Friday morning at 5 am I arrive in Bishkek. When the bike doesn't show up I don't get nervous at first, but then I start to worry. A little later it is certain: the bike got lost somewhere in transit. For me a world collapses, all the preparation of the last 6 months just for nothing?
Depressed, I take a taxi into town to the guesthouse and first get some sleep. Later I go to the race check-in and say that I probably can't start at all. But in case it shows up in time, I'll take care of all the formalities.
In the afternoon I call the airport. I am promised that it will come with the morning flight.
Day 1 (100km, 2313m vertical, 8 3/4h)
At 4 o'clock I get up and drive to the airport. But the bike didn't arrive. But in the afternoon it will be here they promise. Damn. And so I ride back to the city without having achieved anything.
At 9 o'clock I go to the start of the race. I could cry when I see the 137 riders starting while I am forced to watch.
In the afternoon I am back at the airport. This time the bike is really there. I quickly return to the guesthouse, assemble, pack, change clothes and finally I'm on my way to the start. It's at a viewpoint above the city. The way there is already a bumpy one. At 6pm, 9 hours after the official start, I am finally on my way.
As soon as I ride the negative is forgotten. I'm just happy to be able to ride after all. Thanks to the late start I even miss the first rain and snow shower, instead I ride into a beautiful sunset.
Actually, I had planned not to ride at night. But now, of course, I want to catch up with the field as quickly as possible. I have to reach checkpoint 1 in 3 days. So I ride fully motivated into the night. Here on the still good road the only disadvantage is that the dogs are now even more aggressive. After the first hill I get to the start of the Kegety valley. Here the long ascent to the pass of the same name begins. Until 2 o'clock in the morning I ride and then I have reached about half the height. I have already caught up with the first riders. I am more than satisfied when I set up the tent and fall asleep shortly afterwards.
day 2 (105km, 2650m vertical, 13h)
After only 4 hours I get up again and continue. I have no problems getting up the climb to the pass. When I reach the Kegety Pass it starts to snow slightly. Carefully I push the bike down the first turns until I can finally ride again.
Soon I am down in the valley and the ascent to the next pass already starts again. The last part is quite steep and I realize that this was already a lot of vertical climbing today. At the top it starts to snow again. This time however really heavily. Together with a strong headwind it quickly gets very cold. It just want to get down as fast as possible. I ride until it gets dark at 9 p.m. and then set up the tent.
Day 3 (168km, 1998m vertical, 14 3/4h)
With the sunrise I continue. An easy route for the next 70km: a steady descent. But the road is such a terrible condition that I soon feel every single bone. Down below there is a small town and the first opportunity to buy something.
In the following climb I have a terrible headwind and a long dusty construction site. I am happy when I can finally leave the main road. When it gets dark I am at the beginning of the climb up to the Song Kul. I want to do that today so that I reach the checkpoint on top in time. The upper half is too steep to ride and so I push the bike up the many hairpin bends in the dark. On the last straight a horseman catches up with me. Together we are happy when I finally reach the top at 11:00 pm. But he does not quite understand that I do not want to come with him to his warm yurt but instead want to camp right here...
Day 4 (154km, 2168m vertical, 14h)
Beautiful ride along the Song Kul and at at 10 a.m. I reach the checkpoint and get my first stamp. I eat something and soon continue. A short climb up to Molo Ashuu Pass and then a fast downhill with many hairpin bends. In the valley a few quiet km on a good paved road to Baetov. The last chance to buy something for a few days, so I fill my bags.
Then it is back on bumpy tracks and the long climb to the next pass starts. Exactly when it gets dark I reach the top and put up my tent there.
Day 5 (171km, 1844m vertical, 13h)
In the valley between the two passes there is surprisingly water, so I wouldn't have had to take so much with me. After the fast descent I hit the main road up to the Torugart Pass. It is the longest stretch on good asphalt in the whole race. But I'm not making good progress. The many hours on the bike in the last days have left their marks. My butt and my back hurt extremely. I can only ride short stretches and need a lot of breaks. A bad day, I suffer terribly.
At the Torugart Pass there is surprisingly a shop open where you can buy drinks and snacks. So he is already surrounded by several riders when I arrive. After the customs it leads into a lonely valley along the Chinese border. At times a very badly corrugated track and I am happy when it finally gets dark and I can set up the tent.
Day 6 (146km, 1588m vertical, 13h)
The back's a little better now. Ride to Checkpoint 2 which I reach at noon. Then comes the steepest pushing section of the race. About 300 vertical meters on the 30-40% steep path. I already know the track, can adjust to it well and have the feeling that I'm flying up there. As a reward there is a great single trail down into the valley. In the afternoon I ride up a pass with a bad headwind. 40 km before Naryn it gets dark. Unlike most other riders I don't continue to reach the city, I sleep just as well here.
Day 7 (152km, 2225m vertical, 13h)
Naryn is quickly reached and I do some shopping and eat in a restaurant.
When I start again the sun is burning mercilessly. The first 50km from Naryn are a tedious ride and I am happy when the valley finally gets narrower. From here on there are more climbs, but the valley is beautiful and the ride is much more entertaining. Over a steep pass we make a detour into a lonely side valley. At sunset I camp at a great place at the river.
Day 8 (143km, 1628m vertical, 12 1/2h)
Damn it's raining! Reluctantly I put on the rain clothes and then start. The track often crosses meadows right now. These now quickly turn into muddy paths and a few times I have trouble getting through and the wheels are getting jammed. The already long valley stretches even further. After lunch the rain finally stops. Now I have to climb up the steep hairpin bends to the Arabel Pass. On top the weather is wonderful again and there are great views of the surrounding mountains. But within a few minutes it starts to snow out of nowhere. There are only about 8 km left then the long descent to Issyk Kul begins, so I continue. The snowfall has become a blizzard. Exactly from the front wind and snow whips into my face. I hardly see anything anymore. It seems to take forever before the road finally tilts down. The normally good road has turned into a mud bath. I ride down 2500m on it. When I arrive below everything is completely covered with a thick layer of dirt. Fortunately here is Checkpoint 3 where I can clean myself and the bike. I enjoy the first shower since the start and would like to fall asleep right there.
Day 9 (102km, 3370m vertical, 14h)
Before we get to the actual hurdle of the day, the Tong Pass, there is a small hill. So it happens that at the foot of the 2200m long climb I already have accumulated 1200m. Will I still be able to get up there? The path is steep from the beginning and from 3200m onwards I can no longer ride because it is too steep/blocked. The last 400m I have to go up a gravel slope on completely buried hairpin bends. Shortly before the pass there is ice and snow at an exposed spot. Now concentrate. When I finally reach the top of the pass at 4018m the sun is setting. An absolutely magical moment, how all the glaciers and mountains shine in the sinking sun. Of course I can't stay up here, so I continue down in the dark. The way is so blocked that I have to push the whole way down to the valley floor. When I have to ford through a rather wild stream in the complete darkness shortly before I reach the bottom of the valley, it's enough for me. On the next flat spot I set up the tent.
Day 10 (172km, 969m vertical, 11h)
Looks like an easy stage today, actually. Only a small pass, but many km over bad washboard tracks. At 6 p.m. I am in Kolchor. Actually I would still have 3 hours to ride, but I am exhausted and decide to stay here in the city today and hopefully recover a bit. The last days are supposed to be the most difficult...
Day 11 (93km, 2790m vertical, 13 1/2h)
Well rested, I start early the next morning. On a good track I climb up to 2500m. But from here on I have to push the notorious 20km hike a bike over Shamsi Pass. Especially the middle part is extremely exhausting, because everything is blocked here and getting through by bike is very exhausting. It's easier further up, it's just a sandy scree field. The other side is similar: steep sand at the top and blocked tracks at the bottom. I am happy when I can finally ride again. There are still some deep fords to cross. Down below the route makes a hairpin bend and leads immediately so steeply uphill that only pushing is possible. Fortunately it gets dark on top of the hill and I am dropping exhausted in my sleeping bag.
Day 12 (133km, 2584m vertical, 13h)
2 more short but steep hills follow before a long descent. That deep down I have never been before and here the sun burns brutally. When crossing the main road in the heat I somehow do not feel like cycling up again, especially in the heat. But when I'm in the valley that changes fortunately. It is a beautiful valley and now with the setting sun in the back it is very special. As far as possible I ride up to the last pass and camp.
Day 13 (83km, 1640m vertical, 9h)
Another 20km into the valley, then the route turns south into the mountains. It is an old road which is good to ride, but now it is buried every few hundred meters by big boulders. At some point there is no more way to cycle anymore and I am again pushing around and over all the rocks. Shortly before noon I made it: I'm on top of the last pass!
Of course I can't just ride down now, that would be too easy. Many landslides follow over which I have to push or carry my bike until I can finally sit in my saddle. But the track is extremely washed out here. I don't care now, I'm riding down towards Issyk Kul like a fool. There it is still 20km along the shore and then I have reached the finish line. I am exhausted but incredibly happy. I needed 12 days and 6 hours (including the 9 hours because of the late start) for the course (rank 27), I am more than satisfied, especially considering that I hardly rode at night.
The race was hard and brutal, sometimes really brutal. Nevertheless I enjoyed the ride and it was really fun. For me it was new to spend so many hours a day in the saddle, to push my body to the limit for such a long time.
I liked best the really extreme situations, the partly impossible rough slopes over the very high passes, the snowstorms up there and then as a reward these magical moments when I stood on top and could marvel at this incredibly wild and beautiful mountain world.
The difficulty of this race is not so much the pure numbers: 1700km and 27'000 vertical meters. It is rather the complexity of so many aspects: the many hike a bikes, the often extreme weather (between snowstorm and 40 degrees heat), staying healthy (food and fatigue), having the right equipment and no defects (or being able to fix them), long grueling washboard tracks, the remoteness and having enough (but not too much) food and water with you, the planning of the race (how far and for how long should I ride every day, so that I can keep this up for almost 2 weeks) and finally it is of course a question of mind that I can motivate myself over such a long time every day to go far beyond my own limits.
In the 7 months before the race I covered a total of 170,000 vertical meters (with skis, on foot, by bike). The legs were perfect. But I should have trained my back better during the training, that would have saved me some pain.
Bike and equipment were tried and tested several times and did not cause any problems. Nothing too much, nothing too little. No defects on the bike.