Packing for an adventure
Lots of people have been asking about the Kyrgyzstan trip so I thought it warranted a bit of a resurrection of the blog…
Kyrgy-where?To the South of Kazhakstan and the West of China, this is supposed to be both one of the poorest and also the safest of the 'stans.
The first thing we have to admit is that we haven’t really got a route planned out. I think it will become clear when we get there but, for now, it’s difficult to predict the terrain, the weather and how far we will feel like travelling in a day with laden panniers. We're also unsure whether some of the mountain passes might still be thigh-deep in snow (highly possible at 3000m) or some of the roads might be like a crazy version of the M25 in rush hour. We have a few options in mind.
For someone who’s life is so jam-packed and structured (a triathlete, you say), it’s a bit strange thinking that, for the next two weeks, I don’t really know what I’ll be doing or where I’ll be sleeping. Just taking each moment as it comes, from one day to the next. I like that.
Kygry-why?A joint decision….
Lisa suggested central Asia and I remembered a TV programme, talking about nomadic cultures and ‘horse-people’. I remember thinking horse-trails...mmmm... undiscovered singletrack. It turns out that Kyrgyzstan is trying to develop itself as a ‘cycle-friendly’ country and you don’t need a visa to get in. Apparently it’s not as dangerous as some other countries (it’s been a whole four years since the last revolution) and there’s no need for malaria tablets. This all sounds positive.
But what I really fell in love with was the photos of beautiful mountains, the lure of the unknown and the fact that anyone you speak to talks about how friendly the people are. So, all the same things that make me so proud of being Scottish, but in an entirely different world. And you can camp anywhere, which, like in Scotland, is also pretty handy. Thank you Carol and all the others for sharing your stories.Once I announced my trip, I was amazed at how many people I knew had been there. I have adventurous friends, full of stories of beautiful scenery, welcoming families, raging dogs and fermented mares milk.
Even more surprising, was Rachel putting us in touch with Ian and Inge, friends of hers who actually live in Bishkek (the capital). They have been so welcoming –answering questions, providing advice and inviting us to stay the night, leave our bike boxes with them etc. I can’t wait to meet them. Coming off a 6am arrival from three flights, it will be so good to have a friendly face waiting for us. Fear not, Weegie refugees, we come bearing gifts of haggis and shortbread.As well as adventurous, my friends are generous too, and I’ve been offered so much useful kit from so many people. Thank you all, these will come in useful.
Testing it out
Another thank you has to go to Pitlochry bike shop (Escape Route) who were super helpful on our practice ride. With the Inverness and Glasgow trains arriving in Pitlochry at the same time on a Sunday morning, this was the perfect destination for me and Lisa to meet up half way from home for each of us and test out our kit.
The bike shop were full of suggestions for how we could make our panniers more secure on rough roads and what spares etc. we needed to take. On their suggestion, we made for Glen Tilt to try out the gear. In retrospect, we could have done with looking at the map at some point (at any point at all really in the day) as we actually ended up going down a Glen at 90’ to Tilt. It has not been entirely unknown for me and Lisa to get lost due to failure to look at the map (see previous Lakeland epic where we dragged our bikes up more craggy mountains than I want to remember). We’ve promised ourselves we’ll look at the map in Kyrgy.Bishkek (the capital) is at 1000m and we’d like to travel into the mountains so could be going quite high, as long as they’re free from snow. We’ve seen so many amazing photos that I can’t wait to get out there and see them myself. And I have a tiny hope that one day we’ll get to ditch the panniers and discover some awesome winding singletrack, deep in the mountains.
We’ve been planning this for a while now – with a few months of me sitting on the fence, thinking it might be way too scary. When I was 20, I believed I was invincible and wouldn’t have thought twice about going on a trip like this. Now, I am a bit more cautious. In reality, that’s a good thing, as it means I’m more prepared. This time I’ve gone for the rabies vaccinations (not a good thing for my bank balance) and I’ve invested in a proper medical kit, with attachments for drips, syringes and all sorts. The nurse impressed upon me several times that the scalpel is NOT for me to use but only for trained professionals. Fortunately for Lisa.I’m scared of dogs. Not at all in the UK, but I’ve heard reports of biting, feral things in Kyrgyzstan and have been seeking out advice on how to deal with that (practicing my alpha-dog look).
The good thing about working in a uni is that there’s always someone who knows something about anything. So I’ve had a few Russian lessons, just to get to grips with the characters and generally feel a bit more polite. My lovely Russian teacher didn’t instil me with positive feelings however, when she told me that her first thought on getting my email was ‘my goodness, we have to teach this girl some Russian, she is going somewhere so dangerous’. Hmmm. She made sure I learnt the word for ‘help’…
Always an excuse to shopI’ve tried to resist the temptation to buy tonnes of new kit. Unsurprisingly, Neil has been rather helpful in this respect, raising a sceptical eyebrow when I mention the amazing properties of some sort of trousers / shoes/ widget. However, I thought it worth investing in multiple dry-bags and a teeny-weeny therma-rest (just 400g!!), which Neil test drove a couple of weeks ago on what is affectionately known as ‘death-bivvy’ on the North face of the Eiger.
I also decided it was time to get a Kindle, both so I don’t annoy Lisa by talking to her 24/7 and also to download things like dictionaries, guidebooks and wildlife guides. I’ve heard they have eagles out there and, should one be kind enough to land near us for long enough til I switch the kindle on, we’ll be sorted for identification purposes).And, despite really not being a techno-geek, I bought a Pebble, which will charge Kindle and phone/ camera. We don’t really know how often we’ll have access to electricity or internet. I feel it’s likely that I no longer actually have the patience for a dial-up internet connection so I may just have to go cold turkey. If I can be in touch, I will. But if not, then don’t expect any updates til I’m back.
We tried asking the tourist board about route suggestions (who are apparently keen to promote cycle tourism). Their response was not to come in April because it might rain. We checked this with Ian in Bishkek, for a Scottish translation of ‘rain’. With the caveat that he’d never actually seen Kyrgy in April, he didn’t think it was anything we couldn’t cope with and perhaps they just don't really get the concept of why anyone would want to go out into the mountains for fun, at all, far less in the rain. Fair enough really, there are times I question that too. So, in true Scots style, we’re going prepared for every possible season and for getting soaked to the skin fairly often. If all else fails, we’ll try to sleep in a b&b rather than in the coffin-tent.Despite my worries, I’m mostly just excited. This next week at work is going to go really slowly. My bags are packed (to ensure they fit within the weird specifications of Aeroflot) so I have officially stopped agonising over which baselayers, socks, shoes and tyres.
It looks like we’re really doing it. Leaving on Saturday (5th April) and back on the 21st. See you then!