with Rod Oram


B to B 2024

B to B 2023

Tour of NZ 2023


Tour Aotearoa

Climbing at Sheffie speed

Aug 6, 2023

Day 7. Saturday, August 5th. Kochkor to Naryn. 127km, with 1,849m of climbing

Riding out of Kochkor was delightful in the cool air and colourful early morning light just after 6am. To conserve energy, I rode sedately for the first 40km to the village of Sary Balak, where the route cue sheet on my cycle computer told me there was a ‘Coke’ stop where the climb up the Dolon Pass begins.

No, TDA is not sponsored by a drinks company. This is just its tag for places we can buy food and drink. Given this village’s location, it is lined with various establishments serving travellers, even tho the pass is only open for five summer months a year because of its altitude. I chose a good one for a big bottle of iced tea, a pit stop, and some of the food I’d packed in my lunch box at breakfast time.

Then the real work of the day began. The first 10km of the incline was a steady 2-3 percent, at the end of which our passenger van (we also have two others carrying our bags, camp, cooking and other gear) was parked. Anyone not fancying the much steeper ascent ahead could get a ride with their bikes up and part way down the other side to our lunch stop.

I was eager for the challenge, as I described in last night’s blog. But I had a very special reason for being so determined. I first heard about TDA’s Beijing to Istanbul ride more than a decade ago from Mike Sheffield, our cycling next door neighbour for 25 years. He was quite a cycle adventurer himself, for example, crossing the US twice, in consecutive years in his late 60s.

He also loved cycling in France…and had a particular thing about Col du Tourmalet in the French Pyrenees. He attempted it on a number of trips before finally getting to the top on, I think, his third or fourth attempt.

Mike was a big, wonderful character, memorable in many ways. As a cyclist, tho, he was impressive for his bike’s very low gearing, and his ability to crank it and his hefty body very, very slowly up hills. I called his style Sheffie speed. I’ve written more about Mike in a blog for the Ground Effect website. Once it’s posted, I’ll add a link to it.

Today, I knew I could summit the Dolon pass, in spite of the high heat and altitude, if I rode at Sheffie speed…as low as 6k/h on the steepest parts, which kept my heart rate under 130, handy because of the altitude. The 10km took me 1 hour and 45 minutes, including a brief stop at 6km. But it was a pleasurable ride all the way up.

And I dedicated the ride to Mike, who tragically, a few years ago, was killed on Stanley Street in Auckland when a truck and trailer heading for the port hit him and his bike.

I swooped 10km down the other side to our lunch stop, arriving just as a heavy rainstorm began. It hadn’t let up by the time I was ready to ride again, tho tantalisingly I could see bright, dry, hot weather way down the valley. So, I hopped in the van for what I thought would be a short lift into better weather for the last 55km to Naryn, our rest day stop.

But as splendid as the descent was, I ended up vaning all the way into town…knowing that after our rest day we have four big days on dirt roads ahead. Being always mindful of the few days ahead seems to me the key to pacing myself to Istanbul.