The little man lifts the little barrier and we’re in, leaving the huge queue of traffic behind us. It’s nearly 40 degrees but there are no frayed tempers, no shouting and screaming. They all seem to be resigned to their fate. We quickly through the formalities and hunt down the insurance shed for more worthless pieces of paper.
The bloke inside is barricaded in behind bars. He’s got a 6ft square room with his computer, his bed, 2 years supply of food, and most important of all, an AC on full blast. He’s on the inside in a jumper and hat, I’m feeling like I’m standing under an invisible shower. Water is running from my head down my neck, my back, my crack, and all the way into my boots. It’s dripping out the ends of my sleeves. It’s dripping off my ears. It’s time like these I have to just sit down, shut down and wait. Make my brain retreat away from my mouth where it can do no damage. Away from my muscles where it can do no harm. Just let it sit at the back of my skull and let things take their long, hot, unnecessarily complex and frustrating course. I just have to go put myself in standby mode, otherwise there can be trouble.
At least we are here in daylight this year. So I can see exactly how shit the road is. I first came here in 2014 and the road was a bombsite. Last year there were roadworks for about 60 miles and we spent hours in the dark dodging cravasses and sand dunes in clouds of dust. Twatting wheels and crawling past hot trucks sulking their way through the mess. This year it’s better. There are only 59 miles of roadworks. WTF these people are on is anyone’s guess. I reckon it’s the same people who are have been working on the M3 for the last 300 years. I take a picture of this year’s road and last years and play spot the difference. I’ve been looking for 5 hours and I can’t find one. Bloody useless. But, it is light at least. I get to one section that is almost flat for 300 yards and scoot past a police car parked on the side. His lights come on and he starts waving out the window at me so I pull over and see what he wants. I pull up and he’s out the car running over to me. This can’t be good. But he just puts his arm around me and sends his mate out to take a picture. “Whatsapp, Whatapp…” he shouts at me. Oh well. Better than a ticket I guess.
I get towards the end of the shit road. I can see the good stuff. The black stuff. The smooth stuff. I subconsciously speed up chasing the tarmac. I’m going over the brow of a small hill and it all goes quiet. I appear to have left the ground. It’s all quiet for a second and I realise that I’ve missed a huge cut in the road where they’re probably going to put a huge 20ft fucking cattle grid or something. So I desperately yank the bars up but not before there is a nasty ping as my rim hits the edge on the other side. Fuuuuck that sounded nasty but the wheels are still going round and I’m still on the bike so I carry on regardless into Uralsk. ‘la la laaaaaaaaa’ Nothing wrong here…. hopefully. Get to the hotel and pluck up the courage to look at the wheel. I’ve got a significant dent in my rim but the wheel is still running straight and the tyre looks OK. Only another 8000 miles. It’ll be fine..
No corners to worry about anyway…
Heading south in Kazakhstan it’s like the bloke on the road making machine had a heart attack and it wasn’t discovered he was dead until 1000’s of miles later when he hit a mountain. He just fell forward on the wheel and his foot on the pedal. Straight straight and more straight. Following the curve of the earth like a degree of longitude on a globe.
We only stop for the 3 Ps. Petrol.. piss.. and plov.
Get to Aktobe and meet the hotel car park attendants. I wonder how much it costs for a ticket..
Aktobe. Just another big scruffy city sheltering people from the wind and sand outside.
We all go for a wander. There is a really strong smell of gas and it gets stronger as we approach a huge hole in the ground. Man law states that where ever there is a huge hole in the ground, you must stand on the edge, cross your arms and stare inside. Lots of law abiding men in Aktobe.
The men in the hole just ignore the strong smell of gas and just proceed to grind and weld and smoke their way through their repair. When one of them decides to start a barbecue for dinner though I decide it’s time to leave…
Get up and head for breakfast. Still really struggling without my little mojo mate. Can’s see hide nor hair of the bugger, or anything else for that matter. It’s probably fucked off somewhere else with a mate.
We head south towards Aralsk and the world is just empty and blank for hundreds of miles.
With just the occasional petrol, piss and plov oasis
I can’t imagine how the people live out here. Do they know the rest of the world even exists? Just one road and a world’s supply of sand and wind.
Get to Aralsk at dusk, jump off the tarmac and run round the sand roads looking for our beds. I’ve deliberately kept out the centre this time and found a basic guest house on the edge of the desert. I like this place. First place to feel properly foreign this trip. Nobody speaks English. The place is a bit of a tip. The cook is a grumpy old tart with a face that looks like it’s had a Tiger tank backed into it. The beds are made for elfs and the bathroom floor is a slippery diesel/soap combo that it’s impossible to stand on without spiked shoes. You can’t walk around without holding on to something for fear of ending up on your face in a pool of blood. I find myself washing my teeth with my crash helmet on just in case.
We’re all hungry and so we approach the cook. Now… let it be said here and now that I am the worlds smallest fan of Google translate. I hate it. I despise it. I really really dislike trying to talk to people through an impersonal piece of plastic and glass. Then pointing it at them and asking them to speak into it. It’s like giving someone a breathalyser test. Still, people like it and that’s their choice, even though they’re wrong.
One of the riders, a very polite and educated man decides he’ll give it a go. “My dear lady, would you please be so kind as to provide us with a variety of delicious and nutritious faire, preferably local, but prepared in haste and with deference to our delicate western palates and our natural aversion to eating odd body parts.” I don’t know what Google does with that little lot but the cook looks like we’ve asked her to prepare and slice a small child and serve it with a firework sticking out of it’s chuff. You don’t need Google translate to see she doesn’t have a fucking scooby what Google is on about. So I go to the kitchen and do the pointy thing and the eating foody thing and the rubby tummy thing and the pointing at a watch thing and she finally gets the message that we want her, a cook, to cook. We eventually get something that, like a lot of things in life, smells a whole lot better than it tastes, but it’s hot and lumpy and fills a hole. Job done.
I’m up early and I’m standing outside in the half light drinking coffee and chiseling dust from my eyes. I hear a weird slow soft padding noise to the left and step out onto the sandy road for a look. A camel appears between the houses into the low light of the rising sun. Slowly thudding it’s big toes into the sand. Then another, and another, and a small boy with a stick driving his herd across the road and into the desert beyond. Dozens of naked feet just padding quietly across the street between the houses, drawn to the heat and the light.
We’re keen to get out before the sun gets a real giggle on so we take a quick trip into town to see the memorial to the Aral sea and to look at the train station. The place is deserted. Just a woman and a cat, waiting for a train.
Get out on the road, open the throttle, hold the bars straight, close your eyes for a couple of hours and you’ll get to Baykonor and the Cosmodrome. There is a launch here in a few days so the place is in lockdown. Nothing to see here… move along…
Down through Kyzlorda and on to Shymkent. And I spy with my little eye, something beginning with R. Fuck me. A roundabout. I really have to think about this. I’ve completely forgotten what to do. Sod it – nobody about – so I just ride straight over it.
OK. I’m bored now. Does anyone know if there are any mountains round here please? Hills? I’ll settle for a small set of speed humps… anything to break this monotony that is Kazakhstan. We’re heading for Taraz near the Kyrgyzstan border and I know there are some hills and maybe even a few corners out this way. I take a sample corner I carry in my luggage and put it under The Bitch’s nose. She get’s the scent immediately, her head comes up and she’s off and searching. Following her nose into cool mountain air and narrow curvy roads. Fuck that’s a relief. The wind has dropped, the sun is out, the roads are narrow, bendy and steep. Little shops in villages with the locals all chatting shit. The satnav is clueless but who cares. It’s like diving in a cool pool at the end of a long day, like a big comfy bed at 4am, it’s just a big relief. Kasakhstan is nearly done. Soon be time to get a groove on in the mountains.
We blindly follow the satnav to the hotel. I’m sure I ticked the ‘avoid very very narrow weak and broken bridges’ option. Perhaps there are narrower and more broken bridges round here that it is actually avoiding. Either way, we choose a road that turns into a track that turns into a footpath that turns into a footbridge so narrow that we have to remove the luggage to get over it. At least Frieda duck was at home.
Out to the border and through into Kyrgyzstan quick styley. Where’s the waiting about? Where is the ‘where the fuck do I go now, who do I see next, what the fuck does this bloke want’ all gone. I really miss it:( Everyone is too friendly with each other. I want dark borders with scary staring guards. Barking dogs, hookers and dodgy geezers offering to help you through. I want a sweaty wait while they decide if the rubber gloves need to come out. I want to be shouted at by a small bloke in a huge hat. I want to worry that my passport isn’t going to come out that blank slot in the wall I just handed it through. I want to stare at a man behind the glass. I want to see him quietly show me a banknote inside a passport. I want to read body language and work things out. I want I want I want. I really want the bad old days back. Perhaps next time I’ll bring big bag of powder, or a fake passport, or a bundle of used cash that smells of cocaine. Or I’ll grow so much facial hair I could be confused for an animal. Or I’ll get absolutely shit faced and fall off in a heap at the barrier. Something to make it more interesting.
Kyrgystan is somewhere I always look forward too. Maybe I’ll find my mojo here. I know it likes it too. It’s not waiting here at the border but I think I can feel it in the air. I can hear it laughing on the wind. The Bitch can feel it too. She’s feeling frisky and keen so I just grab the reins and off we go. All pretty flat for a while
Then the road starts to climb, the temperature starts to drop, the air begins to thin and The Bitch starts to sing. Very quickly up to about 4000m and all is suddenly right in the world. I stop on a hill just to hear the silence. To feel my heart reacting to the altitude. Just to stare and marvel at the difference a few short miles can make. As I get back to the bike a couple of kids on a horse drop down off the mountain and ride up alongside. No words, just smiles, handshakes, expressions and gestures.
I’ve been this way before and the scenery was outstanding. I’m glad to see nothing has changed. A beautifully smooth, wide and wandering road takes us through the mountains and down to Tokogul for the night. The road just gets steeper and steeper, faster and faster, tighter and tighter until the luggage touches the tarmac and you know it’s time to stop. Tokogul is just as shit and dusty as I remembered too. Absolutely Perfect. Get to a basic home stay and hole up. Someone has put a shovel through the piece of wet string proving the internet to the whole town and so we’re almost completely cut off. Not a feeling some of the riders are used to, or comfortable with.
We’re taking a rest day here and given that the 20 screen multiplex cinema is closed, the international convention centre is being refurbished, the 50m pool is having the sand removed from the fast lane and the 50 lane bowling alley is still on the drawing board, there is not much to do today in Tokogul so we decide to go and get some sand under our wheels. We take off the luggage and head into the rough. Not particularly difficult to find round here. Up to about 2700m in the sunshine for a few hours. Lots of dust and sand. Lots of loose and gravel. Lots of beautiful views and lots of bugger all else round here..
Except for beautiful blue lakes
Out of Toktogul and race back up the mountain and across to Bishkek. Only stopping once to give a kindly policeman a hefty donation to the ‘Fat Lazy Bastard’ society. All just part of the game.
Kyrgyzstan is just an achingly beautiful place. I think God has a holiday home up here somewhere.
We’ll coming up on about half way soon and we’ll service the bikes before heading into China so we head to Olga and Dima’s bike oasis in Bishkek’s container city to get some lovely new oil. A really nice couple and out here, an absolute godsend. He can even get you Tourtech goodies if you can wait 5 years and have a million pounds to spend.
My brand new Klim gloves have already started to fall apart so I take them to the market to be repaired on a knackered 100 year sewing machine much like I suspect the cheap shit gloves were made with in the first place.The sun is shining and it’s lovely and warm so we head for the beach at Issyk Kol lake. Along with the cows…. obviously.
If you’re out this way, take the route less travelled. The southern route round Issyk Kol. Barren, rough, potholed and tough. We follow the deep blue water’s edge for a whole, then find a scruffy cafe and stare at the waitress.
Take the rough road 35 miles up to Son Kol lake to the yurt camp. I know this road is bad but the jewel at the top is worth every twitch of my arse on the way up.
Son Kol is at about 3000m so nothing like will come later but you can still feel it. Get to bed early and sleep like the dead.
And in the morning, be glad that you’re alive.
A good fast squirt across the plains to clear the lungs then more piste to the 33 pirates. This always scares the shit out of me. Fucking steep and fucking loose. It gets me every single time.
But once you’re at the bottom you’ve rewarded with a couple of hours of this. Seems like a fair deal to me.
Get to Naryn and hole up for a couple of days before we make the final push up to China. I got some tyres some sent out from the UK so we spend the day servicing the beasts. All the tyres about 2/3 worn. Plenty of life left in them. There is absolutely no way we’ll be able to get tyres on the rest of this journey. Rather than carry them as spares we all just leave them in a pile and walk away…. if I had a time machine…..
All the bikes happy and content with their shiny new shoes on, we follow the black line south. I’m last out. A visit to the market and a bit of messing about leaves me behind. I’m heading out into the sunshine and having a ball.
I’m riding along and I start to worry. Rather than worrying what is going to go wrong like I usually do, I start to worry why nothing has gone wrong so far. Did I forget to turn the fan on? Did someone not bring the shit? Did messrs ‘shit’ and ‘happens’ have a falling out? Why the fuck hasn’t anything gone wrong yet? And then I see a rider waving from the side of the road and at last, ‘shit’ and ‘happens’ have started talking to each other.
I stop to see the problem. He points to his front brake caliper. Ummmm. That’s not going to work…
He was riding along and felt something hit his leg. Unfortunately it seems it was the 2nd bolt leaving and not the first. So we’re 2 caliper bolts down and 60 miles from anywhere. We’ve got a selection of different bolts with us but these are M10 40mm I think and of course, nobody has any. Exactly how tough are cable ties anyway? As long as he doesn’t brake at 50mph going backwards it will be fine. I look back to where I’ve just come and the shit/happens brothers seem to be cooking up a storm for me. No alternatives though, I turn tail and run back to Naryn to search for bolts. As luck would have it, I remember walking past a hole in a wall that looked like it could be a shiny bolt emporium so I head straight there. I show the bloke a 30mm M10 and make a gesture. He winks at me and tells me to meet him round the back. There lurking in the shadows is a bucket of spanky 40mm M10s. Whooha. Up your’s shit & happens! I buy 5 dozen bolts just in case and head back 60 miles into the gloom to my mate with the floppy brakes.
By the time we all get to Tash Rabat it’s all calmed down and set itself to ‘beautiful’ again.
One more bollock freezing night on an undersized bed and we’re ready for China…
Fire up the beasts, run up to the China border… and wait…Next Page