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.
Camping in the desert is one of the most incredible experiences you can have. We set up under this solitary tree with the most perfect night sky imaginable, knowing there was not a soul for miles besides the desert foxes. You have to check your boots for scorpions in the morning but other than that it’s the most peaceful experience in the world.
I have been a sucker for a motorbike adventure ever since reading Zen And The Art Of Motorcycle Maintenance during my first trip to south-east Asia after finishing school. What finally inspired me to get my licence though was watching Long Way Round and later reading the book that had inspired Ewan MacGregor and Charlie Boorman, Jupiter’s Travels by Ted Simon. I have yet to make a longer trip but, until I do, I’m always happy to read about someone else’s.
This article from TravelStories follows Archie Leeming and two friends as they journey from Edinburgh to Cape Town by motorbike. The article is a breathless account of their 10 month trip but describes enough of the rides through snow, deserts and across mountains, nights spent camping, border and river crossings and encounters to convey a real sense of the excitement of the journey and the physical exertion of riding in tough conditions. The text is accompanied by some great images.
The climate proved to be as turbulent as our bowels for the first few months in Africa.
A lads’ own adventure, this trip is reminiscent of Ewan MacGregor and Charlie Boorman’s second venture, Long Way Down. The difference is that Leeming and his friends had little money, no particular mechanical skill or specialist kit and one of the group even lacked riding experience.
They made up for this with a mix of naivety, optimism and enthusiasm, almost unexpectedly finding themselves on their bikes in Africa, demonstrating that John Steinbeck may have been onto something when he observed, “we do not take a trip, a trip takes us”.
For some reason the story ends unexpectedly in Namibia but, if this article isn’t inspiration enough, be sure to have a look at the images of Archie Leeming’s other motorcycle adventures on Instagram or at www.archieleeming.com.
When I’m stuck in the city, chasing deadlines and dollars and other men’s dreams, I often wish I could escape to something different…I say to myself, imagine this: I could jump on the sleeper train tonight, fall asleep in London and wake up in the massive silence of the mountains. Imagine that. I really could do it. And so I do.
Bothies are essentially small, basic and often remote huts, cottages or shelters. There are no mod cons but the 100 or so bothies maintained by the Mountain Bothies Association provide wind and waterproof accommodation. No charge is made for their use but visitors are asked to respect a simple set of rules: The Bothy Code.
The best bothies are the remote ones They are hard to access, hard to find and all the better for that. Its the way there that matters; the harder it is the more worthwhile the journey.
The article is nicely written and is enticing and vivid in its descriptions of the scenery and solitude. The video is the perfect accompaniment, giving more background as to what bothies are about and with beautiful video of the Scottish scenery. Both make it easy to see why Humphreys feels the way he does about bothies:
I hope to keep making journeys to the wilderness throughout my life. I don’t need to head to the ends of the earth these days. I don’t need to be gone for months on end. Something as small as returning, again and again, to a favourite bothy is all I need.
After reading and watching these, it is almost impossible not to start to plotting your own bothying get away.