Kochkor to Almaty

We spent the morning cycling the flat grasslands around Son Kul lake. We passed a sign for a shop but when we visited we were told they sold nothing but vodka. This seemed indicative of a societal issue that was part of the reason for last night’s unpleasantness!

Cycling alongside Son Kul
Many of the people here are nomadic, with this region being used as summer pasture. They live in yurts which can be packed up and taken with them to winter pasture.

A short climb brought us away from the lake and to the beginning of a long descent. Unfortunately Tom soon had a puncture. I stopped to help him repair it, with the aid of a pump borrowed from Ross – Tom’s pump didn’t work and mine wasn’t compatible. Having repaired it we set off again only to find Ross and Pax within a kilometre: Ross had a puncture too and needed his pump back! When Tom and I continued on we finally caught up to Adam who’d got a bit worried and started coming back to look for us all.

Once everyone’s tyres were functional we set off again continuing down this rather washboardy road. We spotted a nice flat spot amongst some trees next to a river and headed over to set up camp.

It was my turn to have a flat tyre the next morning! I repaired it and we set off. After a couple of hours we reached an end to the dirt and washboard we’d been riding for the past several days: the tarmac was back!

Adam enjoys going fast on descents so he and I rode on ahead maintaining 40km/hr on this lovely smooth tarmac road which gently descended alongside a river. When the others caught up we rode together into the town of Kochkor. We stopped early at a hostel and had a restful afternoon.

From Kochkor Tom and Adam wanted to pick up the pace. The Ashes (a cricket series) was starting in three days and they wanted to catch the first day of this. We decided we’d try and reach the town of Karakol which was large enough to be confident of having a good internet connection. We said goodbye to Ross and Pax before setting off now in a group of three.

We made good time, riding out of town and within a few hours reaching Issyk Kul, a lake – and an enormous one at that. We rode alongside it for a while longer before setting up camp in an apricot orchard.

When we went to set off the next morning, we found that Tom had a puncture. This was the beginning of a pattern for a day where between them Adam and Tom managed no fewer than eight punctures!

Between these stops we were able to make good progress on the smooth roads. We met a Dutch man who was here on a short cycling holiday. He worked for Shimano and, on seeing the state of Adam’s shoes, very kindly gave him some new ones! Unfortunately he couldn’t do the same for Tom’s sunglasses which were in a similar state of disrepair.

We continued on, riding for a little while before stopping to repair the inevitable puncture. We were quite close to the lake during one of these stops so I wandered over for a quick swim. It was nice; the water was warm and incredibly clear.

We managed to finish the second day about 60 kilometres away from Karakol. After Adam fixed one final puncture we were flying along and by the time we took a mid-morning stop we’d covered somewhere around 40km. With the pressure now off we rode more slowly for the final stretch into the city, then checked into a hostel.

It had been a long time since we’d had a rest day so we decided to spend two nights here. I managed to muster some enthusiasm and enjoyed learning about cricket but was nowhere near as committed as Adam and Tom who watched something like sixteen hours over the two days.

Ross and Pax caught up to us during our rest day so it was nice to hang out as a group of five again. We went out to the market together and had breakfast, but before too long we were saying goodbye again. Ross and Pax planned to do some hiking nearby so Adam, Tom and I set off again without them.

Continuing along these tarmac roads we made good time, despite a late start and a long afternoon break to catch the start of the day’s cricket. The next day started off similarly quickly, though we ended up stopping to chat several times as we met several people cycling in the other direction.

A brief section on dirt roads brought us to the Kazakh border. Immigration proceedings were painless and quick; before long we were riding away again on a road that returned to tarmac after a few kilometres. The terrain had by now fully transformed from the Kyrgyz mountains to massive expanses of flat steppe.

As is often the case such terrain resulted in strong winds, in this case a headwind that was stronger than any I’d ridden in for a long time. I was glad for my streamlined aerodynamic setup where the wind has much less of an effect than it did on Adam and Tom’s pannier setups.

At the end of the day we descended into Charyn Canyon which some sources claim to be the second biggest canyon in the world after the Grand Canyon. Not only is the Grand Canyon not the biggest in the world, this one is only a small fraction of its size. Nonetheless it was an impressive site.

The wind was still strong and so we rode around the canyon area for a while, searching for a sheltered spot. We ended up setting up camp in a dry riverbed.

Over the next couple of days we continued on our way to Almaty, Kazakhstan’s second city. As we got nearer, we were riding through increasingly developed areas. On our way through the city itself we saw lots of western brand shops and even rode on a few cycle paths!

We checked into a hostel where we would stay for several days, Adam and Tom because they were waiting for their flight to India, and me because I needed to apply for a couple of visas.

July 28: 61km

July 29: 62km

July 30: 106km

July 31: 93km

August 1: 49km

August 3: 70km

August 4: 113km

August 5: 129km

August 6: 84km

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