with Rod Oram


B to B 2024

B to B 2023

Tour of NZ 2023


Tour Aotearoa

Into the furnace

Aug 2, 2023

Day 1 – Almaty to Malybai: 135km, 1,100m of climbing

About 8am this morning, we 19 riders rolled in a group from our hotel down a road through a park for a kilometre or so to our official starting point for our 5,145 km Silk Road ride. It was the forecourt of the ancient, wooden, highly decorated Russian Orthodox Cathedral.

While we waited for our photographer to arrive, I slipped inside to experience a few moments of full-on choral worship. I offered a few brief prayers for Ukrainians and Russians, now divided by many things including their religion; for family and friends; and for fellow riders.

Outside, our photographer quickly organised us, ride banner and all, and then captured the sense of eagerness and excitement of all of us riders.

That done, we headed out of town. While we left the city in an hour or so, urban development stretched on for another hour or so before we turned off the main road and headed into the countryside.

We travelled across a broad, undulating plain, with mountains close to us on our right and another range to our left on the far horizon.  The dominant feature all day was man-made. An extensive irrigation scheme bringing milky blue-green glacier melt tumbling down from the mountains. Judging by its style and age it must have been a big Soviet project.

Yet the water seems to be barely used. Apart from some trees (possibly lemons?) early on then much later a large, modern planting of vines under nets – not grapes. Hops, perhaps? The rest of the cultivation was scant. And anyway, what happens when the glaciers disappear?

It was a big first day of riding. – 138 km and 1,100m of climbing, in a temperature that was in the mid 30s for the last six hours or so of the ride. But the hills were never steep, the roads were very quiet and fairly smooth, and the tour’s catered lunch stop under shady trees by the road side made for a wonderful, and sociable, respite.

That said, tho, it was very hard to keep hydrated. I smashed my PB on water bottles – I drank 10 on the ride, for a total of 7.5 litres of water.

Tonight we have our first bush camp – just a paddock by a river (for our post-ride wash) and a spade if you need to dig a latrine hole. Meanwhile, our tour crew were busy long before we arrived working on this evening’s delicious and nutritious dinner, using equipment they’re travelling with.

Their food was excellent. But I struggled to eat much because I realised that for all my water on the road I was still badly dehydrated. It’s now just after 8pm and most people are getting their tents – we bring our own – ready for bed. Most of us will be up by 5am, just pre-dawn, so we can be all packed and ready for breakfast at 6am…for a departure for tomorrow’s ride by 6.30am or so. A day of climbing into the mountains, for another bush camp up there tomorrow night.