The Last Mountain
I arrived Toktogul with style! There is no better way to arrive a place with thirst, hunger, without money and a puncture. Just a few kilometers before arriving Toktogul, I had another puncture while riding around the reservoir. While pumping my tyre, the pump broke! And there was nothing I could do, I can do some minor repair on my bicycle, but not my pump. And I had to ride slowly with my half flat tyre towards the nearest truck workshop to get my flat tyre fixed. While the pressure is still high on my tyre, I rode fast towards Toktogul, as the people here told me that there is a bicycle shop at the bazaar in Toktogul. Upon reaching Toktogul, I found a hotel that can take me for the night with 800 som (some 18usd). I had not much cash inside my wallet, only some 200 som that can pay me a meal. I went to the centre of Toktogul town and found out none of the ATM machines here accept my card! Some of the ATM machines here immediately rejected my card once I chose English as the chosen language! It was hillarious. It seems that the ATM machines here only speak Russian and Kyrgyz. I had little money left, I was hungry and thirsty, without food and ATM card doesn’t work around here. Great! The nearest place my card can work is in Bishkek which is some 300km ahead and I will be very slow getting there since I have to climb 2 huge mountain pass, the Ala Bel and the Tor Ashuu pass, which both sit at over 3000m altitude.
Luckily, the next day my family in Bishkek contacted the people in Karakul, not so far from Toktogul. And later a guy from Karakul came to my aid like an angel without wings and lended me 10000 som in advanced that I promised to pay later when I arrived Bishkek. Plus the hotel owner understood my situation and let me to stay the first day for free without paying, so nice on how I’m being treated here. I stayed 2 days in Toktogul, taking a rest from the steady climb from Tashkomur to Karakul. People in the bicycle shop in the bazaar in Toktogul surrounded my bicycle, guess they never seen such bicycle here in Toktogul. After a good rest, I then proceed towards Bishkek.
Right after I cycled out from Toktogul, the climb immediately started for me. Again, it’s a battle of lungs, heart and the mind. The battle of the body and the mind started again for me and it lasted a few days! I never stopped puffing and panting on every breath I took. The road demanded me to climb about over 2000m vertically in only about 60km, which is very tough! Toktogul only sits around 1000m and Ala Bel pass is sitting at 3200m altitude. So I cycled mostly between 7-12 km/hour, riding very slowly and taking many stop in between. And sometimes I had to stop for a long time since the headwind was slowing me down even more and I had no energy to fight it, since I spent all my energy fighting the gravity. As always during big climbs, when I’m puffing heavier and the muscles of my legs feel really painful, my body demanded to stop. But my mind always resisted, asking me to continue, to keep moving. But this time, I only managed to do about 50km a day only. It was tougher when I climbed Tibet four years ago, which took me 11 days of tough climb to get to 5000m altitude from the lowland Chengdu which sits only at 450m altitude. But I carried less back then and I was younger and more fresh.
At first I planned to ride fast to end my ride in Bishkek for this season. But looking at this climb and the surroundings, I decided to take it real slow. Its not only the mountains that are slowing me down, but the beautiful view around here as well. It was hot in Toktogul, somewhere around 40 celcius but right after I climbed into Ala Bel, temperature dropped drastically, it started to rain ice and it was very cold at night. Climbing over the Ala Bel, I arrived the beautiful plateau of Sussamyr. This plateau sits between the Pamir and the Tian Shan range. I rode slowly in Sussamyr, it has everything my soul needs, rivers, canyons, valleys, mountains, nomad yurts, fresh air and beautiful views of over 3000m altitudes. People here smiles, kids waving and chasing me, demanding to be photographed, and horsemen stopped and posed for my camera.
Instead of cycling the whole day sunrise to sunset, I only cycle for some 2-3 hours daily here in Sussamyr, not rushing to get to Bishkek but rather finding a good place to pitch my tent and explore the valleys around here. Some places are best reached not by bicycle, but by walking. I explored one of the beautiful valley here on foot. 3 things lead me, which are my heart, the small path and wild horses. Using these 3 things as my compass, I went deep in the mountains. Good thing, I never get panic anymore nowadays when I’m lost in the wild. “I’m never lost”, I remind myself, always. Im not getting to point B from point A. Im going nowhere, I just wandering, so how I can I get lost. And I’m glad that I never use GPS when Im traveling. Now Im so used to find directions by looking up at the sky. And being in the wilderness without spotting any human is never dangerous and scary anymore to me. Sometimes I like it, alone, quiet, dark and mysterious…
After Im done getting myself deep inside the heart of Sussamyr, I then faced the last mountain, the hardest of all, the Tor Ashuu pass. This is almost as tough as the toughest mountain I climbed in my entire life, the Gongga Pass just outside Kangding in the Sichuan-Tibet road. It’s as hard, really reminds me of Tibetan mountains, except that I didn’t get any near death experience here. Took me over 6 hours to pull my bicycle with all my heavy luggage to the top of the mountain pass, which sits over 3600m altitude. It was really steep. At some point, while half way climbing it, I actually gave up and put my hand up, hoping that some trucks will stop to pick me up to take me to the top, but none stopped. So I climbed really slowly, I actually took a rest in between even for every 200 meters when I was almost at the top. And it didnt stop there, once I reached the top of the mountainpass, I didnt celebrate since I saw a long, dark… scary tunnel. It was about 3km tunnel cutting through the peak of the mountain. Again, I was hoping that any truck will pick me up to cross this tunnel. Im afraid of long dark tunnels, paranoid since I had a near death experience, a truck almost… probably half a meter away from hitting me when I cycled inside a dark tunnel in Northern Norway 2 years ago. I then just ride through it, had no other choice. It was scary, the road was wet and slippery, I couldnt see much but I was more afraid that cars and trucks couldnt see me. After I cycled through it, I then celebrated it, both the big climb towards the pass and the dark tunnel. It feels like I just successfully climbed Mt Everest with just wearing sandals and short pants.
Standing outside the tunnel, I see the road goes down, no more climb all the way to Bishkek. And my ride is officially over here at Tor Ashuu. I dont actually need to cycle anymore now, the gravity will push me fast, I just need to sit on my bicycle and enjoy. The gravity then pushed me fast towards Sosnovka, which is some 40km away and sits 2000 meters vertically below Tor Ashuu. I then start pedaling again easily to get to Kara Balta, which is just next to Bishkek. And the last day of my ride towards Bishkek, was the easiest. After all the climb, from Mongolia to China and Kyrgyzstan, cycling 60km on flat road to get to Bishkek was nothing. People are selling fruits along the road, the traffic was really busy, pollution in both the air and the sound. I see good roads with lights, traffic lights, zebra crossings and police everywhere. Young guys are blasting their favourite music from their Mercedez and BMW, probably driving their parent’s car, hoping that they can attract those girls with long legs wearing heels walking at the roadside. I’m now back at the civilization. The mountains are now behind me, the mountains are now history, nothing more than good memories…