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27.06.09 02:02 Age: 9 yrs

Dances with wolves....and mosquitos

By: Roger & Megan

Hot days and flat tyres from Zhezkazgan to Turkestan

At 9 am on the day of our departure from Zhezkazgan, we were working in the shade of an apartment complex, trying to service, pack, and load up the quike with some 100+ L of water. We were actually dreading the road ahead, as it was already 30 degrees (and heading for 40+) C, and we'd been warned that the road was very very bad (10 km/h driving by 4wd), and we still hadn't gotten any reliable information about the seasonal wind speed and direction out there (which may triple our expected time to ride the 400 km), or drinkable water points on the way. To be really safe about it, we should've been carrying 250 L of water, but our capacity is unfortunately only 140 L.

Our other main worry was that we would not be able to make the Uzbek border in time, to meet out visa requirements. As it seemed like it would be verging on the border of superhuman if we were to arrive at the border in time. Then, as we were sorting this all out, a bicycle friend of Sasha's found us and came to talk to us. He was very disturbed by our plan to do the crossing in that heat. But coincidentally, he and his family were heading out to go camping, in that same direction. He offered to take us part of the way (in his big 4wd van) along the road to where they'd be camping/hunting, and then we'd continue on from there. This sounded pretty good to us, and meant that we would have a greater chance at reaching the Uzbek border in time! So we packed down the quike, loaded it up, and by mid-afternoon we were heading out for a family camping trip :)

That night we all camped at a billabong where the men did a little fishing, and then in the morning they took us a further 50 km down the road. From here, we had about 200 km to ride to Kyzyl-Orda, with about 80 L of water, 40+ degree heat, but we couldn't believe our luck, as this time we had a dead-on, 40-50 km/h tailwind (finally!), which meant we could not travel at 10km/ph (yes we know it doesn't sound very fast, but by our standards with a half-ton quike it is!). So for the rest of that day, and the entire next day, we made pretty good progress toward Kyzyl-Orda. We were, however, exceeding our expected fluids intake - it was actually approaching 10 L a day per person. So the pressure was still on to make it there in the least number of days as possible. We even managed to pull a 90 km day (our new record).

When we were approaching the outskirts of Kyzyl-Orda, some 15 km from the town centre, it was realised that we would not reach it in time before dark (10 pm), so we decided to setup camp out on the steppe again. However upon stopping to setup camp we realised that what we had just been riding over was big sharp thorns, very much unsuitable for the Hilleberg tent which was supposed to last us all 16 months of our trip. Thus sadly we kept on riding into the night, looking for another campsite. Half an hour later or so we finally found a suitable campsite, and setup our tent. It was only then that we realised that this too was not a very suitable camspite, as our surroundings had more rubbish than the usual steppe. We came to the conclusion that we must have set up camp in the middle of the Kyzyl Orda town dump, but it was getting dark and we were too tired to move so we just settled in for the night. We were just a bit more careful than usual with where we set foot around camp!

After dinner, whilst Megan was packing up the quike, Roger some 20 m away was being attacked by a swarm of thousands of mosquitos. It was amazing that 20 m away there was not a single mosquito in sight, whilst there was a swarm of thousands encircling Roger. And soon enough there were thousands of mozzies all around us, feasting on our bloods. So we quickly packed up and escaped into the refuge of the tent. And after such a long hot days ridings, we were more than ready for bed. However just as we were about to drift off we heard a lone howl, followed by another, and another, growing in number, loudness, and proximity to the tent! We were not entirely sure they were wolves, as they might have instead been jackals. We had been constantly warned about the wolves on the steppe and how dangerous they were, but had been told that our chances of even seeing one in summer (let alone a pack) were close to none. But if they WERE wolves... Uh-oh...
Luckily, we'd had the foresight to place our food bags locked up in metal containers, well away from our tent, but it still was a bit of a worry to have such noises just metres away, with only thin ripstop nylon walls between yourself and whatever creature is out there!

We made it through the night in the end, without being eaten by wolves nor mosquitoes, so it was time to ride on to Kyzyl-Orda. But then, after riding only a few metres we discovered a very flat tyre, which delayed our departure for an hour or so. After replacing the tyre, it was then back on our way to Kyzyl-Orda. Upon riding through the city, we stopped for a quick break (it was another 40 degree day) by the bazaar, only to be offered some free samsas for lunch by a young boy who was selling them. Since it was getting late we decided to have a quick look at the local mosque. Roger was taken in by some of the locals to the 3rd Namaz whilst Megan rested in the shade. After Namaz, one of the locals said that if we talked to the Imam, we would be able to camp in the Mosque grounds for a few nights. We had a quick dinner with him, and came back in time for the 4th Namaz to meet the Imam, who confirmed that we would be allowed to do this after the Mosque had shut for the night.

The mosque closed about 1:30 am, but was to reopen at 3:30 am in time for the 1st pre-dawn Namaz (the poor guy sounded like he never slept! when could he?). As we finished setting up our tent, one of the gate keepers approached us, asking us to come stay with him instead, implying that it would be a great honour for him. So we decided to packup our tent (at 1:30 am) and follow him. His house was not too far away, so by about 2 am we were set up in his living room on mattresses, with a mosquito net covering us, trying very hard to cool down and sleep. He also kindly set an alarm for us for 7 am so that we could get an early start the next morning. Sadly however (well not for the mosquitos, it was a feast for them!) the mosquito net worked against us. The mozzies would fly in through the holes, and not be able to find their way out! Being a 45 degree day (and 25+ degrees at night) it was too hot to sleep with any blankets, so we were defenceless and to the hungry mosquitos! As more and more mosquitos entered (and couldn't escape) it soon became unbearable, we were constantly itching and slapping non-stop (we couldn't even go 1 minute without this) so ended up spending the whole night wide awake, full of bites and covered in sweat from the vigourous workout they were giving us.

Then, at 4.30 am we were awoken (well not really, since we were barely asleep anyway!) by a very loud clock alarm in the room. So perhaps he didn't really know how to work his alarm clock when he "set" it for 7 am... But since it was already getting light at about 5 am, so we thought we may as well cut our losses for the night and hit the road. So we repacked the quike and wheeled it out of his yard at about 5.30 am. We only got a few metres before realising we had another flat tyre! Then, while we were working in the laneway to fix the tyres (working with all 4 wheels off) a little kid came and pumped all our hydraulic disc brakes... meaning that the pads just wedged together really tightly which took another hour to fix! During this big street bike mechanics session, a lady on the street saw us fixing the bike and kindly asked us in for breakfast (7.30 am) so of course we happily obliged. During the course of breakfast she asked us to stay on at her place for another night, so we could have a wash and a rest before heading on to Turkestan. After all, the days were constantly well over 40 degrees and it was only going to get hotter! Due to the growing repairs that needed to be done to the quike, we happilly agreed.

And so the rest of that day was spent hunting round the bazaar and picking up some makeshift bike fixing parts and meeting with the director of the museum in the town. By now we were extremely behind schedule to make our Uzbek visa restrictions, there was no way we could ride the 1500 km in 45 degree heat (whilst stopping and documenting the cultures) in 2 weeks, thus again we were looking for other options.

On our final (again!) departure day we decided to swing past the local avtovagzal (bus station) to get a lift across the next 250 km to Turkestan. But then, just as we were approaching the station, we encountered another flat tyre! The tyres we were using were designed to be unpunctureable, so we guessed it must have been something to do with the tube (cheapo ones we had bought from the bazaar). Upon taking off the tyre, we saw that the whole tube had split right down the centre! After some quick repairs, and after a bit of haggling, we finally managed to find a "bus" (of sorts) that would give us a lift to Turkestan for a reasonable fee. Luckily for us, the quike fitted almost perfectly in the luggage compartment (took up the whole compartment though!) without having to uncouple the frame. And so, by 2.30 pm, we were in the bus on the way to Turkestan... but sweating profusely due to the lack of windows or airconditioning...but happy that we would not be deported for violating our visa restrictions, and that we were not outside in the 45 degree heat!

[Posted by TK 28/6 - now we know why they got from Kzyl-Orda to Turkestan - 100km - in one hour! The GMN tracker is not sending - again.]