In July 2016 we headed to Kyrgyzstan to rediscover our former nomadic life and explore the Alay-Pamir mountains between Osh and Tajikistan.
That first day in Osh we constructed our bikes and a familiar species of bicycle nomads emerged from their bunks to watch. I was embarrassed by the shininess of our bikes, the cleanliness of our clothes, our recently cut hair and our pasty skin. These transcontinental cyclists are our tribe, we used to look like them with their patched clothes, razor sharp tan lines and lack of schedule. They return to their routines, the routines of a cycle tourist on a day off. They wash their clothes - sun faded and mended. They clean the moving parts on their bikes and extinguish the squeaks that have sprung up that week. They cook huge vats of stew - anything but plov, anything but the local food! The zip-lock bags they store their sugar, milk powder and tea are painstakingly washed up and hung out to dry. It is all so familiar to us and after a week in Kyrgyzstan our nomadic routine started to return:
We find a flattish patch of ground when our legs will no long spin or the view is particularly good. Neil unfurls the sleeping mat and inflates it with 20 breathes.
I construct the multi-stove fuel and pump it 20 beats.
Neil releases the sleeping bags from their compression sacks.
I ignite the stove and get the water heating.
We both unload our panniers and secure our little luxuries into the elasticated pouches in the walls of the tent - a headtorch, a book, toiletries, a bic lighter and a spoon. Everything meticulously finds its place, the same as the previous night and the several 100 of times we’ve made camp. The sagging panniers or more recently bikepacking bags are stacked in the porch until morning.
Come morning Neil stuffs the sleeping bags away.
I slide the stove back into its plastic box.
A wrinkled young lady with sparkling eyes stops at our tent, peers in nodding her approval at our sleeping mats and bikes then with a disgusted look shaking her head at the porridge we are shovelling down she points to her tent down the valley and says “zavtrak?” which we know is Russian for breakfast. We cycle a few hundred metres downhill and find ourselves sat cross legged in her tent. Bedding is stacked in the corner, a fire burns outside with a large wok heating above it. A torch, a toothbrush and a spoon are stored in a web of colourful straps that keeps their yurt together. Not that dissimilar to our tent really, everything in its right place - only we don’t store bowls of gristle in the corner of our tent, congealed and waiting to be reheated. After proving our Russian not to extend much beyond knowing the names of the meals and numbers and our Kyrgyz to be even worse and having grinned and made lots of faces they continue on with their nomadic routine - herding sheep and goats into the high pastures….
…..and we continue ours - pedaling off down the track.