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Discussion in 'Ride Reports - Epic Rides' started by OldManJoris, Jul 20, 2017.
Joris - a great RR and love the pictures. Thanks and anticipating future entries
Thanks, about 20 more days to go. Bit busy this weekend, next update is for tomorrow (when i have more time at work )
D40: June15 - 340Km - Kazakhstan8 - Repairs
The tumble with the GS the day before required a bit of attention. Uncle Ben was doing fine, but his trusted Nikita was a different story. The front was bent which impacted the position of headlight. Crashbars took a big hit and pressed into plastics. Most important: the steering and handling wasn't what it's supposed to be which was a risk.
The hotel, which looked like it could have been used for Godfather movie
Had a fenced area so we went to work to clean the filters and get the BMW back into usable shape
We had some dust into the filters..
When that was completed to a satisfactory level it was time to head out again, now using main road to catch our breaths.
And take some pictures of Baikonur Cosmodrome. My Rocket bike finally at a proper launch platform, the kid was home .
At a rest stop, we managed to find an adequate party lunch to celebrate my 40'th birthday. That was a feast!!
Folks back home sent me birthday cards, some were very well done (thanks mum )
The ride that day was kind of boring, with immense heat from dusk till dawn. Riding with visor open was like having a hairdryer blowing in your face at full force.
This day we just wanted to test the bikes and cover some distance. When we reached Kyzylorda we were amazed by the huge size of the place. Wide roads, big buildings, lots of traffic. Fancy city..
Some guys on bikes came over for a chat, another local biker gang . Of course we were instant best mates and they took us to a cheap hostel, were we were kept busy the better part of the evening by a local drunk arse.
(these were the cool dudes)
Doesn't matter, we had beer and bed. Could stock up with food and have a solid sleep in a hostel filled with call girls and nobodies (they annoyed the crap out of us..). That called for an early exit next day .
D41: June16 - 600km - Kazakhstan9 - Well Cooked
Early exit, that hostel was just not our thing. The drunk arse was still trying to get money from us, as he believed he provided us service the day before. F that, outta here!
The main road to Uzbekistan just got a fresh layer of asphalt. Nice for trucks and cars, just not pleasant on a thumper with knobbies. Temperature was souring again and no shade to be found. We continued south using the smaller roads close to Uzbekizstan, following a river and hoping for some cooler wind.
The area was green, but the heat remained. I can't function properly as of 35C and the past hot days were starting to take their toll. We tried to press on to get close to Tajikistan asap, as weather forecast only showed more heat in Kazakhstan for the coming days.
It was sort of a nice ride, we just didn't have energy anymore to focus.
In the afternoon, I began to see warning lights in my head, in the shape of black spots dancing in front of my eyes. We had to stop like every half hour to let our body cool down.
This was becoming pointless. We wanted to stay away from civilisation after our last disappointing hostel experience, but I could feel a heatstroke building up. We had to abandon the camp (get more cooked in a tent) idea and find air conditioned cold spot.
When we found a guesthouse with airco, I totally crashed on the bed with the airco unit blowing in full force directly on my head. Game over…. Stuff did happen that day, but I failed to remember any of it.
Only a few km left before Uzbekistan, which was planned for the day after. Another beautiful day of border crossings (yes plural), a bribe and souring heat.
Why the rush you might wonder? One of my main goals was the steppe crossing in Kazakhstan and that was now completed. Second goal was to do loads of trails in Pamir area. As the weather was just a bit too much for me now, the best course of action would be to get to Tajikistan asap. On top of that, I had no real pressure but Ben did. He had a start date on his Russian Visa for the next 3 months and would have loved to be at the border on day1. If I would hang around in KZ, we would have to split up, but I kinda liked riding with the dude. Strangely enough, we hadn't even had a single argument so far, nor any bad vibes. His humour was top notch (Rick&Morty style) and I haven't seen him complain about anything ever, even when he had reasons for it. Super dude! It made much more sense to head straight to Tajikistan, make the most of it there, and continue as duo until Bishkek. So that plan was set, only to find out the next day we would have to split up again .
Thanks and yes, it was
D42: June17 - 230Km - KAZ/UZB/TAJ - Border Broblems
The air-conditioned room was a pure gift from heaven. We could relax and discuss the game plan for the next days. Uzbekistan was very close and we would take the less used crossing at Бозсу. From there I would head straight through Uzbekistan towards Buston in Tajikistan, so only 100Km to cover in UZ. I had never planned for a long stay in UZ, as it's too hot for me, I'm not into cultural stuff and saw no need to spend time in a country where fuel isn't available (only LPG and Diesel, fuel on black market) without personal motivation. Skipping UZ means more time to spend in Tajikistan, which made more sense for me. Not that UZ is a bad country to ride through, absolutely not the case, it's just not for the Old Enemy of Humanity .
Ben on the other hand was very interested to spend at least a few days there and visit a city or two. That's what I liked about our teamwork, this was never an issue. We agreed to cross into UZ together and split up from there. I would head into Tajikistan and he would join me two days later, wherever we would be at that point in time. Plan set, now execute!
We still had some KZ cash in our wallet, time to spend it. But that was easier said than done… We stopped at a shop for food and drinks, but the owner was so impressed of our appearance and plans that he insisted to give us all the food and drinks we wanted without payment… Right how about that… Now we want to get rid of all our cash and it's just not possible.. .
We got breakfast, food, soda, chairs were brought out, the kids came over with washing stuff, and we had a friendly chat with mandatory posing for pictures. Good times!
I did give him my money of course, but that only triggered him to give us more stuff..
The last stretch through Kazakhstan was beautiful, even on tarmac. This time is was a green flowing scenery, very enjoyable (if not for the heat).
Right before the border crossing, we stopped for a final check of our phones and cameras. Why? Well the UZ border guards can and will search your luggage, will probably ask you to hand over your cameras, laptop and/or phone for analysis. You're not supposed to bring in media that could be seen as propaganda or is in conflict with their regulations and religions. Of course, no weapons or drugs are to be found in your luggage. Luckily we are normal and boring persons so we didn't have anything bad with us.. Right?? Well it was a good thing we checked..
Some friends found it funny to send pictures to the phone, with some references to certain organizations with certain black flags.. This could have been a small disaster, but for now "Crisis Averted" and we could continue, after securing a bolt that was ready to come off.
(always check your bolts and nuts at every rest stop)
No footage off the border crossing of course, but some stuff worth to mention.
Checking out of Kazakhstan was easy. Some joking around, some chats, a stamp here and there and we were in no-mans-land. Getting into Uzbekistan is another thing.
When you take the ferry from Baku to Kazakhstan, the advice for customs clearance is to get as many stamps as possible. Once you've been through all the desks and windows and you have a feeling you don't have enough stamps, just go back and ask for more (as it's written on the Interwebs somewhere). You get an immigration document with entry and planned exit date. Ben took that ferry and he made sure he had a mass amount of stamps. We met another rider (Russian) there at the border, who apparently was missing a single stamp. He was denied entry after hours of waiting and discussions. Ben kept in touch with him and learned afterwards he would be sent back and had to appear in court two days later. So check your stamps, when you think you don't have enough, ask for more!
Ben also had a problem. On his immigration document, the exit date was wrong. The border officials at his entry point assumed he would ride from the harbour straight to Uzbekistan (as most overlanders do) and only gave him 2 days in Kazakhstan. This was day 8 for him, he should have left a week ago.. Damn.. It was clear the guard smelt blood (USD) and wouldn't bend or break to our pleads. Getting back into Kazakhstan wouldn't be easy either, so we had to declare defeat. Passport was handed back through the window, I put in some papers from Uncle Sam and handed it back and there you go "Welcome to Uzbekistan" signed with a stamp!
My picture camera was checked, phones/laptop/drone were left alone. Last step was luggage check, I had two officials with white gloves standing ready next to my bike. Bag after bag had to be opened and searched, after I summarized the content. When it was time for the right pannier, they asked what's inside. "Clothes" I mentioned, pointing at my shirt and they opened it. I have my bag of dirty underwear in there and even I could smell the chees socks from meters away. They briefly hesitated and didn't search the bag. "What's in the left bag?" they asked. I pointed again to my clothes… They glanced at each other and declared all good and "You can move on". Nice trick, I have to remember that. Good thing they didn't ask me to get my boots off, this station would have been closed for many many years :).
Awesome, free to ride through another country! The border crossing took 3 hours. At the first junction we said our goodbyes and split up. Ben would ride to Samarkant, famous for many reasons. I continued to Tajikistan over highway and small roads. The heat was immense (46C), with some consequences here and there.
Time for another border crossing :). This one at Buston is again less used but open for International travellers. I'm there by myself with some folks crossing on foot. As there's no rush, everybody is taking their time and wants to have a chat. All good, but progress is just not happening.. First hickup was at station entry, where a fancy camera system should automatically detect and record your license plate. Camera was in front, so I had to do a 180 for it to see my license plate. Only it couldn't recognize the paper version.. Probably the plastic reflected too much and it took 5 military dudes and a good 20 minutes playing with the paper plate to get it register in the system. But… nobody took note of the non-standard version of the plate .
Next was passport control. There was nobody to be found at the window, but I was again and again directed to that spot. Took me a minute or two to find the official sleeping under his desk, in uniform. First time in my life I had to wake up a border guard.. He even managed to fall asleep while he was scanning my passport. Not joking here, his eyes went shut while he kept the passport on the scanner, and the machine just kept going and going. Few knocks on the window and gave him some seconds to figure out who he was, what his purpose in life was and what I wanted. The trick with the clothes went super again, I just had to assure the official 5 times that there were no weapons inside.
Next: Tajikistan border post. No cameras, no scanners, just some desks in a building that looked more like a trucker garage. Also a fierce dog attack, but Rocket to the rescue. That poor creature is still on therapy now most likely. They also had way too much time on their hands, so it went slow. Their computer was linked to the network via satellite dish, and there were reception problems. I took a chair and dozed off in the shade while they did their thing. Had to pay 10$ road tax, have some chats, drink some water and the computer gave me an all clear. Finally.. The promised land!
This felt great. Tajikistan was on my dreamlist for a long time and finally I was there. And mountains!!! I could see mountains!!!! No more pancake!!!
Successfully finished Kazakhstan, crossed Uzbekistan, entered Tajikistan. I had a sense of achievement and wanted to threat myself to something good for a change. In Choedzjand, a city next to the Syr Darja river, I couldn't resist when I saw this sign
Which means something like "European Kitchen". There was steak, fries and Belgian Beer. All deserved in my opinion, I just hoped Ben had the same fiesta wherever he was. Time to rest and stock up energy for the last part of the trip: The Pamir. It would all be good
Next: to the hills!
Mmmmmm, Belgian Beer Keep it going, Joris! Following closely here, as always
Appreciate that! Next one coming now
D43: June18 - 280Km - Tajikistan2 - Promised Land
"Wow".. That was the first impression I got when entering Tajikistan. This would continue for the coming 2 weeks. It really has the look and feel of a mythical Promised Land. Barren and green, empty and alive, a mix of everything.
Above all: extremely welcoming for overlanders on bikes. There are plenty checkpoints on the road, but usually we're not pulled over and just get a thumbs up. There are toll houses for major roads in the north, but when they see a motorcycle coming in, they just open the fence at the side and rush us through, again with thumbs up and some cheers. How about that!
First challenge in this country: head South to the mountains and bypass the Shakhristan Pass (3385m) via a mountain pass to the East going to 4000m. Onwards!
And… an immediate failure.. . The road to the pass was blocked by a manned gate. The guard was polite and direct: no passing, road is full of snow.. Ok no worries, back to the main road and over the Shakhristan Pass.
And.. Forgetting to close my side pannier after taking a snack, causing a buckle to get caught by chain and sprocket
Stupid stupid but easy fix. Once you clear the pass, the view is superb:
I took a few minutes to get the drool of my face. This here had a look like it's the source of all gravel in the world! As I was ahead of schedule, I turned West at Khishkat for the 7 lakes close to Uzbekistan, featured in some other ride reports. My energy level was good, camping there seemed like a brilliant plan.
Soon a problem popped up. The sky over the mountains went from blue to white to gray to black, with clouds twisting in weird shapes. That looked highly unstable and stupid to try out. I asked a farmer on a bicycle about what he thought was going to happen, but he was very clear: "Get the F outta here!" (in sign language). Roger that! I turned around heading back searching for shelter.
Only to find none until Zasun, a small village next to a river. There was a guesthouse that looked like it could handle a storm or whatever was coming, so booked a room. When I was offloading luggage from the bike, all hell broke loose. Impressive winds, shaking the building and almost topping the bike over. That was a close call…
Got word from Ben as well, he was already done with Uzbekistan and on his way to Ayni where we were supposed to meet, which was 5km from where I had the room. I sent him my position and waited. The guard at the guesthouse escorted me to a shop to buy food. I used their kitchen to prepare a simple meal
And let the guard and his friends join in. That broke the ice of course, and we chatted for a couple of hours.
Which made me wonder, where the heck is Ben?? There was no internet at the place, so couldn't check his tracker. It was getting dark and I remembered his headlight isn't properly aligned since the crash. He finally arrived at 11PM in pitch black with a light pointing to the sky, while having conquered the Shakhristan Pass in questionable weather. Did I mention already this guy means business?
We finished the food and got to rest for another early start next day, heading south. Getting that BMW in better shape was also a priority now, you can only tempt fate so many times..
“Not that UZ is a bad country to ride through, absolutely not the case, it's just not for the Old Enemy of Humanity .“
Still having a chuckle over this, gets me every time! I’m glad that you embraced the title!
The photos and narrative remain superb. Most entertaining, sir, bravo....at least now I know where all the gravel in the world comes from too! Soon you’ll have your own show on the Travel Channel.
Dude i'll embrace anything anytime and anywhere, as long as it's the truth.
Thanks for the thumbs up again. My ugly face won't ever be welcomed on a TV channel though. The trip title isn't exactly suited for it as well, but you'll have to be Flemish speaking to understand (hidden joke in there)
D44: June19 - 170Km - Tajikistan3 - Anzob & Dushanbe
This would be a short riding day over easy surface. Ben arrived the day before after 10PM, on a bike without lights (at least nothing pointing forward), with a half working dashboard and shaking all over the place. This wasn't a ride, this was kamikaze and needed immediate attention.
Dushanbe was close and our best shot to find tools. He lost his Torx set a couple weeks ago, and you can't fix a BMW without Torx in a country where Torx isn't sold, that's just how things are..
This would also be our 8th day on the bike, including the dessert crossing, and we were getting a bit wary. Some rest wouldn't be bad..
Between us and Dushanbe was the famous Anzob tunnel, often referred to as "The Tunnel Of Death"
This could be interesting, on two bikes with half and non-working lights.
Plan was set, now execute!
Yes tarmac. I had some trails over the mountains, but priority was to get stuff fixed. First have to arrive at the city in a sort of safe way..
Tajikistan never disappoints, wherever you ride
Soon, the first tunnel came into view, which was dark and smelly but short distance.
And right after that, the Anzob tunnel
Well…. That was a huge disappointment.. The tunnel has been upgraded with "ok" surface and lights. Very easy ride, although still smelly and smoky. If you ride to Norway, you'll find dozens of tunnels that can easily claim the title.
I was hoping to bypass the tunnel over the Anzob pass, which should be lovely, but as the tunnel is now super safe and a nice ride, the pass is closed for all traffic. Bummer….
Anyway, right after the tunnel, the scenery was something heavenly
"Tunnel Of Death" - The myth is now Busted!
We continued following a river to Dushanbe
And found a safe haven in the well-known overlanders gathering place "Green House Hostel", where we got acquainted with 5-6 other bikers and 10-12 travellers on bicycles.
Since we arrived early, we went to work on the GS as soon as we could, with the only Torx set available
And fixed some missing bolts, bent some more steel and other bits and bobs
(this dude was on thin ice. Don't touch another person's bike unless asked for!! )
There's a biker club with workshop close by (bonus!) but they had an event and were closed for business. We could go there the day after.
Some dudes already did the Pamir and told me there were landslides and collapsed bridges that could cause problems for our planned route. Well that never stopped me before ;-).
We wanted to tackle the Bartang valley as well, and there was no good news for that either. Rainfalls caused mudslides covering tracks and rivers were high and strong… hmmmm… troubles for later I guess.
After a nice meal for the whole gang
A shitload of beer and the mandatory storytelling,
We passed out, getting ready for another day of bike maintenance. Rocket (DR) and Nikita (GS) were begging for new oil.
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D45: June20 - 180Km - Tajikistan4 - Service and Scouting Ahead
That was a long night, but as usual I woke up early. This meant I could wave off one of the bicycle heroes who just started his multi-month trip. This guy (Arturo) is one of those fellas who just makes you smile. Always positive, always joking, always in a good mood. He would be riding the "North Route", same as our plan.
From Dushanbe to the Pamir, you can choose to take the North or South route. The North is the old M41 which takes you over beautiful and sometimes challenging terrain. There were rumours of one landslide and two collapsed bridges there, which could potentially stop you in your tracks as there are no side roads.
One of the cycling guys just came from the North section and explained he had to divert and take goat tracks, as there was a landslide but he couldn't recall a failed bridge.
The "South Route" via Kolob takes you to the border with Afghanistan and is free from trouble. Just recently that section got an upgrade with fresh tarmac. This, by default, means I can't take that route :). As the North Route is closed for traffic (collapsed bridges), that means all cars and trucks go via the south. …. Nope, not doing that…
But I needed to be sure the North is doable. Turning back would mean 2 days extra on tarmac. A plan was forming in my head to scout ahead while Ben would be fixing his bike. If that goes well, I could potentially meet up with Arturo and provide some mental support for his first day in the saddle :-D.
Plan is set, now execute!
Before we went to the mechanic workshop, I noticed Ben's bike has an extra problem. His cooling pump was leaking water. That's a showstopper in this area, one more reason to find the workshop.
We found the MC club with the mechanic dealing with a massive hangover, which means no conversation just work.
I did my oil change and let Ben work with the mechanic
The seal in the pump was busted, probably from the dust getting into the drainage hole at the bottom. The guy had a single spare seal somewhere in his workbench… I believe that's what you call Karma? What are the odds…
When I felt confident all would be good on the GS, I set off to scout ahead and find the landslide. Staying in the city is not my thing, I need to keep moving (Old Enemy of Humanity, right?)
No trouble was found. None of the locals were mentioning problems with bridges or tracks, nobody told me the road was impassable, although there was almost no traffic on the road. That's enough for me, we would try the North the day after. Little did I know that time, we would bump into some trouble….
While I enjoyed the scenery
I also managed to find Mr. Arturo himself, huffing and puffing away in the heat.
At time of writing, he's still on his bike and now in Belgium. By chance i met him two days ago as he had a planned rest stop 10 minutes away from my home. What are the chances????????
Back at the hostel the news was spread. The North should be good, we had a plan. Aside from some crazy folks on bicycle, nobody else was getting warm for that idea, so they went for the South route. Time to relax a bit (which means tensioning a chain, ordering pizza, have beer)
And get ready for the next part. The last few days might have looked like a bit boring, that would change now. Pamir was on the menu, with collapsed bridges, water crossings, food trouble, bike problems, technical riding and more goodies.
(In the evening it came to me I skipped rest day again.. That would bite me in the ass soon… stupid..)
Just found this and couldn't keep myself from reading it all in one evening. Awesome report @OldManJoris ! I'm following this
Cheers man !
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Great RR & pics...and a Shackleton reference to boot !!
D46: June21 - 240Km - Tajikistan5 - M41 & Faulty Bridge
What's on the menu today?
Ignore all warnings for collapsed bridges, landslides, mud and avoid that crispy new tarmac. Yum! Can't wait!
Early start, saying our goodbyes to the hardcore bicycle dudes. Why hardcore? Well take a look at this gang:
The Bulgarian at the left was riding his bicycle for … a year or so? Didn't give an F about anything, just peddling along.
The Belgian in the orange shirt was the least impressive, he was only cycling and camping for 3 months. Still awesome thing!
The long haired Spanish dude and his friend to the right just started that day (on heavy all terrain bikes) but he already did a boat journey last year. Just a small trip, crossing the Atlantic ocean in a rowing boat… for two months…
I've rarely felt so small and tiny. Also imagine these guys taking way more luggage with them as I had, as they need more food and water… and they're riding at 3-4000m height so less oxygen… Absolutely insane.
We took the M41 and found Arturo again, right at the time when he was passing a truck riding 80km/h downhill. And yep, I was feeling tiny again.
Thanks bicycle dudes, you guys managed to destroy my carefully build up ego and self-esteem in just a matter of hours…
We passed a few checkpoints and nobody said anything about a blocked route, so confidence remained high. One guy at a checkpoint tried to get 500USD from me because he had a pre-set speed on his speedgun, and claimed I was in fault. He did put up a nice show, I have to give him that.
Tarmac was left behind, welcome to the dirt.
A Lada doesn't care
After checkpoint 4 or 5, we took a right to the supposedly closed M41 section going South. There was a suspension bridge in mint condition.
And we continued into the mountains
Ok, there's a collapsed bridge.. But not on our route
There were signs of recent landslides, but all passable on bikes.
And then we bumped into this…
Since my bike can't fly, and the river had a deadly current, we found ourselves stopped in our tracks. There was one guy using a hydraulic lift to push the bridge up centimetre by centimetre, after which he would stuff rocks under it and build a new base for the lift. This would take weeks… People were waiting patiently there and of course spared some time for a chat.
In short: there were three of them. One was certain that if we could get back to Tavildara, we should find a trail over the mountains that would lead us past this blockage. In his words: "A Land Cruiser can't make it, but a Lada can, which means so can you". Well that sounded like a huge challenge as I've seen folks do the craziest things in Lada's.
The "safe" route around would mean heading back to the South Route, which is an option we were unwilling to consider. The proposed backup route was nowhere on any map and we had no internet.
Challenge accepted .
We rode back but noticed the sun was getting low. It would be unwise to try the lada trail with darkness coming in so scouted for a camp spot. Somewhere next to the river the flag was planted
In the evening we saw lightning all around us in the mountains. It was a good thing we didn't push on, that could have been a disaster..
It felt nice to have some proper trail riding once more. The next day would be a tough one, we just didn't know that yet.
This was day 10 without rest. Very stupid thing to do, but it felt super at the time.