In his Perfect Day post Si asked what made his perfect day’s cycle across the Kyrgyz mountain range, asking what are the deterministic aspects that bring about a perfect day’s cycling? I’ll vouch that timing plays a huge role, covering the same route that inspired the post less than two weeks later and, if I’m perfectly honest encountering three of the toughest days cycling since crossing the Pyrenees last winter, or the rocky tracks of Bolivia.
Being accustomed to the maritime climate, so unpredictable that even Irish weathermen admit that really their predictive powers are more in line with those of astrologers than conventional science, I had to force myself to listen hard to the locals advice in Bishkek that the winter definitely would start and the snows would definitely come at the end of October. The certain delivery of the prediction seemed naive to someone used to the mysterious magical ways of the north Atlantic weather system; where you might be able to cycle in shorts and a t-shirt in December and need a fleece and rain jacket in July or visa versa. Sure how can you say that when its going to snow? Only the snow fairy can tell you that.
Either the Kyrgyz have some mercurial gift for predicting the future or Kyrgyzstan has a predictable climate with proper seasons, I feared the latter.
And so it came to pass, the day I left Bishkek the rains fell in cold stinging sheets. Then as I began the 3000m climb across the Kyrgyz and Suusamyr mountain ranges this rain had turned to snow and ice. As the road wound upwards the mercury dropped ever further. The stream beside the road stopped gurgling- and froze solid. The air grew sharper, eventually cutting any exposed flesh with surgical precision.
Just two weeks later than Si, and everything was different. The roads were icy, the vista bright white.
Evening wore on as I reached the top of the first pass; 2,500m. It was so cold I my water bottle froze within 30mins of filling it- during the day time. I passed a workers camp and abandoned the bike, running inside for shelter from the wind blowing down from Siberia. They let me stay the night and gave me a hot dinner.
The following day I passed through the dreaded tunnel- luckily I had it all to myself and was spared Si’s dodgy experience. I descended wearing almost all of my clothes, still shivering, then began the next climb through a deserted white wilderness- the Yurts the horses, sheep and goats were all gone, the rivers were frozen, all was still and static save for the occasional passing Lada or wheezing Kamaz truck.
The countryside was beautiful, to be sure, but an austere beauty. Not the moreish autumnal beauty, the comeliness of summertime, or rosy cuteness of spring. Winter beauty is not the type to be oogled and leched at, rather a cool sharp aestheitic to be acknowledged and admired from a distance.
This day also finished with a dash into a warm home in search of warm sanctuary and a bowl of steaming mutton broth. In the warm raodside cabin of a kind family who I stayed with, I nearly cried with pain after the blood began to circulate in my hands after being numb for almost an hour, as the mixture of the conducting properties of wet gloves and 25km windchill made my body decide to starve my digits of its red elixir until they warmed up a bit.
Finally on the third day the road crested the last pass, I stopped briefly and stood, steaming, and sipping the tea that had been boiled only three hours previous but was now iced. It was not particularly enjoyable experience, and there were places that I would rather be. It was I knew, to borrow a phrase, a mood of future joy, rather than a present perfection. It should also be said that my gripes about cold hands and frozen water bottles when compared to this, sound like the moaning of a little girl.
After 30km of downhill the air warmed enough for the muscles in my neck and shoulders to begin to loosen. Then I could begin to look around and enjoy the scenery again. For the next 300km it was impressive, and, if I wasn’t bitten on the calf in a dog attack on the shores of Lake Toktogul- it would have merited a perfect day blog.
It really is striking how a place can change so drastically in just two weeks and how those changes can determine a completely different experience of that place.