Desert near Charyn Canyon.

Desert near Charyn Canyon.

Right, lucked out and ended up in a cheap hotel in Shonzhy (100km from the Chinese border in Kazakhstan) with Wifi so thought I’d throw together a quick blog so the next one can pretty much be dedicated to China!!! Still weird saying I’ll have cycled to China soon. The last four days from Alamty have been a nice stint of camping and visiting the scenic Charyn canyon as well as some horrible desert riding on poor trails.

On our last night in Alamty we treated ourselves to a local speciality (Lagman) which is hand stretched noodles. The place we went to had the guy preparing them in the seating area and I couldn’t leave without getting a photo of him making them. He seemed super happy when I asked, I guess not many people normally do…

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We loaded up the bikes the next morning and spent the best part of half a day riding around Almaty on our heavy bikes trying to find a replacement chain ring for my bike (One of the front gears) as it had worn almost beyond use. Whilst several shops sold Road Bikes they only really sold spare parts for Mountain bikes but one did direct us to a distant address in a business estate on the edge of the city. We headed up and sure enough there was a former Soviet endurance cycling champion running a little road bike repair place. He had a bag of second hand chain rings and the only one that fit was perfect! Parts and labour only £5, absolute bargain.

After our mission was accomplished we managed to get about 60km out of the city on a fairly dull and busy road before setting up camp in our bivvies in a field off to the side of the road…

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Another uneventful 100km the next day stopping off in the town of Shelek to find a much needed ATM and for a siesta out of the midday sun. The town had some great examples of it’s Soviet past such as the welcome to the town sign…

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And some mosaic’d bus stops…

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Our goal was to camp somewhere just before the town of Kokpek and when we reached the Kokpek gorge our immaturity got the better of us…

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When we stopped in a roadside shop to get a cold drink I noticed that whilst I’ve managed to get rid of the cyclist tan on my hands it is coming on in full force on my legs…

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The gorge didn’t present many great camping opportunities so once again we found ourselves camping in another tunnel under the road…

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This one happend to be full of some weird insects such as the largest moth I have ever seen (palm sized) as well as some giant grasshoppers and some large “daddy long-legs” that had one extremely long leg that they seemed to feel their way around with. At least we had a nice view from the tunnel…

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We rode up to the town of Kokpek in the morning to stock up on water for next 2 days as we didn’t know what would be available on our 2 day stint to Charyn Canyon. The town is on a steppe plateau which gave some great photo opportunities…

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As we were looking around town for the spring we made friends with a local dog that was particularly friendly. He followed us along and as we were filling up out 12 litres of water bottles each he hung around. I headed into a shop to buy some pasta and bread and the sight that greeted me when I stepped out will stick with me for a long time (Skip ahead two paragraphs if you are a dog lover).

The road outside was straight for a kilometre in each direction with a clear view all the way. The dog was in the road and a car was barrelling towards it at about 50mph holding down the horn for maybe 50 metres making no effort to slow down or avoid it and then the inevitable happend… THUD. The car still didn’t even apply the brakes with the dog skidding along the road in front of it and only stopped half a kilometre down the road to check his bumper was ok.

Me and Stephen stood mouths agape in shock and I was honestly relived to see that the dog had died quickly as none of the locals standing around (who had begun pointing and laughing at mine and Stephens reaction to the incident) would have stepped forward to put it out of its misery if it was suffering. Ultimately this was a lesson in differant cultures attitudes towards animals but either way it left an extremely bitter taste in our mouths and we were keen to get the hell out of Kokpek as soon as possible.

We carried on down a long road towards the pull off for the canyon and spotted a bleached horse skeleton lying on the steppe…

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Once we finally got to the turn off we headed down 10km’s of some of the worst roads we’d seen. There is an effect called “Washboarding” where the suspension of 4×4’s and trucks gradually turn the surface of a dirt track into a corrugated set of bumps that are hell to cycle on rattling the bike like mad…

 

This was a long long dirt road…

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After getting lost in the maze of dirt tracks we finally found the road down into the canyon that Ewan McGregor and Charlie Boorman had such trouble climbing back out of on the motorbikes during the Long Way Round expedition

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It was an impossible road to ride and we ended up walking our bikes down it which was a struggle in itself…

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Our efforts were quickly rewarded by stunning canyon walls…

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And then rewarded further when we reached the Charyn river itself where we washed and did laundry for the first time in 3 sweaty desert days…

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We’d heard rumours of a cafe by the river and no sooner had we washed than we were in there getting a beer. There was a huge choice of imported European beers but we couldn’t resist the allure of the first Chinese beer we had seen for sale (which happend to be the cheapest too at £1)…

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Banging view from the bar…

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We asked if they had any food as we were lazy but the kitchen was closed, it being a Monday, we were the only visitors. We were mumbling and grumbling about having to cook and were teased by the woman working there as she began cooking up dinner for the various workers. As our resentment of the smells coming from the kitchen reached it’s peak the lady came over and served us up a big plate of delicious meat and potatoes free of charge!

After just a few too many beers we setup camp next to a small animal enclosure where one of the donkeys kept trying to eat the velcro that holds my frame bag in place…

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We may be sleeping without tents at this point but we still have our luxuries. “Hot Shots” on the TV with a couple of beers…

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In the morning we refilled our water bottles from the stream courtesy of my Sawyer Squeeze water filter and were fuelled up by some nuts and fruits kindly donated to us by some backpackers, who had stayed the night too, when they realised we were low on food (Thanks Stacy and Shelley!).

We began the arduous task of climbing back out of the canyon sweating all the way but catching some shots of the local desert rats which seem to have an elongated nose…

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We reached the road only for me to realise I had lost my headphones somewhere (The thought of cycling along these long taxing roads without some Father Ted to listen too was particularly terrifying). I turned back without my luggage planning to go as far as the bad road into the Canyon only to run into Stacy and Shelley who mentioned they’d seen some headphones way down the bottom. Bugger! At least flying down the canyon without luggage was great fun but the second climb back out was as tough was the first.

Ever reluctant to backtrack we decide to take a 20km trail shortcut across the desert instead. This proved much tougher than anticipated but was one hell of an experience…

Desert near Charyn Canyon.

Desert near Charyn Canyon.

This desert has a decent amount of brush but we did hit a few sections of serious dry ground…

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Once the 20km of sweating was done we rejoined the main road, and despite drinking dehydration salts all day, I was feeling dehydration rear it’s ugly head (The temp was 40c+ for most of the day) and in our desperate hunt for shade crawled into the smallest under road pipe so far…

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After lunch we pressed on and I was really suffering in the heat feeling almost drunk when we pulled into the next shade in a cafe 30km later. After some food and two litres of soft drinks I realised I was done for the day after only 60km (not a good omen for China) and found a cheap hotel here in nearby Shonzy.

We are still set to cross into China in the next two days and have a new plan of cycling extremely early and late taking a massive 4 hour lunch to miss the worst of the heat. Hopefully this new plan works!

If you’ve enjoyed reading this then checkout my site 121degrees for more info and subscribe to this blog for more entries along the way!

I also want to divert the interest this trip generates towards helping out a charity that made a big differance to some friends of mine. Samuels Children Charity are a Lewes based charity providing support to families throughout the UK who are currently affected by childhood cancer. I hope to raise the sum of £5,000 from people who hear about this trip to help them continue their work, and to also keep me motivated throughout the challenges this trip will provide! If you’d like to see how the fundraising is going (or even better would like too donate!) then click here.

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