Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Day 3 – Kochkor – Naryn

Distance: 130kms

The litany of disasters continues. I’m sitting in a depressing Cold War Russian hotel (balcony above) in dusty Naryn contemplating whether my bike has suffered a fatal malfunction: the rear hub. When I spin the back wheel it struggles to complete a single revolution before grabbing tight on either the hub or rear disc brake. If it’s the latter I might be OK, but if it’s the former the trip is doomed. The impact of the malfunction weighed physically and emotionally on me today. Physically it slowed my progress by a third – 130kms took 9 hours. The rear wheel resistance towards the top of the gravel pass meant that I had to walk the bike for the last two kilometres – something I usually refuse to do. I then had to nurse the bike down the other side, making today one of the longest and hardest I’ve ever done.

Enough complaints though. One of the more pleasant parts of the day was meeting a German couple over lunch in a dusty rat hole near Lake Song-Kol. It was while riding the three kilometres to their detour that I realised something was seriously wrong with the bike. As hard as I pushed I could barely keep up with them, despite the fact that they had way more gear than I and were clearly built for comfort not speed.

Witnessed a few funny things today:
  • The familiar sight of a policeman jumping out from behind a post or tree holding a radar and waiting for his baksheesh. The driver generally gets out, swaggers over and shakes the policeman’s hand. The policeman then glances into his palm and either nods in approval at the amount that’s been imparted, or complains to the driver. I saw one truck driver on the end of a verbal barrage from a policeman when he obviously underpaid his `fine’
  • I also witnessed the Kyrgyz version of environmental sustainability. The tradition is that when you are heading downhill you switch off the engine to save fuel. At one point I saw a Lada doing 2kph with a car full of patient guys on board staring blankly ahead like it was the most natural thing in the world
I also encountered some great mountain scenery. The drop into Naryn was particularly good as I was low on energy and the saddle sores unbearable. Had a frustrating hour trying to find accommodation as any semblance of information was closed. The salubrious Alo-Kol Hotel was straight out of Cold War Russia, complete with rude attendants. It took a full 20 minutes to find someone to check me in, the same to lug my bike up three flights of stairs and half an hour waiting for someone to repair the shower, toilet and light. The advertised warm shower was predictably cold, and the advertised balcony overlooked an abandoned housing block complete with smashed windows.

When I thought we were done in fact we weren’t. The babushka insisted on having someone sit in the room with me while she completed the paperwork. I finally got into the shower at 8.15pm, a full 80 minutes after I arrived… Tomorrow looks like a crunch one trying to diagnose and hopefully fix my wheel problems. The alternative is difficult to stomach: the end of the bike trip and return to Bishkek.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Ha, we never saw Ladas going downhill with the engine off but plenty of motorbikes doing this. It was the sure sign of a long climb ahead when a motorbike zipped past us downhill in the other direction at about 50km/hour with the engine off.