The Stans become The Stan

Day 21 – 20th August – Sary-Tash to Osh (179km)

The morning did bring an answer, indeed.

I had slept rather well, but when the time came to get up and start packing, my foot hurt more than the day before. Not only that, it was visibly swollen.

Even so, I managed to pack everything, dress up and put the boots on. It felt better inside the boot, although putting it on had been very painful, but no matter how better it felt with the boots on, it was too much of a risk to ride into the Pamirs – the road would only deteriorate, I could barely hop on and off the bike and I had hundreds of kilometres of emptiness before reaching a town by the end of the day. And the closest hospital in that direction was not in that town, but three days away.

Since Osh was only a three-hour ride away, I decided that the sensible thing to do was to go back there and have my foot checked. If all I needed was a few days rest, I still had time to recover and then head into the Pamirs.

So almost 200km and some mountain passes later, I was back in the same X-ray room I had visited a week before.

They took two X-rays of my foot and half an hour later, sitting in a chair in a room next door, I listened to a doctor speak Russian very fast and point at a developed X-ray that showed that my foot was broken in three different places. The only thing I understood was ‘traumatologist’, so that’s where we went next.

They gave me no cane, no crutches and no wheelchair, so I had to hop my way with Marc’s help through an underground corridor to an adjacent building and find the traumatology wing, which looked even more depressing than the one I came from.

They put me on a stretcher in a tiny room, and by the look of the place I had my doubts whether I was going to be treated or interrogated and sent to a goulag in Siberia. Next, a very slow exchange started using Google translate. The guy who was seeing me said that, because of one of the three fractures, the foot needed an operation. I tried to make him understand that if I had to be operated, I wanted that to be back home, not there, but he seemed reluctant to let me go in that state. After a lot of frustrating exchanges on the mobile, he seemed to conclude that if I agreed to be released as I was, he would immobilise my foot so I could travel on condition that I had it seen by a doctor back home as soon as possible. Then, to my surprise, he said that they had run out of plaster to make a cast and that he had to go get some more to the pharmacy and I would have to pay for it. I ended up paying 30€ for the cast, most of which I suspect went directly into the pocket of the ‘traumatologist’.

After that, they finally had the decency to put me into a wheelchair and push me to the front of the building, where Marc was waiting for me with the smallest taxi in the city, a Nissan kei car recycled from Japan. Once I got to the hotel, however, I was back to hopping around on one leg, as I had no other means of support.

I had an old walking pole attached to the luggage rack on my motorbike that I had intended to use as a telescopic mounting for a GoPro and had turned out to be a failure, as it vibrated too much. Luckily, I had not thrown it away, so I took it off the bike and used it to prop myself.

Next step was to arrange transportation home as soon as possible, so I got on the phone to my travel insurers, who told me to make travel arrangements myself and then claim expenses. After contacting Turkish Airlines and finding out that the cost of changing my flight back home far outweighed the cost of buying a new flight, I found a flight from Bishkek to Barcelona with Ural Airlines that left the following night, giving me 24 hours to get to Bishkek. There are flights from Osh to Bishkek, but they were all booked for the following days, so I had no other option than book a private taxi for the following morning to drive me all the way to Bishkek.

Finally, the only thing left to do was to arrange transport of the motorbike to Bishkek also, where it would be stored at the hotel where we had started our journey until the guys from ADVFactory shipped it back home in September. Muztoo were very helpful and provided a truck that would pick it up the following day at midday.

Having done all this, I crashed in my bed to try and recover some energy for the long trip home. That was that. End of the holidays. I had seen most of what we had planned to see in Kyrgyzstan, but that was the only -stan I had ridden. No Tajikistan, no Uzbekistan and, most frustratingly, no Pamir Highway.

A glimpse of the Pamir mountains and a smashed foot

Day 20 – 19th August – Sary-Tash to Peak Lenin basecamp to Sary-Tash (172km)

Bert, the Belgian guy riding to the Himalayas posted this picture from Peak Lenin basecamp two days ago.

Peak Lenin is 7134 metres high and is considered the most accessible peak over 7000 metres, partly because it is relatively easy to climb, partly because it is not too technical, partly because the basecamp is accessible by motor vehicle, so there is no need to spend days carrying stuff on donkeys to make the approach. It was this last fact that made us decide that we wanted to visit it while we were in Sary-Tash.

As fate would have it, shortly after we got here we discovered that Bert and all the other people who were going to cross into China were staying at a guesthouse next to ours. It seems he survived the snowfall at the basecamp. Not only that, he said that the dirt road up there was quite easy, so we decided to go visit it and come back down to sleep in Sary-Tash, where it was already quite cold as it was.

We got on the bikes, but Marc’s wouldn’t start. It had been a cold night, alright, but not that cold. It turns out that he has a lithium battery and it doesn’t like the cold. Fortunately, it only took a bit of sunbathing for the KTM to start, and we set off.

On the outskirts of the town the road branches in two. To the left, the start of the legendary Pamir highway. To the right the road to a different border with Tajikistan that is only open to locals, and on the way there, the turnoff to the basecamp.

We really did not need to get that far to find spectacular views – as soon as we turned onto that valley we had a view of the full north face of the Pamir mountains to our left. It was such an alluring view that it was hard to keep our concentration on the road.

40 kilometres later, we left the main road, crossed a rickety suspension bridge and rode through a metal arch over the road with big lettering indicating the way to the basecamp. The track itself was fine, narrow and with loose gravel or sand at some points, but nothing too technical. There were also a few river crossings, but contrary to what we feared seeing how much it had snowed on the peaks overnight, the water level was very low.

We rode across brown grassy plains for most of the way, and in the last few kilometres the road started climbing and led onto a wide valley right at the foot of the Pamirs. There was not one, but several camps scattered over the valley. We rode to the middle of it, right up to a river crossing that was a bit too complicated for us to negotiate taking into account that we would have to turn back shortly after, we parked our bikes and walked around for a while, speechless at the beauty of the place. These were by far the highest mountains I had ever seen. As I have said before on this blog, distances in this country are deceiving, and it looked as if the peak was really close at hand, but it takes a minimum of three days to reach the top.

After having something to eat we turned our bikes around and started going down. We got to a small stream we had crossed on the way up, and it already looked as if there was more water flowing through it. I went first, it was not complicated, but just when I was about to exit on the other side, the front tire caught a pebble and it snapped to the left. I opened the throttle to straighten the bike, but instead of getting traction, the back tire spun and the bike slid from under me. I fell backwards into the water and the bike fell onto my left foot. It was not trapped, as I could get up immediately, but I could feel it had been hurt.

We got the bike upright and after checking that I could still ride we went on to our guesthouse in Sary-Tash. I could change gear without problems, but when we stopped for petrol at the end of the ride I could barely walk. It was a combination of the pain in the foot and general pain all over my back from the previous fall, made worse by this one.

I got to the guesthouse, removed the boots and put the foot in cold water. The good news was that I could move it and when I pressed in different points with my hands it did not hurt that much, so there was nothing broken. A Dutch physiotherapist who happened to have stopped by for coffee also examined it and confirmed my impression. However, I still felt as if I had been beaten up by a bunch of crazy skinheads.

I had doubts about continuing into the Pamir Highway like this, but I decided that I would wait until the following morning and see how I felt. If I went into the Pamirs, it was two or three days to Khorog, where there was a good hospital, and I would be sticking to the main road, the M41, no Wakhan and no Bartang. If I went back to Osh, it was only one day ride, but then it was probably the end of my chances to ride the Pamir.

The morning would bring an answer, I thought.