All posts by Diaconescu Radu

SRMR day 5 ~ Tosor pass and the road to Naryn

After 4 days of racing I start to wonder if there’s any way of knowing in advance what will make the day ahead of you a good day : is it sleep?, is it what you eat?, is it how you pace yourself? or is it a simple matter of perception? For example the way I crashed last evening after the descent from Arabel made no sense (in theory there should have been enough time to recover on the very long descent) and what would make sense is that after 4 days of racing I’ll also struggle today on the climb up to Tosor, the first steep 3800 meter pass which we have to climb on the way to Naryn.

The morning ritual is the same as the previous days, wake up after too little sleep, pack the bivy, have a quick breakfast while doing this and hop on the bike and wait for the muscles to warm up. The only difference from the previous days is that I managed to oversleep (the sun is already out when I start) and that there’s no snow today, not even on the Tosor pass which can be seen in the distance. The expectations of having dead legs after yesterday somehow don’t match the reality, the legs feel unexpectedly good this morning and from what I make from the tyre tracks in the dirt on the climb I’m in third position so I have an extra incentive to try to keep a good pace on the climb.

The sky is mostly clear and the stray white clouds promise a perfect day for cycling. The snow which fell in the high mountains over the previous days has all but melted and the puddles left behind are completely frozen. Temperature-wise the climate in Kyrgyzstan in the summer months is all over the place, you can go from -5 in the early morning to 30 degrees in just a couple of hours. Sometimes in the high mountains these changes happen with dizzying swiftness, one moment you can be climbing and sweating in your t-shirt only to have falling snowflakes from a random dark cloud the next minute.

Getting the clothes off and a mid morning snack on the way up to Tosor pass, 3800m.

If yesterday was full of action this morning it seems that I’m almost completely alone. No cars, no riders and no locals just the complete silence of the mountains. I stop at the top of the pass to put on extra clothes for the descent, to refuel and to snap a couple of photos. The top of Tosor pass looks quite menacing:  just rocks, huge boulders, glaciers and turquoise lakes are visible around. When I start the descent on the other side of the pass the road descents into a wide valley guarded by mountains and glaciers on each side. On the way down the river crossings are easier then expected and I make what seems to be like good progress.

Cristal blue skies, high mountains and glacial lakes. Not a place to linger for too long, not even in this weather.

I really like this feeling of moving fast through the vast landscape which you get during endurance races, the feeling that the road just rolls under the bikes wheel, the feeling that landmarks approach and pass with unusual speed. When you couple this with a rare day when you feel good on a bike and when the weather is perfect the feeling could be translated into something like the  “unbearable lightness of endurance racing”. (unfortunately these rare moments are offset by the combination of exactly opposite conditions: dead legs, exhaustion and shit weather, or the “agonising slow torture of endurance racing”).

At a normal bike touring pace the distance would normally be half or even a third of what I cover now in a day, and the feeling of finishing the day 200 kilometres away from where you started after going over passes, valleys and towns can be quite exhilarating, and I don’t think there’s any other kind of setting where you can experience something similar.
And for the first part of today I feel in the “zone” and everything seems easy. I put more focus than yesterday on refuelling and the combination of ready made sandwiches, tomatoes, snickers and cookies seems to work quite well at keeping the energy high. When I re-join the road which heads into Arabel I start to meet other riders going in the opposite direction, we salute and go our own way.

The two small passes before joining the main road which goes to Naryn seem quite easy when compared to Tosor, just 200-300 meters of climbing sprinkled with a river crossing in the middle which was unrideable and for which I hat to take of my shoes in order to avoid getting completely wet. Crossing the river on bare feet though felt great, I take a lunch break on the other side and make a mental note that for warm / hot days the goretex boots are probably not the best idea.

Having a red bike really helps a lot with identifying yourself on photos.
(photo credits Chris Mclean)

When climbing the final 2800 meter pass I look behind and I see the silhouette of two riders approaching from behind, I accelerate a bit over the top make another mental note that I should avoid long breaks until Naryn. The first part of the descent is sprinkled with small climbs and the road which follows the deep river gorge is incredibly spectacular. But probably the most spectacular part of the day is the exit from the canyon when you can see the high and snowy mountains around Naryn in the distance. The afternoon light falls exactly from behind and the straight road seems to draw you in the lanscape and in the moment.

Can’t get much better than this.
(photo credits Chris Mclean)
Christophe Dijkmans , in 4th place chasing from behind.
(photo credits Chris Mclean)

If there’s an adventure racer’s high, I definitely experienced it during those kilometres. After reaching the tarmac and the first village in over 160 kilometres I decide to avoid stopping for a resupply and to try to make it to Naryn before the night fall. The road isn’t of the same opinion and I’m surprised to see the tarmac stop when I exit the village and I end up fighting the corrugations and the dust until the next village. It’s a pattern that repeats itself for the next 20 kilometres so in the end I have to stop for a resupply, turn on the night lights and ride the remaining 15 kilometres in the twilight.

Speaking of lights one of the goals is to stop a bit early in Naryn, find a guesthouse, charge the phone and the powerbank and most important get food for the next 3 days as the next full resupply is only in Baetov and the next 400 kilometres are some of the hardest in the race. As usual after a long and hard day I buy too much food and I find that my appetite isn’t where it should be, I find the guesthouse which is full but they allow be to sleep outside, I see with a shock that the tracker is shut down and I scramble to send a couple of message to Nelson and to Mihaela thus briefly reconnecting to the outside world.

The road to Naryn (photo credits Chris Mclean)

When I combine all this with the excited state which I have after the long day I find that my mind is more alert than usual when I try to go to sleep. Having some activity nearby in the inner courtyard where I’ve put my gear also doesn’t help so I end up waiting for sleep to come, a situation which I honestly didn’t expect 5 days into an adventure race. The hours pass slowly, sleep doesn’t come and I wonder if it wouldn’t be wiser just to pack up everything and leave. In the end I catch around 2 hours of sleep before morning, too little to mean anything for the recovery.

Strava for the day:

https://www.strava.com/activities/5813351817

SRMR day 4 ~ a race to the Arabel pass

The phone alarm sounds at 4:30 but when I check the weather outside I see that overnight it started snowing and a low cloud cover doesn’t promise anything good for this morning. In the end I decide to go back to the sleeping bag, snatch one more hour of sleep, wait for the daylight and hope that the weather improves. At 5:30 I finally manage to get started, have a quick breakfast while packing everything and discover that I’m sleeping over a small puddle as some water infiltrated the drainage pipe which was my shelter for tonight. Fortunately it’s all under the survival blanket and everything is dry but I make a mental note that drainage pipes can turn into a bad shelter if there’s rain or snow overnight.

Just as I finish packing and I’m getting ready to leave I hear David on the road above, we change a couple of words about the shitty damp weather this morning and he rides away with me shortly catching up with him. The snow which fell overnight turned the mud on the road to glue so we try to choose the bits which are dry in order to avoid getting our drivetrains all clogged up. It works to a certain extent and I find myself riding a lot on the grass near the actual road where you only have sticking snow, without mud.

David and his monster gravel in another grey, cold and muddy morning in Kyrgystan.

The sky is grey and the landscape is covered in a thin layer of snow and with a bit of imagination it looks a bit like Scotland. When we leave the main road which goes to Naryn and we turn towards Arabel and Tosor we see that in the distance the mountains seem to be covered just like yesterday in snow. At least the sun starts breaking the cloud cover and we can see the peaks guarding the Arabel valley glimmering in the morning sun. From the looks of it it’s going to be a cold and muddy morning heading up the Arabel.

Before turning left towards Arabel David remains behind in order to raise his saddle and to do some maintenance (besides the actual riding quite a bit of time goes into kit maintenance, like drying things if they get wet or organizing it on the bike, or filtering water). One by one the tracks of Adrien and Stephane appear again on the snow so we can see where each of them has slept so that I estimate that they have the same 1-2 hour time advantage. In one of my previous posts I mentioned that there are moments when the SRMR didn’t feel like a race but more like an adventure and the entrance into Arabel was again one of them.

Clothing status before the real mud started. The Gore-Tex boots did somehow manage to stay dry though throughout the entire day.
Into Arabel!
And of course you cannot have snow without mud. A lot of it.

Arabel is a tough section of the route even without snow, a long 50 kilometre valley where the old Russian road is very broken and with multiple river crossings. With snow and with temperatures slightly above freezing it’s going to be even more interesting. The main challenge for this morning is how to negotiate your path in order to avoid falling and in order to avoid getting stuck in the snow or the mud. It works to a certain extent but it doesn’t take long until I slip sideways on a section with slippery mud taking a note that I have to be more careful.

Mud and water are flying all over the place as the road alternates between snowy bits and bits where the snow started melting softening the mud underneath. This kind of terrain is the nightmare for any bike and for any drivetrain so I can only hope that I’ll get through it without to much damage. When the morning sun becomes stronger I have to ditch the rain pants and the rain jacket and I continue at a slightly slower pace in order to avoid getting completely wet from all the slush. River crossing after river crossing, puddle after puddle and snowy stretch after snowy stretch it seems to be that I’m making very slow progress and that I have no chance of catching up with Stephane and Adrien and that by all calculations I should be lucky to make it to Tamga in daylight.

The clear and sunny days allows for incredible visibility and you can see kilometres ahead in all direction which makes it tempting to search in the distance for moving dots which could be other riders, only to discover that they’re horses or cattle. That’s until two moving dots in the distance actually turn out to be Adrien and Stephane, still wearing their rain kit, muddy from head to toe and as I discover after having a quick chat with morale pretty low. To paraphrase Stephane when I asked him how where the last two nights: “Yesterday was shit, cold, rain snow and this night when I woke up it was the same: snow, cold, mud. Fuck!”.

Adrien and Stephane, around mid-day in the upper section of the valley with the snow almost completely gone.
The scenery can’t get much better than this.

And as always during a race there’s no better morale booster than to see that also other racers don’t have it easy. And it’s also good to realize that even if you thought that you’re making shitty progress that you’re actually making better progress than others. We end up riding, chatting and complaining together for a while then I put a bit of distance before the last and the largest river crossing of the day thinking that I’ll have to get the shoes off to remain dry. Somehow through all the river crossings until now the goretex stayed dry on the inside and it would be a shame to ruin this at the last river crossing, especially because my feet, after being cold for the entire morning are finally warm.

But we’re lucky and the cold day and the snow which fell overnight made the river crossing much smaller than anyone expected and I manage to ride through, stopping afterwards to clean the squeaking chain before the last 300 meters of climbing to the top of the pass. We’re at 3400 meters and on the sides of the valley high mountains covered with glaciers tower above us and everything looks absolutely stunning. It really feels that you’re somewhere at the edge of the world, in the middle of nowhere, far away from any sign of civilization.

When starting the final climb one of the moving dots in the distance becomes another racers and soon I catch up with Heinrich, another rider from South Africa, on a mountain bike with a Lauf fork who unfortunately has some issues with his bottom bracket. From behind Stephane and Adrien are also fast approaching so the final climb turns into a small race. Both of them have a really good pace and Adrien passes me on the final turn, while Danil takes a couple of really spectacular photos.

An unlikely smile on the final steep section before the 3800 meter pass.
Adrien chasing from behind.
(photo credits Danil Usmanov)

I have to admit that the chances of 4 riders meeting on the final steep section of climb are really, really small and that “racing” and pushing the pedals a bit harder at  this point made no sense, but as Adrien put it when I joined him at the top it sure was more fun than anything in the past two days. And in a way I admit that I also like the racing part of this event, that I’m competitive by nature and will race almost everyone if I’m feeling well, from the granny on an e-bike on the local hill to lycra clad XC racers back home or to other riders 4 days into an adventure race.

I’m also sure that you can be competitive without any of the negative connotations of word, and that a true fair play spirit erases any possible negatives connotations. Like after racing to the top of the pass it makes perfect sense to stop, chat, fist bump, eat, talk with Danil and the media crew. Talking of eating my treat for the top of the 3800 meter pass is the yesterday’s fried fish which goes down quite well but I feel I didn’t eat enough calories during the past hours. “Racing” means that you kick up a bit the pace when you feel that you’re going to slow but it also means that maybe you don’t stop enough to do the normal maintenance chores, like getting food outside the saddle bags and fuelling properly.

High Peaks, clear blue skies and remote roads. It doesn’t get much better than that.
(photo credits Danil Usmanov)
I could already feel the glucose and energy levels dropping rapidly
(photo credits Danil Usmanov)

After we finish eating we head up towards the mining road through an earie scenery: crystal clear lakes stretch on the high plateau while being surrounded by high peaks covered by glaciers. It’s late afternoon and the light has a sharpness in it which shrinks distances and it seems that it takes me forever to cycle the straight stretch before the descent to Tamga. Adrien and Stephane pass me on this bit as we have to fight a bit of headwind and for the first time during the race I find that that a pair of aerobars set up properly would have been worth their weight in snickers at this point.

I would have given almost anything for dropbars on this road. Headwind at 3800 meters is just as hard as it sounds.
(photo credits Danil Usmanov)

I finally reach the start of the descent an try to relax on the way down, saving some of the much needed energy. Halfway through the descent I discover that the tank is still empty so I have to stop for 10 minutes and eat some carbs. I fight through to cycle the last bit into Tamga which I reach completely destroyed but hoping that a good resupply will put be back on my feet.

When I enter the supermarket though I don’t find any things which would seem palatable at the moment so I end up buying just a kilogram of grapes and a Fanta hoping that this will bring my blood sugar up enough to be able to think properly. Adrien and Stephane also don’t look too good and they decide to stop a bit in order to dry their stuff.

I drink the Fanta, and put the grapes in the feedbag and try head out at a slow pace to the next village hoping that the blood sugar will rise and that I’ll be able to make better decisions there regarding what to pick of refuelling for the next section. The other hope is that I’ll finish the stretch on tarmac before the night falls. I succeed at the latter, but when I enter the shop at Tosor I discover that I’m just as shot as  15 kilometres back and I end up going round and round in the small shop not being able to decide what to pick up for the next 200 km stretch until Naryn.

The rest in front of the supermarket in Tamga. It’s funny how in these situations, when you are completely shot there’s always some curious local trying to find out a bit about what’s happening. Needles to say that it’s quite difficult to spare some energy to try and make conversation in foreign language at this point.

In the end I end up leaving with a mix of cookies, ready made sandwiches, snickers, mars and bounty, some canned fish and the usual fruits and tomatoes. The plan for this evening is to continue at a slow pace on the climb towards Tosor Pass (3800m) and sleep somewhere on a climb.

With the heavily loaded bike the pace is slow and I console myself with the fact that I need one night of sleep to recover from today’s effort and that the speed which I have now is in a way normal. When Adrien catches up with me again from behind and when I see that he’s moving quite a bit faster than me I start doubting my decision but in the end we both stop in the first place where the valley gets a bit wider, 400 meters away, he in his bivy and me once again in shed near one of the uninhabited buildings. Today was tough day and I have to take care a bit more with the nutrition in the following days as today something went terribly wrong after Arabel, and I could restore the energy stores in the last hours of the day. Hopefully tomorrow I’ll fare better, but counting the places I should be in 3rd place when I go to sleep.

Strava link: https://www.strava.com/activities/5813323011

Maintenance, stopping to filter water with the first moments of sunshine.
Leaving behind the road and the valley which head up to Tosor pass. We’ll have to descent that way tomorrow
Arabel looks stunning in any weather, at this point the snow is almost gone and there’s a slight hope that after all the mud and puddles you might be dry by nightfall.
Once again some maintenance at the top of the pass, preparing for the decent to Tamga.
(photo credits Danil Usmanov)
This bit was by quite a distance one of the most spectacular parts of the race
(photo credits Danil Usmanov)
Having a red bike, green jacket and a blue backpack helps a LOT to identify you in photos.
(photo credits Danil Usmanov)
Descending 2000m on the mining road on some very, very spectacular switchbacks
(photo credits Danil Usmanov)

(photo credits Danil Usmanov)
The next set of switchbacks.
(photo credits Danil Usmanov)
Adrien, also looking quite shot at the resupply point from Tamga.
(photo credits Danil Usmanov)

SRMR Day 3, cold, snow, sun and 270 kilometres in the saddle

When the alarm rings at 3:30 in the morning the first thing I do is to get out of the sleeping bag and check the conditions outside. The air is cold and crisp, the menacing rain clouds from last night have all but disappeared and a clear black sky full of stars stretches above. You can only see such a sky in places like this, in the middle of the mountains, at altitude , far away from any city, without any light pollution, without a moon and when it’s cold.

I quickly pack up my bivy, have a quick breakfast as usual when doing it and hurry to get back on my bike in order to make up some of the time I’ve lost with the early stop from last night. I don’t loose any time or battery to check the timings and the maps but I safely assume that quite a few other racers rode past me last evening. As usual, the first 30 minutes are hard, until the blood gets pumping through the  sore and cold muscle, and this isn’t particularly easy this morning as the temperature reads -5 degrees. So instead of 30 minutes it takes me almost an hour, and one extra small sugary breakfast to feel once again good on the bike, however after this I feel again really, really good, even if it’s the 3rd day of racing.

An alpine start today in a true alpine environment. If the cold doesn’t wake you up, the dawn certainly does. They don’t call it the Switzerland of Central Asia for nothing…

I also really like the early start and being on the bike when the dawn approaches and when the colours begin to change. It also has probably something to do with my chronotype as waking up early isn’t an issue for me, but it also has the main downside in a race that you have to stop earlier and by the time you catch up with other riders the next day you already have quite a few hours in the saddle while they are usually fresher.

It’s still dark when I pass the first racer who is packing his bivy, and shortly after sunrise I catch up again with Arno who slept relatively little last night and looks quite beat up. Time management and sleep management is a very important in endurances races and to a large extent it can make up for differences in age or fitness. Some guys with higher FPTs have to sleep and rest longer to keep up the same pace, some guys with lower FTPs can make up for this my simply going longer at a slower pace which also means less time needed for recovery. The guys who win the races can do both, and time management skills while on or off the bike are probably equally important as sleep management and the FTP.

Chatting with Arno about the past days and about the plan for today.

The climb towards Karakol pass is long, almost unbearably long. Almost 70 kilometres in a  straight line from the bivy spot to top of the 3400 meter high pass with slow and gradual climb. The snow covers the mountains above 2500 meters, and smoke is coming from the yurts as horseback shepherds are getting ready for the morning. The sun starts melting the snow and moving back the calendar clock from December to January. I catch up with Lukasz Ugarenko as he’s struggling with the altitude near the top of the pass, have a quick chat then hurry towards the pass itself.

Trafic jam.

For the last couple of kilometres the road is covered with snow which sticks to tyres so I end up pushing up for 20 minutes, getting my boots wet and starting to worry a bit about the cold. The mountains are completely covered in snow, stretch in all directions in the distance, and look completely stunning so I exit for a couple of minutes from the race mood and I try to take a couple of shots. During such a race I think there are moments in which the experience doesn’t feel like a race but more like an adventure, and this was certainly one of them.

At the top of Karakol pass after pushing the bike on the last bit. You wouldn’t have said that it’s the middle of August.

The moment didn’t last long as I hop again on the bike and I start the very long descent towards Kochkor, the first of the 3 checkpoints of the race. Long in the scale of Kyrgystan means 100 kilometers from the 3450 meters of Karakol to the 1800 meters of Kochkor. As I start descending the snow disappears and the air turns warmer and I have to stop to ditch all the extra clothes I’m wearing. It’s close to the middle of the day when I reach the first village of the day, Djongo-Ash and I stop for short lunch, once again with canned fish, bread and fruits. The remaining 50 kilometers into Kochkor I cycle just in shorts and a t-shirt and I find it hard to believe that less than 2 hours ago I was surrounded by snow and that I was wearing all my winter clothes.

The energy is low as I get closed to Kochkor and I have to fight a headwind for the last 15 kilometres, and in my mind I only have the thought of a small break and a resupply in Kochkor. Before the reaching the checkpoint I stop in the bazar and load up on fruits, the main thing which I missed during the past days, the head to the slightly hidden checkpoint to find Toms and Janis getting their things out to dry. Inside I meet Marie who takes a short portrait, take a break while eating half of the fruits I picked up in the bazar (a mix of melon, plums, bananas and grapes, and once again the stomach had no issues with the mix).

I also find that even though I stopped very early last night my 6th place only turned into a 7th place and that Stephane and Adrien (9th if I count Toms and Janins in the pairs), which rode through the night are less than two hours in front. In a way I like the tactical decisions during such a race and the there are questions which you are constantly asking yourself. Last night the question was whether to stop early, sleep in your bivy setup or push through the night in hope of reaching Kochkor and getting some sleep there without having to get things wet. Adrien and Stephane had reached Kochkor at 4 / 5 in the morning, took some extra punishment during the night, rested for 6-7 hours and they were not far off in front. While I can’t say I’m fresh after almost 12 hours already in the saddle but I feel relatively good and I have the advantage of a good tailwind and of riding most of the distance in daylight so my race mood is once again back at 100%, I get food for the next 200 kilometers and I start chasing down Stephane, Adrien, David and Heinrich.

Despite the tailwind which pushes me on the smooth tarmac between Kochkor and the Intersection Cafe the legs feel drained, Toms and Janis overtake me and I try to keep their pace for the last bit. At the intersection cafe I stop to get a bottle of Fanta and some fried fish, both for  now and for the evening / tomorrow (once again the stomach handled this without any issues), I chat a bit with Toms and Janis who are having icecream and I hop again on the bike trying to get some more kilometres before sunset.

In the next village I encounter a group of kids handing out candy to the riders, I stop for another resupply and meanwhile get overtaken again by Christoph, Toms and Janis. A bit further down the road I get stopped by a car and the daughter of the family gets out and takes a selfie with me. I’m amazed how many people in Kyrgystan know about the race and I’m also suprised how much this feels like a race as I’m constantly looking either in the distance for riders or I look behind to see if someone is approaching.

For a 1800 kilometre race with not so many riders this something which I definitely didn’t expect, I somehow expected this to be an almost solo effort after the first day of racing. When the sun is setting I already have more than 250 kilometres behind me today and the energy levels are really low but as the conditions are really pleasant I decide to push on through the dusk into the night towards another 2800 meter pass. The sun is setting, the atmosphere is completely silent and in the distance the snow capped peaks have a pink violet hue and the road stretches far away in the distance. The only thing which can be heard is the sound of the tyres on the gravel.

The day’s sunset, completely still, heading towards the Arabel valley.

Halfway through the climb I bypass Christoph, Toms and Janis who have stopped for the night, I also think briefly of stopping in the same place but I decide to push on and take advantage of the calm weather and the warm night. After half an hour I can see David’s taillight far away in the distance and it takes me another half an hour to catch up with him as both of us are ascending at a snale’s pace. We once again talk a bit about the past day, about where each of us has slept or plans to sleep and we start descending from the pass.

It doesn’t take long for the cold of the night to bite through the clothes so I stop to put on the winter clothing and while descending I scan for appropriate places to bivy. David choses a flat area by the side of the road but this looks rather damp for me so I push on, hoping either for a drier bit or for some shelter. In the end I find an unexpected drainage pipe under the road which is both dry and offers some wind protection. I setup my bivy inside, have a quick dinner though and hit the sleeping bag a bit before midnight, guessing that I’ll not leave to early tomorrow morning.

Strava activity:

https://www.strava.com/activities/5813300753

In the morning, waiting for the sunshine. Bringing thick winter gloves is a necessity during such races.

The first sunrays,
Life goes on as usual usual for the shepherds living in the yurts at high altitude.
The moment when you’re warm enough to start peeling of some clothes.
Heading towards Karakol pass.
Summer on the other side and a very, very long descent towards Kochkor.
The fried fish from the intersection cafe.

SRMR Day 2, tough climbs, headwind, rain and kymyz

When the phone rings at 4 am it’s hard to say if I had a good nights sleep or not, what I’m sure of is that it didn’t compensate all the sleep deficit from the last two nights. During such a race the question is not whether you can fully recover from one day to the other but rather how you manage the continuous build-up of  fatigue. Having some issues sleeping caused by stress in the past year my strategy for this race is to avoid caffeine until the last few days / last day, hoping that this will help with the sleep quality. The downside of this strategy is that usually getting the legs working in the morning takes a bit more time, and that’s also what happens this morning.

The brisk morning air wakes me up quickly though and I try to have a quick breakfast while I pack-up everything, Max, who got up a bit earlier heads out into the night. I try to get everything together for the first couple of hours and start shortly after him, Christophe is also up when I start pedalling. Half an hour after starting I feel surprisingly well on the bike with legs which seem to have forgotten about the punishment from yesterday.

I catch up with Max, we share a biscuit and I bypass him on  the undulated section before the first village of the day, Toluk. When I reach it it’s early morning and the village is just waking up and I manage to find a villager which guides me to his courtyard in order to refill my bidons. I’m fascinated with these small villages in Kyrgystan with places where life goes on just as it did 50 years ago. In many ways it resembles many of the villages in Europe with the single and important exception that people are not fleeing these places at the same pace as it’s happening in Europe. They still seem to be villages very much alive and not just dying places where only the old people live.

I also really like the silent and calm sunny morning on the streets of this village, and I briefly stop to change clothes and for a small breakfast before the first steep climb of the day. From a physical point of view today is very, very tough, with two very steep climbs and with an undulating terrain which doesn’t allow to much space for relaxation. I catch up with Arno, a veteran of such races and we change a couple of words on the climb. A bit further up the road I once again catch up with Adrien who had jus stopped for a quick breakfast, then again with Axel just before the second steep climb of the day.

Peaceful morning around the village of Toluk, before the two monster climbs.

This second climb wasn’t just steep, it is very steep, with gradients on which you could barely climb on the bike. Actually in several moments during the race I really wonder if it doesn’t make more sense to walk up and conserve energy, even if you I feel good for now. The morning sun is still out and the weather is quite calm, but storm clouds area already visible in the distance, turning darker and greyer as time goes by.

Adrien passes me again on the way up, I catch up with Toms and Janis, overtake them only to stop for a strange encounter with two young children by the side of the road, offering Kymyz from a plastic bottle. Somehow, I don’t know how, the locals had found out probably that there’s a race going on and the kids were offering the fermented horse milk to the riders coming by. I really like kymyz (if it’s fresh and from the mountains) and after eating almost only sweets for the entire morning I take a deep sip of the fermented concoction, only to think afterwards that doing this during a race requires some trust that your stomach will be able to handle this without issues. The second thought which comes into my mind when I get back on my bike is that several riders drinking fermented milk from the same dirty plastic bottle is a recipe for disaster. I crossed my fingers, hoped for the best and hopped back on my bike chasing Adrien and Stephane which were once again visible in the distance.

The making of: Kymyz (photo credits Chris McClean )
And the two Kyrgyz kids with and the plastic bottle with the concoction on the way up the second monster climb for the day.

I find it interesting that even a mountain bike which wasn’t particularly light, and myself not being particularly light I handle steep climbs quite well compared to others. Descents are also quite ok, though I surprised at how well Adrien descents with his 26 inch gravel bike. Where my setup sucks though is on flat areas, especially with head wind as I can’t really make myself small on a mountain bike.

The unpredictable Kyrgystan strikes near the top of the pass and we go from sunny, warm and calm weather to a small snowstorm in less than one hour, only to find a small hurricane when we reach the end of the descent. From here the route follows a river uphill and northwards for 30 kilometres before turning once again west. The only slight problem is that the wind is blowing with a hurricane force exactly from this direction, which makes for a speed of 10 kilometres an hour if you work really hard, and all this after having spent already almost 12 hours in the saddle.

I stop for a resupply in Kyzyl-Oi, taking shelter from the wind behind one of the walls of the shop and I’m shortly joined by Adrien, by Stephane and after a while by Toms and Janis. The lunch for today consists of canned fish, canned corn, tomatoes, salted biscuits and sweets and we take our time with the break while the wind howls around the small shop.

Gourmet canned meal, while taking shelter from the gale. Spirits where not that high this time.

One by one we reluctantly get back on our bikes heading into the same headwind which is soon accompanied by a drizzle with stormy clouds which announce nothing good in the distance. I stop to put on the rain jacket and hope that the drizzle doesn’t turn into a torrential downpour, Stephane and Adrien overtake me and disappear in the distance and I have to admit that I’m quite spent, both physically and mentally for today. You can go so fast from feeling high, like I did on the previous climb to feeling like every pedal stroke is torture. I really hate headwind, and I hate that I don’t have drop bars or aerobars at hand so cursing in my mind I grind the kilometres until Kojomkul with Stephane in front of me in the distance. Here I stop again for a long resupply while I check the weather forecast for tonight. It says 20 milimiters of rain, I can see the dark blue clouds in the distance and I think to myself that if the forecast turns out to be true and if I don’t find a good enough shelter for the night this can quickly turn into a bad situation, especially considering how spent I feel.

After the two monster climbs this section was probably the toughest of the day. It took around 2 hours to cycle the 20km on a very flat and good road to Kojomkul. Also the rain clouds in the distance didn’t look at all promising. (photo credits Danil Usmanov)
Taking the decision to stop is not early, especially when you still have some daylight left and when the drizzle turns into clear sky in one hour.

The mental calculus which I make says that I’m in 6th place at the moment, behind Sofiane, Adrien Liecthi, David, Adrien Gullmin and Stephane, but at this moment considering how I feel the race mood has almost completely disappeared. The only good news is that the wind died down, the bad news is that unpredictable rain clouds move on all the mountain ridges. I’m again dry after the last drizzle, I can see the rain in the distance towards Karakol pass so the moment I see an abandoned stable I call it again a day, hoping for better spirits and better weather for tomorrow morning. I feel it’s a bit of a shame because the rain actually stops after I setup my bivy inside the stable and I lose around more than 1 hour of daylight. On the other hand I fall almost instantly asleep, not before setting my alarm for 3:30 am for the next morning.

Day 2: 170km / 5000m / 15 hours.

SRMR Day 1 ~ fresh legs and tyre destroying descents

The police Lada which escorted us out of Talas stops, waves that we should go past and the race actually begins. It’s still dark, but the first signs of the new day are already visible in the eastern sky, the air is brisk and cold and a long string of cyclists stretches out in the horizon towards what will be the first big pass of the race, the 3400 meter Terek Pass.

After two nights with too little sleep I feel surprisingly fresh and in the first hours I find it a challenge to temper my enthusiasm and settle in the pace which I feel would be the best pace for such a long race. My aim is to spend much of the time in Zone 2 but I have no idea how this will feel after a few long days in the saddle. For now though it feels quite good and I start to catch up with riders having short chats about the race, about the gear and about the plan for today.

The first moments of the race, with an old police Lada escorting us out of town. (photo credit Chris McClean)

The sun comes out and starts illuminating the huge limestone walls rising up from the valley on which we slowly gain altitude and near the pass I start catching up or bypassing faces which I would end up seeing again and again during the following days: Christophe with his impeccably blue cycling shoes, David with his monster gravel, Stephane with his full-suspension bike, Toms and Janis with their identical kit and nearly identical rigid mountain bikes, Arno with his titanium front suspension mountain bike and Adrien with his 26 inch gravel, Axel with his steel rigid mountain bike or Lukasz with his gravel bike with narrow tires.

I think that if you look at the rigs which riders rode during the race it’s impossible to pick a definitive trend, and if you look at the top 3 or the top 10 it’s really interesting to see so much diversity. It proves that during such races it’s not all about the bike and many other factors weight in much more than you would expect.

Catching up with Bagoly Levente on the climb towards Terek Pass.
Chatting with Philip about how Markus had “prepared” for the race by climbing a 4500 meter peek the day before (altitude sickness included).
I have to admit that the first climb of the race is really, really beautifull.
Leaving the valley floor (photo credits Chris McClean)

At the top of the pass I take a short break, eating a sandwich and some cucumbers, chatting with Nelson and looking down at how Janis and Toms struggle with their bikes on the steep and rocky descent to the other side. I have to admit that even on full suspension bike the descent is more technical than I expected and quite fun and with all the sharp and rocky boulders around it’s easy to understand how so many people destroyed their tires here. My Canyon makes short work of the descent though and I bypass again Toms and Janis, Adrien, Axel and I catch up with Max. All goes well until the first more serious river crossing, which I cross almost at the same time with Axel and where I manage to slip on a boulder and land on my ass in the river, getting seriously wet and also soaking 2 of the 3 sandwiches which I had in my back pockets.

The descent on the other side, while it still looked ok. Further down it more rocky, more technical and we even had some really nice single trail. Photo credits: Chris McClean.

For a short time I’m a bit angry as I know that my gore-tex boots will not get dry too fast, then I realize that for today this shouldn’t be an issue as the route goes down to 900 meters. If anything, for the next bit the heat will be more of an issue than being wet and cold. When I finally reach the villages I’m already out of water for the next couple of hours hydration is my main concern. I’m not a big fan of riding in the hot and after the cool air of the mountains the track around the Toktogul reservoir feels like riding through a desert.

In Toktogul I make the first time-management mistake of the day, heading together with Cristoph towards the bazar in order to find a shop and wasting a good 20 minutes in the meantime. The worst part was that the shop we found was no better than the dingy shop which was on the route, and when we finally get back and we meet again with Max we realised that we could have stopped just as well at the first stop. In the meantime Axel and Adrien bypassed us and I catch up (again) with them while they’re taking a break near a river with their feet in the cold water.

Half an hour later the route takes me through the backyard of a cottage where an old man lives, and the trail seems to die somewhere between the chickens and the improvised stable. After a couple of sentences in bad Russian in which I try to explain what I’m doing here and where I want to go the old man directs me towards the trail towards Torkent but I cannot help but wonder if he would have to do the same for all racers today.

I reach Torkent around 4 pm and I take a longer stop here, resupplying with food for one day and even buying a melon which I devour on the side of the road, waiting to be bypassed by other riders, which of course happens. As I feel that this took too long and that it wasn’t worth it this would be last time during the race when I would take a melon break. Time management is a skill which doesn’t come easily to me and I really need a LOT of discipline to avoid leaking time in useless places. Lesson learned for today: a LOT of the eating should happen either on the bike or during short stretching / maintenance breaks.

Long story short, while I’m eating the watermelon I get bypassed by Max, Axel, Adrien and Christoph, and with 2kg of melon in my stomach and with empty legs I really struggle on the first kilometres after Torkent. I manage to catch up with Max and Christoph in the next village, which has also has shop and I wonder why did I carry all this food with me up from Torkent (note to self, next time research the villages more carefully). I take another break to refill the water and to eat some tomatoes while David catches up with me and we head up the road together talking about the Italy Divide and soon catching up with Max and Christoph.

5 pm in day one, already dirty and sticky, with a 3kg melon in front of me, looking how other racers ride by…

The sun has almost set when we reach the top of the first 2000 meter pass after Torkent and mountains to the north are engulfed by rainclouds illuminated by lightning from time to time. Today was a long day, we started at 4 in the morning, we have already 220km under the pedals with more than 5000 meters of climbing and we really feel it.

Arno, his titanium hard-tail and the evening rain clouds in the distance. (
photo credit Chris McClean)

Even if it’s early my first instinct is to stop at the first suitable spot, which for me is the river on the valley between two 2000 meter passes. Christoph also decides to stop, as does Max so we have a bit of chat before going to sleep. I decide to sleep directly under the open sky, keeping the emergency bivy bag nearby just in case. Just when we’re ready to go to sleep another french guy joins us so I can’t say I drift quite smoothly to sleep. Sleep is a necessity in such a long race and my plan would be to sleep around 6 hours per night, which means in this case setting the alarm for 3:30 in the morning.

Technical details:
220km, 5000m of climbing, 15 hours.

Race Photos by Chris McClean and Danil Usmanov

Silk Road Mountain Race 2021, lead-up.

The lead-up to the race started for me on a bleak February day, bombarded with grim COVID news, under a nation-wide night quarantine and suffering from job burnout. It started by sending a mail to see if there are any free spots in the race. When Nelson responded that there still are some spots left it all clicked into place. This summer I’ll go again to Kyrgyzstan (in 2014 I had cycled from Romania to Kyrgyzstan and then climbed Khan Tengri, a 7000 meter peak in Kyrgyzstan, in an adventure which kick-started my current love affair with cycling).

I don’t know about how others function but for me it’s relatively important to be able to dream about future adventure projects and in the past 2 years this has been increasingly more difficult to do. It was a long shot, it might just work out and I had something to look forward to (the SRMR, a 1800 kilometre endurance race through the toughest mountains on the planet was certainly something to look forward to) .

Tien Shan cycling
2014, first time in Kyrgystan, heading towards the Tien Shan mountains, with a completely different bike and after 5000 km through central Asia.

Fast forward 5 months and I’m on a plane towards Kyrgyzstan with a feeling of adventure I’ve not felt in quite a while, with a job left behind and as I liked for Kyrgystan, for the Silk Road Mountain Race and for Central Asia if COVID will allow travel between the Stans.

Fast forward 10 more days and I’m at the top of Kegety pass, after 800 kilometres spent bikepacking on some parts of the route, focusing not on the distance but on photography, on interactions with the locals, on enjoying the beautiful mountains and on making time expand.  Without internet, with no fixed plan, cycling as much as you feel, with a good book as a companion and with a tent pitched in the most scenic places it was a near Thoreauvian experience, and I have to admit I completely loved it. As more and more time passes since my long distance bike trip, it becomes clear to me that this style of travelling, and by extension this style of living is not just a temporary thing. I find no better means of exploring the world than the bike.

Kyrgystan people
If it’s one thing which I love about normal bikepacking and I’m sure it’s almost always missed in endurance races is having a lot of time to interact with the locals. And every trip and every encounter with good people restores in a way your faith in humanity.
Arabell pass
At the top of Arabell pass, after a snowy night at altitude.
It’s incredible how much the bike setup and the gear has changed from 2014, I choose to ride the race with a full sus bike, with the idea that comfort is more valuable in such races than a light bike. Also it was the only suitable bike I had, so the choice was simple.
Kegeti pass
If it’s something I really like about competitions is being able to meet a lot of like-minded people. Here during a relatively random encounter at the top of Kegeti pass, at 3800 meters. We stayed exactly at the top for a couple of hours enjoying an unusually calm and warm weather spell, talking about the race, about the bikes and about past and future experiences.

Fast forward 2 more days and the start date of the race is fast approaching with it all the doubts and worries. Worries which subconsciously keep me up the night before the race, realizing that packing everything the morning before the registration might not have been the best idea. Questions like: Am I packing too much? Do I have everything I need? Have I forgotten “insert random piece of equipment”? How will you plan the first day or the first couple of days? All going round and round in your head like in a broken washing machine.  Maybe it’s because I chose directly the hardest endurance event of them all as a first event. But heck, if you’re going to do something like this you might as well go all in, even if makes you nervous as hell.

When morning comes, I start packing everything and putting it on the bike, I ditch the tent, I pick just a bivy bag and a survival blanket, I ditch the stove and the pot but I choose to take two sets of cycling clothes (I would end up carrying one unused). I have to admit also that in a way I like the feeling of being a bit exposed, of having to manage with less and to improvise if needed and I think to a certain degree this is where the Adventure lies in endurance races. You expose yourself voluntarily with the dubious benefit of being able to move slightly faster across the terrain and there’s a fine line between going fast and light and ending up in dangerous situation.
Fast forward 12 more hours and and we’re sitting in mini-vans on the way to Talas, trying to steal some sleep on the winding mountain roads. Of course it doesn’t work, neither for me nor for others. You can try to close the eyes, you might drift off for brief periods of time but deep and valuable sleep doesn’t come that easily. The race should have started at 10 but with 50km to go we find out that the trucks with the bikes are still a couple of hours back, so this means a postponed start.

At the registration, ready to race and to load the bikes.

Nelson fortunately pulls out a magic wand and manages to find a warm place for 100 or so scantily clad cyclists in some sort of large weeding tents, complete with an evening meal. Everyone is part nervous, part tired and part annoyed by this delayed start and after the meal cyclists scramble to find a warm place to lay down for a couple of hours until the bikes arrive. Adapt and improvise, both on the organizers side and on the competitors side.

When the bikes finally arrive it takes quite a bit of time to unload them all and to get ready for the start and the entire scene looks slightly absurd: on a random side street in Talas sleepy riders trying to find their bikes in general atmosphere of confusion and sleepiness. Once in a while you hear a worried voice from someone who can’t find his bike and generally it looks very, very chaotic. But somehow in the end in less than one hour everyone seems sort of ready to start and a police Lada appears out of nowhere to lead us centre of Talas. Here we witness one scene which seems to be from a movie by Kusturica, with the vice-mayor giving a rather short speech in Russian, in the centre of Talas to a gathering of cyclists, with the same Police Lada in the background.

If it’s one thing which stuck in my mind after the race briefing is that during such a race you should always have a some backup resources available. Otherwise things can get quite sketchy…
How many racers can fit in yurt? Somewhere in this yurt I think I was also trying to steal a couple of hours of sleep, trying to keep warm under a rug.
Somehow in the general chaos of unloading the bikes from the trucks everyone somehow managed to be ready in time.

A brief countdown and we’re off: 1800 kilometres of rough terrain and some of the worlds wildest mountains await us and the spirits are high. It’s 5 in the morning, the sleepiness has all but dissipated and I feel a sense of relief when we finally start. From here on mentally it should be easy. You have to manage with what you have and get to the finish line as quickly as possible. Now lets see how it goes, day by day.

Lock, stock and ready to roll.

Race photos by Danil Usmanov.

Fagaras: Urlea, Mosu si Trasnita.

Din experienta anilor anteriori am invatat ca luna noiembrie este o luna buna pentru Fagaras. Muntele cel mare pare ca isi tine respiratia inaintea iernii. Si asta inseamna ca uneori te rasplateste cu zile perfecte. Cu soare generos, fara niciun pic de vant, cu inversiune termica si totusi cu zari curate ce ii permit privirii sa zburde libera din Calimani si pana in Trascau.

Vara ti-ai dori asemenea zile limpezi, iarna ti-ai dori asemenea temperaturi… Cu putin noroc, noiembrie ti le poate aduce pe ambele.
Nicio vizita in Fagaras nu m-a dezamagit. Mereu muntele acesta a avut ceva de oferit in schimbul urcarilor interminabile pe muchiile sale lungi ori in schimbul kilometrilor de forestier inclusi aproape in orice apropiere spre o cabana.

In multe vizite, startul era matinal, cat sa ai timp sa cuprinzi cat mai mult. Cat mai multe varfuri, cat mai multi kilometri, cat mai multa diferenta de nivel. Nu si de data asta. In weekendul asta de noiembrie ne dadusem doar o simpla intalnire cu soarele de pe creste. Simpla din punct de vedere al planurilor. Flexibile. Lunga din punct de vedere al timpului petrecut pe sus. Fara sa alergam dupa nimic. Doar cu supradoza de galben si caldura. Jumatatea tarzie a toamnei vine in fiecare an cu acelasi laitmotiv. Nicio zi (de weekend) cu soare nu trebuie irosita. O combinatie de teama de gri si de melancolie post-culori de octombrie ne aduce in fiecare noiembrie in acelasi punct, cu religiozitate. Daca vara practicam religia zilelor lungi si pline, a apusurilor pe munte,  in octombrie suntem sclavii culorilor si alergam dupa ele de sus in jos (adica dinspre etajele inalte ale foioaselor si pana la padurile de mesteceni din depresiune), in noiembrie religia noastra este goana dupa soare. Consolati cu pierderea acuarelelor, ne rezumam la bicolorul de galben si albastru si ne bucuram sincer pentru fiecare clipa petrecuta in spatiul acesta delimitat de muntele cel galben si cerul perfect de albastru. Tolaniti in iarba ochii descopera nuante infinite de albastru. Luand la pas cate o muchie lunga, suntem suprinsi de schimbarile galbenului, in functie de unghiul soarelui.

In weekendul acesta de noiembrie nu ne-am grabit. Am plecat aproape de pranz din Breaza. Ne-am dat timpul cuvenit pentru poteca de pe Coltii Brezei. Am poposit pe o stanca mare si plina de muschi, am desfacut termosul si am savurat ceaiul de tei cald si usor indulcit. Un crampei de vara ni s-a strecutat in suflet. Un gram de caldura, suficient cat sa depasim zona umbroasa a fostei cabane. Am castigat repede diferenta de nivel pe culmea Mosului. Le-am multumit in gand oamenilor de la AMC Fagaras ca au curatat poteca ce merge printre jnepeni. Am trudit putin pe la umbra, am facut balet printre urmele din zapada cat sa ne udam cat mai putin la adidasi si ne-am continuat marsul spre soare. El mereu mai sus, noi mereu prea jos. Parea ca nu il vom mai ajunge pe ziua de azi.In orice caz, asa cum aveam sa descoperim, soarele de ora 4 e ceva total diferit de soarele de ora 12. Slab, fara putere,fara caldura. Lumina lui rosiatica si-a pierdut 99% din forta si tot ce mai poate face este sa mi se oglindeasca pe fata ascunsa de vantul hoinar sub bandana.

Coboararea din Culmea Mosului spre Refugiul Urlea ne suprinde in mod placut.  Poteca aceea moale si totusi destul de clara, versantul care ne protejeaza de vant, fundul plat al caldarii cu cateva surse de apa, toate ne face sa punem locul pe lista pentru un bivuac varatec.
Refugiul este pustiu si decent de curat. Ne instalam, mancam si ca in orice noapte de iarna ne culcam cu gainile si dormim somn lung pana dimineata cand este prea frig pentru un rasarit in creasta. Oricum poteca de vara spre creasta e impracticabila si cel mai bun lucru pe care il putem face este sa revenim pe culmea Mosului.

Varful Urlea ne primeste cu soare generos si fara pic de vant. Locul si momentul perfect pentru un mic-dejun la inaltime. Cat invart cu lingura in oala imi las privirile sa zburde libere peste jumatatea estica a crestei Fagarasului,de la Vistea Mare-Moldoveanu, la culmea puternica a Malitei, trecand pe langa peretele Galasescului, scurgandu-se la vale pe Muchia Dragusului la nord si pe Valea Bandei la sud, notand iar si iar restanta numita Dara si prelingandu-se spre culmile mai molatice ale Berevoescului pe unde am ajuns mai des pe doua roti, decat la pas. Mai notam pentru explorari viitoare culmea Hermeneasa si culmea Scoarta si ne indreptam momentan atentia spre Culmea ce incepe cu varful La Cheia Bandei si se termina cu Varful Trasnita. Din turul de orizont facut parea ca acolo sunt cele mai mari sanse sa evitam zapada. Doar parea, caci in realitate am avut la zapada cat pentru toata creasta.Daca in partea alpina am negociat binisor, ocolind mult din zapada de pe versantul ce ducea spre Valea Sambetei si tinandu-ne mai mult pe creasta, din varful Trasnita a urmat adevarata distractie reprezentata de o mare de jnepeni arsi cu zapada la baza. Asa ca am navigat noi mult si bine prin acest peisaj apocaliptic (probabil cel mai bine ar fi sa incercati sa tineti versantul vestic), am sperat ca urmele de urs ne vor arata calea cea dreapta, dar ori era un urs mic, ori era un urs insensibil la mangaierile cracilor chele si rebele, cert este ca ne-am luat portia de aventura spre bucuria lui Radu.Cum marcajul cobora catre Lisa, am cautat o varianta care sa ne coboare spre Breaza si am nimerit decent daca omitem trecerea Brezicioarei prin apa… Insa incaltarile de schimb de la masina au inclinat rapid balanta.

Acum tragem momentan cortina peste muntii mari, pana se aseaza zapada si deschidem biblia rasariturilor caci se apropie iarna si trebuie sa trecem la religia numita Morning Glory. 

Text: Mihaela

Date:

https://www.strava.com/activities/6259772788

https://www.strava.com/activities/6277799213

Refugiul de pe culmea Mosu si un cer incredibil de albastru de Noiembrie, cu putin inainte de apus
La mai bine de 1000 de metri sub noi se intinde tara Fagarasului.
Ultima raza de soare si o privire spre Fagarasul estic, un loc care ne atrage ca un magnet de cand ne-am mutat in Brasov.
Jumatate toamna, jumatate iarna.
Spectacolul norilor si al rasaritul de la gura refugiului de la Urlea
Cateva minute mai tarziu.
Tanjind dupa soare si voind sa scapam cu picioarele cat mai uscate facem cale intoarsa catre culmea Mosu.
Micul dejun de pe Urlea, la aproape 2500 de metri inaltime fara nici un pic de vant si cu temperaturi de vara.
Poza regulamentara de Fagaras, un obicei pe care ar trebui sa-l pastram cel putin odata pe an.
Pe muchiile sudice e de-a dreptu primavara.
Refugiul Cataveiu si in departare Postavaru si Piatra Mare.
La inceputul jnepenilor arsi de pe Trasnita.
Ce a urmat a fost un labirint natural de o jumatate de ora, cu jnepeni arsi, urme de urs, zapada si multe, multe crengi si ramuri uscate.

Drumul spre Chamonix, TMB ziua 3

Dimineata cand scoatem nasul din cladirea parasita si usor lugubra care ne-a servit drept adapost ne dam seama ca vantul din seara anterioara s-a oprit. Trebuie sa recunosc ca ignorand soriceii si paianjenii pe care doar eu i-am bagat de seama am dormit bine, dar in acelasi timp m-as porni cat mai repede la drum pentru a lua o pauza de dimineata intr-un loc mai frumos. Daca se poate si cu soare, cu atat mai bine.

Spre primul pas al zilei, Col de la Seine, avem putin de urcat, 300 de metri de diferenta de nivel pe care ii facem in mare parte pe bicicleta. Dam de un un alt refugiu inchis, de oameni care urcau din sens opus cu electricele si de o coborare de toata frumusetea spre les Mottes. Coborarea spre Franta e o reintoarcere in normalitate dupa zilele petrecute in Elvetia. Case si stane de munte care arata normal, o cisterna care imprastie cu bolta balega fermentata si putin mai in fata, in sat, cafea, branza si paine la preturi normale. Nu mai zic de internetul la discretie.

De cafeaua asta chiar aveam nevoie, pe de o parte pentru push-bike-ul de 500 de metri spre Col de la Croix du Bohnhomme, pe de alta parte si pentru bucata pana la col de Bohnhomme, un pushbike printre pietre si bolovani pe o curba de nivel ce nu se mai termina. Pe aici nu are nici un sens sa fii pe bicicleta, absolut nici un sens. Nici pe picioare nu e usor pe pietrele astea.

Din Col de Bohnhomme in schimb are din nou sens sa fii be bicicleta si dupa o pauza de masa in les Contamines (unde batea vantul, si la propriu si la figurat) pornim cu avant spre urmatorul col, Col de Voza. Deasupra noastra norii alearga deasupra Mont Blancului iar prin padurile prin care pedalam se aud cerbii boNcanind. Dupa tura din Calimani in care i-am confundat cu ursi teritoriali sunt destul de convins ca nu o mai uitam prea usor cum suna boNcanitul.

Soarele e la apus atunci cand incepem coborarea din col de Voza si crestele ce coboara spre vale arata intr-un mare fel. Nu acelasi lucru putem spune si despre coborare, un fost traseu de downhill transformat intr-o serie de fagase noroiase de care reusim totusi sa trecem cu ultima geana de lumina. Pe vale bate vantul, de data aceasta doar la figurat si pe cei 10 kilometri pe care ii pedalam pana in Chamonix cred ca vedem mai putin de 10 masini. E cel mai veritabil extrasezon, momentul in care turismul din zona isi trage rasuflarea pentru 2 luni inainte de inceputul iernii. Hoteluri goale, strazi goale si pustii si noi pedaland prin noapte cu ghetarii Mont-Blancului inca albastrii deasupra noastra.

In Chamonix avem parte de o intalnire cu Cristina, de o seara cu vin, paine si branza buna, de un prim dus dupa cateva zile si de o seara cu povesti din mai multe colturi ale lumii. Trebuie sa recunoastem ca e ceva mai bine decat inca o noapte petrecuta sub tarp. Atat de bine incat ziua urmatoare dormim pana tarziu, asteptand sa apara soarele si in Chamonix.

Track si date aici:

https://www.strava.com/activities/6014666478

Asteptand soarele, in drum spre primul pas al zilei.
Ca pe tot traseul de pana acum ochii se indreapta spre silueta Mont Blancului
Cafeaua de dimineata, in les Mottes, cu internet la discretie pentru pauza de social media.
O ora de push-bike mai tarziu in Col de la Croix du Bohnhomme. De aici avea sa inceapa o traversare de o ora printre pietre in care bicicleta era in cel mai bun caz un bagaj comod.
O ora mai tarziu reusim in cele din urma sa ne urcam pe biciclete pe coborarea spre les Contamines.
Goana spre un supermarket numit speranta. Rezervele facute in Courmayeur erau aproape terminate.
Fantanile inalnite pe drum sunt absolut fascinante. Cea de fata, ridicata la 1881 te face putin sa te gandesti cat de mult s-a schimbat lumea si cat de mult s-au schimbat satele astea in aproape 150 de ani.
Ora de aur, pe ultma urcare a zilei, spre Col de Voza, cu cerbi boncanind in padurile de pe versantii opusi.
Sa tot stai sa urmaresti dansul norilor in astfel de locuri.
Schimbare completa de perspectiva in Col de Voza in momentul in care facem trecerea spre valea cu Chamonix.
Ultima geana de lumina si multa, multa liniste. Pe vale bate vantul, si la propriu, si la figurat. Extrasezonul e un moment tare bun sa vii pe aici daca nu esti prieten cu multimile, iar noi clar nu suntem.
Si un prim dus cald dupa ceva zile si o seara faina cu Cristina povestind despre colturi ale lumii in care chiar puteai sa calatoresti acum ceva ani.

TMB ziua 2, la poalele uriasilor

E ora 8 cand incepe sa se lumineze de ziua in camera de iarna a Refugiului Elisabeta. Afara o ceata laptoasa invalui refugiul, o ceata care se bate cap in cap cu prognoza de soare glorios pentru ziua de azi.

Ne apucam sa strangem sacii de dormit si sa indesam lucrurile in bagajele de bicicleta si incepem sa pregatim terciul de dimineata. Intre timp, ceata coboara putin sub refugiu si zarim la mai bine de 2000 de metri deasupra noastra culmile stancoase sau inzapezite ce tin de Grandes Jorasses si de Mont Dolent. E o priveliste ce merge numai bine cu clasica masa de dimineata, terciul cald cu fulgi de ovaz insotit de o mini cafea.

Legat de viata pe drum, inca imi vine un pic greu de crezut ca acum o luna de zile eram prin stepele nesfarsite ale Kyrgystanului, ca acum cateva zile pedalam speriati de ursi prin Calimani si acum pedalam in jurul Mont Blancului. Cu ocazia asta imi dau seama ca ar trebui sa ma apuc sa scriu cate ceva din fiecare din experientele astea, altfel parca simt ca le car in spate in rucsac si ca oricat de bine stai cu memoria, tot pierzi ceva din ele pe masura ce le tii prea mult in tolba.

Cand ne asezam in cele din urma pe saua bicicletei, ceata s-ar ridicat din nou,, iar noi coboram printr-o atmosfera bacoviana spre Val Ferret, loc in care in mod normal Tour de Mont Blanc urca din nou pe partea sudica a vaii. E un ocol pe care il faci doar pentru traseu si pentru priveliste, si pana la urma pentru asta suntem aici. Eu pariez in gand ca ceata se va ridica, Mihaela nu are chef sa faca nici un efort suplimentar astfel incat ne dam intalnire in Courmayeur la o pizza.

Pariul facut de mine pare pierzator in prima parte a ocolului. De la refugiul Bonatti incolo, in schimb, ceata se sparge in cateva minute, brusc si fara nici un avertisment, suficient incat sa iti cada putin fata atunci cand vezi ce se ascundea in spatele cetii.

E o zi perfecta de septembrie, cu un puf de zapada proaspata la peste 3000 de metri, fara nici un pic de vant si cu un cer ireal de albastru deasupra. Iar ghetarii si peretii Mont Blancului arata intr-un mare fel si iti atrag privirile din orice unghi.

E trecut de ora 12 atunci cand ajung in Courmayeur, Mihaela ma astepta la o pizza de la care aveam poate asteptari prea mari, facem cumparaturile la singurul supermarket deschis din zona si pornim din nou la deal spre Val Veny. De aici traseul nostru croseteaza din nou versantul din fata Mont Blancului, printre cabanute si partii de schi in prima parte, dupa care pe poteci pe curba de nivel. Poteca arata incredibil aici si am zabovi mult si bine la soare, in fata Innominatei pe unde pasii de cataratori ne-au purtat cu multi ani in urma.

Frigul in schimb ne face sa ne urnim din loc si sa coboram din nou in vale, in cautarea locului de bivuac din seara aceasta. Astazi nu am avem parte de o camera de iarna a unui refugiu ci de o cladire abandonata si usor lugubra, dar care e o pavaza cat se poate de buna pentru vantul de afara. Peste noapte, luna plina straluceste puternic printr-o fosta fereastra si ma trezeste cat sa ma intorc pe cealalta parte revenind la caldura sacului de dormit, simtind muschii obositi si imi dau seama ca a fost o zi plina. O zi buna de marcat in calendar, cum cred ca se vede si din poze.

Track si date aici:

https://www.strava.com/activities/6014650356

Ce priveliste poate sa te scoata mai bine din sacul de dormit.
Dupa doua ore de pedalat prin ceata, soarele iese si pe poteca noastra. Si odata cu el, Mont Blancul incepe sa ne fure ochii.
Trail-ul cu privelistea perfecta?
Nici nu stii daca sa te uiti in fata sau la poteca.
Inainte de prima coborare a zilei.
Probabil cea mai fotogenica cismea intalnita pana acum
Nici push-bike-ul nu pare greu cu asa munti peste drum
Punta Innominata, Mont Blanc si Aquille Noire.
Oprirea pentru pauza de masa.
Ultima raza de lumina, sau momentul in care trecem de la tricou si pantaloni scurti la toate hainele pe care le avem in rucsac.
Coborarea spre Val Veny si ea cu o poteca de toata frumusetea.
Sunt curios cat va ramane din ghetarii acestia in 10-20 de ani.
Din categoria lifestyle pics, adapostul nostru pentru seara aceasta, pe tarp dar feriti de micul uragan ce s-a pornit pe seara.

TMB, de la Champex-Lac la Grand Col Ferret

Drumetii care se mai incumeta inca pe potecile din Tour du Mont Blanc au coborat aproape toti spre cazarile din vale. Doar noi pedalam in continuare la deal, pe un drum cu peste 10% panta, insa perfect ciclabil chiar si cu bicicletele noastre incarcate. La umarul drept se ridica Mont Dolent si gandurile imi zboara inevitabil la o tentativa de ascensiune de prin 2008. Au trecut 13 ani de atunci si nimic nu pare ca s-a schimbat. Radu vine cu cele mai crete idei, eu gasesc motive nesfarsite de a-i tempera avantul.

Suntem pe Tour du Mont Blanc, cu MTB-urile. E prima zi. Inca nu ma intreb ce cautam noi aici, dar in felul meu pesimsit de a vedea lucrurile sunt convinsa ca o sa ma intreb in curand. Am pornit din apropiere de Champex Lac, cumva bucurosi ca o sa scapam pentru cateva zile de teroarea parcarilor si perfectiunea Elvetiei vorbitoare de limba germana. De altfel, cum am trecut in partea franceza au inceput sa mai apara gropile, iarba de pe marginea drumului nu mai era tunsa la linie etc, de ne-a venit si noua inima la loc.

Nici nu ne asternem bine la drum ca ne si oprim pe o banca pe malul lacului si presimt ca opririle dese vor fi al 3-lea membru al turei.
Multitudinea de semne si poteci ma debusoleaza si la inceput am reale probleme cu navigatia. Prima portiune dintre Champex Lac si La Fouly are de toate. Putin asfalt, cateva catune cu strazi inguste, drumuri, poteci la deal, poteci pe curba de nivel, poteci la vale, ceva push bike, cateva izvoare, toalete curate si locuri de popas.

Partea care conteaza a zilei incepe practic in La Fouly, unde se si termina asfaltul si de unde incepe ascensiunea spre Col du Grand Ferret, primul din nenumaratele pasuri pe care le vom urca si cobori in circuitul nostru. Statiunea pare parasita, cu varfuri de 3500 veghiind obloanele trase si casele cuprinse de liniste. In Alpi e deja extra sezon si asta e cel mai bun moment pentru Tour du Mont Blanc, daca nu vrei sa faci baie de multime pe poteci. De altfel, in sezon, nici nu are sens sa mergi pe aici cu bicicleta.

Singurul varf pe care il recunoastem fara ajutorul hartii e Mont Dolent si in directia noastra urca si drumul taiat in serpentine scurte ce ne ajuta sa castigam inca vreo 300 m altitudine. Prin tufele de pe margine gasesc o zmeura pe care o gust si constat ca e lipsita de gust, asa ca decid ca e mai eficient sa continui sa invart la pedale. Drumul se termina la un gîtes (un fel de cazare mai spartana) unde auzim un neaos “Marie, adu-mi si mie ……”. De acolo incepe poteca. O poteca ciclabila in proportie de 90% pentru Radu si vreo 75% pentru mine. Pe masura ce noi urcam, in jur se stinge lumina. Din ce in ce mai putine varfuri raman scaldate in soare, umbra isi croieste drum peste tot.

In mod neasteptat, in pas nu bate deloc vantul si se poate sta doar in bluza de corp. Sunt atatia munti de admirat in toate zarile… Si ultimile pale mov-rozalii ale apusului se sting la orizont. Dupa o scurta dezbatere hotaram sa coboram spre Refugiul Elena. Poteca nu este imposibila daca nu ar fi stabilizata la fiecare 50 de metri cu niste mici busteni sau si mai rau, cu niste dale de piatra inalte si ascutite, de numai snake bite vad in fata ochilor. Asa ca ajungem sa mergem mult pe langa bicicleta, la frontala. Jos, la refugiul de sub noi nu pare a fi nicio miscare. Nicio lumina, nicio tipenie. Afisul de pe usa ne confirma. Refugiul s-a inchis pe 16 septembrie, bivuacul de iarna e insa deschis.

Din varful patului, bagata in sacul de dormit, cu burta plina contemplu acest happy-end al unei zile altfel, caci da, nu ajungi in fiecare saptamana sa pedalezi pe poteci de la 2500 m, din Alpi si sa ai noroc cu extra sezonul, sa nu te ploua, sa nu trebuiasca sa faci bivuac si sa dormi cu toate hainele pe tine, sa ai butelia plina si sa gatesti cat iti trebuie si altele.

Text: Mihaela

Track si date aici: https://www.strava.com/activities/6002925149

Deloc matinali la plecarea in tura, ceasul sa fi fost trecut bine de pranz. Noroc ca vremea buna ne asigura ca o sa ne facem damblaua pana diseara.
Perfectiunea elvetiana sub tutela steagului cu insemne de vaca.
Champex Lac si in departare Grand Combin, un alt masiv pe care aveam sa il inconjuram in mai putin de o saptamana.
Blana la vale pe un trail surpinzator de frumos spre Val Ferret
Un alt trail, de data aceasta in urcare.
Ultima raza de lumina sub Mont-Dolent.
Cu astel de munti e usor sa gresesti drumul. Tocmai ce faceam cale intoarsa pentru a prinde poteca cea buna.
De Mont Dolent ne leaga amintiri de la prima tura din Alpi e acum multa vreme.
Urcarea spre Grand Col Ferret, surpinzator de ciclabila.
Binenteles orice urcare ciclabila are si exceptii.
Ultima raza de lumina peste Grand Combin.
Degrade
Liniste, fara vant, cald si complet pustiu. Ce poti sa-ti doresti mai mult de la o seara e septembrie?
Sfarsit de zi, inaine de una din coborarile tehnice ale traseului, pe intuneric, la frontala.
Coborarea cu pricina.