I left my riverside camp beside Sary Bulak village with tired legs and the knowledge that within 50km i would arrive at the prize of Song Kol; a beautiful lake set amongst rolling pastures and summer jailoos (high altitude summer grazing). Within a few hours I would be camped up beside the lake with my book, a beautiful selection of salamis and cheese from the bazaar in Kochkor and go for a swim; i even had purchased a cigar for the occasion. The previous day had been surprisingly reassuring as i had entered the central Tian Shen mountain range and covered nearly 100km without too many problems
Sary Bulak is a village constructed from chinese sea containers, a common sight in cetral Krygyzstan, made only to serve the road and serving tired travellers greasy mutton and the occasional stale snickers bar. Snickers bar in mouth i begun the 50km climb away from the tarmac on a corrugated road, past glacial streams and away from the connected world for a week or two.
By mid afternoon i had climbed only 39km, i had left the camp at 8am. My average speed had reduced to 8kph and I was seriously starting to doubt whether i had the power to go on. I started to push my bike solemnly along the road , through the dust and felt once again thouroughly miserable.
Spitting blood and now struggling to push my bike along the dirt road, I saw a crest in the road; i had now been climbing solidly for 43km, it could well be the end of my ordeal, perhaps I had finally broken the 3400m pass to reach the Jailoo and lake. From the horizon a european party came into view on a horse tour. The lead rider could well have been Camilla Parker-Bowles and was trotting along with an authority as if she was performing for the crowds at horse guards parade. She didn’t so much as flick me a coursery glance as i administer myself CPR in the dirt for the tenth succesive time in the last kilometre. From the depths of my good nature i managed to muster a ‘Afternoon’ from the depths of my lungs, it was reciprocated with seeming surprise and shock as the women looked down from the side of her horse. Perhaps she hadn’t noticed me on a lowly bicycle, while she was riding on a fine nomadic steed and enjoying her cultural experience.
‘I don’t spose you could tell me how many more kilometres it is to the lake could you?’
‘How many kilometres is the lake?’
‘How should i know? I’m riding a horse.’
‘But surely you must have been riding for a period of time, and cover on average an average number of kilometres. So how many hours have you been riding?’
‘In which case… 30 kilometres. Have a nice ride.’ With which she rode off down the pass and was followed my a number of snotty girls, probably named Florence, Tibby, Tabby and studying theology at the University of Durham.
I sat by the side of the road in a state of panic and shed a tear. I ate my last fruitella from home and begun to plot my suicide. In the distance the smoke plume from a Lada fighting its way valiently up the pass came into view and i watched it in a slight daze as if it was a mirage. The krygyz driver passed me, honked his horn and came to a screaming halt. Moustache on lip and gold teeth glistening in his mouth he started to babble on in Russian and offered me a drink of vodka. Then he danced around my corpse with a camera phone and posed for various pictures with my bicycle . He was about to jump on his car when i mustered some enegry.
‘Pass. Pass. Kilometre?’ I demanded making a mountain shape with my dirty hands. The driver held up three fingers. Fuck. That meant thirty kilometres. The English horse ridey lady wasn’t as thick as she looked.
‘Nyet Nyet Nyet.’ He held up three figures again ‘Metres’.
I looked at the ridge infront of me and suspiciously pushed the next thirty metres passed the snow in the road. In the near distance Song Kol glistened from the near distance, surrounded by rolling meadows and surrounded by small yurt camps and large flocks. I was at 3400m and suddenly my energy seemed to have returned to my body. Again i was the powerful adventurous cyclist, not the tearful, lost, amatuer I once was.
Flying through the meadows i narrowly avoid running over a number of marmots, which stand on their hind legs whistling as they dart through the grass. I finally reach the lakeshore and camp up.
The weather is glorious and i am surrounded by snow capped peaks, as the sun slowly turns pink on the horizon. I am about to plunge myself into the icy waters when a boy on a horse arrives by my side.
‘Hey you English man. You’ll stay with me tonight’
He points towards a perfect white yurt camp sitting up on the campsite. ‘We have sheep to eat’. I’m persuaded. It looks like i’m staying with Sultan’s family. This should be an experience. I pack up my things and merrily push the bike upthe hillside.His grand father waits for Sultan’s return, looking though a pair of Soviet binoculars, while resting on his staff. ‘Salaam Aleikum’, he is quite forceful, it’s time for a good hearty dinner.