Ride: Osh to Irkeshtam, 230km, 4,000m ascent

The first stage of our cycle trip was to get from Osh, Kyrgyzstan to Kashgar, China. This meant cycling from Osh to the border crossing at Irkeshtam. This is an impromptu part of the trip forced upon us as the cost of flights to Kashgar forced us to look for alternatives routes.

I didn’t really know what to expect but after living like a slob on M&S macaroni cheese and beer for a month, gaining about 10kgs in the process (1.5 stone for the imperialists) I knew I was in for a challenge.

Spare tube

The first day reminded me that riding out of cities is something I don’t really enjoy. It is like a chore: a necessary part of life but only really fullfilling once done.

When we escaped the Osh suburbs i.e shacks by the side of the road selling watermelon, we soon saw what Kyrgyzstan had to offer.

With good road conditions the route from Osh to Irkeshtam is a fun ride with a good mixture of climbs, plateaus, changes in habitat from moon surface to lush green, small towns and plenty of side scrolling attractions.

The ride is enhanced by the friendly Kyrgy people and the ease in which to camp. The only trouble we had was minor: we stopped for lunch in the shade of an abanoned building that came with some human excrement and a local vagabond. Harmless but annoying. The vagabond was a little more frustrating: forcing us to move on before we could eat and nap. Then one evening some youths harangued us, asking us ”for a go” on our bikes as we set up camp just off the road. Memories of the last time I let someone ‘have a go” on my bike meant this was not something I was going to fall for again. They soon moved on and any stress was lost when I was awoken in the early hours to the sound of wild horses galloping past our tents.

The highlights of the route are entering the green valley after the first mountain pass. Here you are greeted with rolling green hills, rivers and small towns.

Green Kyrgy
Spot me if you can

There is a gruelling switch back climb up to 3,600m elevation as you approach Sary Tash. Here I managed to get a puncture two turns from the top. As I had shredded through my two spares the previous day the only ones we had left were with Luke, who was already at the top. Determined to ride to the top a ‘pump and ride’ strategy was adopted. Two pit stops later I had finally made it.

Interval training
Spot the flat

Then there was the incredible route from Sary Tash to Irkeshtam.

Into the mountains

The route from Sary Tash to Irkeshtam (~70km) is enwrapped by snow topped mountains on one side and green, rocky outcrops on the other.

I love a pylon

With an initial gradual ascent the route comes with the attractions of kid bandits and wild horses. The ascent is rewarded with a downhill along a ridge that provides great views across both sides. With a couple of extra valley descents to ascents thrown just before reaching Irkeshtam; this is one fun ride!

Fast flow

Overall, the macroni cheese diet didn’t serve me too well but after five days of cycling this challenging but rewarding route woke up my mind and body. I don’t need to say anymore than I would happily come back to spend more time cycling, camping and exploring this area!

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