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Thread: Hogs do Kolsai

  1. #1
    Should Get Out More Tomcat's Avatar
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    Default Hogs do Kolsai

    Iíd been in Almaty for eight months and was itching to get back on a bike. All my own were either sold or laid up back in the UK and there was no way I was going to ride through the Kazakh winter even if I had one here. But spring came in March, the last snowfall in April and by the end of the month there was the promise of summer with temperatures climbing towards the high twenties and frantic growth from the city trees and grasses. Spring, as promised, was a brief transition between the long cold winter and the long hot summer, and like the trees I was determined to make the most of it.

    As an expat (OK, economic migrant) of a certain age I had met up with similar likeminded souls in a group disturbingly reminiscent of the Wild Hogs. On Wednesdays, over beer and curry in an English themed pub we shared biking stories and planned adventures. Never mind that only one of us had a bike in Kazakhstan, we were going riding, hell yeah.

    For me this was the first step in a long planned ambition to check one item off the Bucket List. Iíve done many things on bikes, toured, competed on and off road, won trophies and raced round the TT course at over 100mph. But never the Big One. Long distance touring overland, thousands of miles through unfamiliar lands with new languages and customs and experiencing parts of the world few westerners will ever see. Popping down to Spain for summer holibobs is all fun but you know youíre never far from an ATM or a breakdown wagon. Working in the south-eastern corner of Kazakhstan presented the perfect opportunity Ė when the contract ends, I will ride home on a bike bought in-country, no time pressures to get to the next job or schedule of very important parties to shuttle the kids to and from. Just me and the bike, enough money to see me through, and 11,000 kms of open road between front doors. The dream.

    Thatís not something to be taken lightly of course. People go round the world on Honda Cubs on a shoestring. People also die when dream rides go wrong. Neither of these options really appeal to me, and as an engineer Iím a strong believer in having the best tools for the job. The bike would come later, but good riding gear and a long list of must-haves to provision before the final ride started to arrive in the post, to the concern of family and delight of online retailers. Preparations included myself, experienced but rusty, with no experience of Central Asian traffic save for the bus to work.

    And what traffic! Rules of the road are largely ignored round here, a massive culture shock when youíre used to genteel European road manners and obedience to road markings. Lane discipline doesnít exist, speed limits only matter when there are police around, vehicles donít get maintained until they break, mirrors and indicators are for other people and the most important parts of the car are the horn and throttle pedal. Before they painted white lines down the middle of the roads it was common to find three drivers abreast overtaking and the same coming the other way, with predictable consequences. Colleagues at work looked at me aghast when I told them I planned to ride a bike locally, as it seems the only people who ride are yoofs on beat-up scooters, the local rich kids on their Ducatis and Harleys, and people with a death wish. Bikes arenít an option for most people as the harsh winters make them impossible to ride for at least four months of the year, ruling them out as practical transport, and low wages in the region mean only the privileged few can afford them as toys (on the days when the G-Wagon or Porsche just donít cut it).

    But for tourists and expats who can afford it, there is an option to explore this vast and beautiful country on two wheels. An enterprising local guy does guided tours on Suzuki DR650s (and surprisingly for local practice, looks after them pretty well too Ė more than 50,000 miles on the clock, everything works and sounding sweet as a nut). My fellow Hogs knew him and he was willing to hire us a set of bikes for the weekend and leave us to our own devices. Thank you Marat at www.silkoffroad.kz or mobile version www.silkoffroadtours.com Ė a gratuitous plug for a good guy with an awesome business.

    So the plan came together. From Almaty five of us would ride out to Kolsai Lakes, a big clockwise loop of about 150 miles each way taking in initially major highways and funnelling down to gravel roads and dirt tracks out in the remote countryside south of the city, in the imposing Tien Shan mountain range that separates Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. Without luggage or camping gear of our own the halfway point of the tour was planned as a rented chalet overlooking the lakes and a 4x4 would follow us with backup tools, food and beer. Living on the edge it wasnít, but for a weekend trip it seemed like a fair outing.

    We set off in bright sunshine and sweaty heavy riding gear, slicing through light weekend Almaty traffic with ease, taking a back route out of the city to miss any police looking for an easy stop and bribe money. The back road route worked well, easy cruising up to the point where the road ended abruptly, a washed-out bridge over the Kaindy River. We scouted for crossing points but the water was flowing fast after recent rains and with road tyres on the Suzukis we decided discretion was the better part of valour and we diverted to pick up the main road. I was surprised how the smaller settlements around Almaty continued for a good few miles on the road out, in a country where relatively few people can afford their own transport. Eventually the houses thinned out to nothing and we were alone on the long straight roads that characterise the Kazakh plains, the mountains in the far distance still snow capped in May. After a couple of hours riding the heat of the day and empty bellies dictated a stop, and we pulled in to a small town with an inviting looking eatery. The menu consisted almost exclusively of shashliks (barbecued meat skewers), lagman (noodles with boiled meat and vegetables on top) or plov (rice with boiled meat and vegetables on top). Simple cooking but satisfying, washed down with green or black tea.

    Well sustained for the group price of about ten Pounds we carried on, turning off the main highway onto the first of many gravel roads. The Suzukis happily rumbled over familiar ground but for the riders the constant jarring and avoiding (or not avoiding) potholes was inevitably tiring. I had wondered how 150 miles could be a substantial tour, I was starting to find out why.

    Our first puncture was at a point that could only be described as the middle of nowhere. One of the other bikes had a sudden front deflation, fortunately without incident, but without onboard tools and spares we had to wait for the backup car. Waiting for the car, I stretched my legs on a short stroll and was dismayed to find the unspoiled countryside strewn with bottles, many broken with sharp shards of glass everywhere. It didnít look like deliberate dumping, instead years of accumulated roadside drinking or garbage tossed from passing vehicles. I wondered if the puncture was due to a sliver of glass but when we extracted the tube it was clear that repeated patching had finally cried enough and a half-inch split dictated a change of tube.

    Back in the saddle, ambitious road construction plans seemed to have stalled with their only function being to reduce miles of gravel road to rough construction sites. Tarmac resumed intermittently in isolated villages, bored baboushkas and grazing roadside cattle watching the tourists pass in mild amusement, happy kids waving and festive dogs chasing and barking.

    As the mountains loomed in front of us all attempts at roadbuilding gave up and a long muddy track across a field signalled the way to the Kolsai national park. Stopping at the entry barriers we paid the entry fee and the contents of our passports were studiously noted. The mountains are in the border zone between the two countries and the authorities are concerned about the prospect of extremists slipping into Kazakhstan from the south. We were warned to keep to the marked trails as the woods are patrolled by the army. Heading up to the lodge the trail turned into a loose rocky uphill scramble, just as well we had dirt bikes and a 4x4. About two kilometres into the climb I had a puncture of my own, the back going squirrelly. Realising what had happened I briefly thought of continuing but a few more yards on the now completely deflated tyre changed my mind. By the time the car caught up with the tools the afternoon was giving way to evening and I got stuck into to changing the tube. Again, no sign of glass or a puncture but the valve had completely torn out of the tube. Rimlocks would have stopped that happening but at least their absence made tyre changing easier. Finally arriving at the alpine lodge (all mod cons and flushing loos!) the BBQ was on, the beer was cold and the view over the lake as the sun set was quite simply stunning.

    Happy.

    Waking with sore heads the next morning we checked the bikes over, relieved to see all the tyres holding pressure as we had no more spare tubes. We briefly considered a ride up the goat track to the other lakes but the road tyres and distant rumbles of thunder ruled out that idea. It had rained during the night so I was a little wary about the dirt track back down, but happily the rain had just damped down the dust so it was an easy descent. Less so was the field at the bottom where road tyres clogged with mud, turning into slicks. Despite taking it easy my back wheel effortlessly overtook my front dumping me unceremoniously on my ear, a soft landing but an embarrassing one.

    The early thunderstorm had missed us so we continued a leisurely ride back, retracing our route from the previous day and fortunately not having any more punctures. We stopped for a late lunch in the same roadside eatery, being greeted by the owner like old friends, but conscious of the need to get back on the mixed road ahead plus reports of heavy rain back in town I didnít have much of an appetite.

    Back on tarmac as the kilometres counted down towards Almaty the dark clouds gathered ahead, punctuated by massive flashes of lightning. It hit us as we entered the beginnings of the suburban sprawl of the outlying villages, dark as night and hammering down while the traffic did its commuting dance around us, people returning home after the weekend away. The others stopped to don flimsy nylon oversuits, hopelessly inadequate in the deluge while I silently thanked the gods of Rukka and Gore-Tex. Splashing back into Almaty and filtering down long queues at badly-timed traffic lights we finally made it back to our starting point at seven oíclock as the rain clouds were starting to clear and the sun peeped hesitantly through. The Hogs were home.

    As rides go itís fair to say this wasnít a RTW epic. It was a weekend trip out and a lesson in what itís like to ride in this vast and beautiful country. You could probably sit on the main highways and knock out hundreds of miles a day between major cities, but whereís the fun in that? A country is about its people, and outside the cities itís about the bond they have with the land. Thereís only so much you can learn passing through in a weekend of course, but at least you can pass through the villages, wave back to the kids and be respectful to the locals whose home it is. Thatís travelling. And for me, it was more. The first lesson towards my own future Odyssey.
    Last edited by Tomcat; 30-05-17 at 12:33. Reason: corrected URLs


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  3. The following 18 users liked this useful post by Tomcat:

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  4. #2
    Should Get Out More melons's Avatar
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    Default Re: Hogs do Kolsai

    Best post I've read in a long time

  5. #3
    Should Get Out More DefTrap's Avatar
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    Default Re: Hogs do Kolsai

    Brilliant, thanks for sharing.

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    Default Re: Hogs do Kolsai

    Great post. I hope you enjoy your 11,000 km trip home.

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    Should Get Out More Gregor's Avatar
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    Default Re: Hogs do Kolsai

    Sounds like fun.

    My lad was out in Nepal a few weeks ago missed a flight home so hired a bike in Kathmandu, travelled around a bit.Well and truly got the biking bug now.No bike licence but that doesn't really count for much out there.Earnt some cash as a taxi bike running to and from the airport.

    I'm glad me and his mother knew nothing of this at the time.

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    Default Re: Hogs do Kolsai

    BTW, your link to silkoffroad.com leads me to hugedomains.com who will sell me that domain name for $2095. Your mate with the tour company may like to investigate.

  10. #7
    Should Get Out More Tomcat's Avatar
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    Default Re: Hogs do Kolsai

    I've corrected the domains, thanks for spotting that!
    Last edited by Tomcat; 30-05-17 at 12:34.

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    Default Re: Hogs do Kolsai

    Quote Originally Posted by Tomcat View Post
    Anything he's likely to be able to do other than change domain name or fork out?
    No idea, but someone on here may know the answer. IT experts ?

    I thought cybersquatting was registering a domain name that was a well-known company name but had not been claimed as a domain name. This seems more like downright stealing of a registered domain name that was up and running. No idea how they do that.

    Domain hijacking seems to be the term. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Domain_hijacking

    I suspect that in Kazakhstan he will need to bribe someone.
    Last edited by Cousin Jack; 30-05-17 at 09:54. Reason: Additional info

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    Default Re: Hogs do Kolsai

    Cracking write up, not got any photos?

  13. #10
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    Default Re: Hogs do Kolsai

    Nice one.

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    Should Get Out More Tomcat's Avatar
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    Default Re: Hogs do Kolsai

    Postscript.

    The contract in KZ ended early as a local person was found to take my job, not unexpected but earlier than expected. So the 'big trip' will not now be happening. That's to say it will, but not quite as planned. Once KTM bring out their 790 Adventure I shall be beating a path to the nearest UK dealer's door and prepping it for a big ride. Instead of riding home the thought of a big loop appeals, across Russia to Ulaanbaatar then doubling back to catch up with the boys in Almaty for a curry in the Shakespeare (if any of them are still there!) and pick up my original planned route - down through Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan to ride the Pamir Highway, up through the Silk Road cities of Uzbekistan, crossing KZ by the Caspian Sea and RU briefly to head into Ukraine and a stroll round Chernobyl, then Poland and back into Europe.

    Some pics of the Kolsai weekend here

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    Really Bored rodbargee's Avatar
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    Default Re: Hogs do Kolsai

    Just seen this for the first time …Brilliant!!

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    Not Much To Do WileECoyote's Avatar
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    Default Re: Hogs do Kolsai

    Can I come on your next tour

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    Default Re: Hogs do Kolsai

    Quote Originally Posted by ink ink View Post
    Is there a short version?
    Tomcat went for a ride in Kazakhstan. Fell off. Had fun. Planning bigger ride.

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    Should Get Out More Tomcat's Avatar
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    Default Re: Hogs do Kolsai

    Quote Originally Posted by WileECoyote View Post
    Can I come on your next tour
    With pleasure mate, but it won't be in KZ. The big trip is planned for when I retire, as I reckon it'll take at least 3 months, possibly 4. However I am starting to rough out plans for a shorter one that could be done in about 3 weeks. Actually you could blast round it in a week or so but I don't want to do heavy mileages as the only thing you see is the road. This would involve no more than a couple hundred miles most days and leave time for sightseeing and relaxing between sectors. All I need now is a bike, the money and a job that'll let me take a slightly extended holiday

    TBB.jpg

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