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by Charlie Patrickson on 01 Sep 2014 at 06:14
We headed off the next morning, blazing a trail for Almaty; we saw every saved day as one we could enjoy in Mongolia; numerous other teams from previous rallies had described this as their favourite location and we were very much looking forward to enjoying it free of time pressure. All too aware that there was still a border crossing begging to eat up yet another day, we hammered it down the tarmac roads, soaking up the last of the Kyrgyzstan scenery. We passed more snow capped mountains, the silvery glint from fresh water trickling down the mountainside only adding to the glorious backdrop as grassy meadows littered with yurts passed us by. We turned off the luxurious tarmac onto the road leading us directly to the border and after being welcomed became an all too familiar mix of corrugate and fridge sized pot holes we were thankful to be clear of a police outpost without even a hint of a bribe. It is a tragedy that, undoubtedly the straightest policeman in all of Kyrgyzstan, is posted on a tiny little fork in the road leading to the most remote border crossing in the entire country. An hour or so later we approached the final few hundred metres to the crossing and unsurprisingly the road deteriorated further, almost as if trying to deliver a warning that we should absolutely on no grounds consider leaving the country. Every country in central Asia seems to provide this deterrent, fortunately we threw caution to the wind and passed through one of the easiest crossings yet. We were there for all in all about an hour. Although it could have easily taken immeasurably longer as, perhaps unaware that this is not how it functions, Owen came perilously close to depositing the ambulance into the inspection pit.
Once inside Kazakhstan again it did not take long for grassy knolls to be replaced by a more arid landscape. Whilst the mountains persisted they were not nearly as large, and began to look more as if someone had draped a large table cloth over the peaks littering the landscape, with gulleys and valleys resembling creases on the great table of Kazakhstan. Although tempted we decided to press on, favouring a warm shower and bed in Almaty over a windy tent in the hills. With 100km to go, the traffic started to build and the small villages lining the outskirts of Almaty repeated endlessly; we seemed to no longer be accompanied by progress. As the centre (supposedly) drew closer, a lovely, relaxing new grinding sound began to reach us from the front left wheel. Determined to reach Almaty we continued on, despite its unmistakable deterioration. After hundreds of more suburban villages we finally arrived at the familiar hostel in which we had spent our last stay. Although the darkness prevented us from investigating that evening, it was clear that our brakes were the source of the grinding sound.
After an early start, warm shower and cup of coffee the next morning Tom removed the wheel to learn that it was indeed the brakes; the brake pads had worn down so much (due to mine and Toms unsupervised efforts before we departed from Leeds castle, ahem) that given another 50km it would've just been caliper directly on the brake disc. Fortunately our van is far from uncommon in central Asia and so it was a small task to find replacement pads and do a proper job of it. This left us with the afternoon to explore Almaty... once more. We headed outside of the city this time (allowing us to also test the brakes) for Shymbulak ski resort, suggested by the team we had met up with during our previous time in Almaty. Despite a lack of snow, the cable car provided gorgeous views of the surrounding countryside, although it continued to provide them for rather a long time allowing us to discuss in incredible depth a rather astounding number of potentially fatal or hilarious hypothetical scenarios that could befall our cable car. Having to evacuate our bladders out of the 6ft high window in the 8ft tall cable car was one such scenario. Once we had finally reached the top, we found a nice spot for a cool beer before steeling ourselves for the arduous trip back down.
Once back in the hostel we concluded that the loud relaxing grind of the brakes had unfortunately left us, leaving fully functional brakes. A friend we'd made during our last stay informed us that his bike had unfortunately suffered irreparable damage and that this was going to be his last night. After the shambles of our last stay we had decided resolutely that we could not afford another night on the town.
It should be known that the utterance 'Well we'll never be here again' is all it takes to shatter our collective fortitudes absolutely.
Another seemingly early start at 3pm the next day and we were off for the Russian border, our, quite frankly ground breaking, dance moves from the night before just clinging on to the foggiest depths of our memories. The following two days to the border were uneventful, as were passed once again across the Kazakh steppe.
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by Hannah Dickman on 28 Dec 2013 at 07:14
During this very generous festive period team members received the best gifts possible, lots of lovely donations from friends and family :) (and one pretty wicked festive jumper). We're now well on our way to are minimum target of £1000, but as with all charity fundraising we don't just want to meet this target, we want to exceed it. With the new year just around the corner I'm positive we'll achieve this and have a whale of a time doing it.
Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!