Archive for October, 2013

Day 11: Shahkrisabz to Samarkand 30km

Our  final day of riding took us out Shahkrisabz through some backroads in the countryside. Whilst not as picturesque as  the amazing scenery we encountered at the start of the tour, it showed us what Uzbekistan is like where people live.  We passed a few cotton fields, the main agricultural export of the country.  The  roads were still very rough, but the towns friendly.  We were again surrounded by many locals every time we stopped.

As with yesterday, the distance to Samarkand was too extensive to ride, so after a few hours, we got on the support bus and transferred the rest of the way to Samarkand, the final destination of our unitour.

Samarkand is one of the ancient treasures of Uzbekistan.  We were impressed by the many old buildings, from the imposing Madrasahs of Registan Square, to the Mausoleum of Amir Temur.  We also visited the observatory of Ulugh Beg, grandson of Temur and subsequent ruler who also made huge contributions to astronomy.


Day 10: Bukhara to Shahkrisabz 30km

We cycle through the busy streets out of Bukhara.  We made it onto a newly opened (and only partly used motorway), although the condition of the road was still fairly challenging.  Roger and Ken disappear up the road revving up their unicycles as fast as they could pedal.    It was not possible, however, to cover the entire distance to Shahkrisabz, so after a few solid hours of riding, the group got in the support bus and transferred the rest of the way.

Shahkrisabz is the birthplace of Amir Temur, founder of the Timurid dynasty which conquered much of central Asia in the 14th century.  We visit the remains of Ak Sarai, or ‘white palace’, which, at the height of the Temur reign, stood over 70m high.  After being destroyed by succeeding empires, the ruined gateway was all that remained, but still a formidable sight.


Day 9: Rest Day Bukhara

We were up bright and early to explore Bukhara.  Dilshot our guide took us to  visit some ancient buildings, including the Mausoleum of Ismoil Samoniy, one of the early rulers of Bukhara.  After that we visited the local markets and sampled the produce.

We broke up for lunch, with some people seeking out the famous ‘Plov’,  a hearty rice meal cooked in seasoned broth, the signature Uzbeki dish.

Day 8: Cycle (25km) and transfer to Bukhara

Today was the final day of off-road riding, but it wasn’t any easier.  We had a strong headwind in the final push along a grassy plain, but eventually made it to the main road.

When we arrived at the local village, we were surrounded by many locals and kids who seemed to delight in having such a large of group of people turn up in town riding on one wheel.  The more enthusiastic members of our group kept kids entertained while we waited for our bus.  We bade farewell to our off-road support crew, Maxim, Sergei x2, Nicolai and the rest of the team.  We welcomed Dilshot on board, our city guide who was a walking encyclopedia of knowledge.

Our bus transfer took us to Bukhara, an ancient city which played an important role as mid-point of the Silk Road.  After a quick shower we were off to dinner and explore Bukhara Old Town.

Day 7: SOB to Aktash Village 35km

We woke up to find snow on the mountain, all the way down to our campsite.   The dew had set on our unicycles overnight and frozen, which probably protected them from corrosion!

This was our hardest riding day, as the first 10km was essentially straight up the mountain on rough track.  Those with enough energy rode parts of the climb, but the most part, it was a slow hike up the mountain.  The fresh powdery snow got thicker as we headed up the mountain, but it warmed up as the sun rose overhead.  By the time we reached the summit, we had climbed from 600m to 1690m, the highest point of the tour.  We waited for our support vehicle carrying our food, but due to the condition of the trail, it was stuck halfway down the mountain.

Disappointed and with rumbly tummies, we continued down the mountain.   By this stage the support vehicles had become unstuck and made it over the pass, so caught up with us and we had lunch in the snow.

It was a fun descent after this, with most of our riders never having ridden in snow before, as we descended below the snow line.  We arrived at a wonderfully located campsite with our tents set up in a cute little circle, hungry and ready for dinner!

Day 6: Cycle to SOB Gorge 33km

We cycled out of Hayat village and onto a wide open plain.  It was another crisp morning- the temperature in Uzbekistan drops rapidly in October, and today we were also being chased by a rain cloud.  It finally caught up to us at lunchtime.  As the bitterly cold drops  of rain fell, we huddled up into our support vehicle whilst our crew found a place for lunch.  We were welcomed into a nice warm room at one of the few houses in the area, and the feeding frenzy began until we were sated.

Luckily the rain had cleared by the time we resumed the ride, but the bitterly cold temperature remained.  We cycled through several more villages, with the group spreading out and half of us wondering if we were lost.  Finally we reached SOB gorge, little spot at the base of our biggest climb of the tour.  It was a beautiful location, although the cold weather meant we had little time to appreciate this as we huddled into the dining tent watching Roger rebuild his wheel.

Day 5: Rest Day Hayat Village

Our first rest day gave us a chance to do some washing, relaxing and fix our unicycles.   Roger gets the award for most punctures, because not only does he get them whilst he is riding, they seem to spontaneously occur  even when he is not! Lori and Alan find a Pony, so spent the morning trotting around the village.  The rest of the group went for a 2hr hike up the mountain, which turned into a 5hr bush bashing session as the trail disappeared and we had to fight our way through scrub to get back to the Village.  The incredible views did make up for it, and once we found our way back into the valley, we were delighted to find te stream lined by fruit and nut trees, which provided valuable sustenance as we were running late for lunch.


Day 4: Cycle to Hayat Village 61km

We woke up to find our unicycles frozen solid.  For those who were up early, the sunrise over Ortacheku rocks was well worth the effort.

After breakfast we rode through a small village with stone buildings along a dusty dirt road.  We had one of the most fun descents of the tour as we dropped down to the valley and on to the ‘motorway’.

Now, this might well be one of the main trunk roads through Uzbekistan, but what constitutes a motorway can only be described as a potholed, fissured obstacle course.  The road proved more challenging than the off-road, because bumps are more solid and less forgiving than on dirt.  This was our longest day, but despite being only 61km, most of us were glad to make the final climb into Hayat Village.

After having not showered for three days, we were relieved to this available, but to our dismay, solar heating doesn’t work when it there are 17 cyclists and not much sunshine!

Most of the buildings in the village were made of mud-brick, which did a great job of keeping in the heat, so we had a warm cosy night.

We were surprised to see other overseas travelers in the village, which seemed to exist in the middle of nowhere.  Not something you would get out of a guidebook.

Day 3 Lake Turkan to Ortacheku Rocks 41km

After a chilly breakfast, we headed away from the Lake and up the ridge along the Pistalitau mountain.  It was a steady climb but we were rewarded by some breathtaking views of the desert plain below.

After the descent we rode  across the plain, with the mountain range in the distance.   We lunched by a train track, which seemed rather lonely as it cut across the desert.

The ride finished up a small climb into a beautiful secluded spot beneath Ortacheku Rocks- a rather imposing mountain that glowed a fiery orange as the sun set.

It was another chilly night camping but so most of us retired to our tents shortly after dinner.   Those of us with warm gear and plenty of enthusiasm stayed up into the wee hours to go stargazing with David  Weston, our  resident expert.  The clear sky and lack of ambient light made it a perfect opportunity to identify constellations, planets, satellites and the occasional meteor.

Day 2 Cycle to Lake Tuzkan 26km

We get up bright an early for the first riding day.   After breakfast we get in our bus from Tashkent to the our starting point.   As we headed out of the city, there were vast networks of Soviet era irrigation, stretching for miles across the desert landscape.  Perhaps part of the reason behind the demise of the Aral sea. It was 4-5hr drive on bumpy Uzbek roads, so we were glad when we arrived at our lunch stop and the start of the ride.

The trail began on flat sandy track, and pretty much stayed that way.  It was fun but tricky with many hidden obstacles and a quite a few unplanned dismounts.   The desert trail yielded few encounters with civilisation.  We passed the odd local on a donkey cart, a few houses and livestock, but mostly not much.

Our campsite was on the shore of Lake Tuzkan, a massive lake unintentionally created during the Soviet era when their attempts at damming  the Syr Darya river resulted in water overflow into the lowland area.  It is a massive lake, and today supports a small fishing industry after fish was introduced.  For something man made, it was a very picturesque with plenty of interesting wildlife.

It was getting dark and cold when we arrived.  Those of us brave enough to jump in the Lake managed to wash off the sand and dirt accumulated from the days riding.