The last day in Kazakhstan
|Travel From||–||Almaty, Kazakhstan|
|Intermediate Location||–||Charyn Canyon|
|Ending Location||–||Shonzy, Kazakhstan|
|Miles Driven Today||–||187 Miles|
|Total Trip Mileage||–||8197 Miles|
|Countries visited Today||–|
|Countries visited on trip||US, Canada, UK, The Netherlands, Germany, Austria, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Italy, Switzerland, Belgium, Luxembourg, Finland, Estonia, Russia, Kazakhstan|
We started at 8:00 AM, leaving the hotel, dealing with the traffic of Almaty. If you watched the video of the traffic on the way into Almaty, the good news is that this traffic was a bit less hectic, but still very busy. It took about 30 minutes to get to a point where we felt like we were making progress. But, progress is judged in many ways.
You’ll recall that Gerhard would need to visit the motorcycle shop to pick up his bike at 10:00 AM, so he, along with Marc, and Alex, both of which are driving the van, will arrive at the shop at 10, put Gerhard on the bike, and head out of town, with the plan being that we’d meet up at lunch. You might ask, how can they start two hours later than us, and still meet us for lunch.
Well, that’s because we were planning on staying off of the main roads, and traveling on “back roads”. But, if you’ve got some vision of back roads, I ask that you discard it immediately, and replace it with this description…
Back roads in Kazakhstan can be corrupted, blocked, in disrepair, covered in potholes, closed, or just wrong in just about any way you can think of. And so was the state of the roads that we rode on today. In fact, the best example is that we’re driving along, avoiding potholes, and standing water, and we came upon a 2’ high wall of dirt that was placed across the road. The slope on each side was slight enough so that we could climb up, and go over it without too much of a problem, but it was still pretty steep. What shocked me was that a truck that was approaching us from the other direction, did this very same thing. He climbed up and over the hill, and it did not phase him at all.
In the US, if you saw an obstacle like this, you’d know that the road was closed, but not so in Kazakhstan. We climbed up and over, continuing our journey.
Pot Holes anyone?
I’ve talked about potholes many times in the last 3 or 4 weeks, but today’s potholes were pretty impressive. Once again, they were everywhere, and I was able to capture a video that shows the pothole dance.
Note: I’ve decided to publish a video on on potholes in the next post. I was surprised to see, but they got worse, and I’ve got a better example.
Thank god, the pot holes have ended
The potholes never really end. As we approached Shonzy, toward the end of the day, the pot holes lessened, replaced again by the massive undulations in the road that cause you to fly out of your seat if you’re not paying attention.
A remarkable coffee stop (without coffee)
So, the first 75 miles were filled with potholes, but at mile 67, we came upon a small encampment, which included some cabins, and a few yurts, as well as a few other buildings. Mike asked us to stay on the road while he rode in to check things out. After 1 minute, he signaled for us to come in, and have our coffee break. This place is the place that I highlight in the Report from the road video in today’s post.
We had hot tea, fresh bread, fresh tomatoes, cucumbers, red peppers, and onions, all fresh, and all salted. The “coffee break” didn’t include any coffee, but it was a great way to enjoy a coffee break.
While at the camp, I had a chance to check out a couple of the Yurts that are available for rental.
Onward to lunch
Lunch was another 50 miles away, and after lunch, we headed to Charyn canyon. You’ll also see this canyon highlighted in the video below, and also in the report from the road.
While at the canyon, and as I was walking back to my bike, preparing to leave, a man was walking by my side, with his two small boys. They were perhaps about 5 and 7 years old. We did our best to talk, and their English was better than my Kazak, but shortly it became obvious that these two boys would love to sit on the bike.
So, I turned on the helmet, started some music, and set the first boy up on the bike so that his dad could take some videos. This time, I decided to add a little more adventure to the video. I put the bike in Neutral, and started it up, so that the vroom sound would come from the bike, not from the child’s imagination. I have to admit, they loved it, but I would call it mixed results. You see, they tended to over-rev the engine, as they had never had control of an engine like this. Nevertheless, I did the same thing with the 2nd boy, and took videos of each.
These kids were adorable, and their father encouraged them to speak to me in English, so they proudly announced their names as Arvit, and Elery, which they later adjusted to Arthur and Elvis.
I had a chance to take a few pictures with some of the group, while at the canyon.
Leaving the canyon
We prepared to leave the canyon, but before we were allowed to ride, we had a short meeting. We discussed the route we’ll be taking to get out of the park. It was said that, rather than backtrack 15 miles, and then turn right, towards the main highway, another 15 miles ahead, we’d take “a shortcut”.
The “shortcut”, we were told, was 18 K, or about 12 miles, and will have some sand, gravel, and perhaps mud. We were encouraged to be careful, and ride at a comfortable pace. I got a bit anxious, and wanted to enjoy the dirt, so Feroz and I broke the rules, and tore off down the road before our guide was ready. I was the first bike, with Feroz, Mike and Martin in hot pursuit. In a few minutes, I let Feroz by, and he accelerated away. 3 minutes later, I thought it would be great to get some video of my fellow riders, and it looked like they were itching to take the lead, so I let them by, and almost immediately, the shit got real…
Mike passed, then Martin, and within 100 yards, we came upon a big mud puddle in the middle of the road. So, the three of us decided that we’d ride around it, on the left side. We saw some old tire tracks, which seemed to say, “Come this way, you’ll be just fine”. So, we went to the left, and looked to ride around the puddle.
If you watch the video, you’ll get a better feeling for what went wrong, but suffice it to say that Martin stayed too close to the road, where the mud puddle was, and quickly found himself in mud that was deep. The water from the puddle had seeped out to the sides of the road, and created a hidden stretch of mud that none of us saw, until it was too late. Martin did his best to control the bike, and hang on, but within seconds, he rotated the bike, and ended up on the ground, facing the wrong direction. His landing pad was immediately in front of Mike, who attempted, yet failed to stop in time. Mike did get the bike stopped, but when he fell, the two bikes, touched, and he broke some plastic parts. Martin’s bike was unscathed. These BMWs are bulletproof.
I had my cameras operating, recording front and rear video, and the accident happens right in front of me. The whole thing is captured perfectly, but to give a third perspective, Mike also had a go-pro strapped to his bike, so he recorded it from his perspective.
Watch the video, you’ll see in the split screen just how bad the mud was. When my bike hits the mud, I start throwing up mud everywhere, and the bike is fishtailing wildly. Using gentle throttle, and holding the handlebars firmly, yet letting the bike move to where it wanted to go, I controlled it without any incidents. But, now I had two bikes in my path, and needed to get it slowed down and stopped.
I stopped the bike 10 feet from the wreck, and just to the left of the two riders who were down. So, as soon as I realized that they were down, and would need help, I rode out of the mud, and parked the bike on terra firma. I put it on the kickstand, and walked back to help.
This evening, we all had a ball watching the videos, and I really enjoyed making it. I continue to home my editing skills, but at some point, I’m going to need to talk to my friend Jen for some more pointers. She’s a producer, and editor, among her other talents, and it’s about time I got some more coaching from her.
Report from the road
We all gathered up at the main road, after riding another 8 miles or so of the dirt road. After telling a few war stories, we headed down the road for the final 50 miles to the hotel. The hotel is a quaint place, with about 30 rooms, and a naturally heated pool. Think of it like a compound, surrounded by scrub dessert. There is nothing in any direction for several miles.
We got to the dinner table at 7:00 PM, and the food started to arrive. First, a delicious salad, of tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers and onions, followed by roasted beef parts, and potatoes, and another dish that was sort of a rice pilaf, with small pieces of beef mixed in. Each of these dishes was excellent.
If you’re thinking that you should have pity for these folks that live this rural life, that’s fine, but they eat better than we do most of the time.
Dinner finished, and I headed off to bed, and to write this blog post, while the memories of the day are still fresh. My friend Maria is trying to decide what to do with her blog, so I told her to start today, and write down her thoughts, whether she is able to publish them or not is not important.
What will tomorrow bring?
Well, we’ve got about 130 miles of Kazakhstan, a border crossing, and then another 70-100 miles of Kyrgyzstan, before we arrive at Tamga. At this evening’s briefing, we were told that we’ll face a rock garden tomorrow. For those of you that are not bikers, a rock garden is thousands of rocks, about the size of a baby’s head, or smaller, inserted into the ground firmly Trying to ride over them can be a challenge. I hate to tempt fate, and I shouldn’t even mention this, but my training at Rawhyde included a rock garden, so I’ve got some experience.
The trick will be that if you start to experience loss of control, put your foot down, and walk the bike along. Of all of the times that I crossed the rock garden at Rawyhide, I walked the bike about half the time. So, I think I know the drill but time till tell.