June 7 – Corruption

This day brought more of the same with a couple of questioning sessions, random driving, and fortunately much less of the police department. This was the day I started to get tuned in on the corruption and real and apparent lack of funds the department had available. “I need money for fuel in order to help”; “I need money to get the motorcycle back to town”; “I don’t have any money, but lets get lunch”.

I knew I had to get out of there.

June 6 – Naryn police department

I arrived at the local military post around 11:00 on the 6th, still keeping my emotions in check – I was completely alone in a very foreign country, not being able to speak the language and no one to help. I kept telling them “embassy, embassy” and pointing to the phone. After some convincing, I made it through to the embassy operator and she put me in touch with someone who told me there wasn’t much he could do until I came to Bishkek (about 5 hours away). He said he knew some Kyrgyz and broken Russian and would try to communicate to the military officer that was helping me. This conversation lasted about 1 minute until the officer started yelling into the phone and abruptly hung up. My heart sank – this guy just hung up on the Embassy. Now I’m really screwed – there was no American Calvary coming to save the day and or to get me out of there.

No one at the department spoke English, so I did my best to mime out the evening happenings, mixed in with a little translation. They had no interest or patience in using the translator app and would just pass it back to me. I dug in my pack and pulled out the burlap sack the men tried to get over my head and the rope they tried to choke me with. I believe it became crystal clear to the officers at this point and they clearly knew they were going to need a translator. The officers called in a young woman who could speak pretty good English to start translating – she didn’t work for the department, but was a sister to one of the officers.

It didn’t take long before there were 5 of us stuffed into little military Lada, headed out to the campsite. What a crazy day this was shaping up to be; we stopped and searched a “random” farm; ate dinner with some people who where having a family picnic up in the mountains (apparently I wasn’t the only one who was hungry); had to push the Lada out of the mountains because it didn’t have enough power to get up the hills; pulled over a drunk driver by swerving the Lada in front of them, and all of this while I was still quite a mess inside and wondering what was going on. The police even had checkpoints set up around town, pulling over every white car that came through. It appeared to be a full-blown effort with all hands on deck.

It wasn’t until 11:00 that they took me to a shitty hotel and told me they would be back in the morning. The officer in charge was heading back into the mountains to sleep with the motorcycle and see if anyone came back. After a failed attempt at a shower (there was no water in my room), I hit the sack with my head still spinning from the past 24 hrs.

June 5 – The Horseman

My repairs on the rear tire seem to be holding up fairly well as I’ve only lost a couple of psi in the rear overnight – what a welcome to the day. I sat in my tent this morning with a cup of tea and piece of bread catching up on my daily journal and importing my photos onto my laptop.

Today I’ll drive an old double track up to Naryn, pick up a few items at market and continue up a different mountain valley road which will connect me to Lake Issyk Kul on Saturday. The road follows a river bottom and I hope I’ll have good camping for the night. I pick up fresh tomatoes, cucumbers, bread and a couple of “farm” raised duck breasts. I make a sandwich in town consisting only of bread, tomatoes and the cucumber; no mustard, mayo, meat, cheese, or condiment of any sort, and it’s amazing how good something so simple can taste. It makes me take note of all the options we’re used to living with in the US and this is by far the best tasting sandwich I’ve had in quite some time (probably since I left mayo behind…).

I drive up the canyon for a couple hours and find a great spot on the river to set up camp. As soon as I stop start unloading the bike, like clockwork, one of the local herders on horseback stops by my camp and starts up a hand gesturing conversation. It’s the typical exchange of names, where are you from, how long will I be staying, do you have any cigarettes, anything to eat, etc. I toss him a tomato I was planning on eating with dinner and he asks for a second for his friend who is still sitting on his horse up by the road. I only have one left, so I tell him no and he is on his way. Both men depart with a smile about the mini bounty they picked up from the traveler.

I’ve been eating nothing but a variation of pasta for a few weeks now, so when I scored the duck breasts at market, it’s been dinner on my mind ever since. I made simple salad with the veggies and fried up the duck breasts. This was the finest meal of the trip so far – certainly topping anything I’ve had on the road or the countless nights of pasta. After dinner I bathed in the icy cold river (I was well overdue) and called Nettie via sat phone before crawling into the tent to catch up on my photo downloads and journal entries. I fell asleep about 9:00, clean, and on a full stomach.

I woke up at around 10 or 10:30 pm to the sound of voices outside my tent.   I could hear two men talking and first assumed it was a couple of locals stopping by to take a look. It’s very common in this part of the world to have people stop by at all hours of the day to say hello and see what you’re doing – if the tent and camping equipment isn’t obvious enough, they want to ask for themselves the standard basic questions. I listened to the men talking for a minute or so, hoping they would leave, but also knowing something wasn’t quite right. I leaned up to look out the side door and quickly caught the eyes of one man who was squatting down outside the tent.   Within an instant and before I could say anything, he leapt on me without hesitation and immediately worked to smother my head.   The first thought to go through my mind, was “shit, this actually happening”, and followed by “damn dude, you didn’t need to ruin my tent”.   As soon as I felt his weight come crashing down on me, I felt the weight of a second man land on me as well. At this point I realized I was in a tight spot and this might get serious as the man on my back was still struggling to smother my head and mouth.  As I started fighting to keep my airway open, I was simultaneously kicking with my feet to keep my legs clear; as much as one can buried in a mummy bag. The two men then tried to move me and I assumed it was a kidnapping. It all happened fairly fast, but I think they only moved me a couple of feet before dropping me – maybe just outside of the tent, maybe nowhere. The man around my legs gave up at some point when he must have realized my legs weren’t going anywhere as I was stuck in my mummy bag. I now had just one man to deal with and found I was easily controlling my head and hands, so I started to work on the sleeping bag zipper with one hand while keeping my head and airway clear with the other. The men did their best to rough me up a bit while I was in the bag, with a few punches to the side of the head and ribs. With all of the tussling and down feathers from the bag, nothing felt to have landed solid and their attempt at a beating quickly felt to be over quite quickly – not to say I didn’t feel the blows it in the morning.

After the minor pummeling, the man on my back switched gears and started maneuvering to get a bag over my head, which was still partially buried in my bag and under the miscellaneous shredded tent fabrics. A bag over the head confirmed my earlier fears of a kidnapping and I knew a robbery was one thing, but kidnapping was a situation I couldn’t let myself get into. I had to do the most to understand the situation as best I could without the use of my eyes. I couldn’t let them move me and I would do anything I could to make sure this didn’t happen.

I don’t travel with any sort of self-protection due to the different border crossing requirements and differing laws, country to country. I carry a small hatchet that I use for miscellaneous items around camp, motorcycle recovery, and if needed it could be used for self-protection, albeit a bit of a crude device.  During the last few minutes of the ensuing struggle, I continued to ponder the hatchet and decided in an instant, or maybe I already subconsciously knew, if things started to get too bad, I needed to save enough energy to break the man from back, grab the hatchet, (which I keep at the head of the tent when sleeping) and use it. The man on my back was both light and weak enough; I knew if I need to, I could throw him off and grab the hatchet. For now, if I could limit the damage on the ground and keep from being put in their vehicle, I’d be ok with losing some belongings. I had no plans of exacerbating the situation for the cost of a few items or the little bit of cash I was carrying. Besides, I love “adding to cart” on Amazon…

I didn’t put up much of fight; I think just enough to let the men know I wasn’t completely rolling over on this. My concern with a full fledged fight was I didn’t know exactly how many men there were and if they have weapons or not. I recognized I was on the bottom, but as long as I kept them from moving me, wasn’t exerting undue energy and not getting beat unconscious, I felt I was controlling my situation as best possible. A robbery continued to be the least of my worries.   Things seemed to simmer down a bit, but I think the lightweight man on top of me was realizing I could move at will.   He gave up on the bag and went fora rope over my head. I somehow caught the rope with my right hand about the level of my forehead and didn’t let it pass any lower. The struggle continued, but I had a death grip (fitting use of words) on the rope and wasn’t about to let it move any lower than it already was. It was crystal clear to me that if the rope made it around my neck, it was game over for me – there was no way I was going to let it happen.  Another bit of time passed and we were both motionless, so I tried subtlety going to work on the bag zipper again with my left hand.   This didn’t go over well and apparently wasn’t as subtle as I thought, because this is when I received the first blow to the back of the head. Wow, “that one rang my bell”, I thought, as he stars started to disappear. A few more seconds and another blow to the head – more stars than the last time, this wasn’t a good sign.   I knew I couldn’t take too many more of these before I lost consciousness. As the final blow caught me in the back of the neck, I struggled to keep conscious, still knowing I had to continue to hold the noose from slipping around my neck.

I decided (maybe the only choice) at this point to go passive, see what happens and conserve the energy I had left, which I still felt was enough to break free if needed. I covered up my head as best possible with left hand and lay still as the man tried to tighten the noose around my hand and forehead even more. As soon as I thought things were going to subside a bit, he crashed down with his forearm into he back of my neck and did his best to pin my head to the ground.  I didn’t see stars this time, but the pain in my neck was noticeable, even with the amount of adrenaline running through my body. I again focused my efforts on my breathing, still thinking if I needed to put up a full fight, I wanted to be as fresh as possible and certainly needed to clear the stars out of my vision before this was going to happen.   Not much movement from either of us for the next bit of time; the man on my back adjusted his grip on the noose every so often and I could hear the other man going through my bags. I knew this was going to be over at some point in the near future and then my thoughts shifted to the question of what was going to happen next. Where they going to throw me in the river, still in my sleeping bag (that would be bad)? Go back to beating me (certainly better than landing in the icy river)? Try again to pick me up and haul me off? Kill me? I didn’t think the latter was going to happen at this point, I thought they would’ve done it already if that were the intent. My biggest concern now was the river.

I snapped out of that thought when I received one more crashing forearm blow to the back of the neck and the man started yelling at me as be loosened his grip. I assumed he was telling me to keep my head down, as he jumped off me and ran away. I looked up as the men were cresting the hill and then I saw the headlights as they started up the car and sped off. It was quite dark out as the moon hadn’t made its way into the canyon, but I could vaguely see the car from the glow of the headlights.

I got up, got dressed and took inventory of the situation. The robbers are gone, what do I do next?   I think I was still a little hazy from the blows to the head because my first thought was that I wanted to fix my tent. At some point it dawned on me, I had a bigger issue and I needed to get my head straight and get a plan. I decided I would to pack up he bike and get moving in the opposite direction of the car. As I was packing up, I realized my electronics bag we missing, which had my iPad, navigation, passport, emergency beacon, sat phone, and other misc. items – there was no way to send an emergency signal or call for help. I knew I couldn’t find my way to the next town on these labyrinths of roads in the night without nav. I had no choice but to head in the same direction as the robbers and back to Naryn. I decided I could drive with my lights off and pick my way down the mountain road; if I saw headlights, I would need to spin around and head the other direction. There’d be no way a car could keep up with me on the bike – I’d be served fine doing this. I loaded my bags on the bike, got ready to leave and realized my key was missing – it was in my tent, in my electronics bag. No problem, I have a spare in my pack.   I dug around and found it – thank god. I put it in the ignition and went to fire it up- nothing. I tried again, nothing. The next two attempts brought the same results – shit, the programming must be bad and the key isn’t going to work. I’m stuck here.

The robbers didn’t get my wallet or cash, as they apparently didn’t look as thoroughly as you’d think they would.   It now dawned on me, there’s a chance they’ll be back once they discover there wasn’t any money in the bag except a few dollars worth of Uzbekistan Som. I decided my only option was to hide out until morning.   I grabbed my sleeping bag, hatchet, Leatherman and went searching for a spot to hide out for the night. My options were limited as I was camped on one of the only flat pieces of real estate in the valley floor; the small camp site was surrounded by steep canyon walls; I was essentially in a bowl, surrounded by water on two sides, a cliff on the third and the pullout of the road directly above me. I found a spot about 50 yards from the camp and sat down curled up with my sleeping bag around me.   I checked my phone and it was now 11:30 and I knew I’d have to stay awake until morning.   It wasn’t long after I wrapped my bag around me, I saw headlight coming from the direction the robbers fled – I ducked down as the lights went by. No problem, just traffic. The passing car, confirmed the idea I should probably flag down the next car headed towards Naryn and have them drop me at the police station – seemed like a better option than laying here on the wet ground for the next 7 or 8 hours.

15 minutes passed and I saw the opportunity of headlights coming down the road.   As the car approached, I ran up the hill waving my headlamp and arms, clearly in an attempt to get them to stop. The vehicle was getting closer but wasn’t slowing down much, so I lowered my light on the vehicle and saw two young me in a white car approaching.   Shit- did the robbers do a double back? Was it them who just drove up the road and now they’ve turned back? The driver came to a quick stop beside me. He driver didn’t look over but I saw the passenger start to get out, so I quickly moved over to meet him, still clutching the hatchet in my hand, hidden as best possible behind my leg. I told him I needed to go to Naryn. He shook his head no. I told him again and the answer was the same- he just stood there looking at me with other hands in his pockets – was he hiding a gun? I gave him a friendly “ok goodbye” wave as I started to back off. He turned, got in the car and they started to slowly drive away. I looked down for the license plate and it was missing. Holy shit – I think I just went face to face with one of the guys who robbed me. Likewise, what’s he thinking at this point because I could identify him for sure now.

I moved back down the hill toward what was left of camp as they drove off down the road. I need to get back to my hiding spot and wait this out – no way I’m flagging down another car tonight. A bit of time passed and I again check the phone; 12:00 and all ‘s well. No sooner did I think, only 6 hours left – no problem, and I see headlights coming up the road again. I didn’t see a car all afternoon, and now this is the third car I’ve seen in the last half hour – something wasn’t right. As the lights got closer, I heard a police siren and a man speaking on a loud speaker. It sounded like police; how would they know about this, town is a couple hours away and there’s no cell service up here.  Likewise how would they get here so quick? A siren and amplifier, but no lights – no way, it couldn’t be the police.   After the car pulled to a stop, I watched the silhouette of a man get out of the car and head down the hill with a small flashlight or some type of headlamp. I remember seeing the hint of a bluish light at some point during the robbery. The light that was coming was clearly the blue tint of an LED. It was too familiar; there was no way I was coming out. The man started yelling (something) and whistling for me – for all I know he was calling “olly olly oxen free”, but regardless, I knew I was going to lose if I poked my head out.

I knew it without a doubt at the time and it was eerily confirmed later by one of the policeman – the men had come back to kill me.

While the man with the light searched the area, I left my sleeping bag and slithered deep down into the brush that lined the riverbank. Growing up learning to hunt in Montana, I knew exactly what I’d have to do to keep quiet and find a position I could defend from, as well as attack if needed. There was a patch of heavy brush on one end of the small camp area with only one clear way around it. If they came over here, they’d most likely walk around the brush. I decided to hide out on the other side, where I’d most likely be able to see them before they saw me. My plan was to shine my headlamp at them as soon as they rounded the corner and identify if they had a weapon or not. If they did, I’d have to attack in an instant. I held on tight to the hatchet in one hand and the headlamp in the other. I knew I’d only have a split second to react, so I sat on my haunches, crouched in the brush ready to jump as soon as the men came around the corner. I could hear them searching the area for what felt like about an hour, then they went back up to their car and parked almost directly above my hiding spot, I assume in a attempt to wait me out.

I sat as still as possible, needing to adjust now and again as my legs would start to fall asleep from time to time. It’s an understatement, but what a crazy feeling knowing someone is 50’ away, hunting you with the intent to kill. As I sat there, my mind would start to wander to my family and I’d have to fight off those thoughts and continue to focus on every sound, every shadow, and every movement I thought I saw in the darkness. Some time would pass, and my mind would drift back to my family. I needed to stay focused – I needed to stay focused – I needed to stay focused – I knew my life depended on it.   The men left after a couple of hours, but I still had a terrible feeling they may come back and come back silently next time. The loud approach didn’t work with the police interpretation, so the silent attack would be next.

I sat as still as a statue and continued to stay acutely focused for the next 6 hours – it was exhausting. Every time my mind would start to drift to a thought, I’d have to snap it back and again get focused on my surroundings. I could feel the slightest puff of wind; heard a mouse in the grass (which sounded like an elephant at this point) some distance away; I could smell the willow trees and the dirt below me; and see every shadow move as the moonlight was slowly working its way down the canyon walls. I’ve never been so focused on my surrounding as I was for those 7 hours.

At around 6 in the morning, there was enough light I felt like I needed to come out of hiding (plus I think I was starting to go hypothermic) and face the day. At least in the light, I would be able to see cars coming and have the advantage of surprise again. I cautiously gathered up the rest of my belonging and moved to a better location up the hill and above the road. Hidden in the rocks and from this vantage point, I’d be able to see cars coming as well as who was driving. I waited until about 9 am for the first car to come by and I could see there was an older woman sitting in the passenger seat. As soon as they got close enough, I bolted down and jumped in front of the car, undoubtedly startling the passengers (ironically, they probably thought it was a robbery). The driver was a older man with 3 passengers, all women.  They were on their way to Naryn and agreed to give me a ride with no hesitation. It was easy to tell I was in distress and helped me get my items into the car and hide the motorcycle as best we could. As soon as I got in the car and we headed down the road, I felt the flood of emotions for the first time since this started.  It’s amazing how the mind will deal with the worst conditions when it has no choice but  to cope.

June 4 – Tires II, or is it III or IV?

I awake to find my rear tire is completely flat. I pack up, air up and head out, planning on stopping at the next village for another tire repair. With only a couple of stops to air up, the pressure was holding remarkably well, so I continued on until 1pm when the tire was finally losing air faster than I could air it up. I pull into the next village that has a small tire shop, ready to perform the repairs. After pulling the tire, we find the last patch I had someone do in Osh, had failed and he had also punctured the spoke seal in 4 locations. The shop owner worked on a new hot patch on the tire, and I worked on the spoke seal. After a good 3 hours of trying to get patches to stick to the spoke seal (which they only moderately did), I was all put back together and on the road again. I certainly hope this is the end of my tire problems…

Rumor has it; Kyrgyzstan is one, if not the top marijuana exporters in Asia. Apparently the mountain people grow the plant high up in the backcountry and the local police (if there are any), are easily bribed and or turn a blind eye. As I’m now heading north into the mountain country on my way to Kazakhstan, I am on alert and keen to watch where I stop and or sleep for the night.   Heading over my first mountain pass, I look over and see a young boy along side the road, in his had a two way radio – as I pass I see him put the radio up to his mouth and presumably makes a call. Understanding the mountain people have very little amenities and certainly no use for two-way radios, the hair on the back of my neck stands straight up. Did I choose the wrong mountain pass to cross? All ends well for the day as I ride over this pass as well as two more, on my way to Naryn.

I find good spot to camp and make another tasty bowl of pasta. Each day that passes with these long rides, leaves me slightly more depleted than the last.   It’s been more than a week since a shower and I’m starting to feel the tolls of the road. I have a fairly challenging ride tomorrow probably even more so, the two days after that. I’m looking forward to getting into Almaty at this point. This should happen on Monday or Tuesday next week.







June 3 – Tires

I rolled into the city of Osh and location of offroad travel experts Muztoo Adventures. The Swiss natives Patrick & Peter, own and operate a travel company in Osh and spend probably more time than they’d like helping broke down bikers coming through town. Their “garden” as they call it, grows motorcycles of all shapes and sizes with their fleet of rental bikes taking the honors under the covered awning. After spending a little time with the two, they clearly know their business and runs what looks to be a very pro establishment.

I am excited to discuss my previous day’s riding with someone, so I make comment of my journey to Patrick and one of his guides. Their responses makes me feel great, as both were certainly impressed with the accomplishment, most notably riding the route “backwards” and doing it on the touring bike this early in the year. “I didn’t know it was ridable this early” one of his guides comments. “On your touring bike, with all the gear?” another questions for the second time. As I’ve come to understand, later in the year, the route becomes well established and cleaned up so they can run tours through on smaller off-road machines.

I am in need of some long overdue tire repair, so I decide to get my rear tire “hot patched” at one of the local shops and replace my front tire, which Patrik luckily has.   After a couple hours of running around town looking for cash, groceries, and a tire shop, I’m back at Muztoo with a new patch on the rear and a provisions for the next couple of days.

After replacing my front tire, I say my goodbye’s and head of out town. Several kilometers from town, I get a warning light that my front tire is low on pressure. I stop and air it up, thinking the last gauge I uses must have been wrong. A few kilometers later, again the warning comes on. I now have a fast leak on my front. I decide to limp my way back to Osh, stopping to air up every couple of km. Back to Muztoo for the repair.

I pull the front and find I damaged the spoke seal on my last repair, so the best option at this point is to install a tube. After popping one tube on installation and needing to start over, I’m finally on the road at 7pm and still navigating my way out of the city. I finally find a spot to camp around 8:30 and quickly hit the sack on a stomach “full” of peanuts and ramen noodles. What an exhausting day.


Lots of visitors this morning 20150602-DSCN1065











June 2 – Bartang Valley

With considerable thought, and understanding the most challenging riding was yet to come, I decide to push forward up the remote river valley.

Many times when I’m on my bike, I relate this type of riding to extreme whitewater kayaking. There are different ratings for whitewater, class 1 through 6. Class 1 being without consequence (flat water) and class 6 being most likely death if a substantial error is made. I can draw many parallels with the two sports, mostly on choosing a “line” through a piece of water or trail. You need to scout the run/trail, look for the line that works for you and then start breaking it down on the individual moves that need to be made in order to make it through to the end of the section. These parallels of the sport are almost identical.

If every instance when pulling up to a section of trail, I am looking for the best flowing line through the section, consequences, as well as any safe zones. When the track is really challenging, there may not be any safe zones, once you commit, your committed to the end. If something goes really wrong in the boat, you pull your skirt and swim to safety- when something goes wrong in the boat, you look for the best route to abandon the bike and do your best to help guide it to safety as you’re coming off.

No two ways about it, swimming from a kayak is a confidence killer. When you decide to get back into the boat, your confidence is blown and every small wave becomes significant and every current feels like its going to send you over again. This makes even the easy water feel like class 5. This is no different on the bike; when I headed out in the morning, my grip on the bars was too tight, my positioning with my legs was too tense – my confidence was blown. I was overreacting to every small rock and undulation in the trail; I was all over the place for a good two hours and the whole time thinking, “there’s no way I’m going to be able to ride the tough sections like this”.

I did my best to work on calming my mind so my body would follow and sometime around midday, I was again flowing on the machine through the water crossings and rocky switchbacks. I clearly remember where the route turned difficult; it was just after the last herder village I went through. As I was slowly riding through the dusty, almost abandoned village; the few remaining inhabitants stood up and took note – it was a really weird feeling, their eyes all seemed to say “ what the “F” is this guy doing heading up there by himself”. All tire tracks had disappeared at this point and I was now following a sheepherder’s trail. The difficult riding had begun.

The section started with two switchbacks up a singletrack of loose rock and debris. A small group of herders pulled off the trail with their donkeys to watch the show begin. With my confidence back, I cleaned the section without any problems and even gave a confident head nod as I rode past spitting softball size rocks out the back as my rear tire spun looking for grip.

The route continued with this moderate level of difficulty for another hour or so with several deep water crossings, wash outs that were almost un-navigable, mud bogs and loose rocky sections. There are a couple of fairly long glacial run out areas that were nothing but extended boulder fields lasting no less than 1/4 mile wide each. I think these may have been the most challenging part of the ride as the route was almost non-existent and section after section that was completely washed out and unridable. I’d have to travers up and down the boulder field looking for a place to cross the washouts, many still will water flowing and questionable access up one side or the other. I was more focused than ever at this point and riding the sections perfectly and without error.

I had read somewhere the most difficult and consequential section was near the end where the trial went up the last mountain with wicked steep, tight and loose switchbacks with and “off” being certain loss of the bike and most likely death. I clearly know when this section began, because as I approached it, I think I said out loud “ no way, this is nothing but a single goat track – I must be on the wrong trail”. I dismounted my bike and walked in for a closer look at the approach. I picked my confidence back up and chose my line into the section. I decided not to scout the entire section as it was extremely long and I was riding well enough at this point and more focused than ever, I knew I’d be able to ride whatever lay ahead.
I started up the trail and it was all that I’d read. Talking to myself and my iron pony the whole way, I picked my way through the rocks and switchbacks and worked my up and around each bend without once stopping or looking down. A spinout or even stopping would put me in a massive tight spot, as I’d have to figure a way to turn the bike around, mount it and start over – this was not an option, I needed to ride the trail clean from bottom to top. I was 100% focused on the task at hand, which was safely navigating to the top. This was undoubtedly some of the finest and most focused riding I’ve ever done – a spectacular section of trail in one of the most accessibly remote places on our planet.

The switchback section was complete, but there was still another 75km to go before I hit the safety of tarmac and the Pamir Highway again. I was high enough on the mountain at this point, the next tricky sections consisted of snow and water crossings in the gully creek beds. I was again in the situation if the bike slipped in one of the gullies, it would be a quick 4000’ decent to the bottom. An error or a slip on the snow was not an option. I picked my way through the creek crossings and snow fields and finally onto the upper steppes of the range.

As I crested to top, I knew I had just completed what very few people had ever ridden on a fully loaded touring bike, and quite possibly the first to do it solo on this type of big bike. Unfortunately I took very few photos on the route – I was so focused and in the moment, stopping to snap photos seemed foolish at this time and a certain distraction of the task at had.

I coasted into the nearest village, Karakol, and scrounged up 5 liters of fuel from the locals, which was just enough to get me into Sary Tash for a re-fueling. I was now in Kyrgyzstan and looking for a place to camp and unwind from the day.












Chinese border20150602-DSCN1053






June 1 – Game Over?

I decide to ride the tire as is to the next village, hoping they have some sort of tire shop for a repair. My plan is to pull the tire, stitch up the tear to keep it from spreading and patch the inside sidewall. I’m fairly certain it’ll work and worse case scenario, the tire would be stitched and I can use my tube without risking another puncture.

The next village is about 150km up the Pamir Highway on the same busted up paved surface. I stop several times on the route to check the tire condition and see that it isn’t getting any worse and still holding air. I pull into the town around 10 and find a guy who patches tires. I let him know my plan and I get a firm “no” from him. I go through a couple different translations to make sure I’m communicating properly and the response always comes back the same. He is unwilling to help as he doesn’t think the repair will work. During the conversation, I come to understand there is another person in town with a tire machine, so I search him out and go through the same motions. At this point, a man comes up who speaks English and helps with the translations. Unfortunately this doesn’t help, the language barrier wasn’t broke – he doesn’t think the repair will work and is unwilling to do it. What I get out of the conversation – is that if its already lasted 150km and hasn’t broke, it will be fine. Basically – “if its not broke, don’t fix it”. I was going for more of the preventative maintenance route, but if they’re not willing to patch the tire after I stitch it, I’m SOL.

I let the English speaking man know where I’m headed (Bartang Route) and was looking for a little info. He states he’s been through the route 3 times this year in his car, the road is in good condition and is about 150km to the next village for fuel. I’m a little surprised he’s been up it 3 times, as from everything I’ve read, its kind of a superhero cycle ride. Maybe there’s been some maintenance over the last couple years?

The route begins with a meandering road up through small villages in the bottom a canyon. As usual, all the village kids come out to the road to wave and hopefully get a high five as I drive by. About 50km into the route, I meet a German couple who is volunteering their Dr. time in a small village; the lady gives me a disapproving look when I tell her where I’m headed, and all she says is that “it isn’t a road”. Ok, so maybe the route does live up to it’s superhero status? Two very conflicting reports.

Not long after the meeting, the wide dirt track narrows up to what isn’t much wider than a small car (or UAZ van – think old VW mini van with 4×4) and drops into a very narrow canyon with a large river at the bottom. The canyon walls are vertical for the most part, with some areas having a slight incline. The downhill side of the track is the same, with an “off” being certain death in some parts and best case scenario in others being the loss of the bike.. I decide to ride the uphill side of the two track as it leaves a little room for error. I continue on this way for another 40k or so, gripped, but in control and enjoying the focus the ride brings.

At some point, I came around a blind corner, still in the uphill track and I feel a massive smash on uphill side the bike and in an instant and completely disoriented and the only thing that goes through my mind is, “this is it, the bike is going to shoot off the bank and into the river – I need to jump off the right side or I’m going to die”. As all of this happens in a split second; the smash on the side of the bike, the bike shooting toward the river, and me throwing myself off the bike on the uphill side. I remember holding onto the bike for a second or two, hoping I may pull it over before it flies off the cliff bank and into the river. There must be a few seconds of memory lapse, because the next thing I remember was getting up and frantically looking for the bike.   I see just the rear wheel off the cliff bank and run over to see what’s happened. The bike has somehow miraculously stopped on a pile of rocks just off the side of the track and didn’t flip down the bank into the water below. Literally, less than an inch more and I would’ve lost the bike for sure into the raging glacial river. I look back and see one of my side panniers lying on the ground along with a very large rock. I’m guessing the rock was sticking out of the uphill bank and I caught my right side pannier on it, which caused it to rip off and simultaneously for me to lose control.

I have a good self-recovery kit with me in one of my panniers and quickly open up the ripped off pannier hoping it in there. I luck out again and find my recovery kit. I double I would’ve been able to get my other pannier off the bike without dislodging the machine from its precarious perch. I quickly establish an anchor point in the rocks above and tie off the machine. Now what to do…. ? There isn’t anyone around, and I haven’t passed a car for 75km. My only two options are to leave the bike as is and wait for someone to come along who can help, which could be days; or to try and self recover the bike, which if I make an error, the situation could go from bad to worse and I could lose the bike. I access the situation for a good 20 minutes and come up with a plan for self-recovery.

I’ll need to set up a pully and lower the bike off its current position, further down the bank to a larger rock. From there, I will set up another anchor point and connect my winch and pull the bike forward. After some rigging and re-rigging, I grab my rope and simultaneously start pulling with the winch, after ½” of movement, the rear come free and I’m holding the bike in mid air. My anchor is holding and my pully system is working as planned (keep in mind, the bike weighs around 600 lbs). I lower the bike down and it’s now resting firmly on its side lower down the bank. I start up the winch and quickly find out it isn’t powerful enough to pull the bike up the almost vertical bank. I decide to re-rig the winch with a pully system as well, to increase the pulling power. Another attempt and I’m now having some success. Understanding the consequences of the situation, whether it be a miscalculation on my part, the winch line breaking, or my anchor pulling loose all means that I lose the bike; I proceed inch by inch moving the bike up the bank.

After some winching, re adjusting, winching, re adjusting, I crest the bank and get the bike back onto the track. Wow, I’ve done it! I give the bike a quick once over and see there is no major (un-rideable) damage. I pack up and with some very shaky legs continue up the track.

Within a half-hour, a warning light on my dash comes on showing “low pressure – rear tire”. I get off and take a look and see a small gash on the rear; shit, I’ve now punctured my rear tire and am losing air quite quickly. I pull over at the next semi flat spot (which are few and far between in this steep river valley) to set up camp and work on the necessary repairs. While walking around looking for the best location for my tent, I see a small gravestone, then another, and another. I’ve pulled over at a rudimentary cemetery. Could my day be going any worse? Not having much of an option and hoping the spirits don’t hassle me, I decide to set up camp with the deceased. What a weird parallel to the end of the day – I’ll be sleeping in the spirit world.

I eat, crawl into my bag and lay there taking personal inventory of the day and reflecting on all of the different outcomes that could have happened. All in all, my worst fear was almost realized and luckily, every best possible outcome came through. Now….about proceeding tomorrow with two questionable tires and an increasingly difficult and remote track.

The start of Bartang Valley
























May 31 – Pamir North Route

There are two ways to get down to the Afghanistan border road from Dushanbe, the northern route M41 and the southern route A385. The southern route is the standard travel road with “good” conditions being the norm. The northern route is the old abandoned road and the off-road adventure route with water crossings, mud, rockslides, etc.

There has been some mixed reports on the feasibility of traversing the northern route this early – unfortunately I haven’t spoke with any motorcyclists who have done it yet. I decide to give it a try and head out of Dushanbe around 8:00am.

I’m not sure why, but there are several military checkpoints along this route. The checkpoints are stationed by a couple of young men (18 – 25), with no vehicle our housing; I assume they’re sleeping in the guard shacks, similar to old fire lookouts in the northwest US. The route is permit only, which I’ve secured from the authorities in Dushanbe. The first checkpoint is stationed where the tarmac ends and the road turns to dust. The guards are clearly happy to see someone, check my passport and permit before sending me on my way.

The road is a typical busted up 2 track filled with potholes, stream-beds and rock gardens. There are several water crossings throughout the day with the deepest being about 2’. Water crossing can be really tricky, depending on the depth, size of rocks and speed of the water. There is no room for error, as if I dump the bike in the middle of the crossing – there’s nothing to do until help arrives, then a very lengthy process of dismantling the machine to dry out all of the electrical and combustion components. These crossings make me really nervous – all it takes is one large rock I don’t see to send me over, there is very little room for error. The longest crossing today lasted about 200 meters, where a section of road had become the new creek bed.   With no way around, I head into it with some trepidation. I made a clean run through the section and came out the other side with a certain amount of relief.

The section of road leading up to the summit is probably the most challenging of the route, as it’s still muddy from the continued snowmelt.  There is at least one clean line up the entire section, but get outside of this line and it can be tough to keep the bike upright in the mud. The big adventure bike like I’m riding can be almost impossible to control on a flat muddy surface, let alone an incline. I keep it under control up the road and make it to the summit after a couple hours of battling the slippery surface. Unfortunately this wasn’t the case for a couple who didn’t have such good luck about halfway up the route. The pair are from Kazakhstan and doing a similar tour as my own. One of the guys lost control and shot his bike off the side of the road and down the mountain.   Luckily he didn’t go with it and his bike somehow stopped about 100 meters down the mountain. They waited for a local to arrive who went for help and came back with all of the rope they could find, which ended up being enough to slowly pull the bike back up to the road surface.
When I arrived, they had just finished putting the bike back together as best possible and were going to try and ride it out. If this didn’t work, his partner would go back to Dushanbe and try to hire a flatbed truck to come up and retrieve the machine. Regardless, they were now on a different type of adventure. I offered as much assistance as I could, which was very little at this point, so I moved on.

I had to use my reserve fuel canister at the summit and hoped it would be enough to get me to the next village that had fuel – it was.   The “attendant” filled my bike and reserve from a 50 gallon drum of fuel with a bucket and funnel. As much as he tried to keep it clean, I ending with fuel all over the place. Happy and thankful to have found fuel, I headed out upriver to the next track I’d be taking.

On route this evening, I smashed a pothole (still traveling on a busted up road surface) and ripped a sidewall on my front tire. Not having a spare anymore, I’m left in a bit of a predicament. I’m not sure how long the tear will hold before it completely blows out – could be 1 mile or the rest of the trip. I’m packing a spare tube, but with a torn sidewall, the tube probably wont last very long either. I decide to pull over and set up camp and weigh my options. Not sure exactly what to do at this point.

Heading into Bartang


M41- Pamir Highway.  After you get to the middle of knowwhere, you keep going until you drive here…20150531-DSCN0999

Afghanistan mountain village in background20150531-DSCN0996

Afgan mtn village20150531-DSCN0995





Crossing the pass on M3420150531-DSCN0987














May 30 – Tunnel of Death

Shortly after I wake, make some tea, and get started updating my posts, I’m visited by one of the locals on his way to – somewhere. We swap a couple photos along with a couple of words neither of us understand and he continues on his way singing a little jingle as he walks down the valley. Fifteen minutes goes by and another fellow on a donkey stops by with with 75 head of cattle headed up into the grasslands to feed. He doesn’t have much to say, so I ask the name of his donkey and he quickly moves on; I guess they don’t name their donkeys. Crazy American.

Another few minutes go by and three small boys come into camp with their dog (who has a name, or his name was Dog) and start sniffing around all of the gear, picking things up, asking questions that I didn’t have the answers to (or could understand)– generally acting as small boys. We entertain each other for quite some time as I work on getting my gear packed up and loaded. What a great interaction; they had the helmet on and were dancing to music, crawling all over the bike, drinking tea (which I made to try and keep them busy) – generally having a blast. After several goodbye’s I was headed out to the Anzob Tunnel, more commonly knows as “The Tunnel of death”.

Here’s a post from dangerousroads.org:

With a length of 5km, the tunnel floor is a maze of deep, seriously deep, potholes hidden under a constant stream of water, the tunnel is strewn with abandoned construction machines and filled with the noxious black smoke of clapped out lorries. The poisonous air in the tunnel is barely shifted by one solitary fan somewhere in the middle of the tunnel, which gives some, but not sufficient movement to the air. There are no traffic lights to regulate traffic through this section, nor is there an ordered tidal flow of traffic being allowed to enter the tunnel, instead anarchy prevails in the darkness.

Just before entering the tunnel, I was sitting on my bike, taking a few photos and generally gawking around. I was doing so much gawking, I dropped my bike. Two construction workers had to come over and help pick it up – I’m sure they got quite a laugh out of it. This did nothing for my nerves heading into the tunnel; should I plow into an underwater pothole (which I did) and dump the bike inside the tunnel (thankfully I didn’t), well…it would be ugly for the both of us.

I made it thorough with relatively no problems and I can say with certainty, the post from dangerous roads is spot on. What a crazy experience with the traffic on both sides of the road, the running water making it impossible to see what’s below, the broken down construction equipment, rebar sticking up out of the ground, and general chaos inside the tunnel. Some cars are going incredibly slow, trucks going too fast, double lanes blocked, all the while, its impossible to see very far in front of you with the black haze clogging all light. Driving a car through the tunnel would be one thing, but breathing the fumes for 5km on a motorcycle gave me a headache that lasted be better part of the day – thankfully I don’t have to go back through it.

The drive down to Dushanbe again blew my mind – what a spectacular place. In every direction there are towering mountains looming in the distance with rivers barreling down the canyons generating some of the most wicked whitewater I’ve ever seen. I was in complete awe throughout the drive.

The bike needed a little maintenance, so I decided to overnight in Dushanbe to carry out the repairs and buy some food for the upcoming week. I damaged the kickstand sometime earlier in the trip and have been limping it along until today when it finally broke. A motorcycle without a kickstand is no motorcycle at all, its just a two wheeled machine laying on its side. The repair was a must. I started asking around town and ended up at a machinery yard that had a guy who could weld. His welder was from the 50’s(seriously) and to turn it on, he had to direct connect the bare wires into a live service line (again, seriously). Being a decent hand on the welder, I helped in the process, which I sure made him nervous, but nevertheless we got the job done –for the most part. I’ll need to head back in the morning to make a slight modification, but I think/hope the repair will last the remainder of the trip.

I also had to pull the rear tire again and put the original back on. I chewed up the new rubber in two days and there was no way it was going to make it through the Pamir. Between the missing chunks of tire and a couple of gashes, which I’m sure were from rebar in the tunnel – it was time for it to go. I found a little tire shop, which generally in this part of the world is a small garage in an ally with some rudimentary equipment, where i pulled in and again dumped the bike. Not sure whats with me today – maybe the looming weakness from the virus. I planned on doing all of the work myself again, but the kid in the shop lended a hand and helped accomplish the swap in record time. What a welcomed hand after a long day.

Tomorrow I head out on the M41 Highway / Pamir Highway, working my way down to the Afghanistan border. I’ve hear mixed reports on the passability of the road, the English couple said no go, but a couple of peddle bikers made it through yesterday, but apparently didn’t have fun doing it.  I’ve never heard the road described as fun…maybe they were expecting something different. I’ll check it out tomorrow and see how it looks.













May 29 – Bare all

The stomach virus continues this morning with a shart, 2 roadside drop my drawers emergencies and navigation to a border crossing that doesn’t allow foreigners through (then you have to ask the question, “What’s the point”), has me on a little detour as I get back on track to the toward the border crossing in Chanok.

I get pulled over for the first time (shocking) today at a roadside checkpoint by Rostov, who spent the next 20 minutes working on his English (he doesn’t speak any) by looking up words and phrases in his translation dictionary. I can appreciate his kindness and desire to communicate, but I was really feeling pretty pour and my mind was fixated on finding the next place to squat. Keeping in mind this is a roadside checkpoint, he has no concern over the countless number of cars driving through, but every intention on finding out what I do for work, my family, age, etc. Fidgeting from my growling stomach and sweat pouring down my face from the fever I’m carrying, I can’t believe I didn’t look like a smuggler (think of Midnight Express, only I was sick).  Regardless of the tale tell signs of what to look for with presumed smugglers that I would assume they teach you in military checkpoint control school, Rostov releases me without a fine, bribe, or gift and I’m on my way again.

All goes well at the crossing, I continue to have good luck with the border officials in both countries and I’m through within an hour or so. I’m SO excited to get into Tajikistan for some great secondary and off road riding.

I find a nice campsite outside Waxpnctoh (try saying that fast 3 times) and meet a traveling couple doing a round the world RTW in their big 4×4 camper. The couple is from England and I would guess in their 70’s.   We swap stories from the road for about an hour while I prepare and eat my dinner. Their headed in the opposite direction and onto Mongolia – I give them some info on the Mongolian roads and routes and they share likewise on the upcoming Pamir Highway.

On the way to camp