The hard way to Osh

Day 12 – 11th August – Tash Rabat to Kazarman (262km)

I got up refreshed from a great night sleep in the luxury yurt, but the same could not be said for Marc. He had got up four times over the night to visit the toilet, and things did not seem to be improving.

During breakfast the camp manager kept insisting that we tried the sauna, as he had been doing the night before, but we wanted to leave as soon as possible to do the remaining six kilometres to Tash Rabat and see the caravanserai.

A caravanserai was a sort of inn where caravans could spend the night and rest on the Silk Route. At 3200 metres, Tash Rabat was the last building before reaching the Touragart pass and the border into China and even though it dates from the 15th century as a caravanserai, some studies suggest it might have been built as early as the 10th century as a monastery. It is one of the best preserved examples of this kind of buildings, and it is amazing to think how hard it must have been to build this enormous structure with 31 chambers up here.

After finishing the visit, we had two options for our next route – the main road went back to Naryn to the northeast, and then headed west to Kazarman, our overnight stop before Osh, which was quite a detour, or there was a shortcut straight north through the mountains to meet the Naryn-Osh road in Baetov which we had been told had amazing views but could be challenging if the weather had been bad recently.

In dark red, the route that goes through Naryn. In green, the shortcut through the mountains. The marker on the left is Kazarman. From that point to where the green route joins the red route there are 160km!

Marc delayed making a decision on the routes until he had had another visit to the toilet in the yurt camp on the way down, and the decision was made for him. When he reached the yurt camp he saw that his front tire was damaged from riding witout air and then having it on and off the rim as we tried to get a tube in it, and it had deformed, letting the tube (which, miraculously was undamaged) pop out of the tire on one side.

There was nothing we could do at that point, other than try to get a new tire, but there are no big bikes in this country, so the only place where we could do that was Osh, two days away via two mountain passes.

The decision was made that Marc would leave his bike at the yurt camp and the manager would keep an eye on it, and I would take the wheel and ride to Osh with Katja to have a new tire fitted. Marc would hitch a ride down to Naryn and have at least four days to get better.

By the time we left it was already 2 o’clock in the afternoon, so we took the route across the mountains to Baetov. What a route! It was the most beautiful track I had done so far – 90 kilometres of remote mountain regions and good dirt tracks with some easy river crossings.

As we approached Baetov I undestood why we had been told this was a difficult route in bad weather. The rivers we went across were almost dry, but the riverbeds were very wide, so it must be impossible to cross them it is has been raining, and the last kilometres to Baetov look to be a mud nightmare if it is wet.

Once on the main road, I set my GPS to Kazarman and saw that we still had about 160 kilometres to go. We were optimistic that we would make it in good time before the sun set, but then we realised that all of those 160 kilimetres were off road and we had a mountain pass to cross.

We pushed on nevertheless, and when we were about 40 kilometres from our destination, disaster struck.

I turned a corner and found myself riding uphill with the setting sun directly in front of me, I was blinded for an instant, but it was enough to ride into a deep pile of gravel. The bike slid sideways to the right and before I could correct it, both wheels dug in, it flipped, threw me over and I landed on my back.

I lay on the ground for a few seconds, checking that I could move arms and legs, got up and cut power to the bike. The left side of my ribcage hurt, but it was not too bad, but when I tried to lift my left arm I felt a flash of pain at the base of the shoulderblade. I was afraid something might be broken or at least cracked in that area.

There was no way I could lift the bike in that condition, so I just removed my helmet, collected the cameras, which had both broken off their supports, sat by the side of the road and waited for Katja to realise I was no longer behind her and turn back.

We put the bike back up and checked for damage – it had landed on the upper part of the left front panel and that was scratched and cracked, the windscreen support was also bent to the left, which sucks because it is part of the fairing stay, and there were other bits and pieces of plastic broke around the indicator area. The indicator itself had miraculously survived, as had the handlebar, clutch lever, mirror, gear pedal, and all other important bits. Suspension and front brake were also intact, and at the back the chain had come off, but I could put back on rotating the wheel, so that was fine.

I got on the bike and saw that in the riding position my back did not hurt too much, so I could probably make it to Kazarman, which was the only town near.

We got there just after sunset, found a CBT homestay, I took some painkillers and fell sleep immediately.

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Three countries in one day

Day 4 – Friday 28th of June – Smrjene to Budapest (532km)

What a day! One of the things you hear about trips like this is that it is when you start having problems that the real adventure begins. Well, it must sound like some kind of twisted logic, but it is true – I had my first fall today, and despite this, it has been another wonderful day.

The fall was not serious, but it was quite embarrassing… I had just left Smrjene and went back into the city to cross it and get on the road to the border following the instructions on the GPS. The traffic was quite heavy again, it was the morning rush hour and I was stopped at a red light behind a panel van that blocked most of my view forward. The light changed and traffic started moving when suddenly the van slammed the brakes and so did I to avoid running into its back. I was just starting to move, so the bike was leaning slightly to one side, not having gained enough speed to stand upright by itself, so when I braked it leaned to far to one side and past that angle, the fall was inevitable. It crashed onto its side in the middle of a fully crowded main street in the city center. I got up, made sure I was OK (I was) and quickly tried to lift the bike to get out of the way, but soon discovered it was too heavy fully loaded to be able to lift it myself.  Fortunately, a young guy ran across the street and through the traffic and helped me pick it up. I started it and moved to a bus stop to check for damage. It had landed on the BarkBusters, which did their job very well and protected the clutch handle and on the left pannier, which had a very small scratch. The outer bottle holder had broken free from its lower bolt, but that seemed to be all the damage. I restarted the bike and went on.

I have been told that on such long trips, you need some time to get into the rhythm of the whole thing, and I started to find that to be true today. I had a long way to go again, but this time I was not worried about wasting time if I stopped to take a picture of something I liked or took a rest more often. I knew I had all day to get there, and I had to enjoy the road.

With this new mindset, I stopped for the first time shortly after leaving the city, and discovered that the left pannier was not closed properly. On closer inspection, I saw that the fall had pushed it into the frame, bending it enough for the shape of the opening to be deformed, so it did not line with the lid any more.

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It was quite cloudy and Franci had checked the weather forecast in the morning and told me there was a possibility of rain in Hungary, so I was worried about water getting into my luggage, especially as that pannier contained my camping and sleeping gear. I decided to try to find a repair shop and see if they could bend it back into shape. I got back on the road keeping an eye open and soon spotted what looked like a garage. I rode up to it and when I got off the bike and into it I saw it was a kind of MoT station. As I was already there, I decided to ask where I could find a place to get it fixed, so I approached a man who has coming out with his car documents on his hands. He listened to me and had a looked at the pannier and immediately took his mobile phone out and called a friend who had a body repair shop. Unfortunately, he was not able to reach him, so he took me next door, where there was a car wash.

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The guy at the car wash called his colleague, who had a small workshop behind the building, and he came and gestured me to remove the pannier from the bike and give it to him. I did, and ten minutes later he came back with it, straight enough for the lid to fit and close properly. I thanked them profusely and went on. A couple of hours later I found an old workshop by the road that had these photogenic relics outside and I stopped to take some pictures.

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The roads were great again, and I was wondering whether petrol would be cheaper in Hungary or in Slovenia when suddenly, coming out of a corner and going up a very steep hill, I came upon a sign that took me by surprise.

You can unexpectedly run into people, into trouble, into a lamppost if you are not paying attention, but this was the first time in my life I had run into a country. I had, apparently, come across Austria.

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When I checked on the map, there seemed to be a fairly straight line from Ljubljana to Budapest, but my GPS had apparently decided that I would like the scenic route better, and I did. It had taken me north, to Graz, and then east over the Orségi Nemzeti natural park and into Hungary. I really enjoyed spending some kilometers in Austria and I took the chance to get yet another sticker and fill the bike up, as petrol was cheaper than even Spain. So much for the biking holiday I someday wanted to take in Italy… at those prices I would much rather tour central Europe! The landscape is better, too. Once I crossed the border everything changed.

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The road was still narrow, but in quite bad condition, and everything had an air less taken care of. I stopped at a petrol station right after the border to change some money for the first time and get yet another sticker.

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It had been slightly overcast all day, perfect conditions for riding, no rain, not too hot… but in the afternoon the weather deteriorated and it seemed as if it was going to rain. I kept thinking I should stop and put the waterproof layers on the jacket, but that meant unstrapping the rack pack and my optimistic me kept seeing that the sky was clearer ahead. I had to change from summer to winter gloves, though, because it was getting colder.

In the end I made it to Budapest dry and found the place I am going to be staying at for the next couple of nights without problems. If you come to Budapest by motorbike or bicycle, this is the place to stay! I set up camp, borrowed a set of three precision tools (also known as hammers) and spent the afternoon banging the pannier back into shape.  But more on that tomorrow, it has been a long ride today, about ten hours, and it is getting very late.

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