Saturday, October 19, 2013

Naryn to Kochkor

Heading north from Naryn, we were facing a 115km-ish journey, over a mountain pass, until the next town (or amenities). The distance and elevation would probably have made this an otherwise pleasant itinerary, but the forecast for rain and snow threatened to change that.

At some point in my life, the prospect of bad weather didn't deter me from hoping on a bike. I used words like "epic" and "hardcore" to convince myself that I actually enjoyed the sufferous nature of riding in inclement weather.

That time has passed. Now, I prefer my rides dry and comfortable.

And poor Gerry, still suffering from stomach problems and with a limited amount of warm clothing (tired of the heavy burden of panniers and clothing that he hadn't used, he mailed half of his stuff back to Calgary when we were in Kashgar). The weather forecast was hardly inspiring him, either.

Making the distance from Naryn to Kochkor was going to be tough - and a bit risky - we might end up camping in rain and snow at high elevation and we weren't particularly well prepared for that.

We started early and kept a good pace as we pedaled through the valley and eventually began the ascent to Dolon Pass. The climb was long, but the grade was mostly gentle and allowed us keep some momentum. It was chilly, but we were happy for every kilometer that passed without rain. A few kilometers from the pass, the grade kicked up.

That's when the rain began.

If I'd never ridden in the rain before, it probably would have been n big deal. In fact, it was hardly raining at all. Really, hardly at all. But the tyranny of experience plagued my brain with memories of getting caught in the rain, and images of how the rest of the day would unfold. I was actively ruining my own ride.

We had plenty of time left in the day, so I knew that we wouldn't have to set up emergency camp. But I imagined my frozen fingers and dropping body temperature spoiling my afternoon. I feared rolling into Kochkor miserable and wet and cold.

My concerns were unfounded. Within just a few kilometers after cresting the pass, the "rain" cleared and it was smooth sailing. 45 kilometers of gentle descent down to Kochkor.

Arriving in Kochkor dry and unhypothermic felt like an enormous victory. We celebrated the occasion at a little restaurant and ordered some soup and some beer. Just as our soup arrived, the skies opened up and it began pouring rain. It was so nice to be inside.

We got really, really lucky today.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

At-Bashi to Naryn

Following an adventurous first two days into Kyrgyzstan, we elected for a half rest day in Naryn, just 45km north of At-Bashi. A bustling metropolis of 34,000 and peppered with soviet-era relics, Naryn was the perfect place to spend a relaxing afternoon.

We found a tourism office offering community based tourism (CBT). This seems to be an effort (along with the relaxation of visa logistics that was passed about one year ago) aimed at promoting tourism in Kyrgyzstan in a way that directly benefits rural communities. It's like airbnb, without the technology.

I like it.


Hanging out at the CBT office offered us an opportunity to encounter some other tourists (the first noticeable (western) tourists that we've seen since we entered Kyrgyzstan). We met a girl named Helen, whose journey started out with pedaling a bicycle through Mongolia and Russia. When she arrived in Kyrgyzstan, she needed a break from the bike, so she bought a horse and has been trekking through the mountains on her own for the past couple of weeks. Seemed like a cool trip - but one that would be a lot more fun with a companion.

We also met a swiss couple who cycled here from Switzerland on a tandem! This might be one of the happiest and coolest couples that I've ever met. Full of stories and curiosity and a strong sense of adventure...and love. They just found out today that they were granted some extended visas for their trip will continue south and east and for some time to come.

It is quite possible that, combined, we represented all 5 western tourists in this town on this particular day. And none of us had come by the main road (from Bishkek) or by traditional means (car). I thought there was something really, really cool about that.