A rollercoaster today. Had a light breakfast and was on the road by 7.15am. The saddle sore was unbearable and I was forced to ride standing up for the first two hours. The kilometres ticked by with the assistance of a tailwind and smooth bitumen. The absence of rubbing back brake was also uplifting. The temperature started to rise as I hit Ak-Tal where I hoped to find lunch and replenish my water supply. Horror: the town was bare. Not a good sign when this was the biggest town on the map for the next 150kms. I decided that even with low water I had to press on to the next town 15kms away. The road turned to deep, sandy corrugations and traction and the terrain were difficult. The temperature was apparently 48 degrees and I was struggling to make any progress through the sand. I moved from the road to a horse track which was smoother and progress faster.
I took stock. I was down to 500ml of water and not a patch of shade in sight. I realised that the further I pushed on the more difficult it would be to retrace. I decided that I would crest a hill in the distance and make my decision from higher ground. Halfway up the climb, and spent, I discovered a small stream. I had to climb down a rock face and drank a litre in one mouthful, dousing myself to cool off. I knew then I was safe.
At the top of the climb the first car I’d seen since Ak-Tal passed me and disappeared into the village three kilometres below. Euphoria. I coasted down to the town to find out where I could get water but again there was none. I was tired, hot and hungry, and dry. It was then that one of two great people moments happened. The first was a guy that I came across in the street who insisted that I come to his house for lunch. We walked 100 metres, sat down in an open-walled bungalow in the backyard and proceeded to graze. He first poured me a large bowl of fermented mare’s milk – slightly better than it sounds – and a loaf of freshly baked bread delivered by his wife. I sat there for an hour trying to reclaim the few words of Russian from my scorched memory. He gave me another loaf of bread to take away – along with some jam – and assured me there was another village close by with a well. Off I pedalled…
The second people moment occurred at the next village. I found a small store that sold soda water and guzzled it as I took stock on how to proceed from here. A woman joined me and spoke to me in perfect English! She was the local schoolteacher and told me there was a stream about 20 minutes up the road. At this moment a Lada came hurtling around the corner and slammed on the brakes in front of us, passing six inches from my feet. I was about to jump up and take him on when I realised it was the woman’s husband. I shook hands with him as the dust settled and watched his vodka soaked mate stagger from the car to replenish his vodka supplies.
They disappeared in the Lada and I followed close behind. Sure enough, 20 minutes later I dropped into a gorge with green grass and a small stream. The woman, her husband, drunk friend and countless others were there as well, most of them drunk out of their minds. They were cooking wild goat shaslick (just shot by the drunk guy and seen on BBQ in picture above) and invited me to join them. I was able to avoid drinking the vodka and beer but enjoyed the shaslick as I sipped heartily from the stream. During the circus the group was trying to set me up with the sister of the English teacher – a tough sell given she was on her 40th vodka, had one tooth and couldn’t speak English….
They headed off and I was able to truly relax for the first time today. I have had a few passers by wander past, including a few shepherds, but am hoping for a peaceful night.