Mikey on Kazakhstan and our first days in Nepal

There are similarities and differences between cycling with Cam, and the rest of the "Stinky Finger Band", and cycling with Ali.  One difference is that while cycling with Ali we never seem to completely run out of toilet paper.

After a protracted stay in Bishkek, waiting for Indian visas, we got out of dodge and into Kazakhstan.  Because the border crossing in the East (Karakol/Kegen) is currently closed, we had to use the crossing nearest to Bishkek/Alamty.  Because the area we were interested in cycling is in the east we caught a bus to Almaty and then quickly caught another to Taldy-Kurgen.  Kazakhstan is really big, so if you check on a map it probably looks like we didn't really travel that far, but it took a full day of bus travel.  I'd like to note that the Kazakh side of the border instillation is unquestionably the most chaotic and scary border crossing I have ever encountered.  Border crossings are the scene on which states act-out control and sovereignty The disorganization, panic, and violence of the scene really struck me as out of control and utter failure of the authority.  Pedestians and vehicles amassed behind a gate for about an hour.  When the gate lifted hundreds of people rushed for the narrow double doors that led into the customs building.  Above the din of motors we could here women screaming and watch grown men plowing into the crowd.  We watched little old ladies with lots of contraband tied around their waists pay small bribes to the officials as they pushed through.  It was stupid and frightened me, and I'm not faint of heart.  Luckily a nice young man, I think he was an ethnicity from the Caucuses, helped us get through in one piece.

From Taldy-Korgen we cycled south-east toward Tekkaly,  before crossing the mountains into the desert basin of the Ili river, which flows out of Xinjiang, China.  The riding was blissful, the camping spectacular.  The roads in Kazakhstan are generally good, mostly paved asphalt.  The rolling way carried us through little Russian and Kazakh farming villages.  Gold was the primary color of the landscape.  Seeing the big pastel combine tractors cris-cross the golden wheat and hay fields was like watching a sexless Soviet's wet-dream. We camped on stream banks surrounded by the golden autumn leaves of yellow birch and willow.

Crossing the desert plane was a challenge as the wind picked up to gale force.  Ali started to simply refer to me as her windshield as she hung in the eddy behind me.  All You've got to do what you do best, and in those moments being a windshield was what I could do better then anyone else around.  At one point we were riding with a strong cross wind, both of us were leaned over into the wind.  When a truck broke the gale we would swerve momentarily until we could regain our windward cant.

Last year Ali's birthday was our first day in Tajikistan, she sat in a puddle of someone else's vomit.  This year we spent Ali's birthday holed-up in a rain soaked tent in a narrow canyon.  When the rain eased we left our tent standing and sprinted to the closest village, 20 km disistant, to buy supplies.  We enjoyed several hours of reading, chess, tea, and birthday lagman in the best, and only, resturant in town.  By the late afternoon the clouds cleared and we enjoyed a liesurely ride downhill back to our caynon camp.  In the afternoon we hiked down river into a narrow gorge.  As we rested we caught sight of a small herd of ibex fleeing us on the opposite bank.  It could have been a worse birthday, but Ali asked me if next year we could just have a party.  I think that's fair.

In Almaty we enjoyed sweet backed goods and the hospitality of Lisa Min, a fellow Fulbrighter, her husband Andrew, and their Chiwawa mutt, Rufus.

After a night in the Dehli Airport we arrived in Kathmandu early in the morning.  Highlights in Kathmandu included: beer that doesn't suck, half-price after 9pm German bakery goods, wait-staff that isn't totally apathetic to the needs of their customers, monkeys, watching bodies burn at the ghats, Karmasutra temples, and bike riding in crowded narrow allies that is like playing Tony Hawk but better.

But the lights, sounds, and colors of Kathmandu are overwhelming after the sensory deprivation of post-Soviet Central Asia, so we got out of town as quickly as possible.  Along the way we picked up an American cyclist who is afraid of South-Asian traffic patterns and doesn't like to ride very far.  We helped him get out of Kathmandu and on his slow way in the countryside.

On a whim, Ali and I pulled into a river side rafting and kayaking resort to check out what they had to offer.  Four days later we emerged with water up our noses and in our ears.  Al i and I enjoyed 3 full days of instruction by Nepal's freestyle kayak champion, a wicked strong little guy named Pradeep.  After a lot of time spent up-side-down underwater I finally got a handle on the Eskimo roll.  Ali is was right behind.  On our last day we ran some big class III rapids, in which both Ali and I flipped.  This was a great experience as we both demonstrated composure and skill we had learned over the preceding days.  I was able to roll back up, while Ali signaled for a T-rescue and had the patience to wait in swirling white water for Pradeep to get to her.  At the kayak camp we enjoyed the company of Scandinavians and great Nepali guides.  This has definitely been a highlight of our journey.

Back on the road we enjoyed the scenery of steep ripe rice terraces and lush jungle foliage.  We are currently in Pokara for one night before we push on to Bardina National Park, where Ali is looking forward to riding an elephant.

Wisdom from the rear-end of a Nepali dump truck, "Love is like a Chinese mobile...there's no garentee."

That's the news.  Stay cool,


Kazakhstan. The most developed of all Central Asian countries, this status clearly communicated to the naked eye through visible infrastructure and grocery stores with an abundance of food produced and packaged in Kazakhstan. For us, the paved roads were amazing, the trickle down of oil and gas money has reached many of the remote regions we biked through. Not to worry though, Nazarbiev, the president for all twenty years of independence, is one of the richest men in the world. A presidential slogan goes something like this: economic stability is needed before democratic reform can take place. One thing is certain: politics are complicated everywhere and the semantics of words such as "stability" can justify the suppression of a healthy civil society.

We biked for 10 days from the regional capital of Taldy-Korgan in a round about way to Almaty.

Day 0- Mosh Pit Imitates Border Crossing
As old women and children cry out in pain as they get pressed against walls by a mob pushing forward to try and enter Kazakhstan, we looked on in dismay. I respond by giggling nervously and Mikey keeps repeating "I don't want to go in there, this is crazy."  There was no political crisis, just a normal day at the border as far as we could tell. As we wait in a state of indecision the crowd thins, but just as we get close to the door, more people are let through. Young men sprint towards us faster than the old women who are behind them sprinting too, a border guard tries unsuccessfully to replace a fence that has been knocked over and we find ourselves right in the middle of the mess. It was a unique experience and the craziest border crossing either of us have ever seen.

Day 1- Up and Down Just like a Roller Coaster
On our way out of town we met a married couple who were professional cycling coaches. They were excited to talk with us and after fumbling with bad Russian and English phrases we discovered the woman was ethnically Tajik, we found our common language and our communication improved after this. She showed us her scars to prove she had raced for her country. Totally awesome.

Day 2- Golden Fields and Mountains, lots of them

Day 3- Holy Blow Jobby, I'm stuck in a Wind Tunnel
We climbed a pass and crushed some serious km this day. As the sun set we overtook a group of young men finishing a game of Buzkachi. They were interested in us, we were interested in finding a camp sight. One man tried to  get our attention by yelling "Police, Stop." We yelled back, "We're ginger bread men catch us if you can"...he didn't.

Day 4- I'm Confused, Your the Police, You Have a Car, the Car has Gas, and You're Going to Help Us, and You Don't Want Money...We're not in Tajikistan anymore ToTo. 
All foreign nationals from developed countries must register with OVIR (something like the FBI) within 5 days of arriving in the country. This was our fifth day and the clock was ticking. In the small city of Koktal there was no OVIR office. A local police officer gave us a ride to a larger city 15km away, closer to the border with China, he thought there was an OVIR office there, no such luck. We can't get registered. To my great amazement the officer doesn't ask us for money. We ride into the desert at dusk and fall asleep as our dung fires fight the mosquitoes.

Day 5- Hurricane conditions on the Steppe. 
We wake up to sand blowing in our faces and exfoliating our skin; we feel fortunate there is only 50 km to a town that will have a hotel. Riding we kept a 15 degree tilt in to the wind and made it to town before lunch time. A hot shower never felt so good.

Day 6- Wrong Turn in to the Head Wind
South Eastern Kazakhstan has some beautiful canyons, and there are many roads that lead in to and around them. We asked the wrong question when heading out of town "Which way to Sharyn Canyon?" Well 40 km into a head wind we realized we took the long instead of the short way. Mikey proved his worth as a windshield this day. We ended the day with a short climb and then decent into the canyon region. We set up camp on the river in a beautiful spot, the hard work had paid off.

Day 7- My 31st Birthday
The rain ensured a relaxed morning in the tent. When the rain subsided to a sprinkle we sprinted to a near by town to relax in a cafe and restock our food supplies.

Day 8- "The Grand Canyon It is Not" and Overwhelming Generosity
One of the great natural wonders of the country had a very small sign signaling where to turn to find it. After some turns down the wrong dirt paths, we found the right one...10km down a bumpy road we were impressed to find a beautiful Canyon region. We headed out of town and attempted to exchange some dollars in to Tengay at a larger village truck stop. No one would exchange our money for us, instead our hands were filled with gifts of chocolate, bread, and money from fellow customers. We were overwhelmed to say the least. It's amazing how potentially bad situations can lead to really positive moments and memories.

Day 9 and 10- The Final Sprint in to Almaty

Day 11 and 12- Time in the Big Apple of Central Asia, ALMATY
Almaty does not feel like Central Asia. I'd heard rumors of all the options grocery stores had on the shelves and I was happy to find that these rumors were true. I ate an entire block of blue cheese in one sitting and it felt really, really good.
We were hosted by a Fulbright Scholar and her husband: Lisa, Andrew, and their cool dog Rufane. We were delighted to sample the German bakeries around their flat.
On our final evening we visited the local Banya--cold pool, hot showers, Finnish- Russian- and Turkish spas. I followed the example set by large Russian women and beat myself vigorously with oak branches. It felt good.
Kazakhstan, I will never forget your head winds, your glorious pavement, and kind people. I hope our paths cross again in the future.