From September 2015

Bishkek doubts

When deciding what I should post first, I was tempted. Tempted to start with the wonderful landscape vistas, the photos of smiling people who helped me on the way, of the dog that chased the wolf away from my tent at night. About how my leap of faith into the world of cycle touring worked out rather well.

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But that would only be half of the truth. The truth is that I was torn by doubt during that last night I spent in Bishkek, the night before actually departing (by bike) towards Osh in Southern Kyrgyzstan. This is also part of this journey, and even though I could play it cool now, pretend that this was a piece of cake, I would rather be honest. It was not. It was terrifying, scary and felt like jumping off a skyscraper. Thus, here are my “Bishkek doubts”, accompanied by some photos of Bishkek, a capital with a small-town atmoshpere, crumbling Soviet architecture, kind-hearted people and busy markets.

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Phone call with Christian. This feels so god-damn awful there are no words. Really, no words. I have never, ever felt as vulnerable in my life. My Polish roommate who travelled a similar route but in the opposite direction and who is now about to fly home, told me a couple of things I would rather not have known. “Wow, you are going to freeze to death up there in Tajikistan!” is one of them. “You really are going in the wrong season” is another statement. “The bacteria in Tajikistan are crazy – they get everyone’s stomach sooner or later”. How nice!

Bishkek, womenWhat is this? Should I cancel everything and simply fly back? Try an easier route, a shorter one, a less demanding one? Actually, I would – if I was not even more scared of packing my bike alone. This is all that is holding me back right now. Avoiding the bike-packing tomorrow in exchange against terrors of snow in Tajikistan in two weeks. Terror-postponing and avoiding. I do not remember ever having been that scared in my life. This is potentially life-threatening. While I knew this before, it becomes very real and palpable right now.

IMG_0023-01-965x1546 The additional information from my Polish acquaintance just pushes me over the edge. My body reacts as if it was in an actual critical situation. Cold sweat, faster breathing, racing heart. Yes, I wanted to push my limits, but this feels AWFUL. Already. Even though nothing has happened so far! I don’t care about the question if returning early is a form of failure. Who cares about failure? I would like to keep being among the living. Or at least, not die a very lonely death up in the mountains. All afternoon long, the Ala-Too mountain range provided a beautiful backdrop for Bishkeks buildings. Only that the 5000m peaks, snow-capped and looming, make me shudder each time I look at them. I do NOT want to go up there. Who cares about the mind-blowing scenery?

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Late night talk with my Japanese roommate, who is also travelling by bike. He decided against Tajikistan. “Too much snow, too cold”. Well, but he still wants to spend a month roaming Kyrgyzstan, while I want to leave as soon as possible for Tajikistan. We look at his route as a potential fall-back plan for me (via Kazachstan and then to Tashkent). Also, I use the chance to ask him whether he could show me how my stove works (he has the same). Being the friendly guy he is, he shows me, in awe with the fact how clean a stove can be *before* being put to use for some months. The Israeli guy on the next bed just raises his eyebrows: “You left for such a trip without ever having tried your stove?”. On the outside, I justify myself, explaining how the stove did not arrive on time because the order was delayed (true staetment). Innerly, I completely agree. And feel even more awful now.

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One phone call later, I make the decision to try to get to Osh. If this takes too long, or if I realize that the Tajik mountains are actually drenched in snow by then, I will backtrack and travel via the Fergana valley to Uzbekistan directly. Also, I need this time to come to terms with being alone at what feels like the end of the world. With a bike. And more luggage than I can even carry. What have I gotten myself into?

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Arrival and unexpected help

Leaving Berlin was as awful as it could get. A flight postponed twice due to sickness and issues with gear deliveries. The most stressful 60min of my life checking in at the airport (had I not had help by Christian who bravely tackled the challenge of packing my bike Emily, there would habe been no chance for me to make that flight). A night spent in flight and in airports. Arrival in Kyrgyzstan totally sleep-deprived and with sinking heart: would my bike Emily have made it? And if so: in how many pieces?

DSC09900-01Waiting at the conveyor belt in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, biting my nails. All of a sudden, my fuel bottle shows up. Then one of the panniers that I had thrown into the bike box. The bike box that had clearly disintegrated somewhere between Germany and Kyrgyzstan.  More mental nail biting. Then, an elderly lady with whom I had talked about my bike trip earlier taps me on my shoulder: ‘Is this your bike?’

Yes, it is! With minor scratches, but undoubtedly: my bike! In one piece! A caring airport official had rolled her out of the airplane. Sleep deprivation, level 2: re-organize your luggage and pack your bike  (for the first time, actually) after 48h without sleep. After this challenge, I felt ready to fall asleep. Right there, on the floor. Instead, the 30°C heat of Krygyzstan was waiting for me. And the realisation: this bike is incredibly heavy. And insanely hard to move forward. Still, I AM actually moving forward. Not always in a straight line, but moving nonetheless. Until my body demands a break and violently so. Just a little shade, just a little pause…. The Ala Too mountain range at the horizon looks stunning, but I am more concerned with staying conscious.

IMG_0001-01A friendly Kyrgyz comes to ask whether I need help. Yes,  I do. I realize that I was insane even thinking about this trip! Instead, of telling him about my self-doubts, I gladly accept the offer for a cup of tea. And then the offer of his neighbor. And then the offer for lunch. Finally, I dare to ask whether I could sleep a little on the sofa. I wake up 6h later in complete darkness. Without question, my spontaneous host family invites me to stay for the night. In the end, I stay with them for 24h, get to know all extended family members, watch the entire wedding Video, am given food and shelter- and we don’t even share a single language! Deeply moved about this heart-felt hospitality, I continue my ride the next day, the smell of freshly baked bread (a farewell gift) in my nostrils. Welcome to Kyrgyzstan!

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