This was going to be a warm and somewhat humid day. After breakfast in the Saraishik Hotel, we proceeded to pack our bikes. In hot weather it’s good to leave all your bike gear off until the last minute. I was in shorts and a tee shirt and loving it. It was going to be a hot day heading north toward Astana. We hoped to make it half way by nightfall if possible. After a quick photo opportunity with our new friends Anara and Gulsum, we headed out of the hotel gates and into the side streets of Ainabulak, a suburb in the north of Almaty. The streets were busy as usual. It seems as though everyone owns a car here and uses it to its fullest extent. Filtering down toward the central part of the city, the traffic was getting heavier. Now, we have to comprehend Kazakh city driving here for a moment. It’s basically a mixture of dodgems and some form of martial art combined. Rush hour is barnstorming madness on its third espresso of the morning. Rush hour also appears to last all day. There are probably rules for the road somewhere on paper tucked away in a government building but they must be so secret that only a select few are allowed to read them. We were on motorcycles and that made it even more interesting because as usual, people were shouting questions to us when we were at a standstill….which appeared to be most of the time. I could feel the heat of Twiggy’s exhaust pipe through the thick motorcycle pants on a 36 degree day. I was uncomfortable. As usual, Ulf was in front because his GPS had the street map of Almaty on it. At last we started moving again. It was supposed to be a 4 lane highway here but was being treated as a 6 lane instead. There were horns honking and people swerving wildly in all directions missing pot holes or aiming for pedestrians (another good Kazakh game). We were happy. We had attained the speed of 50kph and air was now circulating through our jackets and cooling us down. Life was good, we were almost out of the heavy traffic and would be heading north to Astana soon.
That’s when I saw the burgundy Honda accord. He wasn’t hard to miss. He was the only car sideways in a sea of cars pointing forward….and he was accelerating toward me…..staring at me as if he were daring me to keep going. I had no option but to keep moving forward. I was surrounded by cars all pointing in the right direction and doing 50kph. Surely this guy must see the error of his ways? How no other cars hit him I will never know…but he hit me pretty hard. Those 2 seconds seem to go in slow motion. This idiot was still staring through the windshield at me as he hit the right pannier on Twiggy. I was now concentrating on getting my right leg the hell out of this situation. I was going to be damned if my leg was going to get broken by a 1980’s Honda! The impact instantly punted Twiggy onto her left hand side at 50kph, the corner of the Aluminium pannier somehow came up and hit me in the right buttock and there was a shooting pain through my back instantly. I went over the bike and slid about 20 metres down the road, coming to a stop in the outside lane to a plethora of Kazakh drivers who relished in this new game of kill the pedestrian. Idiot stopped his car in the centre lane blocking the movement of about 75% of the traffic flow. Twiggy occupied the outside lane, albeit on her side with gasoline leaking from the tank. I needed to get her upright ASAP. Idiot got out of his car to an audience of hostile car drivers who now wanted to kill him too. I pointed at my eyes and then to him as if you say “what part of me, the bike and my headlamp didn’t you see”? He just stood there with his jaw open…and reeked of alcohol. I turned toward Twiggy, this little bike that had carried me over 10,000 kilometres so faithfully and nearly wept at the damage. Lights were smashed, panniers ground down or stoved in and gasoline leaking everywhere. I tried to pick her up but she was too heavy and there was something definitely wrong with my lower back and buttock. That’s when I saw Idiot getting back into his car and drive away…..not before I got his plate number though. I wrote it down on a pad and tucked it inside my jacket. I was going to find a police officer as soon as Twiggy was upright. The Kazakh drivers were almost at fever pitch now. This was good sport! There was a pedestrian AND a stationary bike right in the road. This would be like shooting fish in a barrel! There was no way Ulf could have made it back to me at this point. All he could do was sit a few hundred metres away and wait for me to eventually catch up with him. He never even saw the accident. After bending stuff straight as best as I could, I hopped on painfully and the old girl started up first try. Bless her. I caught up with Ulf, explained what happened and we went down the highway to find a policeman. They’re the guys dressed in blue fattening their own wallets from motorists, remember? It turns out that’s all they do because they sure as heck aren’t interested in dealing with an accident either. Where I come from, if you give a cop the number of the car that just hit and ran, they jump on it…..but this isn’t where I come from. Whatever twisted logic/reasoning they live by prevailed that day. I knew it was time to leave. Time for some open road where I could mentally lick my wounded sense of justice in the solitude of my crash helmet.
We were headed north out of Almaty and on toward Astana, a thousand kilometers away. We aim to try and ride 500kms per day so Astana, the new capital of Kazakhstan would be a two day ride. My lower back and buttock were killing me though. It was difficult to remain in one position for more than 2o minutes. I was shifting in my seat like a bored schoolboy on a sunny day. The city finaly gave way to open desert again with the occasional camel dotted across the landscape. The area is as flat as we’d expected it to be but slowly this gave way to slightly higher ground and a kind of huge lake area that accompanied us to our right for about 300 kms. This lake is as industrial as it comes. There are power lines all over the landscape here, mines operating, large chimneys belching out dark smoke and plenty of police checkpoints to thin out your wallet if you’re not savvy. Pushing on, we saw the landscape change from sandy, barren openness to grassy openness J As usual we stayed in a cheap hotel or motel for the night. These places usually offer secure parking and a uniformed security guard that will “keep and extra eye on your bike” for a few pennies more. Camping here can be done but the land is so flat you can be seen for miles. The last thing we needed was an audience at 1am in this respect….besides, I needed a bed and to stretch this back out, it was not getting any better. The next day was very much the same as before, breakfast, shake hands with the security guard and point out the sleep lines on his face, pack the bike and ride. Until the bike stops. This is exactly what happened just outside Pavlodar at about 2pm. Twiggy just backfired and there was no more go. I coasted to a halt on the side of the road to the customary horn honking from my fellow road users. Ulf carried on up the road as if oblivious to my plight. As usual it was scorching hot so all the bike gear came off and I was in shorts and a tee shirt in moments. Before long I had stripped the bike down and the fuel tank, seat and luggage were stacked on the side of the road too. I almost expected people to stop and see what I had for sale, as is customary in this part of the world when you display all your worldly belongings roadside. Where was Ulf/ There was still no sign of him. I had deduced that there was no electricity at all. This either meant the generator, battery or Regulator had quit on me. I suspected the regulator because it was the only new part I installed before leaving Canada. My luck always goes that way and this was the entire basis of my reasoning. Ulf finally showed up after waiting up the road for a while. Shortly thereafter another bike stopped and before long people were making calls on their cells and would be picked up by a tow truck and driven in to Karagandy, 30 kms away. It was now getting late and we hadn’t eaten but we were at the mercy of the garage that had accepted the bike in for repair. They set about stripping Twiggy down and diagnosing the problem before 10pm. They wanted to talk to us about bikes and we wanted a hotel and food. As I said, be prepared for this when travelling. After a few more phone calls, we had a used regulator being soldered into place. Twiggy started up first go. It was 11pm and we were asked to follow the owner’s car to the location of a hotel in the city. This was an exercise in sleep/food deprivation for us. In the dark, we weaved in and out of side streets, missing giant pot holes and oncoming cars doing likewise. We arrived at F1 motorsports in Karagandy and the owner told us to drop the bikes there for the night and he would drive us to the hotel. Not only was our room really good but the owners of the garage paid for our meal that night. I cannot find the correct term right now to express my gratitude to these guys. Once again we were shown hospitality that knew no bounds. I will be forever in their debt. At 1 in the morning we finally got to bed….my back was still very sore.
The run to Astana the next day was wonderful, we bumped into our friend Ramil. Oh yes, I forgot to mention Ramil, he stopped on the roadside for me when I broke down the day before. He was on a bicycle and is riding from his native Azerbaijan to Japan. As far as we can tell, he’s the first person to attempt this from his home country. Ramil is a wonderful man who is full of happiness and life. He will be my friend always. He is cycling a solid 100kms every day to Japan! Ramil, I wish you God speed!
We didn’t get to see Astana. The bypass took us north away from the city before we reached it. That was good because I am really nervous about riding in cities right now. I don’t need any more damage to me or Twiggy. The landscape turned greener and before long we were seeing rolling hills like that of Dartmoor in the UK. I half expected to see the shaggy mane of a pony once in a while but alas I was thousands of miles away from that speck of familiarity. The Russian border was upon us in hours. As usual, we had to check out of Kazakhstan and in to Russia…..i think you know the long winded procedure by now so I’ll spare you the details but I will state that the Kazakhs were an absolute delight to deal with that day, really.
Back in Russia we were headed for Barnaul or “Barn Owl” as I like to call it. This city is the gateway to the Altai region, a wonderful mountainous landscape that borders the northwest of Mongolia with Russia. Twiggy was thumping along and as usual my thoughts were with that used regulator we installed a few days ago. Would it hold out………?