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.

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Crash course as BMW technician

Day 16 – 15th August – Osh (0km)

This was my third day in Osh and I was starting to get bored. There was no way I was going to spend the whole day resting, so I got on the bike and went to Muztoo’s workshop.

Two days earlier I had met a French guy there who was taking apart his GS. Apparently, there was a seal somewhere deep at the heart of the bike that had gone and it was leaking oil. You would have thought that maybe it was possible to just keep adding oil, but it would spill onto the dry clutchplate, rendering it useless, so he had to take the bike apart to access that seal and replace it. And I mean literaly take the bike apart. When I was there on Monday he was already halfway through disassembling it, and today (Thursday) he had already received the part he needed, a guy who was flying in from Moscow had taken it with him as a favour, and had fitted it. He now had to put the bike back together, which at this point was split in two halves.

I had nothing better to do, so I helped him. It was not easy, as he was quite stressed out when he took it apart and there were bolts, nuts, clips, parts of the wiring harness and other bits and pieces lying everywhere around the workshop, all unlabelled, and we’re talking about a top-of-the-range BMW 1200 GS Adventure with electronic Touratech suspension front and back.

When we were going to bolt the whole back of the bike – subframe, swingarm, etc. – to the front part, we realised that the shaft had dislodged in the final drive, so we had to remove everything and disassemble that part to fix it.

When we opened it I could not believe what I saw. It was completely full of water and thick mud!

He had told me that he had got stuck in a river crossing going into Tajikistan, about 30 kilometres south of the border. He was wading through with a guy from New Zealand he had just met, and it was already late in the afternoon/evening, so the water level was much higher than in the morning. He went in and the pebbles that the river was washing stuck to his wheels. The other guy helped him get off and hold the bike from one side, but it was too stuck to get it to the other shore, and the river kept washing more rocks against one side of the bike and washing them away from under his feet on the other, so soon he was holding the bike with the water up to his waist. The New Zealand guy told him to let the bike go and save himself, but he refused to do it and told him to ride back to the border crossing and get help. He was there for hours, at 4100 metres, deep in freezing water, holding the bike, until help arrived.

We took the whole swingarm assembly apart and washed it thoroughly. As we were putting it back together, I took a look at the rubber seals and realised they really did nothing more than act as dust seals. I hoped the bearings in the final drive would be better sealed, but I understood that no matter how much marketing bullshit BMW rams down people’s throats, these bikes are NOT made for adventure riding. Literally everyone we met in the workshop going long distance were on Africa Twins, DR650s, Ténérés, XT600s, Transalps and other similar easy-to-fix bikes.

By seven o’clock in the evening the bike was in one piece again, but there was a lot to do before he could find out whether it would run or not. I promised to go back the following day to see what happened.

While I was there I also took the chance to straighten my handlebars and check that all the bolts I needed to undo to change my wheels were not too tight, a leasson I learned the hard way from Marc’s bike.