September 29, 2007 GMT
First cycling experiences

The Jungfernfahrt on the bicycle is successfully completed, I'm now in Osh.
But man, this IS a bloody different game! The km-clicks were sometimes so long apart, I thought I never arrive. No wonder, my bike, including front and back rack weighs 17kg. To that comes the weight of my kit, that's about 15kg. And then me: I was very surprised when weighing myself today. I now bring the scale to the highest personal record ever, 84kg! Usually I weigh about seven kilogram less, which at 1,92m makes me such a Spargel. So now I have the proof that travelling is good not only for my mind and soul but also the body.
On the other hand, I doubt that Tibet is so good for the body because due to the high altitude (always above 4000m) and the physical exhaustion most people cycling there lose about 6-10kg during that period. That brings me back to "normal" then. Which means I'll have to eat lots of food in India. Not so bad after all...


First self cycled pass!

On Tuesday at lunchtime I finally had everything strapped to the bike and started pedalling. I have about as much weight in the front as in the back, which causes a bit of a tipsy steering experience. But I got used to that quickly, at least on the good tarmac roads it's no problem. The first 65km I cycled along a boring flat road with pretty heavy traffic. After that I was a bit disappointed of myself because I already felt quite exhausted. I could go on, but from other cyclists I knew that the road leads with almost no gain in altitude for another 60km into a narrow gorge with no camping possibilities. And at the end comes the blast, where in 20km it leads up about 2000Hm to a pass. Surely I was not able to do that anymore (already 5pm), so I tried to hitch a ride on a truck.
(NOTE: At the moment I have no ethics like having to cycle every meter. Instead I want to use this trip to Osh and then further to Kashgar as test ride for the material and training for myself. Since the road from Kashgar to Katmandu is very, very long and will take much time, I will find myself cycling well into November at which time it becomes almost unbearably cold in Tibet (at least with my gear). So the strategy right now is to safe time by skipping parts of the way when possible.)


Isaac in his Kamas

After a little while a russian Kamas picked me up, the driver was the very friendly Isaac from the ethnic group of the Tatars. We talked a little at the beginning but then left each other alone with our thoughts. I felt very comfortable and happy that I dont have to cycle in the dusk sharing the road with many trucks, crazy mashrutka drivers and the kyrgyz cowboys with their sheep and goat herds (the season for the high pastures ends at the moment, so all the shepherd families bring their flock into the valleys). The speed of the truck was about 40-50 kmh, but on the tiniest slope it slowed down to, well, I think cycling wasn't slower. But that didn't bother me at all. A 100km further, long after dark in the valley on the other side of the pass I said my Sposibo bolschoi and got off the truck, went 300m off the road into the steppe, pitched my tent and slept very sound that night.


Traffic on the first pass

The next day was a very hard one. The road led slowly upwards to the next pass, but a constant wind made progress very slow. Also, a village where I thought to buy bread turned out to be a few abandoned trailers with no food at all. Still, this day I had to do it, I refused offers of truck drivers to take me up. Btw, traffic had decreased to maybe one vehicle every 5 minutes. At 4pm, after 55km and 6 hours of hard work I finally reached the pass. I stopped right there to make some pasta, because no way I could go on without eating. The food fixed everything though, I was quite happy afterwards, put my warm clothes on and comfortably rolled down another 40km to a fantastic camp spot on the side of a river. On the way I was invited by a man, his wife made me tea and I could buy a big loaf of bread. My breakfast was secured!
In the morning I enjoyed it, the breakfast, for a long time and afterwards took quite a while to rearrange my gear, protecting my stuff from the rain which looked like coming soon. The road looked easy on the map, going down to a big lake and then in a huge detour around it. But after 30km the fun was over. Headwinds blew no matter which direction I went and at the end of the day, after about 100km there came an unexpected pass, maybe 2500m high. There was no nice spot to camp, the weather was miserable and so felt I. So I tried to conquer the unknown pass, with big disappointment after each turn where I could see just how far I was from the top. The rescue came in form of another Kamas. It was driving fast enough to overtake me, but really only with about 3 km/h speed difference. So I hung on to the side of it and actually worked my way up until I was on the side of the passenger window.
The three guys in the truck had a good laugh and we talked a little. One half climbed out of the window to grap some bonbons I had in my front-bag. Then they asked me if I want a cigarette. I showed I have no hands free, one I need to steer and the other to hold onto the truck. That don't matter, they light a cigarette up for me and stick it in my mouth. I felt so fucking cool, I wish I had a picture of us arriving at the pass. Crawling up with maybe 10kmh, me hanging on the side with a big grin in my face, a cigarette stuck between my lips. Everything miserable was gone, I felt great and travelling was just as crazy as I like it to be.
A few more km down the mountains I found another spot near a river to sleep. When cooking my meal a boy with a donkey came to get water, initially ignoring me. When I approached him he was all smiles and very friendly, but too shy to talk. Once in my tent I didn't listen long to the river before I fell asleep.


Kyrgyz Cemetery

Day number 4 started with some drizzling rain, so I made my breakfast in the tent. It was very cozy and my body didn't feel like moving but, I wanted to cycle another 100 clicks down the very impressive Naryn River gorge before hitching a ride the remaining 200km of the way to Osh.
So I got up and once I was on the bike all the pain was gone. After the lunchbreak, at which I ate half a kilo of troud (and nothing else) at a roadside restaurant, the sun came out and I enjoyed the slow passing of the mountains and cliffs along the river.


Naryn river gorge

When you cycle the whole day, there is a lot of time to think, but to be honest, I actually don't think so much. I more enjoy my favorite past time: daydreaming! I guess this is why I might like cycling even more than riding a motorcycle. It gives me more time to dream! Maybe one day I end up like this guy :)
...he looks happy though!


At 3pm I had dreamt enough, and also my cycling pensum for the day was fullfilled. So I started waving at trucks to take me to Osh. The experience was very odd, I kept getting rides that went just half the way I wanted to go.
The first I got took me 100km to Jalabad. There we stopped right at a roadside stop from the police. My driver informed them about my need, so they stopped every vehicle until one was going where I wanted to. Took about 30 seconds. Unfortunately, again not all the way to Osh. At dusk, in an unfriendly town I had to get off and find another ride the remaining 50kms to Osh. It didnt take long, but the guy was a very loud and annoying character. Also it turned out he wanted to go to his hometown, 25km out of Osh. Luckily for a 100Som (~2 Euros) I could break the cycle and convince him to bring me all the way to Osh.
So finally at around 9pm I arrive at the house of Zyod and Muhammasali. They were very surprised that instead of a motorcycle I now have a bicycle. Friendly and hospitable as ever I got a big portion of Plov (rice dish) and we talked for a long time about where I went and what I saw, their business and the coming year. Again, I slept very well, this time on a better mattress than my Thermarest with holes. (I guess it's a holy thermarest :)
The rest day today was very nice, but tomorrow I start towards Irkeshtam, the boarder between Kyrgyzstan and China. It will be a three day trip, over two passes, one 3600m, and partly very bad road. It'll be a notch harder than the last four days, lets see how I tackle it. After the boarder the road goes down another 300km to Kashgar, but maybe I find a truck again to skip that. Whatever happens and if I die or not; you'll read it in my next blog :)

cheers and a Prosit der Gemuetlichkeit to everybody in Munich,

Posted by Andreas Naumann at September 29, 2007 12:01 PM GMT

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