I woke up inside our icy cavern as the sun rose and turned our tent from darkness to an orange glow. I shuffled up into seated position, poured hot coffee from the flask I had stashed inside my sleeping bag overnight and replaced it with the now frozen bread and chocolate spread, which was to be our breakfast when it defrosted.
We had camped in the most beautiful location yet. Perched above the road on a flat ledge in the hillside, we had panoramic views of the stunning mountains all around us. A few small villages clustered in the valleys in between, rooftops laden heavy with snow like model houses on a Christmas cake, dusted with too much icing sugar.
It should have been a perfect way to wake up, in such a phenomenal place with coffee and delicious bread. Instead, I was left with a haunting feeling of disappointment, that I just was not able to shake.
My vision of this trip had been a journey, from East to West by bicycle. I had been dreaming about it for some time and suddenly I was overwhelmed by how different the reality was.
So far we have cycled only a little over 200km since we left Hong Kong three weeks ago. This is what I would expect to cover in three or four days usually. Instead of a journey by bicycle, it has felt more like a journey with bicycles, which is a whole lot more hassle and less fun than cycling. The cycling we have done has been fantastic, despite a few sketchy roads and the bad weather, there just hasn’t been enough of it!!
Most of this still comes down to the inability to refuel in Xinjiang. After all, we had never planned to enter Kazakhstan until the end of this week. According to our original plan, we should still be cycling in China. Instead, we have spent a week hanging around a hotel in Urumqi followed by a 26 hour bus journey across the border to Almaty.
Now, we are in Kazakhstan and it would be great if we could resume our journey. Unfortunately we cannot. Our visa for Russia is date specific, which means that we cannot enter Russia before 9th March. Because we have entered Kazakhstan earlier than planned, we must now do a visa run to Kyrgyzstan so that we do not overstay our free 30 days here in Kazakhstan, waiting for our Russian visa to begin. Making sense so far?!
This in turn means we have had to come much further south in Kazakhstan, which then means we will need to take (yet) another train or bus journey further north, near to where we would have entered from China had we been able to cycle. All this has cost us significantly more than our budget allows which will implicate the later stages of our journey in Europe although we are both avoiding thinking about this too much at the moment!
Not willing to miss an opportunity, and aware we will blow our budget whatever we do, we decided that we would embrace this change of plan with a spontaneous short cycle tour around Almaty followed by an unplanned ski trip in Kyrgyzstan, so it’s not all bad!! 🙂
Unfortunately, it wasn’t to be.
After staying with a lovely family on our first night here (through couch surfing) we set off late on our first day. Unsure of an exact route, but desperate to get back outside and on our bikes we set off toward the mountains. We barely made it 15km before we had to stop for the night as the light was fading fast.
It felt great to be back in the tent, despite the freezing weather and heaps of snow piled up around us. The following morning we set off, but this time had barely made it 2km before we noticed my pannier rack had come loose. On closer inspection it was apparent that the bolt had completely sheared. Despite our best efforts to get it out, half of it remains inside the bolt hole on my bike and my pannier rack is now cable tied to the frame. Suffice to say this is not a long term solution!
We decided to sacrifice our planned cycle route yesterday and stay in the mountains for another night before heading back to the city to fix my bike today.
And that is where I woke up this morning. On the edge of beautiful Kazakh mountains with a bicycle that needs a bolt drilling out of it and an overwhelming sense of disappointment.
Though we have had a lot of fun, learnt a lot and had an amazing adventure so far it is simply not the trip I have been dreaming about, and it doesn’t look likely to become that trip in the near future.
For now though, we must try to fix my bicycle then find a place to camp tonight. Then we can make yet another plan for the future…