I chose a bike instead of a partner, the road instead of a basecamp. I chose Krygyzstan. Its intriguing network of old Soviet roads and endless peaks. I had no expectations other than what the guidebook said: Kyrgyzstan, the Switzerland of Central Asia.
Kyle Dempster is one of the world’s most accomplished alpine climbers who has trips to Pakistan, China, south America and the Canadian Arctic under his belt. The Road from Karakol follows Dempster on a climbing trip to Kyrgyzstan in the summer of 2011.
Dempster explored Kyrgyzstan by mountain bike, while pulling a trailer full of climbing kit. In a country where 90% of the territory is above 1,500m and 40% is above 3,000m, that alone is no mean feet.
He had originally intended to make the trip with his girlfriend but after she had to pull out owing to a skiing accident, Dempster decided to make the trip alone.
We use the word suffering way too much. Every adventure has both the light, the dark, the toil, the reward. To experience that alone is to become absorbed by an activity, by a place, by its people. The wall of daily noise, the modern trappings that define our identities give way. Our mental defenses grow thin. You no longer know where you end and the world begins. We become raw. This is why we take the trip. That is what we’ve come for.
For two months, Dempster cycled nearly 1,200 km on roads of varying quality through spectacular mountain scenery, crossing rivers, soloing peaks, passing through abandoned Soviet-era towns and drinking vodka, lots of vodka.
He recorded his journey using a mixture of GoPro and point-and-shoot, filming nearly 25 hours of footage. On his return, what was intended to be a four-minute climbing film was turned, with the assistance of Duct Tape then Beer and an editing process that took about a year, into the 25 minute The Road from Karakol.
The Road to Karakol is an extraordinary journey. It is not a self-aggrandizing video or sponsorship film but a personal record of an adventure where things do not go as planned and where Dempster is prepared to appear naked before the camera (emotionally as well as physically).
The camera is his companion and he shares his thoughts and fears, including a video letter to his family and loved ones, as well as his triumphs. His journey through the deserted valleys and mountains of Kyrgyzstan to rejoin civilisation is a testament to his determination and perseverance. Inspiring and impressive stuff.
Here’s what I believe. Real adventure is not polished. It’s not the result of some marketing budget. There’s no hashtag for it. It burns brightest on the map’s edges but it exists in all of us. It exists at the intersection of imagination and the ridiculous. You have to have faith. It will find you there and when it does, remember there’s just one question. In this life when the road comes to an end, will you keep pedalling?
For more background to this story, read Kyle Dempster’s interview with The Bicycle Story, here, Kyle Dempster’s interview with Alastair Humphreys, here, or visit the film’s website, at www.theroadfromkarakol.com.