First Impression of the Tian Shan and One day til the Grand Depart

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2019 / Kyrgyzstan / The Silk Road Mountain Race / Travel

The last couple days have been eye opening. Tai and I went on an overnight into the mountains to acclimatize (minimally at least) and shake out our legs and gear a bit. We chose a nearby location named Chomkorchak, maybe 30k or so south of Bishkek and only get up to 2500-ish meters.

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Let me first say that the mountains here are just massive. You see the peaks at a distance and their prominance is just enormous. You’ll be looking at a high peak towering above the rest, awetruck, and then another even bigger snow capped triangular peak (like something out of a dream) will reveal itself from it’s cloud sheath. Tomorrow we will summit Kegety pass that will tip the scale at just over 13,000 feet over 28 miles…

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We headed out in slow motion and good spirits. As we got closer to the smaller front range mountains, higher peaks came into view past the river valley we were entering. There will always seemingly be larger mountains than what you already thought was big. We climbed up past more packs of wild horses and livestock than I could accurately recall.

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I can’t stress enough how this is the lightweight version of what we’re about to embark on with the Silk Road Mountain Race.. we kept going up and around switchbacks with a variety of 4x4s and jelopy sedans perilously barreling up and down the gravel road. There is a ski resort and a couple villages villages up this valley so the road is pretty well traveled.

We ended up camping at 1900 meters with a splendid view of the valley we climbed up. We ended up on an animal path just off the road.

The elevation gain and distance we traveled is a fraction of a percentage of what we’re about to experience. In my mind, have a larger goal and eventual destination allows the seemingly unthinkable distance and elevation profiles to be in reach. We will fully embody, eat, sleep, and breathe riding out bikes over the next two weeks. From sunrise to sunset and beyond life will be on two wheels in the mountain wilderness.

I woke up to rain battering our tent in the middle of the night. A taste of what is to come with sleeping at higher altitude in the mountains. The rain lasted thru the night and thankfully eased up close to daybreak as I crawled out of the tent. I emerged into the clouds and got my first taste of what life might be like for the next couple weeks.

IMG_20190815_052857-02i crawled back into the tent and slept for another hour or so until 6am when I emerged again to take this picture when it was light enough.

This is at probably the base elevation of what the majority of the race course will be at. Meaning that when we camp at higher altitudes or when we ride over the high passes the inclement weather would be sleet, snow, or hail, not rain. Hopefully we will not get too many days of inclement weather.

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In hindsight the experience of bad weather is beautiful, but in the moment, riding through a storm can be a serious test of mental fortitude.  I do believe that my many years of working as a bicycle courier in New York has trained me well for the mental aspect of what we’re doing here. I have no doubt in my mind we will experience many storms as we traverse the multitude of high altitude mountain passes of the tian Shan.

Add together all aspects of how we will be tested with self-support along the 1000 miles, 85,000 foot gain route with inclement weather and it is quite the test of ones mental and physical capacity. Food accessibility or lack thereof, harsh conditions for sleep, endless physical challenge of passes, possibility of falling ill, being prepared for anything that might happen along the way…

The Grand depart is less than 24 hours away. I am feeling good. Morale is high, nerves are calm, equipment is (mostly) ready. I am as prepared as I can possibly be. I am ready to simply do what I do best: ride my bicycle.

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IMG_20190814_203225-01I hope to be able to update you here along the way. Stay tuned.

-Cooper

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