especially children wave as soon as they see the bikes. Later when we start passing the remote Yurt encampments we see the kids rushing to the roadside waving frantically and hoping you will stop to shake hands and say hello. On the way to our lunch site I passed an old man with a walking stick and a tall Kyrgyzstan felt hat, he had a wrinkled face that had been lived in, and a long beard, I turned the bike round parked beside him, we greeted each other like old friends, my hand in his two hands, I asked if I could take a photograph and he seemed chuffed, brushed his beard with his fingers and readied himself for the Royal photographer. I will add the photo to this page (if the wifi keeps working).On the run trough to lunch I also took pictures of a little girl with a wheelbarrow and a boy on a horse and a striking photo of the valley below covered in a network of patchwork quilt cultivated fields, it could be Oxfordshire in August, except for the snow topped mountains in the distance. Lunch was besides a clump of trees, just enough shelter from the sun, although the temperature was probably only in the high 20’s now.

KTM Biker July14#4

Jeff and I left the others to clear away lunch and went half a mile up the dirt track in order to try and catch the riders come up the hill in a cloud of dust, the results will also be on the photo gallery. We now started to rise steeply towards the summit and the people and children were becoming more nomad and the pet dogs that accompany the nomads more aggressive. I have been lucky, because whenever I have stopped the dogs have been friendly but when we ride past an isolated yurt the dogs hear our V twin engines and rush out to attack us, they run beside you snarling and yapping trying to bite your leg. I think it is the bikes that they are not used to? I came to a stream crossing with a Yurt to the left and herd of wild Horses in front and the mountains in the background, I stopped to photograph as I saw this Nomad walking down the track towards me. We greeted each other and I was astounded as he said “Good Afternoon, How are you?” we exchanged names and I asked if I could take his picture? he smiled and said yes and as he readied himself for the picture he brought out the twin barrel of a rifle from beneath his shirt. A flashback to a John Boorman film “Deliverance” came flooding through my brain, I was half expecting his co conspirator turning up and them having that legendary film quote conversation- “Well, what do you think of em?” “I think he’s got a purdy mouth, Aint he!!” Far from it, this Hillbilly countryman nomad who lives in a Yurt on a mountain side, somehow spoke great english and was a perfect gentleman. He was only showing me the barrel, and I had a tough job getting him to pose with both the barrel and riffle butt in the picture because he said militia were about which I presume he means Police or Gamekeepers but he did admit that he uses the gun to kill animals for food.

Higher and higher to the summit which was over 4000 metres, the track was now pretty treacherous and the drop zone unthinkable, it was like a snakes and ladders board without the ladders, any bit if road that was fairly straight or not directly on the edge we motored along quite quickly but the difficult bits were navigated with care. Our whole day was just over 200km but it was taking us 9 plus hours of bone shaking labour. Off-road riding is so invigorating, you are so in the moment, you can’t take your eyes off the track for more than a second but at the same time you so much want to take in the amazing scenery which you do by absorption. In the real mountainous area we only came across a few hard bitten trucks probably no more that two dozen all day and about a hundred cars which on a nine hour ride is very unusual. We also passed a few hikers and a few hardy cyclists and one crazy French guy pulling a sack truck, but if I added them up, the total would come to less than a dozen. The reason I mention this, is because this range of mountains is so gorgeous so beautiful and so awe inspiring that if it was in Continental Europe or UK like say, the Lake District it would be teeming with people. Can you imagine 13 off-road motorcycles mixing it with the Ramblers Society (one of the most organised, financed and powerful lobby groups in the UK!) on Lake Windermere!! No Chance! The final rise to the high pass was on a big left hand curve that crept along the mountains edge, I was now riding on my own, which is normal for me and Jeff, because we are always stopping to take pics and in my case to reflect. I could see all the other guys sat by the marker which signifies the high point of the pass about a kilometre further round the mountain. I came to a halt, got off the bike and looked out into the distance way across the Tien Shan mountain range and the valley below. The range was granite coloured at the highest point with snow top crests, then below, the colours turned to deep golden tans and faded pinks intersected with the snaking S-bend gravel and stone dirt track roads (oh they look in such perfect condition from far away!) and below the trees and then different shades of green that make up the valley, interspersed with the odd yurt, sheep, and wild horses. I stood at the centre of a turning world, kissed my tank bag with Tracey’s photo, had a little chat with her, told her how much i missed her and gave thanks to her memory.

At the top, we all had a rest while exchanging stories of the ride. Also at the summit was this mad Frenchman that was pulling a sack truck all the way to Ulan Bator if his money and luck holds out. He was so keen to speak to people that could understand him (does anyone understand the French!, if you reading this Aurelia, Armelle, Delphine, Mike, sorry) that we couldn’t get away, I have posted a picture of him chatting to Kawangi.

On the descent I stopped off at a small yurt encampment where about a dozen nomads were sat in a circle having lunch. I got off my bike and asked if I could take their photo, they all were so happy and agreeable and not only did I take a picture but also sat with them for a minute and shared some of their picnic.Again I took a splendid photo of the Patriarch or should I call him a chief of the clan as we are in Kyrgyzstan. Kyrgyz is Turkik for forty and the name given to the country derives from when Manus a legendary hero of Kyrgyzstan who in the tenth century unified the forty regional clans against the Uyghurs, literally Kyrgyz means “we are forty” and today the National flag has the symbol of a sun with forty rays and a tunduk in the middle, a tunduk is the centre circle of a yurt used traditionally by the nomads of Central Asia.

A bit further down the mountain I came to a fork in the road, being on my own and with my Garmin Sat Nav being indecisive ,I stopped to ask some Nomads the way and being on the side of a river ford I couldn’t get my bike stand down and went over. Half a dozen kids came to pick the bike up, i had to make sure they didn’t touch anything hot, I thanked them but couldn’t take a photo of them because i couldn’t get to my camera in my top box, besides I was embarrassed about falling off. I next stopped by some blue bee box’s that were buzzing like crazy, i got my photo but made a hasty retreat as these bees were nasty aggressive bees and they were beginning to swarm and buzz round my head. I know a thing about aggressive bees as Tracey was a bee-keeper and believe it or not most honey bees are gentle but some just want to attack you and these were those.

For the final descent i teamed up with Jeff, Riaan and David and being on the lower slopes we kicked on towards the camp site. Every so often we would pass one of the nomads in one of their thirty year old Audi Quattro’s going at what seemed a hundred miles an hour, everyone of them had Audi Quattro’s and every one drove at break-neck speeds. It was like Hazard County in the “Dukes of Hazard” except the Nomad’s “General Lee” was not a 1969 Dodge Charger but a 1989 Audi 2.2L DOHC Quattro. Trying to make some time up and catch up with the others, we sped down a gravel road next to some road building, the road narrowed and filtered to the left towards a small gap six foot wide. I came in from the right at approx 60kmh, didn’t leave enough room to get back on the straight and narrow after the gap, hit sone deep shingle about a foot below the road level and came off the bike to the left against the one foot/eighteen inch shingle bank. As I and the bike went down I could feel the bike start to pressure my left ankle and then came to a halt with me half under the bike. All this while Jeff was ten metres behind me watching the impending disaster!. Well I and the others (Riaan and David were in front and rushed back to help) couldn’t believe that I just walked away, the shingle broke my fall and another inch of movement from the bikes frame and I might have had a broken ankle but someone up there is looking after me.

Filled up with Gas and headed to the campsite. This was the best campsite so far, we had a Grand Canyon style river with huge rapids but also a little mountain stream which the Africans made a dam which we stored our cold beer in, sat and cooled down in, washed away our sins and relaxed whilst watching the sun go down over the Tien Shan mountains. Food was pasta and fried chicken and everything was fine and dandy.

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Day 52, London To Magadan 2016 – Ferghana to Kyrgyzstan – KTM Biker

Trouble with internet and wifi again, I just lost some posts in the ether!!

Today was a border post day, so not much happened other than we sat at the Uzbek-Kyrgyzstan border for eight hours in 40+ degrees of heat. The long delay was because the two Soath Africans and Danny from Brazil needed visa’s which we had not expected. Luckily they were able to get the Kyrgyzstan Immigration authorities to send a young english speaking civil servant from the town of Osh to the border to issue the visa’s. The main problem was time.

We eventually all met up in Osh about 7pm and then travelled 80km to our campsite which we had GPS coordinates for on our Garmin’s. I was still ill with Man-Fever!! Oh yes so much more severe than Man-Flu, my bike was still on the trailer and I stayed in the Landcruiser, drinking water and sleeping, I can’t remember a time when I felt so debilitated and exhausted.

We were in a race against time to get to the campsite before dark, as we realised that setting up tents and cooking facilities would be so much more difficult without sunlight. In our rush we were caught in a speed trap, we were doing 96kph in a 50kph area. When the Cops asked for a bribe Danny got so mad and just shouted NO MONEY and to our astonishment they let us go with only a five minute stop, we think it must have beed near their knocking off time.

We reached the campsite as dusk was settling, it was a beautiful location well away from the road and beside a lake. We had just enough time to put our individual tents up but not the cooking tent. We therefore had a picnic supper, but with me being ill, it took all my energy to get my tent up, I crawled into my sleeping bag and curled up like a squirrel ready to hibernate.

The featured photo is one I took from the Landcruiser as we were following Riaan, David and Bruce to the lakeside campsite.

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