“Cross Kyrgyzstan by mountain bike,” Dan said. I laughed and carried on hiking my bike up a scree slope being battered by gale force winds in the Torres Del Paine National Park in Chile. We were on an exploratory trip in the southern-most part of South America, and already Dan was sowing the seeds of another, even wilder adventure… because he knew I was a soft touch when it comes to an adventure!
When asked what they know about Kyrgyzstan, most people come up blank. It is a little-known country trying to shed its recent history of Russian rule and the negative view the western world has of the ‘stans’. A name change to the Kyrgyz Republic, better tourism infrastructure and daily flights from Turkey are all helping to open up ‘Kyrgyzstan’ to the rest of the world.
That said, the country is at the early stages of development, Bishkek and Osh are fairly standard modern cities, with a little of Asia thrown in for good measure. But step outside the cities and venture into the mountains and all that changes. Farmers are still working their land by hand, families are still baking bread in communal ovens in the middle of their village, roads are rustic and horses are the favoured mode of transport for any self-respecting family.
Over the past year we had been planning this adventure, to ride, carry and push our mountain bikes from a remote valley not far from the city of Osh, aiming to get as far up the imposing and impenetrable Lenin peak as we could manage. This was a ten-day expedition that would see us doing a 9 hour hike-a-bike, crossing a number of passes over 4000m, washing in ice cold mountain streams, sleeping in guest houses that are little more than a floor with a rug, dodging afternoon rains, being covered in and eating a lot of dust from the tyre in front of you, all of this while being supported by seven horses and their expert handlers who were thankfully carrying all of our overnight kit.
The team consisted of Red Bull riders Tom Oehler and Rene Wildhaber, local fixer Dmitry Kalinyuk, videographer H+I’s very own Douglas Tucker and adventure photographer Dan Milner, all pulled together for this special trip by yours truly. It was unusual for me to be setting out on an adventure that wasn't a new-tour-scouting mission, which also made it a bit special. It was adventure purely for adventure's sake.
More of Dan Milner's incredible shots from Kyrgyzstan can be found on the H+I Adventures website.