Day 11. Wednesday, August 9. River canyon camp to Jalal-Abad. 112km, with 1,458m of climbing.
How demanding an ascent we would have this morning was a subject of much discussion and debate last night after dinner. The basic facts – 1,100m of climbing over 38km – told of an average grade of only 3.5% or so. But our Garmin maps of the route showed long stretches of 10% more or less. And the word was the road would be our roughest yet.
So, along with six other riders, I opted for a lift up so we could enjoy the long ride after. Also, if we had been very, very slow climbing up we would have made life more complicated for the sweeper (a crew member at the rear) and for one of the support vehicles needing to hang back.
While indeed the climb was big, the road surface turned out to be not as taxing as expected. The photo below is Nick from the UK, one of our strongest riders, setting a brisk pace.
There were also a fair few family yurt encampments, plus their horses, cows, goats and bees. We couldn’t tell whether they were seasonal or permanent. Incongruously, high up there was a small Soviet-era two story block of flats in a hollow by a small river – now abandoned with the locals in yurts nearby.
The summit, our third just over 3,000m, was shrouded in mist and bisected by an electricity transmission line, another feat of Soviet engineering. Undeterred by the weather, Eero from Finland, one of our riders who some years ago skied solo to the South Pole, exited our van and began the descent. A bit further down, Nina from Denmark, Joanne from Canada, Jane from Australia and I joined him in the thrilling ride down the mountain.
About halfway down we met four Russians from the Urals biking, with all the gear, up in the opposite direction. In spite of our lack of understanding each other’s language, one of them, when he heard I was from Nouvelle Zealandia (fascinatingly, many people catch on to that rather than New Zealand) he managed to tell me he’d ridden all over the North and South Island a few years back.
After lunch well down the valley, we had a long ride out of the mountains and on to the plain. There the landscape was vastly different – with little villages with lots of trees for shade and well-ordered fields. Almost Eastern European.
On the outskirts of the first community we suddenly were back on tarmac. I felt quite papal – I wanted to kneel down and kiss the blessed surface. The locals had a much more practical use – as a perfect surface for drying sunflower seeds.
At the next small town down the road, we pulled into our river camp. With temperatures touching 40c again, we huddled like cattle in a hot country, in the only shade we had for a few hours before dinner.
But by 8.30 or so as the sun was setting and my air mattress, tent and sleep beckoned, I celebrated the cooling temperature with this photo.