Okay, I’m not really dead. I’ve just been AWOL from the internet for a few months. I apologize for the long wait for this update. But at least I’m still alive to write it. Look on the bright side!
The following will cover the most noteworthy aspects of the past 2.5 months of my travels.
I last posted on my blog while staying in Pokhara, Nepal. I wound up stuck at a hostel in the city for a month waiting for a package to come in the mail. Pokhara was a beautiful city positioned in a valley just south of the Annapurna range. I will say it was a great place to be stuck in, but waiting a month while having those mountains mocking my growing yearning for adventure was miserable.
After a month of waiting for the package, that was supposed to arrive three weeks earlier, I finally was notified that the post office had it waiting for me.
When I arrived at the post office, I was beyond ecstatic to see a box addressed to Adam Swanson on the counter. I went to the desk and said it was my box and showed my ID’s to prove it. The woman at the counter then told me she couldn’t give it to me because they couldn’t find it in the government database. I tried to negotiate for a few minutes and when she wouldn’t give me the package I decided my best option was to grab it and run. Unfortunately I didn’t consider the time to unlock my bike one handed with a box in my arms, and after 30 seconds some mailmen brutes appeared and pulled me back into the post office where I had to pay a $50 bribe to get my box.
Free tip to anyone who wants to travel to Nepal, don’t try to get mail sent there.
Once I had my box it meant I was able to leave Nepal after 2 months there. With a bit of sadness in my heart to leave such an astonishing country, I made my way to the airport to fly to Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan to start my next journey: The Stan’s.
I spent one final week in Kathmandu before departing. It was a good way to separate from Nepal, I spent the week exploring the city and frequently visiting the climbing gym with my good friend Mattis and getting my bike all packed up to fly.
My flight to Bishkek left me in Dubai for a 10 hr layover. I sat in the terminal gawking at the skyline while eating the first good sandwich I had had in months. In Nepal they try to make good western food, but they rarely succeed. Especially with my budget. So I stuck to Dal Baat and Momos there.
I arrived in Bishkek at 4am the next day and checked into Apple Hostel. I’m not sure if it was my sleep deprived mentality from flying, but the beds there were some of the comfiest I’ve ever been in.
Although Bishkek is a very nice city I only spent two days there. I spent so much time in Pokhara looking at google images of the Kyrgyz countryside and mountains that I just wanted to get out of cities as fast as possible.
Here is a rundown of my time in Bishkek:
Sleep from 4-10am
10am-3pm I spent at the Bishkek public bathhouse where I made my first Kyrgyz friend. He introduced himself by asking me to lay on my belly on the bench of the sauna. Then he took my towel off me and I was very confused, until he started slapping me with sticks and leaves which was a strange but great experience. We spent the next few hours sauna-ing and having tea in the bathhouse. He helped me out when I got cornered by a bunch of old naked Kyrgyz men who proceeded ask me my political views on Putin while I was trying to enjoy the Russian sauna.
4pm-6pm The Jewish guests at the hostel hosted a great feast for us all because it was a Jewish holiday and they wanted to share the day with us all. They made a massive meat feast for us all, everyone was served enough food to feed an entire family. By the end we were all stuffed and just laid on the couch.
8pm a Kyrgyz traditional band came and played a show for us at the hostel.
9pm sleep and pack to ride out tomorrow.
My goal for the time being was to make it to and ride around Issyk-Kul. If you look at a map of Kyrgyzstan, Issyk-Kul is the big blue lake that lakes up a large portion of the eastern side of the country. It has a 500km perimeter with a road always hugging the blue, clear water.
It took me 2 days to reach the shores. I spent one night camped next to a a slow stream that ran between two grazing pastures for sheep. In the morning I had lots of company.
My first night along the stream it rained all night long, I was worried about getting washed out, but the waters thankfully weren’t high enough to reach my tent. The rain made the air nice and clear in the morning and allowed for great views of the Tian Shan range.
The final stretch to Issyk Kul was as close to being a desert as you can find above 1000m. I followed a small river valley through the dry hot landscape. When I finally arrived to the big blue lake, I was so ready to jump in and cool off.
I got my dinner from the grocery store in Balykchy and left the town to find a quiet refuge for my tent along the shore of the lake.
I found a perfect camp spot on the lake, but I was bummed when I got to the shore and found nothing but cow pies, muck and dead bugs. Since I was riding through the desert all day, I had to force myself to sink into that mud and soap off in the lake. You could argue that I might’ve been dirtier and possibly at risk of disease, but at least the swear was gone! Right?
After my sad excuse for a swim the previous night I was determined to find an appropriate swim spot today along the lake.
Now that I had reached Issyk Kul, the new goal was to make it to Karakol, the town on the east end of the lake, then to do a full loop around if time allowed.
I instantly fell in love with Kyrgyzstan when I started riding out of Bishkek, but every day that progressed proved to be even better than the days before. Riding around Issyk Kul was very similar to Croatia at the start. For the first couple hours I was positioned right on the shore of the lake with a dry rocky landscape with rock mountains towering above me.
Towards the afternoon I had wandered into a whole new biome. Suddenly I was in fields of color on either side with the smell of wildflowers constantly wafting onto the road. As I rode through valleys of wildflower covered mountains I knew Kyrgyzstan was going to be one of my favorite places to ride.
I also may have risked water borne illness at this campsite. I got into a stream next to my tent to bathe. I sat in there for a while underwater because the water was so cold and clear it felt amazing. 15 min after I got out the stream no longer existed… maybe farm runoff? If I sound progressively stupider while writing this, you can blame it on the potential bacteria eating away at my brain.
The forecast on the day I was planning to make it to Karakol called for rain all day starting around noon. I had 100km to go, so I decided to crank it so I could avoid rain as much as I could. I rode the Kazakh border all day, I made it 100m within the border at one point in the day which was fun. I tried to see if I could sneak in, but they keep it pretty locked down, like every border in the world. Except for the time I skied to Canada. But don’t tell anyone.
I stopped for lunch on a beautiful rock beach where I succeeded in my goal of finding a pretty camp spot. The lake reminded me of Lake Superior back in Minnesota, it was so cold and clear and so big that you can’t see across. Obviously not as big as superior, but Great Lake big for sure.
After my lunch break I started jamming out to rock songs and cruised into Karakol, making it 100km by 1pm and checking into a hostel seconds before the rain came in.
I took advantage of my early arrival and my hostel kitchen to make me and a few other guests a hearty meal before they went in a trek and I continued biking. I was given a map of Kyrgyzstan in exchange for cooking which was very helpful to plan my route.
I spent the next two days riding along the southern shores of Issyk Kul, to my surprise and dislike, I found out that the majority of that road is currently under heavy road construction. I felt like I was back in Nepal, riding those pothole covered dirt/rock roads mile after mile. What kept me going steady through this hiccup was the idea of reaching the M41 soon. The M41 is the road that leads to the Pamir Highway in Tajikistan. Renowned by cyclists for its constant beauty while traversing breathtaking mountain ranges.
I sat out on Issyk Kul’s boulders for lunch with my map sprawled out beside my cheese and sausage. With the M41 on my mind, I set my route across Kyrgyzstan. I drew a line on my map that had me cut southwest from Balykchy after finishing my Issyk Kul loop. I’d ride small dirt roads through river valleys and over mountain passes for several days until ultimately reaching the infamous M41 which would take me the rest of the way to Osh where I planned to cross the border to Uzbekistan.
Once I reached Balykchy I checked into a hostel for two nights, knowing it would be my last real city for up to two weeks. I cherished my city luxuries, a mattress, and accessibility to a supermarket while I could and prepared to switch to backcountry luxuries, my rainfly, sleeping bag, dried foods and snowmelt baths.
-I title these as ‘backcountry luxuries’ only slightly sarcastically. Reason being that when I’m in a city and I have so much at my fingertips, the only place I want to be is sitting in front a campfire eating a homemade meal on my stove with a cold creek next to me and my warm sleeping bag waiting for me in the cold night air in the mountains.-
I spent those two days in Balkychy exploring and eating good foods with an Estonian man named Vladislav and a Kyrgyz kid named Azamat.
Vlad and I spent those days walking around the broken post Soviet city and I just listened to him as he told me about his youth growing up in Soviet and post Soviet times. He was ten years old when the Soviet Union collapsed and he had so much information to share with me about his youth.
Although Vlad was very anti USSR, he still took time to tell me the positive aspects of Soviet times along with the negatives. I found it interesting to think of American political censorship, since in what little I was taught about this major part of history, it always seemed to be only the negatives of Soviet culture, when in fact there are lots of positives. Same being with what little I learned in school of communist Cuba being another bad system, when in contrast, I remember seeing so many more happy people in Cuba than in the USA in the two weeks I spent on the island.
At least the US censors on a lesser scale than other nations. Uzbekistan and Tajikistan have both shut down internet access and threatened journalists in large regions of their countries in the last few months due to riots, fully preventing any outgoing or incoming news to residents of the area. So I shouldn’t complain too much for not learning about foreign political systems in school.
Vlad and I spent our mornings and evenings hanging out with Azamat, the manager of the hostel and Azamat’s cat, which is one of the only cats to ever like me. He is a 20 year old Kyrgyz guy who had just spent the last 2 years of his life studying in China.
After my two days of city luxuries I hopped back on my saddle and set my compass south towards the mountains.
I had one average day of riding, going from Balykchy up into the mountains and over a pass. I slept in a valley and got some good rest in, planning to ride the valley and camp on a pass 70k down the road the next day. I was a bit irritated with strong head winds and hopeful that the wind would be at my back for the pass. Spoiler: it wasn’t.
The next day down the valley and up the pass was arguably one of the hardest days of my trip to date. The morning was easy, with some hunger in my belly I got up and rode 30k to a small roadside shop where I bought a prepackaged sub for lunch. When I was leaving the store I grabbed my bike by the seat to position it parallel to the road to start riding up the pass which was positioned at 2900m in elevation. I was at 1800 at the time. Ambitious, but I figured 1100m in 40km would be doable.
As I grabbed my seat to reposition my bike, my bolt that held the tension of my seat snapped clean in half. Simultaneously, the wind started gusting much stronger, directly into my face. Suddenly this pass seemed a lot harder.
After 7 hours of slowly rotating my legs up this pass and momentarily stopping to tighten my bandana that was poking into my butt, I finally made it to the pass and found an acceptable camp site next to a little creek. I just wanted to collapse into the grass, jaded from hours of painful climbing against steep grades, heavy winds, poor roads and a fucked up seat. But low and behold, here comes a dark cloud floating over the snow peak I was camped under. Exhausted, I set up my tent and rainfly and the rain began to fall seconds after I got all my stuff under the dry cover of my tent, my only good luck all day. Frustrated with the day, and in need of a shower, I grabbed my soap, took my clothes off and stepped into the sharp icy rain. I shouted up at the sky, drained from my day, but happy it was over and began to get clean. I imagine I would’ve been a shocking sight to a passing car.
After an hour of hiding from the storm in my tent, the rain and wind subsided, leaving room for a warm touch of sun in the cold air. I got out of my tent and started making an Indian recipe I had stocked up for.
The second I stepped outside and was kissed on the cheek by the sun, my mood immediately flipped. I looked out over the pasture with horses and yurts in the distance, in the shadow of magnificent mountains and remembered that Mother Nature is good at her base, even if she spent the day berating me with winds and rain.
I realized as I was eating my food that I was right where I imagined I wanted to be while I was sleeping in the city two days prior. With a belly full of warm food and a body tired from a long day of riding, I went to sleep happy, as I always do when I get to sleep in my tent in the mountains.
After a cold mountain night, I made my way down from the pass onto more poorly maintained dirt roads that would lead me to the M41. I count ours to struggle with wind and rain, but this time I was following a river going downhill all day which made it a bit more pleasant.
I spent the night in a beautiful valley, camped on a bog-ish spot of grass beside a river.
The day I reached the M41 was fully enjoyable. The road was still hard, but by now I’ve been riding these types of roads daily for months, so it didn’t phase me much. The morning was COLD, so I went off in a warm shirt and my shorts. I rode alongside horses, cows and sheep all morning for the first 30km before reaching the M41.
I stopped at a Caravan for breakfast when I made it to the M41. The woman served me tea with a delicious meat and potato soup. The soup had on the bone lamb that was so tender is separated clean off when I tugged with my fork. What a meal to have after cooking dried foods for so long. The fresh meat gave me the energy to put in a 120km day over two mountain passes and set me much further than I had intended. The day was filled with so much beauty around every corner that I never wanted to stop, I was too excited for what was to come.
My two favorite points of the day, besides the constant scenery were 1- I had 5 horses run down the road with me in a perfect line in the morning when the sun was still really low in the sky, making it look like the horses were carrying the sun on their backs. This is when I started describing Kyrgyzstan as a dream.
2. I was waved to the side of the road by residents of a yurt who gave me free horse milk and cheese. I was a bit nervous about trying horse milk, but surprisingly, I ended up liking it.
I spent the night at the base of a pass. In the morning I have to climb 1200m to Alabel Pass, at 3100m in elevation.
I made it up this pass a lot easier than the other one. I was at the top next to snow patches by 11am and hanging out with two little kids who live in a yurt at the pass. They didn’t speak English, but they were very entertained by my bike, so I gave them a tour of all my bags. I hope they don’t get interested in any windowless vans stopping at the pass…
The road after the pass is a solid 100km of downhill, dropping to 900m in elevation, so I got a lot of distance in and camped at a town called Toktogul which rests beside a big reservoir in the hot desert of lowland Kyrgyzstan.
The following days were pretty rough, I was used to the cold air of high elevation, so all of the sudden hiking in 35° weather was not ideal. Lots of stops from heat and no shade made my days go by a lot slower.
After 3 days of this I was reaching the border of Uzbekistan, when I suddenly fell ill while biking. My theory is I ate bad fish, but all I know is my guts were kicking out more waste than I had TP, being in the middle of nowhere with food poisoning and no toilet paper, I had no choice but to hitch. I made a sign with my pen that read ОШ (OSH) in bold letters and stood beside the road holding it towards passing cars.
Five minutes later I was going down the road with two truckers. I spent 2 hours in their truck as we made our way to Osh. I have hitchhiked 4 or 5 times now, so I don’t tend to feel nervous anymore, but this time I did. These guys were on their way to Siberia to get a shipment of watermelons, and spoke no English I offered my phone for google translate and communicated with them this way. At one point they started talking about slaughter and revenge, and we turned off the main road. I did not know what was going on, but I was scared to say the least.
Turns out google translate was confused and they were just telling me we were going for food. A while I was freaking out while they were just excited to have some Shashlik.
I arrived in Osh ready to cross into Uzbekistan, but my visa hadn’t been approved yet, so instead I decided I’d do one more bike ride into the Kyrgyz mountains and have a nice camp before going into the Uzbek desert.
As I was riding I got an email that my visa was approved, so I decided to amo one night and then cross the border the next day in Osh. I ended up finding one of the best campsites I’ve ever stayed in. My bike and tent were camouflaged into a field of wildflowers with a view of Mt. Lenin, overlooking the river valley I rode from Osh.
I crossed the border to Uzbekistan in the morning g and took the train to Tashkent where Henry was scheduled to meet me to rejoin the trip and ride with me again on June 2.
I arrived in my hostel in Tashkent on May 29th at the same time as a French-Moroccan girl named Alaa. I spent the next few days exploring the city with her, we went to a soccer game the first night and I followed her around exploring the city during the days. She was only on a one month trip, so she had done a lot more research than I had, so she was like a personal tour guide for me.
After talking for a while during the days we realized we were very similar people and quickly became good friends.
When Henry arrived in the city he told me that Lufthansa had list his bike in Frankfurt, so we decided we’d go by train to explore Uzbekistan while we waited for his bike’s arrival. Alaa joined us on the train with the plan being for the three of us to spend a few days in Samarkand, a few in Bukhara and a few in Khiva.
After a month alone in Kyrgyz nature it was nice to be with two good friends. New and old. We also met a French-Algerian girl named Dounia in Samarkand who joined our train trip and we became a really fun little crew from all over exploring Uzbekistan together.
Uzbekistan was very different for me. I went from exploring mountain nature to admiring ancient desert architecture and mosques. It was astounding seeing the 700 year old work put into these fortresses and old towns across the country.
We spent two weeks training around Uzbekistan seeing the cities and 42° desert together. We came back to Tashkent and Dounia returned home to France. After we saw her off, Henry, Alaa and I went back across the border to Kyrgyzstan to do the Ala-Kul trek. Still waiting for Henry’s bike, we did this to pass the time and see more nature. After the trek of Henry’s bike still hadn’t arrived he’d need to make a legal claim to get money for all the gear they lost.
We spent 4 days up in the Kyrgyz mountains hiking to the alpine lake called Ala-Kul. The lake is positioned at 3900m in the middle of the Tien Shan mountain range. It’s a beautiful blue lake that’s fed from snowmelt on the glacier sitting on the mountain on the east end of the lake. On the west end the lake turns into a river that flows down the mountains to Karakol. It was a easy, beautiful trek. We just came out today with no news of Henry’s bike, so he’s going to have to do a lot of paperwork.
Our plan for the following days is to see two more alpine lakes to fill time until august when we’ll cross to Kzakhstan and start riding west towards Europe again.
I don’t have many photos of myself or Alaa on my phone I guess. Enjoy photos of Henry hiking!!