Loco Hostel: July 18-23
Life at the hostel began each day with us laying uncomfortably in the increasing heat of the day trying to snag a couple hours more of sleep from the late night before. The dorm room we shared with one other patron ranged from hot to scorching and most nights were spent avoiding movement and peeling sweaty, sticky limbs apart. As the heat increased we would eventually make our way into the living room and then out to the grocery store across the street to get some much needed food and juice. As our stomachs were all on edge this food typically consisted of some bread, cheese and a banana for each of us. The hostel had an exceptional shower that I made sure I made the best of every day. Each day it seemed like I would manage to find a new layer of dirt that I had missed previously.
The hostel was full of extremely helpful and friendly people and it didn't take long before we were heading in the right direction to get our bikes fixed up and shipped. Almas, the owner of the hostel, put us in contact with an awesome motorcycle shop which turned out to be one of our favorite shops to date. Gali, a friend of Almas', who worked at the airport was extremely helpful and went completely out of his way to figure out the cheapest method of shipping for us. Gali contacted his friends at Asia Freight and got a quote for us as well as figuring out all of the necessary custom documentation. On the day before we left the hostel Gali went to the airport with Graham to introduce us to the correct people and ensure all went smoothly. The hostel also had a very feisty and awesome kitten named Loca. This tiny ball of fur would go from comically pouncing on your feet to fast asleep in no time at all. One of her favorite perches was anyone's shoulders where she would make herself at home and quickly fall asleep if you let her. She kept us entertained when we were bored and comforted us in our bouts of sickness.
Loca, the hostel's mascot getting cozy
Despite having lots to do between getting the bikes fixed, shipping them, and getting the next blog off we were not very productive and spent lots of time reading, sleeping and watching movies. Michael's bike was in the shop for 4 days which gave us plenty of time at the hostel and decreased any motivation to get things done and get back on the road as quickly as possible. While it felt necessary at the time we fell into a bit of slump, our stomachs were misbehaving and the days were not very productive. Any attempt to wake up early and get something accomplished was foiled by a very late night. Whether it was waves of heat attacking us each time we felt sleep approach or the very late bedtime of the hostel staff and patrons, falling asleep before 1 am proved to be very difficult.
One of the nights we were treated to a delicious traditional meal called Beshparmak or "five fingers" by Casha, Almas' fiance. This meal had sturgeon, salmon, large lasagna like noodles and potatoes. We later learned that near Almaty it is traditionally made with sheep, beef and often has the organs of these animals. Casha, however, was born near the Caspian and thus we got treated to a different variation of the dish. The meal is traditionally meant to be eaten only with the hands but we used forks, perhaps because they did not trust our ever dirt covered hands.
Beshparmak also known as Five fingers
Michael finishing the Beshparmak
Graham who had been taken by food poisoning the night we arrived was finally recovering but could not catch a break. When he was finally back on his feet he found that he had not made it to the bathroom and a large puke stain was splattered at the entrance. As he attempted to clean the now dried puke off of the wall he discovered the poor quality of the paint as both puke and paint were easily wiped away leaving large white spots. He soon found himself painting the entire wall orange to cover up the unsightly splattering of puke and paint free spots. He found the silver lining though and took advantage of the creative nature of the hostel and added a small stencil of our logo on his newly painted wall.
Graham painting over his puke spatter
Leaving our mark at Loco Hostel
While Loco hostel was everything we could have asked for and more we were more than ready to get back on the road. We needed to break free of the slump and get back on the road. Even a late evening/morning episode of puking and pooping by Michael could not keep us at the hostel a day longer. The final day we left the hostel with Graham riding two up with Gali who was stoked to come along to better his English, gain new perspectives from some foreigners and have some adventures!
Getting loco at the hostel!
MOTOgarage: Almaty ~Michael
There was only so much we could do to check on the status of my rear shock because we didn't have the tools that would allow us to compress the spring enough to take the shock apart. Therefore, when we arrived at Loco Hostel we asked Almas about a motorcycle store that may be able to help me. Almas has a Honda 250 and has needed repairs done on it before. He recommended the mechanics he's used in the past and gave them a call for us. That afternoon (July 18th) James and I rode over to MOTOgarage and were introduced to Dina and Roma; the mechanics who owned the motorcycle shop called MOTOgarage.
Best mechanics in all of Kazakhstan
They spoke minimal English and we speak zero Russian so I assumed discussing dampening and preload would be difficult. However, after I pointed out Hans's floppy rear shock, they immediately knew what I was talking about and said they could try and fix it that night but could not guarantee that it would be a permanent fix (by this time, Dina's wife arrived and she was able to translate for us). After the shock, came the discussion of my battery. I showed them that my bike would not start and mentioned that I needed a new a battery. They took out their multimeter, started my bike with one of their batteries and checked the voltage of my battery as my bike was idling and while it was revved. The voltage while idling was around 12.5 volts and the voltage at ~3,000 RPM was 13.1 volts. Standard for a KLR 650, while revved should be ~14 volts. The lower voltage, according to Dina and Roma, meant my alternator was on the fritz. It wasn't entirely broken, but it may break in the near future. Which, if it did break, my bike would be completely dead; roll starting would not be an option and even a new battery would only last a week or two. I needed a new alternator. Dina and Roma said they could get me a new alternator for $150 and it would take 3 days for my bike to be up and running again.
I was skeptical. I wasn’t entirely convinced that the diagnosing of a broken alternator could be done with a single test. I went over the possible options with James 1. Get a new alternator, be without a bike for 3 days and "knock on wood" I would not have to worry about my alternator for the rest of the trip 2. Get a new battery and hope my alternator lasts the rest of the trip or 3. Take the bike back to Loco Hostel and do my own testing to see if the alternator truly was malfunctioning and then decide between option 1 and 2. We decided I should go with option 1. Graham was still sick, we still needed to figure out how we were going to ship our motorcycles to Dehli and if my alternator did fail, it could be highly difficult to find a replacement somewhere else. That night, I got Facebook messages from Dina showing me the progress of my motorcycle. They had my alternator off and sent it to the "factory" to have a new one built the next day.
On Tuesday, July 21 they had replaced my alternator and invited us to their garage so that we could do more work on our motorcycles. Within a couple hours we had replaced Graham's rear tire, replaced my front tire, fixed my rear brake bleeder valve, bled all 6 of our brakes, replaced James's rear brake pads, changed our oil, changed our oil filters, cleaned our air filters (turns out soapy water is a far second cleaning solution than gasoline and carb cleaner), recharged and replenished James and Grahams batteries, charged and replaced my battery, replaced Grahams 12 volt charger and changed 2 valve shims in James's top end (a feat that each took us ~4 hours the first time we did it). It was a highly successful and productive couple hours of motorcycle work.
Dina and Roma taught us a lot about certain procedures and whenever we had questions or needed a hand they were there and ready to help. Throughout the time we've had our motorcycles, we've relied heavily on our Clymer Service Manuals. Whenever we've had problems we'd try to find the solution in those books. It has worked great, however Dina and Roma didn't like them. They were constantly saying, "Think, don't read," whenever we pulled them out to find a procedure or solution. I liked their style a lot.
A little foreshadowing, while working on the motorcycles two things happened that would come back to haunt us 1. the replacement of Graham's 12 volt charger and 2. while putting a top end screw back into James's top end, it stripped the female portion of the top end. Initially it appeared to be a major problem, but Dina fixed it by simply threading in a larger bolt. I doubt James forgot about it, but within a couple hours I had forgotten it ever happened.
We finished working on the motorcycles around 11 pm and were too tired to do anything else. We made plans to meet up with them the next day. They wanted to show us the mountains. The next night, Roma picked me up and drove me to pick up his girlfriend and Dina picked up James and Graham. We drove up the mountains near Alma-Arasan and had a picnic near the river. It was incredible. We had chicken, steak, bread, onions, coke and tea. We discussed Almaty (both Dina's wife and Roma's girlfriend were nearly fluent in English), Kazakhstani culture, and the possibility of getting cheaper motorcycle parts into Almaty. It was a spectacular evening.
Not only did Dina and Roma help us with our motorcycles, they took us into the mountains for a picnic, taught us quite a few things about motorcycle maintenance and in the end, only charged us for replacement parts. They spent at least a combined 20 hours working on my alternator, shock and helping us with our bikes. In the States that amount of work would cost around $1,600. They did it for free, and absolutely insisted on taking no money from us. Constantly, throughout this entire trip, people have been kind and generous to the point of near ridiculousness. It was incredible how accommodating and openhanded Dina, Roma and MOTOgarage were to us. The best mechanics in all of Kazakhstan, hands down!
Dina his wife and their daughter on the left, Roma and his girlfriend in the middle and on the right
Finally out of Almaty: July 23rd
I woke up at 8 feeling good. I finally had a good sleep and didn’t sweat profusely/throw up/ diarrhea once during the night. We are heading to Kyrgyzstan today and it’s going to be a great day. I looked across to Michael who sat up very pale. While I slept like a baby he sweat profusely, threw up, and diarrhea’d all night. Damnit. Michael was going to grab his bike at 0830 from the shop, but he was in no condition to ride so James and I rode over to grab his bike and get back before 0900. Our friend Gali was going to meet me at 0900 at the hostel so that we could go to the airport and figure out what we needed to do for shipping. We got back at 0900, but Gali is a late sleeper and showed up at 1030. He hopped on the back of my bike and we sped off towards the airport with Gali pointing the way through the hectic traffic of Almaty.
After about 30 minutes of dodging cars we made it to the airport and Gali introduced me to Ayan. Ayan spoke very good English and would act as the translator for the shipping procedure. I pulled out all our documents and showed them to his boss who then took us to the customs booth where he talked with the agent for 30 minutes. He explained that in order to pay the cheapest amount possible in customs we would have to swap out our customs declaration when we went to Kyrgyzstan. We currently had a customs declaration from Russia and for some reason it would cost almost $1000 to process these 3 pieces of paper. The 3 pieces of paper that we would get from Kyrgyzstan would be much cheaper to process. With this newly attained knowledge Ayan said he would send me a detailed quote later that afternoon, and that we should be back by the 30th of August so that the bikes could be properly packed and documents taken care of.
We rode back to the hostel without event and packed up all of our stuff onto the bikes. Michael was still not feeling good, but after a long nap he was excited to get out of the city and back on the road. While we were packing up Gali asked me if it would be alright if he tagged along for our journey to Kyrgyzstan. We figured it shouldn’t be a problem and he could just hop on the back of my bike. He excitedly rushed off to find camping gear and get clothes for our journey to the mountains. He came back with the smallest sleeping bag I have ever seen and an equally meager pad to sleep on as well as a small backpack filled with clothes. We figured that we would be able to make shelter from rain using our tarps or setup the hammocks so that everyone had a dry place to sleep in case of rain. There was no way we were all going to fit in the tent unless it was a dire situation.
Our Kazakhi brother, Gali
We finished packing up and the only thing left to do was wait for the quote from Ayan. This turned out to be a much longer wait than the promised ten minutes and in the meantime I figured I would try and figure out what I could do about my messed up Carnet document. The Carnet is basically the passport for your motorcycle and India is notoriously strict on letting foreign vehicles into the country. My Carnet has an incorrect license plate number on it so I desperately needed a new one before we got to India. I called the company that issued our Carnets, RAC, and to my extreme displeasure they insisted there was no way they could print the ten pieces of paper that I needed for any less than $410 dollars. I was extremely irritated and tried to reason with them for around an hour, but they would not budge. If you ever think about doing business with RAC think again. I sent them multiple emails with no response and of the 7 or 8 times I called them during business hours they finally answered once only to tell me I needed to pay $410 dollars. Because I was so pissed off their proper British accents sounded extremely snoody and arrogant and flamed my temper even more. After arguing the better part of an hour with RAC Gali informed me that we would have to wait until tomorrow to get the quote. We had also befriended a guy from Germany, Kirill, who was throwing a Tequila Sunrise party at the hostel that night and was doing a decent job convincing us to stay. We were never going to get out of this city!
They dressed us up for the Tequila Party to try and convince us to stay
In the end we pulled out of the hostel around 1900 with Gali on the back and headed towards the border of Kyrgyzstan. It felt incredible to be back on the road and the breeze and familiar routine of my motorcycle seemed to somehow ease my bloated stomach. We pulled off the road and setup camp in a farmer’s field where we talked story with Gali over dinner. I fell asleep in my lopsided hammock and could not have been happier to finally be moving again.
So happy to be back on the bikes and camping
Into the land of honey and giant mountains: July 24
As usual I awoke to Graham wandering around camp beginning to setup the stove and put on some water for coffee. Getting out of the hammock I took a long pee looking across the farmers field on which we were camped and spotted a foal roaming about 50 feet from camp. I went about the usual routine of packing up my sleeping stuff before joining Graham by the bikes for some coffee. By this time Michael and Gali who had spent the night in the tent had joined Graham as well. We enjoyed the coffee and had some oatmeal and jam for breakfast before breaking camp. It felt good to once again be on the road and to be back in the usual routine consisting of checking the oil, lubing the chain, securing all luggage and checking for the occasional loose bolt. We departed the field where we slept and made our way back to the main road. As we wound our way through the countryside dotted with towns I listened to music and the drive seemed to fly by.
The main road eventually slowed down and we entered a small town with cars and people everywhere. Both sides of the street were lined with small stalls and buildings where merchants were selling fruit, vegetables, bread and all sorts of other goods. We had been told of this town and quickly pulled off to locate a special bread. Gali quickly located the bread and returned with two of the flat loafs. The bread was no ordinary bread and had chopped up onion baked into every inch of it. We immediately stuffed our faces with its deliciousness and were soon regretting the decision as we were bloated beyond belief. Before we got back on the road we resupplied on water and Gali gave us a traditional food used by the nomads. It was a hard white ball about the size of a gumball made of churned milk and salt that you suck on. It was supposed to be an excellent source of energy and Michael and I each took one to suck on. The major drawback was that the balls lasted much longer than you wanted to have a salty/milky ball in your mouth and I soon found myself taking it out to save for later.
A look into the deliciousness of the onion bread
My first enegy filled salty milk ball
We continued on towards the border of Kyrgyzstan and began entering more mountainous country even passing over a small pass or two. We stopped for gas at the town closest to the border than continued toward the border on increasingly bumpy and dusty roads. We arrived at the border behind a small but very slow moving line of cars. The border went very smoothly but very slowly. We got searched for the second time as a very handsome looking German Sheppard watched us. We got ushered on to the Kyrgyzstan side of the border which also went very smoothly with only a small fee. We were finally in the country we had been dreaming about for two years and as we road it did not disappoint. We followed a river through a green valley lined with yurts and stationary trailers loaded with honey bee boxes. As we approached the town of Karakol, giant mountains began to become distinguishable through the foggy haze on the horizon. We arrived in the town hungry and a bit disheveled. We quickly converted our money and went to a nearby cafe to grub up and relax a bit.
Waiting at the border
The cafe was the most touristy cafe we'd been to in quite awhile with English menus, wifi and quite a few tourists around us. Despite this the costs were very reasonable and we got some delicious dishes. I got a traditional Kyrgyzstan dish with potatoes, beef and onion. We were anxious to see the giant lake Issyk Kul which was our destination for camp that night and got back on the road quickly. It wasn't long before we got our wish and the crystal clear lake appeared. It wasn't long before we were contouring the lake, squished between massive mountains and the clear blue waters. Camping spots were abundant and we eventually pulled up to one with some large bushes that would hide our bikes from the road and had a nice, though slightly trashy, beach. Michael and Graham stopped when the sand began to get deep which was still before the real beach began. Jolene was leaking some oil and I wanted to take a look at her so I brought her down closer to where the fire pit was so that I would be closer to camp while working. The sand was deep and it was probably a dumb decision but it was one that I decided I would deal with in the morning so I dismounted and we began setting up camp.
Having nothing else to do and being full from our meal in Karakol we set about making a fire and getting comfy. The fire was the first true fire of the trip and it reminded me how much difference a fire can make. We had picked up some beer in Karakol and sat around enjoying the warmth of the fire and talking. Gali was not fluent in English but new enough to get his ideas across and it added a fun and interesting edge to the conversation. Piling a stack of wood on the fire Michael, Gali and I stripped to our underwear and went for a swim in the lake. The water was a perfect temperature: refreshing and a bit shocking but warm enough to stay in and swim for a bit. We cleaned the newest layer of dust and sweat off and retreated to the fire to dry off and warm up. We were all getting tired and we spread a tarp on the beach and laid out our pads and sleeping bags. We fell asleep to the calming sound of the lake lapping near our feet and a gentle breeze rustling the bushes behind us.
"Adventure, Adventure!": July 25th ~Michael
I groggily woke up to the sound of waves crashing near our feet. I looked at the water and saw the tide had risen slightly. I went back to bed.
I woke up again to Gali saying "water, water!". I rolled over and went back to bed. Almost instantly a wave came and crashed on our legs. We all sat up instantaneously and saw that the water level was just below our feet. We got out of our sleeping bags just as another wave crashed onto our pads. Gali was yelling "Adventure, adventure!" as we moved all our sleeping gear away from the water. James's bike was parked on the beach and the wheels were getting licked by the waves, starting to sink. We moved all our gear from the beach, including James's bike which nearly sunk into the wet sand. I would've been on Gali's side, excited about "adventure" and the amusement of being woken up at 3 am by a rising tide, except that my stomach started to churn and gurgle.
After we were sufficiently away from the tide and didn't have to worry about our gear getting washed away, I walked down the beach and spent the next hour puking and diarrheaing what little fluids I had left in my body. Whatever had attacked Graham at Loco Hostel and beyond, was still attacking me in Kyrgyzstan. I cleaned myself up in the lake, tried to dry off as best I could and crawled into my sleeping bag. I slept soundly, until 6 am when the rain started. James, Graham and I set up a quick shelter between our bikes and were asleep again within 30 minutes.
Impromptu shelter between two bikes
We slept late. Waking up was slow but necessary. We made coffee, oatmeal, took a swim, bought and cleaned two fish from local fisherman (I was highly skeptical that the fish would last until dinner, but Gali was convincing), packed up our bikes and set out.
Gali and I scaling and gutting fish
We road from our campsite ~5km to the town of Barskoon, where we ate an early lunch of salad, coffee, Manti (similar to Georgian Khinkali or dumplings) and bread. We got dinner supplies, refueled and headed into the mountains via Barskoon Gorge. We were ecstatic to get out of the heat and escape into the mountains of Kyrgyzstan, something we'd been looking forward to ever since we started planning our trip.
Gali and James soaking in the mountain air
We rode up the canyon and watched the landscape change. Near Issyk kul, the surrounding area was arid and desertesque, as we climbed we entered pine forests with shockingly green grass (compared to the steppe of Kazakhstan) and as we climbed further we entered the alpine region and were greeted by giant peaks and endless glaciers. It was spectacular motorcycle riding. The best dirt roads we'd been on the entire trip and countless beautiful views. We road ~30 miles on the dirt road until we reached an alpine valley surrounded by glaciers. We decided to turn off the road and ride across the valley until we found a campsite. We found an amazing one, right next to a small lake.
First time we'd worn jackets for warmth in 3 weeks
We found the cold. The wind was strong, the temperatures dropped and it felt amazing. After weeks of boiling in Russia and Kazakhstan, we were finally cold. We set up a wind block with one of our tarps, set up the tent, made a fire and began cooking.
We spent ~3 hours cooking all our food in the coals of the fire: potatoes, onions, tea and fish. I was wrong about the fish, not only did it not spoil, but it was some of the best fish I've ever had. Even James, who normally does not like seafood, enjoyed the fish Gali had insisted on buying. Between the beautiful views, the cold weather, the delicious food and having Gali with us, it was one of my favorite camp sites of the trip thus far.
The fish was that good
High Altitude Cruising: July 26th
I woke up to the sound of Gali climbing out of the tent and the glare of the sun illuminating the rain fly. It was around 0700 in the morning and I knew that Gali is a pretty late sleeper. Throughout the night I was a little concerned with how cold it was and how meager the sleeping bag was that Gali was relying on. We had layered him up with all our warm clothes, but it was definitely below freezing and I wasn’t sure how he would manage. I got up out of the tent to check on him and his whole body was shivering. He said he didn’t sleep at all and on top of that he had thrown up at one point through the night. Poor Gali was terribly cold and suffering from altitude sickness at the same time. I told him to keep his head warm with my beanie while I started boiling some water for coffee that would hopefully warm him up. Michael and James got up and we set about the routine of slowly packing up various things while boiling water for coffee and breakfast. Gali looked incredibly tired and he crawled under the makeshift tarp shelter onto James pad. As soon as he laid down on it he sighed and exclaimed “This pad is beautiful!” before almost instantly falling asleep on James’ luxurious pad. We set aside some warm water for him, but decided it would be better if he got some rest.
It was crystal clear when we woke up in the morning
We took our time the rest of the morning making coffee, tea, and rice and letting Gali rest before heading off towards a lake on the other side of the pass. We almost immediately went on the wrong road, which was the only other road there, and headed towards the coal mine. We didn’t mind though because we were headed towards some incredible looking mountains along a high plain and we just wanted to explore. The dirt road was in great condition and we ripped along the dirt going close to 60 mph at around 11,000 feet. It felt like we were flying and Gali opened his arms like wings to show he felt the same way. We made it close to the mine to find a sign that told us we could not go further so we took a small road off the main road that looked to go down a nice valley in the direction of the lake we were initially looking for. The road winded its way along a raging river and we passed multiple families herding their animals by their yurts in the lush green fields of the high mountain plains. There was a sketchy bridge that we rode across and shortly after James tried to cross a small pond, but bogged out halfway across. He ended up getting completely soaked before getting his bike started again and riding out of it. We continued on towards the lake and some of the biggest mountains I have ever seen loomed in the distance. Some storm clouds were building over them as we drove closer. Along the side of the road there were massive groundhogs awkwardly frolicking across the plain. They must have weighed around 40 pounds each and their tiny legs looked like they could barely support the weight. We made it to the top of a hill that overlooked the “lake.” The lake turned out to be a massive river delta, and the storm clouds were now pretty dark and thunder rumbled in the distance.
Cruising down the mining road
We didn’t want to get caught in a thunderstorm and by this point we were starving so we decided to head back to Barskoon to grab some food. As we headed back towards the 4000 m pass to Barskoon we came across a legitimate river crossing. We have been excited to do a river crossing the whole trip and now we had no option! James was pretty excited and tore off with more speed than I thought was necessary straight into the river. At one point both tires washed out and I thought he was going down right in the middle, but he recovered and made it across safely. Michael went next and did almost exactly the same thing that James did. This made me pretty nervous because I really did not want to eat it in the middle of the river. With my heart pumping I raced across the river to the other side without any tragedy. It felt awesome to defeat our first river crossing successfully!
Storm clouds moving in
We continued on up the pass back towards the high plain that we camped on. The pass climbed higher on this side and a map we looked at later revealed it was over 4000 m tall; close to 13,000 ft which is taller than most mountains in Colorado. My bike was struggling as we reached the top. My carburetor is jetted for sea level, and I had 100 pounds of gear plus Gali on the back. When we came over the top of the pass I was extremely pleased with how awesome my bike, Seabie, is. We raced down the other side of the pass back onto the high plain and shot like rockets across it towards Barskoon. The massive clouds of dust shooting off the rear of our bikes added to the rocket like effect. We cruised back down into the valley above Barksoon, stopped for a quick picture with the first man in space, and then beelined it to the café for some much needed food. It was around 1700 by this point and we hadn’t eaten for 8 hours. We wolfed down some delicious manti, Russian dumplings, and then towards the lake after Gali pleaded to wash himself and maybe find a campsite in a forest he had heard about down there. When we arrived at the ‘forested beach’ it turned out to be a row of planted shrubs next to a beach packed with people. He was disappointed, and I could tell he was nervous we would want to camp somewhere cold again. We decided to go back into the valley above Barskoon, but we promised we wouldn’t go very high up so that it would not be very cold.
Coming down from Barskoon Pass
After a bit of driving next to the river and getting stuck in the mud we found an awesome camp site right next to the river and looking up the incredible valley. I swapped pads with Gali, and Michael swapped sleeping bags with him. Now he would surely be warm and we would be cozy in our hammocks anyway. Gali tested out my hammock and decided he would stay there for a bit so we setup a movie in the tent. We had been pretty excited to watch Jurassic World for awhile and James’ girlfriend Kelly had sent us a high quality version of it. It turned out to be a painfully awful movie and when Gali joined us part way through we all laughed at the terrible acting and cheesy action. We all munched on the snack we had bought earlier and hunched to hear the movie over the raging river outside. After the movie we were all sufficiently exhausted and I fell asleep looking at the sides of the canyon illuminated by the nearly full moon.
Michael found some mud to dig into
Riverside Maintenance and a hangry Graham : July 27th
Once again Graham was the first one awake and by the time Michael, Gali and I made it out of bed Graham had made some coffee for himself and taken off on a hike up the mountain. By the time Graham returned we had made another pot and were relaxing enjoying the weather but eyeing the rain clouds that seemed to be gathering at the edge of the canyon. We opened the box of what we had been ensured was oatmeal. We were all a bit skeptical though as the blue bear on the box had proved to be baby food the last time but we had a Russian speaker assure us it was oatmeal this time. Our skepticism was well founded, however, the "oatmeal" turned out to be a grey-brown slop. It wasn't too bad though and we ate it regardless in an attempt to ward off the hunger.
After breakfast, Michael and I began some motorcycle maintenance. I wanted to figure out why my bike was spewing oil and Michael needed to replace his drive train (chain, rear and front sprocket) so we spread out and got to work. As we stripped down the bikes and began the clouds moved in and it startled sprinkling. A bit of rushing around to setup tarps and get stuff under shelter and the rain decided to stop. The weather continued to threaten rain while we worked into the afternoon. Jolene was a simple fix and I simply added some extra gasket sealant to a bolt but Michael ran into a few issues that slowed down the process a bit. It was a bit past noon when we finished and packed up. I was sad to leave the awesome camp site but starving and looking forward to getting into town for some more Monti's. Graham was even hungrier than me and looked as though he was either going to pass out or get very hangry (hungry angry) at any moment. We packed up quickly and headed for town with a raincloud in hot pursuit.
Michael giving Hansy some loving
The cafe we had been hoping to visit was closed and as we pulled up my clutch cable gave out with a snap and I had to coast in and stall the bike in front of the closed building. Hungry and a bit grumpy we headed across the street to another cafe where we were reluctantly helped. We were told they only had one dish and a salad but we were starving and not about to argue so went ahead and ordered. The food made up for the lack of enthusiasm. We got our Monti's (meat filled dumplings) as we had hoped but instead they were served in a delicious soup and were miniature. The monti's were followed by a "salad" which was a cold tangy soup like dish with some odd translucent noodles and some vegetables. I finished early and headed out to fix my clutch cable while Graham got another serving of Monti's. I had all the requisite parts and the fix went smoothly.
Our delicious meal at the cafe. The "salad" is the top dish
We stopped once more before leaving town to fill up on gas then we were on our way. We were planning on finding a canyon called Fairy Tale that was farther along the shore of Izzyk Kul. We located the turn off for what we thought was the right canyon and began up it. We quickly realized this didn't fit the description of Fairy Tale canyon but we were enjoying the scenery and the road and decided to continue on regardless. The road ran parallel to a river that was raging with clear blue glacier run off and as we continued the canyon narrowed. Small but sheer black cliffs closed in around us and the river turned into a raging waterfall. The road was technical and difficult but smooth and fun. We passed through the canyon which opened up to a fork in the river, giant green pastures and a massive glacier capped peak. We turned right and road through the green valley's parallel to the lake. We passed through a few small towns and passed numerous yurts and herders. We spotted a place right at the edge of tree line on a small ridge and bee-lined it across the pasture. After a bit of a sketchy ride up the steep bumpy ridge we arrived at a beautiful overlook and set up camp.
Making our way into the canyon
View from our beautiful camp spot in the saddle
The ride had exposed my maintenance job as faulty so as the guys set up camp and the sun set I once again stripped my bike down to look at the top end. This time I spent more time and quickly found the problem. There was a gap between the washer and the replacement bolt given to me at the mechanics in Almaty. I changed the bolt but at this point the already stripped bolt whole was next to useless. I carefully applied heaps of locktite and gasket sealant and did my best to screw it back in. Putting the bike back together and trying to put the problem behind me for the night I joined the others and we made a dinner of ramen noodles, snickers and some bread. We sat and discussed politics and life while watching a lightning storm work its way across some adjacent mountains. Eventually it became cold and we all headed to our hammocks to snuggle up and read or fall asleep. The bugs had not been a problem and I left the bug net off of my hammock allowing me to enjoy the amazingly bright stars as I drifted off to sleep.
My broken bolt that was spewing oil and my new bolt
Our camp site lit up by lightening and a bright moon
Broken down at a Bishkek Petroleum: July 28th
I've been in a slump for the last coupe days. Despite all the time on the motorcycle, where I can think, I can't figure out why I've been in a bad mood. Here we are, in stunningly beautiful Kyrgyzstan and I can't seem to shake the feeling of being down. It doesn't make sense to me. I have this incredible opportunity to explore the country of Kyrgyzstan and all I've been is moody. I'm sorry Graham and James. Maybe I've been in a bad mood because I can't figure out why I'm in a bad mood? Maybe it's just part of traveling for extended periods of time? Maybe I'm still sick? Maybe I just miss Rebecca, my family, Boulder and the rest of the US? I'm not sure, but I'm hoping and trying to get over it as soon as I can.
I woke up to Graham and James packing up their sleeping gear. They'd been woken by cows and were ready to get the day started. After James tried to get close enough to a cow to try and ride it, we boiled water for coffee and scrambled some eggs. The view in the morning continued to be spectacular and the drive down the mountainside was easier than expected.
Today was Gali's last day with us. We hadn't washed since Isyyk Kul 4 days before and since Gali had a long bus ride back to Almaty, we decided we should wash up. We rode to the lake, jumped in, cleaned up and observed a couple people enjoying the beach as well. There were families with young children swimming in the water, teenagers hanging out with their friends, two overweight men who were half naked and happily sharing a bottle of vodka while chasing their pulls with water and bread, a drunk man who could not keep his umbrella from blowing away in the wind, and us. And like always, we drew all the attention. The bikes were stared at, and the usual questions were asked. It's strange how used to the attention and questions we've become. It's almost guaranteed that we will be approached when we park our bikes anywhere near people.
Failed to capture the drunken man chasing and stumbing after his umbrella
After we dried off we drove towards Bokonbayevo, a town ~10km away that Gali had been told would have a bus that could take him to Bishkek, and from there to Almaty. We made it Bokonbayevo and immediately saw a Mercedes van with a sign for Bishkek. They had one seat left and within 2 minutes of our arrival, Gali was in the van that was driving towards Bishkek.
We started to drive back towards Karakol, where we were craving more Karduk (meat and potatoes) when Graham's bike started acting strangely. The tachometer started fluttering between 0 and 9,000 RPM (the entire range of his tach) and his bike would occasionally "miss a beat" (ie the sparkplug wouldn't ignite the gas) causing his bike to lurch. As we drove towards Karakul it started to get worse and we nearly didn't make it. However we pulled up to a café, ate lunch and began working on his bike. We were convinced it was a worn out spark plug. Graham checked his and found that the sparkplug gap was out of spec and needed to be replaced. James whipped out his spare and within a couple minutes Grahams bike was back up and running. Graham's bike was fixed and we were back on the road. Within 60 seconds of riding, Graham's bike started doing the same thing as before. Clearly, we had not fixed the problem. This was concerning. If it wasn't the spark plug, it could be something electrical. We're mechanical engineers, not electrical. Anything electrical we consider black magic and highly difficult to try and diagnose, let alone fix.
We pulled over and filled up our tanks at a Bishkek Petroleum Station. After Graham filled up, he tried to start his bike and non of his electronics worked. No dashboard lights, no headlight, his bike wouldn't even begin to start. "F**K, SH*T, and F**KING SH*T" were Graham's choice of words before he exclaimed that he was, "dead in the water! I'm dead in the water!" It was our first real bike problem. The first time we were broken down on the side of the road with a bike that would not run. It was daunting, and I'm ashamed to admit I had a moment where I was selfishly glad it was not my bike.
We calmed down and rolled Seabee over to the side of the gas station and tried the key again. The lights flickered on, Graham tried to start the bike and the head lights began to flicker before all electricity was gone. The flickering lights convinced us it was a short. We took off the seat and checked the wiring. The only thing that seemed possible for shorting the wire was the 12 volt charger that had been installed in Almaty. We cut the wires, taped the ends and tried the bike again. It started up without a problem. Graham rode around the block and happily exclaimed that his bike no longer lurched. The vibrations of the bike must have been causing an open part of the wire to occasionally bounce against Seabee's frame and momentarily short the battery. Hopefully the rest of our fixes will be so easy!
Graham eating a victory Snickers after getting his bike to run properly
A couple minutes after leaving the gas station we passed one of the stranger sites of the trip. Throughout Kyrgyzstan, the little boys on the side of the road would wave and give us the biggest smiles as we drove by. One kid took it to a whole new level. As he saw us approaching, he jumped off the rock he had been sitting on, hurriedly waved, put on a giant smile, pulled his pants down and started shaking his front end at us. All while waving with two hands and smiling from ear to ear. Perhaps it was through relief at Graham's bike being okay, or perhaps it was because of the absurdity of the "wave", but we could not stop laughing. Despite the dark cloud that was hanging over my head, I thought it was hilarious.
We started driving up another canyon towards Inylchek in the Tien-Shan mountain range. Again, we rode through alpine forests and the scenery gradually changed as we rode through low clouds and misty rain. We made it near alpine before we pulled over and found a campsite hidden behind some boulders and small trees. We debated trying to watch another movie but instead decided to make some "Chinese Noots" (what Gali called Ramen) and go to bed. Graham and I were in the tent and James slept in his hammock.
Back to Kazakhstan: July 29th
I woke up several times throughout the night with the urge to relieve myself, but kept resisting because it was pouring rain outside the tent. When I finally decided it was better to get wet than pee myself I was surprised to see that we were entirely enveloped in a cloud. I climbed back into the tent and the rain continued to pour for the rest of the night. When I got up in the morning my riding pants were completely soaked. I had pulled them into the tent to hopefully stay dry, but the floor of the tent soaked through and my pants absorbed every bit of water they could. Bummer. I hung up my stuff to dry on a tree, but it was still slightly drizzling so I wasn’t to optimistic about them drying out.
We cooked up some Chinese noots for breakfast and had some coffee before heading deeper into the mountains. We knew that at some point there would be a military checkpoint that limited us from going farther, but we wanted to see where we could go. We ended up climbing another high mountain pass that took us straight into the clouds. My bike started cutting out again and the tachometer was bouncing wildly before it completely died and all electronics were dead. Shit. I tried to control my worries, but I am pretty bad at withholding my emotions. We are in the middle of some mountains in Kyrgyzstan halfway up a 11,000 ft mountain pass in the rain and my bike is dead. I tried to calm myself and we figured it must be a short somewhere near the battery because when we banged on the area near the battery the lights would flicker. It turned out to be a loose bolt that connected the positive term to the battery and after a quick tightening my bike was good to go!
Atleast it was a pretty spot for my bike to quit working
We continued up the pass and my bike sounded worse than it ever had before. It was barely idling and was skipping a lot. I figured we must be way up in altitude, but it wasn’t higher than the pass near Barskoon. We stopped for a bit and looked down on a river snaking through the valley floor below. It was a great place to see who could roll the biggest boulder the farthest so we tumbled rocks down the steep slope for awhile before turning around and heading back towards the border. When we made it out of the mountainous valley my bike wouldn’t idle at all and after starting up would sound terrible before shutting off. I adjusted the idle mixture and played with the idle speed, but nothing was working. It took me awhile to realize that my choke had been on all morning and that was the root of the terrible engine noise. I felt like an idiot, and after readjusting my idle speed we continued on with my bike purring like a kitten.
Above alpine in the clouds
I had been wanting to get Michael some good honey for his birthday that was almost two weeks past at this point, so we stopped to grab a liter of some fresh Kyrgyzstani mountain honey before making it to the border. At the border the same border guards were there and they waved us through quickly. It took awhile for them to figure out how to create customs documents for us, and when we realized they put the wrong information on Michael’s bike they had to do a new one, but we made it through the border in around in hour. It felt awesome to feel like we actually knew what we needed to do at a border. Not soon after the border we came across a car that was completely totaled and a dead cow in front of it. A police officer had a sword for some reason and after we passed we realized why. The cow’s head had been nearly chopped off. We figured it must have been to put it out of its misery.
I may have gotten some honey in my beard
In the next town we grabbed some frozen manti for dinner and headed to Charyn canyon. They compare Charyn to the Grand Canyon, and the rock formations are definitely similar however the walls of the canyon are maybe 100 ft tall as opposed to a few thousand like the Grand Canyon. The river flowing through it is of similar size to the Colorado though, and a much more appealing blue than the brown waters of the Colorado. We found a great spot right next to the river and pulled out all our stuff to dry. We made a little fire, jumped in the river to clean off, and gorged on some delicious manti’s. We were all pretty tired so we laid down and fell asleep reading our books under the full moon.
Mini Grand Canyon hangout
Wheel-less once again: July 30
I awoke with dew soaking my sleeping bag and a soft glow creeping up the horizon in a beautiful sunrise. I enjoyed it for as long as I could keep my eyes open then rolled back over and fell asleep to wait for the sun to dry out my sleeping bag and wake me with its heat. I awoke again, this time roasting in the midmorning sun and quickly hoped out of my sleeping bag. Michael awoke looking extra sexy with a giant lip from a run in with a mosquito. I helped Graham put some water on and made sure my sleeping stuff was drying out from the dew. I then stripped down and launched myself into the river. I scrubbed the sleep out of my eyes with the refreshingly cold river water and exited the river to dry while sipping a coffee. Graham and Michael followed suit shortly after the coffee was brewed and launched themselves into the cool green water. This morning we had decided forego the risk of possible buying baby food once again and instead had gotten cereal and milk. We ate the cocoa puff-like cereal in silence enjoying every bite and while the sun dried us out. After breakfast we broke camp and hit the road heading for Almaty.
Michael's fat lip
The ride went quickly and it wasn't long before we were back in the village where we had stopped on the way in. We stopped and purchased more of the delicious onion bread and some grapes. We then continued on towards Almaty, winding our way through the small villages and farmland that contoured the mountains. Once again the blue tooth communication was awesome and we spent the ride discussing trip logistics, future plans and more possible adventures. The discussion made the ride fly by and we were soon in Almaty searching for the airport and the Asia Freight building. We stopped at a cafe near the airport for some much needed sustenance expecting that getting the bikes done would take quite some time and not wanting to risk doing it on an empty stomach. The food was delicious and we all ended up with a slight variation of a nicely spiced noodle dish with vegetables and meat. Once we were satisfied we head to the Asia Freight building to dive into the shipping shenanigans.
We were greeted outside of the Asia Freight building by Ayan who had worked with Graham when he had visited the airport previously. It felt good to know someone was expecting us and knew what to do with us, at least to some extent. We unpacked our necessary gear for the few days without the bikes and to prepare the bikes for flying then went upstairs to get the process underway. After a bit of paper work we were told to meet in front of the Asia Freight Warehouse to begin the packing. The packing began with us emptying our gas tanks and taping off our battery terminals. We began by sucking the gas from our tanks using the petcock (valve at the bottom of the gas tank) which is how we had emptied them when shipping from Canada. The gas never actually entered our mouth but a vacuum had to be applied to a valve for the gas to begin flowing out of a different tube. Some of the Asia Freight employees found this inefficient and decided that by blowing compressed air into the tank it would force the gas out more quickly. This seemed to work great for Graham but when they attempted the same trick on Michael's bike the entire tank instantly blew up like a balloon and began deforming. Michael quickly stopped them, worried about the tank and we went back to the slow method of sucking the gas out. Eventually we wizened up and moved to a siphoning method with some larger tube to speed up the process.
Getting the bikes ready to ship
While we finished siphoning gas, Graham went to get his bike into the warehouse. The warehouse had a 2 or three foot ledge so that truck beds were level with it when the backed up. To get the bike up the ledge the freight guys used the hydraulic lift on the back of a large truck to lift the bike up. They would then back the truck up with us holding the bike on the lift until we were close enough to roll the bike off the lift and into the warehouse. We repeated this with each bike and had to roll each of them up onto a large scale. Beginning with my bike (Jolene) we then rolled them up onto two pallets nailed together and put them on the center stand. The workers then went about fastening them down with straps and various pieces of wood to support the bike and prevent it from falling over. We did what we could to help but it was obviously not their first rodeo so we left it mostly in their capable hands. Once the bike was secure to the pallet they wrapped the entire thing in black saran wrap so that none of it would be tampered with. At this point we were not being helpful at all and Ayan who had been helping and translating all day helped us catch a taxi back to Loco hostel.
Getting the bike up into the warehouse
Jolene wrapped and ready to go
When we arrived we were disappointed to hear that they were almost completely full. They had one dorm bed open and Almas suggested that two of us could sleep outside. We embraced this idea and went in to use the hostels amenities to get ourselves cleaned up and presentable to the civilized world. More dirt came off in that shower than any before and it seemed as if no matter how many times I scrubbed there was always more brown water covering the bottom of the white tub. However, the shower still felt amazing and I felt much better afterwards. We then drank a beer or two and headed towards a KFC down the street for a good American dinner. The food was good but more expensive then we were hoping for so after KFC we went to the grocery store and picked up some more snacks before returning to the hostel to hang out and enjoy the other guests company. When we returned Almas said that he had an open studio apartment that he could rent to us. We quickly agreed when we saw the spacious studio with a king sized bed and a comfortable looking couch. Michael and Graham retired shortly thereafter while I stayed up and chatted with Almas and an Italian journalist. I eventually made my way to the couch and quickly passed out.