The culvert was a bad idea. A constant breeze under road forced us to snuggle so tightly in our sleeping bags that only the tip of our noses felt its chill, but that was enough to make us race out of bed and get going as soon as possible. The problem with going cycling when it is well below zero is that you want to go fast to get the muscles warm. However, the faster you go, the stronger the wind on your toes, fingertips and nose! James and I cycled on ahead until we found a ray of welcome sunshine under which we cooked some porridge to heat up and fuel up for Ak-Baital pass ahead.
The road became far harder than I had imagined. Though the surface remained passable until the final 3 kilometres, the gradient increased to such a point hat we were all in our lowest gear, zigzagging and frequently stopping until the top! I hopped off the bike and walked up one of the peaks next to the pass for a truly awesome panorama and by far the highest point I have ever been just under 5000m.
The way down was far worse than we had hoped might reward us after our efforts. Frozen streams and washboard gravel were the order of the day which left Alex understandably raging. The brain shuddering caused by this kind of road is one we dearly hope not to experience once again.
A rare headwind preceded our arrival to Karakul lake. Majestically appearing progressively more into sight, its shade of blue is superb and far too difficult to capture on camera for our skills to do it justice. Twenty kilometres staring to our left and frequently stopping for pictures unfurled as the view kept on improving and we reached the village of Karakul. We stopped for a late lunch and met a charming couple from Shanghai with whom I was really able to get restarted on my Chinese learning while James and Alex caught some more sleep (you would think eleven hours a night would be plenty?!). We hope to meet them again come December!
Ant: a picture of the best located outdoor gym in central Asia, just for you!