The Stans Without a Plan – Part III
Posted on August 11, 2015
Dyna Rae was sputtering and coughing as we climbed into the stratosphere of Tajikistan and despite our efforts, the Tenere still wouldn’t start. Our fading hope was that the blue beast was just suffering her own bout of altitude sickness.
The only place worse to be stuck with a bike that wouldn’t run would have been where we had just come from or where we were about to go. We’d descended from the muddy, creek bisecting, high mountain track to reach the gravelly stability of the Pamir Highway. The trouble was that there was absolutely nothing but mountain wilderness between us and the next town, called Murghab, a 5 hour ride north. Fortunately, there was some kind of outpost nearby with a family living there who let us know that there would be a mini bus coming by that night which could carry Mike and Rebecca to Murghab.
Jamie and I rode off leaving Mike and Rebecca behind, hoping to make Murghab before dark, but we weren’t even close. Within an hour, a storm rolled in and landed on us like a hammer. I was optimistic that we’d outrun it, but it was soon clear that idea was pure folly. Now we were splashing through one track of a deep two track and I could barely see where I was going. I had my visor up to see better, squinting through the million pinpricks of raindrops on my face. The clouds were so dark and thick that it seemed the sun must have already set, but it was still back there somewhere. We should have made camp while we had the chance, now there was nothing but steep slopes of loose scree on either side of the road and the storm only seemed to be gaining intensity. As we rode on I gritted my teeth and cursed my poor judgment that had put us in this spot. There was nothing to do now but continue riding through this high mountain maelstrom and try to stay upright. Finally, after another hour the storm found a break and a flat spot appeared at the roadside. I pulled off the road and exhaled for the first time in an hour.
The Tenere’s symptoms had been disturbingly similar to a failure of the CDI unit that we’d already replaced in Dushanbe. From Murghab, Mike got onto the internet and found that the same shop in Osh, Kyrgyzstan that had found a spring to fit the DR650, may also be able to either replace or repair the Tenere’s CDI unit. Stoked! We just had to get the bike to Osh.
Did you know that you can fit a Yamaha Tenere in the back of a Mitsubishi SUV? We didn’t either. It turns out that with enough convincing man grunting, she’ll slide right in.
After receiving a bit advice about the roads from some friendly Polish motorcyclists coming from the other direction, Jamie and I hit the road for Osh, once again chasing down team Tenere that sped ahead of us.
The ride into Kyrgyzstan was pretty astonishing, crossing 4 high mountain passes and rounding the shores of crystal alpine lakes.
The highest pass was 4,559m (15,285 ft), which I think is the highest we’d ever ridden. While she runs terrible at high speed up at this altitude, she never looses torque at the low end, and since the road was really rough, she rode just fine.
There were a few more creek crossings to negotiate on the way up to the border. They turned out to be pretty easy, but it was hard to tell by looking at them, so Jamie jumped off and hop-scotched to the other side, just to be safe.
There is a 20km section of no-mans land between Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, with a terrible road connecting either side. It’s one of the longest gaps like this I’ve ever been through. Diplomatic relations between the US and Kyrgyzstan must be fantastic, because it was among the easiest border crossings we’ve ever done. No visa needed, no questions asked, just a hearty ‘Welcome to Kyrgyzstan!’ and we were off again.
We didn’t make it far past the border before it was time to find a camp, and Kyrgyzstan didn’t disappoint. We turned off the road onto a track that wound into the hills past widely spaced yurts with flanked by the herders’ flocks of cows, horses, sheep, and goats. This place is like sheep heaven. The Kyrgyz people traditionally lived as nomadic herders, completely outside of cities until the mid-ninetieth century when the Soviet Union came into the picture and collectivism helped to create larger villages and cities. Since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, some have returned to nomadic life and others practice it during the summer months. It feels fantastic up here surrounded by this landscape and the animals, looking over the plain spotted with yurts.
Riding towards a snowy mountain peak, we turned off the track to ride cross-country straight up the grassy hills. The grass was trimmed short by the furry munchers and the ground was solid, so we didn’t really need a track at all. It was like a dream rolling up and down those hills. Once we were far above the yurt settlements, we found a shallow depression in the hills that gave us some privacy from all directions but still provided a clear view of the mountain. The grass felt nice on our feet and the air was cool. It was one of the most epic campsites we’ve had the whole trip.
In the morning we the bounced down from our grassy mountain nest and headed into Osh, where Mike and Rebecca were already waiting for us. Mike and I set off for the MuzToo workshop owned by a Swiss guy called Patrick. MuzToo is exactly the kind of place that travelers like us hope to find on the road. He let’s travelers work on their own bikes at the shop and use the tools, and if you need help he’s a great mechanic himself and mechanic work from his workers comes at a reasonable cost. He managed to find a spring that would fit our DR650 and measured it against a DR650 that he had stored there to make sure it would fit. He also has the most Yamaha XT’s I’ve ever seen in one place – about 35 in total that he uses for his tour company.
I tore into Dyna Rae to extract her noisy, broken shock spring. It’s not too much trouble on the DR, just take out the air box and the shock mounting bolts can be removed. I soon had the beautiful new shock spring, with a slightly heavier spring rate than our current one slid on to the shock and she was about good to go. I was so stoked – after more than a thousand miles with a broken spring through Central Asia and the Pamirs we would finally have a fully functional shock again and Jamie would be getting launched skyward a bit less often. If not for Patrick, we may have been nursing the bike all the way to Vladivostok. If you need help with a bike in Central Asia he’s the man to find.
The guys at the shop got out the multi-meter and confirmed that the Tenere’s problem was indeed the CDI unit. The replacement that Mike bought was used and perhaps didn’t have much life left in it. Unfortunately, this CDI unit was injected with rubber, making it irreparable, and plugging in spare CDI’s from one of the XT’s didn’t work either. Removal of the stator cover revealed that the Tenere’s stator had a couple design differences that meant the CDI units weren’t interchangeable between bikes. Given Mike’s schedule, it would take too long to get another CDI bought and shipped from Europe, meaning that this was the end of the road for Team Tenere. Mike sold the bike to Patrick for slightly less than he had bought it for and that was that.
Mike and Rebecca had gone through so much to make it this far and we were all bummed to have the journey cut short when the Tenere decided she was ready to call it quits.
Mike would fly to Ulaanbaatar from Osh, and Rebecca planned to head back the way we came, running the high altitude section of the Pamirs between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. She needed a way to carry her stuff, and at the time of our departure idea at the top of the list was to buy a spirited donkey at the Osh animal market. I really hope that happens. A lot.
Patrick pointed us towards the best tracks to ride in Kyrgyzstan and Jamie and I headed off north back into the mountains. The roads were very slow going in second gear and we made a wrong turn onto a road that was still being built, which required some backtracking. We were headed to a lake called Song Kul, winding high up into the mountains once again where the air got nice and cool and the landscape looked like paintings on a wall.
At Song Kul we found a symphony of clouds in action, colliding above the lake. We made camp on a grassy plain absolutely filled with cow pies. It looks pretty, but we were literally camping in a sea of manure. The storm that built during the afternoon raged all through the night and we were happy to be snuggled up dry inside of our tent.
The lake basin was vast – much larger than the lake itself and absolutely filled with lush grass. You could probably fit ten times the number of families’ yurts and flocks of animals in this place and they would still barely be able to see one another. Riding out in the morning, the rain was light but persistent as we reached the basin edge to descend a muddy, rutted track back down to lower elevation.
In the capital city of Bishkek, we met up with our friend Mahsa and her riding companion, Charlie. We’d last seen Mahsa in Addis Abbaba, Ethiopia. She’d come a long way since then, riding her Yamaha XT through Oman, Saudi Arabia, Iran and the Stans and was now on her way back home to Spain. But I think she’ll soon be dreaming up the next adventure.
Jamie and I had a long way to ride across Kazakhstan – nearly a thousand miles, so we reluctantly left the comforts of Bishkek behind and got moving again. We wild camped our way across Kazakhstan, finally outrunning the heat after three days of riding. One night camping near a necropolis, we were visited by a pack of wild horses that came right over to have a look at us. Jamie tried to communicate with her best horse whinny and I swear she got a response. As dusk fell, when we should have been making dinner, we just kept staring at the horse antics. Wild horses. Couldn’t drag us away.
Mike flew back to California two days ago and is already back at work. By now, Rebecca should be just about geared up for her traverse of the mountains back into Tajikistan, this time on foot. Her donkey ownership status is currently undetermined.
We’re certainly going to miss having Mike and Rebecca on our wing for the upcoming journey through Mongolia. Between luggage debacles, bike breakdowns, and detainment by a tyrannical regime, they’ve had a full-on adventure the last few months. It couldn’t have been easy to maintain a positive outlook while enduring this little odyssey, but that was what they did. Mike has however threatened multiple times that next year he’s going on a cruise. Via con Dios Team Tenere.