By far the best scenery of the trip, ranging from red cliffs in the first canyon, to lush green valleys and towering mountains. The final pass to 3600m was also the highest point of the route so far, and the day included 3000m of vertical climbing.
The day started early and I skipped Frank’s offer of breakfast. I knew that today would include a lot of climbing and I was keen to get as much of it done as possible before the heat of the day. Progress was slowed by frequent photo stops – not a bad complaint – but I still managed reasonable progress to a truck stop where I had a coffee and yesterday’s bread. The colours of the cliffs were amazing, with vibrant reds and greens, making a welcome change from the sandy browns of recent weeks.
As I climbed higher it got cooler and eventually rained as I made my way up the long valley towards Taldyk Pass. The valley was dotted with yurts and people begged me to stop and take shelter from the rain. But the pass loomed large and I needed to keep moving if I wanted to make a dent in it. The pass was the steepest and sandiest I have ever ridden and switched back to the top. Trucks loaded with TVs, fridges and assorted electronics from China crawled up and down the mountain in convoy. The dust from the engine brakes was choking, and noise deafening. Some of the trucks must have been 50 years old and had crank starts. Halfway down I saw a young Kyrgyz jump out of one of said trucks, run to the stream with a bucket and then throw cold water on to the brakes to cool it down while it was still in motion. I’m not sure that would have been in the warranty manual.
The crest of the pass was not the end, as I had been warned. After the 5km downhill there was another steep pass that took over an hour. After almost 8 hours in the saddle I rolled into Sary-Tash, a windswept village with limited facilities but some shelter. The guesthouse didn’t have a shower – which I badly required – so did a bucket wash in the backyard of body and clothes. I also painstakingly changed the dressing on my saddle sore which is gradually improving.
Dinner consisted of 5 fried eggs (the only menu item) washed down with a beer. Tonight I dug deep into the pannier for the warm clothes as I venture up over 4000m tomorrow for the first time on this trip.