Total this trip – 940km
Total so far – 11900km
After a lazy week in Osh enjoying cold beer and air conditioning, World Cup soccer, and internet, Hanne and I finally managed to get back on the road for the final push to Bishkek, the capital of Kyrgyzstan and the end of the road for now. Somehow we had gotten it into our heads that this part of the ride would be easy, and that the only thing for us to do was to sit back, enjoy the landscape, and reflect on all the hardships, beauty, and characters we had come across so far. We paid for this apathy with a week’s difficult ride to Jalal-Abad, taking a 2 day detour on the wrong roads over the mountains, and culminating with a stomach bug that knocked me out for 2 days.
Rested and full of antibiotics, we set off for Bishkek. This time we were mentally prepared for the loose washboard and long climbs ahead of us and only got slightly discouraged when the bumpy roads made us bite our tongues. Our intermediate goal was Song-Kul, a very remote and high-altitude lake smack in the middle of the country, protected by mountains on all sides and approachable only via hundreds of kilometers of awful roads. On the way we overtook Barbara and Ania, Austrian and Polish girls cycling together since Malaysia. They were very unique and welcome company for the coming days. Among their many claims to fame is traveling without a stove; they cook their meals over the dung fires they make in the evenings. Why Hanne and I never considered making a dung fire, after months of camping among the camel, cow, and horse poop, I’ll never know.
Our recurring stomach problems caught up with us again right before the pass to Song-Kul, with Hanne developing a fever and getting severe diarrhea. We camped for three nights alone in the wilderness right below the many switchbacks. It was one of the most beautiful and isolated campsites of our entire trip – luckily we had enough food!
After recovering enough to climb the pass, Hanne and I dropped into a serene and picturesque lake. Herds of cows and horses roamed free while white yurts dotted the shoreline. The single road around the lake split and merged and split again, and we found ourselves making our own path across the grassy landscape. There were many tourists and travelers at the lake – hikers, bikers, backpackers on horse treks, overland drivers – a fact mirrored in the high prices of food and lodging. There is one yurt with a small shop out back; otherwise a supply truck makes the rounds past every yurt along the lake, selling food, clothes, housewares, and hardware.
We had one more day of camping after leaving the lake before we hit pavement again. Blessed, blessed pavement! Suddenly we were effortlessly moving faster than we’d gone in the past 4 weeks. Unfortunately good roads bring traffic, and we were once again breathing exhaust fumes and bracing for impact as every car zoomed past us. We had strong headwinds for the final days into Bishkek, but the much-longed-for easy riding finally found us, and we had an uneventful ride into the capital. Our riding was slowed by the many stops we made every day to chat with other cyclists. Sometimes we saw more cyclists in one day than I saw in the three months I was in Europe!
Our journey finally came to a close when we pulled into our guest house in Bishkek and found our whole group of Tajikistan cycling buddies waiting for us with a cold beer and congratulations. Actually everybody was stuck waiting for visas for onward travel, but we like to think it was our own personal party. We met old friends and new, enjoyed the company for a few days, and then it was time to wake up at 3am and go to the airport.