Toshkent – Uzbekistan
What constitutes a perfect days cycling? Is it the smooth roads? Good weather? Spectacular scenery? Fast downhills? Steep climbs? Well I had all of these on one incredible day in Kyrgyzstan, on the road from the capital of Bishkek to the city of Osh on the Uzbek border.
I had camped overnight just below 3000m altitude, but well above the snow line. During the night the temperature had dropped down to -10oC, and as my sleeping bag is only designed to go to -1oC I had to don all of my thermal layers to keep warm. Even with 5 pairs of socks on my feet, I was still cold and welcomed when the sun finally climbed high enough to warm up my tent and shivering body. I found that my water bottles had frozen overnight, so I had to wait until they thawed until I managed to get a drink. I cooked a breakfast of pasta with a stock cube, and threw in my bits of stale bread for some extra bulk, then headed up the last 20km up to the Ala Bel pass.
I was already on a high after having a wonderful cycle alongside the Suusamyr River the previous day and the ride to the pass only raised my spirits even further. The smooth road was shining in the sun like a glistening serpent winding its way up the valley floor and the surrounding mountains were blanketed with a thick layer snow. The sky was a deep blue and the air was crisp and cold which made the steep climb up the pass less sweaty than usual. Progress was slow, not becase of any problem but because as each new scene unfolded, I’d have to stop and take a photo or video, and to fully absorb the spectacular scenery into my mind. Because of this, it took about 2 hours to climb up to 3175m, where I rummaged in my trailer bag and fished out my thermals, ready for a long ride downhill.
I felt like a downhill skiier at the top of a run with a course laid out in front of me, complete with hairpin bends, long swooping turns, and even some blind dropoffs when the road dropped away rapidly into a really steep section. It was absolutely exhilerating, coasting down this magnificent valley where the scenery quickly changed once again. The snowy mountains made way to bare rock cliffs with serrated ridges, the valley floor was now lush grass dotted with trees, and the air temperature rapidly warmed. As I was taking in this change of landscape, I saw a flicker in the corner of my eye, and let out a cry when a Golden Eagle came gliding past me, less than 50 feet away. I jammed on my brakes and stopped to watch this majestic bird in it’s natural habitat, soaring effortlessly on the updrafts.
Further down the idyllic river valley, trees became more prominent in the landscape, their colours ranging from soft greens to buttery yellows and firey reds. I cycled alongside the river which reminded me that I hadn’t washed for some time. I knew that the water would be frigid, having come from the snowy mountains above, but when I found a suitably secluded spot, I stripped butt naked and went for a splash in the cold river. I was right, it was bloody freezing, but when I got out, it felt as if the crisp turbulent water had washed away my muscle strain from the previous few days climbing. After washing my most smelly clothes, I carried on downward, where the road flattened out and eventually led to flatter lands where I shared the road with heavily laden donkey carts and passed freshly ploughed fields and the odd crumpled hillock.
As the sun was setting, casting an orange glow on the surrounding fields, I sat drinking a beer and eating some fresh bread dipped in olive oil and balsamic vinegar and reflected on what was, for me, a perfect days cycling.
See the rest of the Kyrgyszstan photoset here.