Having nursed Bluey through the Pamir, passed the lakes and up the mountains, Tajikistan (and it’s roads) were finally in our rear view mirror. Though leaving our new found friends didn’t mean arriving in Kyrgyzstan... 20km of no man’s land lay between us and entry to central Asia’s Kyrgy Republic.
Like a stray dog abandoned after Christmas, the roads between counties, left to fend for themselves, are unloved, unkempt and uncared for. Spiralling down the mountain roads towards the Kyrgy boarder requires hard breaking through aggressive cutbacks, high revving through waist deep mud, and hard concentration to avoid the sump-ripping rocks that adorn the middle of these unadopted tracks.
No man’s land passed and Kyrgyzstan entered with only a minor documental frustration (and a handful of friendly machine gun gestures), the roads improved dramatically and we were making time; catching up on our lost day spent repairing (and rerepairing) the now infamous sump guard. Having pumped Rachel full of food, caffeine, and a morally acceptable volume of alcohol she was set to work on the night shift. Ably assisted by first mate Hancock, Rachel was first navigated down impassable rural roads before turning back for the town of Osh where an easier exit northwards lay. The route was blocked by one of the many control gates we’d seen across the Stans. The standard structure of gold-toothed army personnel and queues as orderly as Friday night in Newcastle lay between us and our Northly night drive. Still, playing the tourist card Navigator Hancock got us the front of the queue and in for passport checks. The slow-moving queue here offered the team plenty of time for joviality as we toyed with the concept of how amusing it would be to accidentally cross the Chinese boarder - a moment of sheer panic, an embarrassing explanation of the foolishness of following google maps, and a frantic u-turn later we speeding back into Kyrgyzstan having got 50% of the way into Uzbekistan.
Navigator Hancock, appropriately apologetic, plotted a new course northward; this time avoiding any unwanted border crossing. This route would prove to us that though road names may run consistently through the beautiful, green and horse festooned Kyrgy mountains, the road quality does not. Despite the countless blind switchbacks, the innumerable sump scraping undulations, and occasional road disappearing acts, Rachel powered through to 6am proving herself even more of a machine than our beloved Bluey.
After a brief few hours sleep the team were back on the go and back on track. Well, for an hour at least. But Mr Dwyer had other plans as he decided the ‘scenic route’ would be a much preferable way to traverse the country. Four hours off track, running low on petrol, and with little chance of meeting a planned rendezvous with the Hancock siblings, the team’s spirits were starting to ebb. It was at this point that we hit rock bottom; when a craggy slice of road jumped up against our battered and ailing sump guard. With a gravely groan Sumpy dropped to the floor (again).
However, times of trial and tribulation - when you are in the most need - is when you often see the best of mankind. Charlie (our designated ‘talker-to-strangers’) flagged down a passing cyclist, who in turn helped us limp into the nearest village. Here we found a clutch of the kindest and warmest folk we have ever had the privilege to meet. People who would drop everything to help three struggling strangers; people who would share their food, their tools, and more importantly their home. We left with a wired aloft sump guard, a fresh tank of petrol and a dozen new friends - perhaps poorer in time, but richer in knowledge of mankind’s capacity for warmth.
From there on Kyrgyzstan would prove more manageable, despite the dizzying, poorly cared for mountain rounds we were still to traverse for hours (and the further hours spent trying to find a hotel in the nearest city). The following day we checked Bluey into the car hospital; 4 new tires, two new shock absorbers, new suspension, one repaired (though not replaced) sump guard, and 36 hours later we were set fair for the Kazakhstany border.