The most gruelling road conditions and terrain I have ever encountered. The fact that I am in Kazarman surprises me as I was absolutely spent at 60kms. My understanding of today’s route was an initial high pass (3000m) and then either downhill or level roads to Kazarman. The first pass was as promised: brutal. It switched back steeply (pictured left) on loose gravel for the first hour and a half and then turned nasty. The road surface and gradient made staying upright difficult and I had to switch from one side of the road to the other to keep my momentum. This would usually be dangerous except there was not a car to be seen. The road had been blasted by Russians in the early 1900s and they obviously weren’t thinking about cyclists when they designed the sharp, steep corners.
At the top of the pass, three hours later, I ran into four cyclists from the Ukraine. They looked like hard nuts and lamented that even in the Ukraine the roads were not like this. The descent was treacherous and at one point I almost washed out the front wheel on stony corner. The bottom came much quicker than expected – and hoped for – and surprise number one for the day: a second pass. It to an hour to climb and by now the sun was blistering. As I crested the pass I was hit with a massive headwind the remained for the rest of the day. At 1.30pm I spotted a lonely tree in the landscape, parked my bike against a signpost and walked down the embankment with water, bread and map for company. I rested for 30 minutes staring high above me at the second surprise of the day: pass number three. A fourth and fifth pass would come later…
With 60kms done I was toasted. I pulled into a small village looking for something sweet. A young kid on horseback took me down a laneway to the back of a house. Two young girls inside appeared with a bottle of creaming soda (Russian style) and charged me 50 cents. I was a sorry sight leaning against a wall with no energy, covered in dust, the wind howling and sipping on a sickly sweet soft drink. On the final climb of the day I oscillated between five and six kilometres an hour with riding, and four when I was pushing. I pushed a lot. For kilometres on end. Slow going.
At the top of the last pass the landscape opened up below me. Kazarman was still a possibility tonight, but I didn’t want to get ahead of myself. The descent lasted 15 kilometres and I hit a top speed of 50 when a massive dog sprinted out from a house and took off after me. The wind was stronger than anything I’d encountered in Tibet or Iceland, and I got grudging respect from a young cyclist who rode with me for a kilometre or two. With his Mongol haircut (left) and steel bike this kid was so different but so similar to me. He nodded approval that said “good on you mate”. A fleeting but deep connection was made.
When I pedalled into Kazarman (pictured left) I had been cycling for 8 hours and 40 minutes. The only café serving food served up disappointment so many different ways. The food was terrible (old horse meat), the ambience frightening (bad central asian karaoke) and service neglectful. I found accommodation after some searching and stumbled across an oasis: comfortable beds and travellers! Two Australians from Geelong were staying there and it was great to slip into effortless speech and familiar subject matter.
Tonight I am wrecked and everything aches. Last night was a restless, eye half open kind of sleep with a procession of vodka-fuelled passers by and a decent sleep is required. I’d hoped to make Jalal-Abad and civilisation tomorrow but know it won’t happen. What awaits tomorrow I wonder…