Early days in Armenia – with a sting in the tail..

Aologies for the length of this story but it is an interesting tale.. From Tbilisi we took a local van to Dmanisi, within striking distance of the gravel road border with Armenia. It was a nice ride up an English Beech forest gorge and little traffic as most vehicles take the paved border routes. The crossing into Armenia was painless and we found a small spot off the road to pitch our tent for the night. Some interesting facts about Armenia: It is thought to be the original cultivar of the humble … Continued

Konnecting Kazbegi to Khevsureti

The military road from Tbilisi to Stepantsminda (and on another 11km through to the Russian border) is the funnel through which countries north and south of the Caucasus mountains utilise as it is the only open road border between Georgia and Russia. We were warned how busy it was so we opted for a van ride and joined the traffic with number plates from Georgia, Turkey, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Russia. It was a spectacular 3hr drive but super busy and as our driver said lots of 007, James Bond crazy driving. … Continued

Completing the loop back to Tbilisi

Akhalkaliki wasn’t an inspiring town, our bikes were clean and Alan had had his first jabs so we headed out of town and up to the high volcanic plain that cradled Lake Parvani and was edged by cones, the tallest being Didi Abuli (3300m). It was a fantastic ride following small tracks in big open, green country and we only saw one vehicle before we decided to call an early stop above the lake, near the village of Vladimirovka’s water source. We had passed herds of cows and flocks of sheep tended … Continued

Surprises in the Lesser Caucasus mountains

After a great stay in Kutaisi we sadly forewent another amazing Leyla breakfast for an early start across to the foothills of the Lesser Caucasus to avoid the lowland heat. It paid off and we climbed steadily up to Sairme through cool forest to our first surprise – a full on spa resort – Georgia style, hot pools, outdoor activities, hotels etc. We timed a nice lunch with a massive downpour which luckily passed as the $150 a night resort rooms were not in our budget, instead a steep climb up to … Continued

Pinch me moments (Mestia to Kutaisi)

We are lying in the tent beside the large slit laden Zeshko river, the sun has gone, obscured by the early evening thunder, lightening and rain storm that is upon us. Alan is reading and I am working my pink iPhone hard, choosing and editing photos, uploading to the blog and writing the story. My cheap SIM card and purchased data are locking into the 3G network – impressive! It has been a few days of ‘pinch me’ this can’t be for real moments…back to the story… From Mestia cyclists normally take … Continued

Gamarjoba from Georgia (hello)

We flew out of Queenstown as the sky was filling with cloud spaceships heralding a northwest weather change. It was a short hop to Sydney, 15 hours to Doha followed by a 3hr flight to Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia, nestled in green hills on the banks of the river Mtkvari. Hostel Fabrika, where we stayed a night, started life as a fabric factory and has been converted to large, ubercool hostel. It was a good place to start our trip with lots of room to put our bikes together, English speaking … Continued

Georgia on my mind…

Georgia, GeorgiaThe whole day throughJust an old sweet songKeeps Georgia on my mind  It is June and normally we are on the road by now but we have started a redevelopment on the section here in Albert Town. The small build in the backyard is 90% finished and we made the call to head off regardless (as per normal) and when we get back mid August we will move in so that stage 2 can begin (remove the old cottage that I have been in for 20 years and build a larger … Continued

Notes from a softer Hunt1000 route

Our version of the Hunt was a mix of the 2016 route (as written up on bikepacking.com), with the deviation to Mt Kosciusko (2018 route), a shortcut down to Omeo and a low level diversion to avoid the Billy Goat pushfest. The only section that involved a significant amount of pushing was the steep pitches between Grey Mare and Valentines huts (plus the ‘walk’ off Mt Kosciusko) Most favourite sections were the Jagungal and Pilot wilderness areas Overall we were really impressed with the variety of riding and scenery We were lucky … Continued

Hunt1000 Dargo to Melbourne – part 3

From Dargo the 2016 Hunt1000 route goes up Billy Goat Bluff. There were souvineer badges in the Dargo general store with the slogan “I survived Billy Goat Bluff” and a drawing of a 4WD on a very steep track. For cyclists it is a 7km, 1,100m push up the rough rocky track. Our set up is not race light and we were happy to look at an alternative route to the south. From our riverside camp we took a paved road for 20km then turned off on the Freestone Creek road. It … Continued

Hunt1000 Thredbo to Dargo – part 2

We had an indulgent day of doing nothing in Thredbo, enjoying the comforts of the YHA and eating well. Rain showers came through as predicted so it was nice to be in the dry. Legs were fresh for the climb up the road to Dead Horse Pass – a local had warned us there would be quite a bit of pushing if we followed the river track so we avoided it. We turned onto the Cascade track that lead us through the Pilot Wilderness area. We followed the track up a beautiful … Continued

The Hunt1000 – Canberra to Thredbo – part 1

The Hunt1000 is a bike brevet event from Canberra to Melbourne through the Australian Alps. It has run 3 times now and riders try and complete the route in 8 to 10 days. This years event had a new course and ran in a week of very bad weather and unseasonal snow on the high tracks, resulting in a low number of the 100 starters making it to Melbourne and even fewer following the exact route. We decided to ride it recreationally (read..take a lot more time and take rest days) a … Continued

Final miles in Equador, city time in Quito

With time running out for us we had a few variations of a plan on leaving Quito. We threw bikes and ourselves in the back of a bus heading north to Tulcan, a large town only 10km from the Colombian border. It was pouring down with rain through the afternoon and Tulcan was as appealing as a wet cat.  We found a cheap hostel and dinner and hoped the next day would dawn fine for a departure south. In the morning the cat was dry and vastly more appealing! Before we left … Continued

Cotopaxi Gold

Laguna Quilatoa is a flooded volcanic caldera that is 10km around its crater rim, and 300m deep. It was only a short ride from the party town of Zumbahau and we found it to be very beautiful but boy what a windy and cold place at 3850m. Because it is so scenic, with many hiking options, it is also a tourist hotspot with many lodges, and many more being built. After a night in the small town we tackled a short section of single track around the crater rim before dropping down … Continued

Volcanoes, Vicuñas and Very loud music

We are still having our fair share of inclement weather, Alan is battling a reoccurring bad tummy but in between we are having fun and unique times. I rode and Alan bussed the short hop to Cayabamba and in the afternoon we took the bus to Riobamba to find a cash machine and enjoy some good eating before returning. Riobamba sits at the foot of Chimborazo on it’s eastern side and it makes a formidable backdrop to the city landscape. The weather was clear for the climb up to the Chimborazo Park … Continued

Windy Equador

With rain, mud flows, walls of wind, sandstorms and a night at 4000m in a shepherds choza, we have certainly had an interesting time of it since leaving Cuenca. We left the city of Cuenca on the TEMBR route which after following a mellow riverside track took to the hill suburbs on gravel roads. It weaved it’s way vía steep ups and downs and looking back over our shoulder, at times it felt we weren’t making much headway progress. The reality was that the city extends north a long way. We struggled … Continued

Friendly Equador

It was great to be on our bikes and heading north from Loja, on the Trans Equador Mountain Bike Route (TEMBR). We had a sweet riverside trail to follow to get us to the outskirts of town and then we enjoyed the ride alongside the Rio San Lucas that climbed us gradually to join the E35 highway, better known as the Pan American Sur highway through Equador. It is the main paved north-south road and the route most regular touring cyclists take. Fortunately for us there will only be short interludes on … Continued

Last days in Peru

The attraction of the small village of San Pablo was the walk to the third highest waterfall in the world (actually the 17th, but don’t tell the Peruvians). The total fall height is over 700m but because it drops in 2 falls I think it loses places in the waterfall stakes. Despite low water volume, it was still very impressive. We walked a circuit ending up in a village on the other side of the valley , linking back to our bikes by a ride on a moto-taxi. After lunch we carried … Continued

Making new friends on the road

We had been in communication with Mark and Hana (highlux.co.nz) who were heading south on the same road as our northward journey and we were finding it tricky working out a plan to meet up. They have been on the road for 2 years from Alaska, and are taking the least travelled roads so their final destination at times, is getting further away, not closer. In comparison to their journey we are mere weekend warriors. We eventually worked out a plan to meet in Chachapoyas. We are now on the downhill road to … Continued

The Mummies of Chachapoya

The Maranon river is one of the principle sources of the Amazon river, flowing east from the Andes. To traverse this catchment (heading north) means an exhilarating downhill of 2400m followed by an intimidating 2800m of climbing. The town of Balsas, beside the Rio Maranon, is at a hot, dry 850m. We crested the ridge 500m above Celendin on a cool, cloudy morning. Through the many layers of cloud we could just see the river 2400m below. The road is single lane and paved, so it was a fast & fun descent … Continued

Striking north again

Lady Luck shone us as we searched for a tent that would suffice and not cost too much. There was little in the stores which is surprising as it is a region of much trekking and mountaineering. Julio Olaza runs the only mountain bike company in Huaraz and we had met him when we left tyres for Mark and Hannah (highlux.co.nz) to pick up when they arrived there. Julio’s American brother in law runs Cafe Andino, our favourite haunt, and he had some Marmot tents. We were able to pitch them upstairs … Continued

Low days in Peru…

We looked at the empty harness on the front of my bike in disbelief. The tent was gone, the clips undone… The bikes had been sitting locked together in the locked hostel courtyard, and assured of its security, we had left the tent strapped on the front. Someone had broken in and taken it F..K. Our beautiful wee red casita was gone. I was determined to make a fuss, to get the town talking and to flush it out. Being such a small town there was no policia but someone must know … Continued

Up, down, up … on, off, on days

After our standard town breakfast of tea/coffee and egg buns, we said goodbye to Pomabamba and started our climb up the gorge heading north. Maybe because the roads are so bad people stay put in their villages and so there is not a lot of traffic between. When there is, the most common is the motorbike.  We were spared the heat of the sun climbing thru tall gum forest on the shady side of the valley. At our tea break we watched 4 men relaying long planks of wood down the hill … Continued

No Bull..

We had spent pretty well the whole day cycling uphill, on a road, that when flicking thru a 2002 guidebook in Chavin 2 days previously, was said to be paved, but it most certainly wasn’t and never had been. We had decided to camp at the top of the pass at 4400m as after three nights in hostel rooms we were missing the simple life in the tent. There had been only one car pass all afternoon and on reaching the pass we left the road to look for a campsite. The … Continued

The hard road to Chavin

We could have made it easy for ourselves and biked the shortest route to Chavin de Huantar on the eastern side of the Cordillera Blanca mountains, a paved highway with a tunnel at the high point of 4500m. Instead we took an unpaved route over a 4800m pass further south that undulated at that altitude for a tough 20km before dropping us down to 4100, before climbing again over 3 smaller passes each around 4600m, finishing with a 1600m very rough downhill to Chavin. We wouldn’t recommend the route in the opposite … Continued

More Cordillera Blanca magic

In the 1940’s a glacial lake high above Huaraz burst its moraine dam and sent a wall of water and rocks down 1500 vertical metres to and through the city killing 5000 people. Julio, a local mountain bike guide, had told us that the walking track to this lake (Lago Palcacocha) has been recently upgraded to a gravel road so we were able to bike to the lake from town in 2 short days. It was a nice climb up thru the suburbs then zig zagging up a wide ridge before entering … Continued

A mountain jolly in the Cordillera Blanca range

This time we headed south from Huaraz and we were carrying our accommodation and kitchen with us. If you thought we were travelling light on our foray down Duck Canyon you were right. After 8km on the highway we turned west up the Rajuculta Valley and onto a nice dirt road that we planned to follow for 30km to the lake at the head. This trip was for mountain views and acclimatisation. Huaraz is at 3000m and unlike a lass we met in the hostel who went from Lima at sea level … Continued

A shaky start and a shake down Duck Canyon (Canon del Pato)

Our first morning in Peru we were shaken awake by a terremoto (a trifle terre-fying) as our building shook with the 5.5 earthquake. That on top of arriving in Lima airport sin bicis (without bicycles) was making for a good start to the trip. It seemed Latam airlines were onto our case so we had to trust the system and enjoy not having the hassle of travel with bike boxes to Huaraz. As seasoned Uber travellers (first time was from the airport to our lovely hostel) we filled in the day in … Continued

Getting ready for our next journey

Welcome back….in mid May we are off again back to South America on our bicis – the leaves have mostly fallen here in Wanaka after an amazing autumn and the early snow on the hills is refusing to melt The plan..we fly into Huaraz, the mountain town sorrounded by 6000m peaks that we finished up in back in  2014. After some acclimatisation time we will head through northern Peru to the border with Ecuador and then follow a route, coined the Trans Equador Mountain Bike Route (TEMBR – dirt road version) in … Continued

Thunderstorms, a lost tent and our final pass – Tien Shan #5

The second thunderstorm of the afternoon is hot on our tail and I am keeping an eye out for somewhere to stop and pitch the tent before it is too late. My gaze drops and I am horrified to NOT see the tent strapped to my handlebars as it has been for the last 2 months – holy crap I have dropped the tent, I yell to Alan. An unimpressed silence as we both contemplate riding back through the storm looking for a dropped tent. In our favour is the fact that … Continued

Cool Son Kul – Tien Shan #4

As we pedalled past Ugut we reflected on the last time we were here after following a very muddy shortcut in the pouring rain with Katie, and the amazing hospitality of the two sisters who invited us in and fed us. This time we were dry and clean and had just 17km of repeat road before the turn off at Aktal and across the bridge over the Naryn river. This would lead us back into a forested mountain gorge and an amazing zigzag road up the southern route to the well known … Continued

Naryn to Baetov via Tash Rabat – Tien Shan #3

We finally tore ourselves away from Nomad Cafe after stalking the place for 2 days and headed off up the paved road that eventually led to China via Torugut pass. Refreshingly the road was not busy and from the pass there was a good view of the At-Bashy range of mountains, through which the Silk Road caravans passed to the 15th century caravanserai of Tash Rabat, where we were headed. We coasted downhill for 30kms to the drainage of the huge basin we were in, then started the very gradual climb up … Continued

The Tien Shan Traverse – part 2

Our tent was frosty white when the sun hit it before 6 in the morning. We were looking forward to a big downhill day but sad to be leaving the high country. Switchbacks dropped us quickly to the long Burkhan valley. We sped quickly along this beautiful valley thru grazing sheep and goats, cows, yaks and horses, never a fence to be seen. Our feet never had a chance to dry with the continual dousing in sidestreams. We met 3 Spanish cyclists we had met months back in Tajikistan. They had accessed … Continued

Following the Tien Shan Traverse – part 1

Last summer a small group of bikepackers put together a route that traversed a huge variety of Kyrgyzstan landscapes over 1000km from Lake IssyKul to Bishkek. We were planning to finish our 3 month ‘Stan bike oddesy by following this route they named The Tien Shan Traverse*. Having just completed the first third we can say that the last 6 days biking have been some of the best ever, phenomenal even… the photos below do not even do it justice From our homestay in Kyzyl Suu, it was 5km on the highway … Continued

4 passes to Issykul

Kyrgyz men drive like they are on a race track and they don’t leave a lot of room for cyclists. It was 60km uphill on a busy paved road from Naryn to our dirt road turnoff so we treated ourselves to a 40 min drive. It was worth avoiding and so much more pleasant to be spinning up a small quiet road after the drop off. There were permanent farm cottages in the lower section of the valley, abandoned temporarily for the summer jailoos, or higher grazing lands. The winter stockyards are … Continued

And then there were three

We ended up spending a few days longer in Osh than planned as tummies went on strike again. When we left we organised a taxi ride 200km east to avoid some hot, boring riding out of the Osh basin and to gain 2000m up to the top of a pass – lazy, I hear you say! For this leg to Naryn we were joined by Katie from Durango in the US, who we met in the arrivals area of Dushanbe airport on day 1. She is a super strong cyclist and was … Continued

Stuck in No Man’s Land

We are in a small cold corrugated shed that is the Tajikistan border immigration office. Looking out the small dirty window we watch the snow falling heavily and inside the immigration officer is clearly very uncomfortable with the fact that our printed evisa sheet of paper does not have a Dushanbe (Port of Entry) stamp. He keeps showing us his pile of tourist evisas that are all dutifully stamped and he cannot see how he can let us go. To his credit he is not asking for a bribe, he is just … Continued

Bound for the border

Despite the strong tail blowing us to Murghab, we were not quite so lucky heading away from Murghab. It was the first time I considered putting music on to deal with the long straights climbing ever so slightly and with the tedious head wind. Alan was struggling with the day until after a restful lunch by a clear creek. We were aiming for the last known water source about 20km before the highest pass of the trip, Akbitail Pass at 4600m. When the river we were following dried up we turned back … Continued

A kefir bomb and rejoining the Pamir highway

We met cyclists coming in the opposite direction with tales of the worst road ever. Some had pannier racks being held together by cable ties, one had major disintegration of his wheel and some opt for a taxi ride to avoid the terrors of the Wakhan road and Kargush pass. We were peddling along waiting for the road to deteriorate. We did have the advantage of fatter tyres, and we were not carrying the kitchen sink, and we have a high benchmark for what constitutes rough as we tend to seek out … Continued

The Wakhan Corridor

From Khorog we followed a route along the edge of the Wakhan corridor. The corridor is a thin strip of land belonging to Afghanistan which separates the former USSR ruled Tajikistan and the British Empire ruled Indian sub continent, specifically what is now Pakistan. The river forms the northern border of the Wakhan Corridor and the mighty Hindu Kush mountain range the southern border. At its skinniest the Wakhan Corridor is about 20km wide – end of today’s geography lesson! For the first 2 days we ascended slowly thru gorge country to … Continued

Maysara Pass, return to Khorogh along Pamir Highway

‘Hand on the heart Tajikistan’ sums up one of the lovely gestures we get as we ride along past people. The right hand is placed over the heart as a sign of respect. We experienced it early on from children and wondered if it was a ‘respect for elders’ gesture but no it works for anyone to anyone. I guess it is a stronger statement than a small nod of the head and it is easy to reciprocate while riding. Back to the Shakdara story… It was a cruisy ride back to … Continued

Breathtaking and breathless up the Shakdara Valley

We had our eye on a 5-6 day loop out of Khorogh that few cyclists do and would take us under the high peaks of Karl Marx (6700m) and Engels (6500m) and over a 4100m pass. A friend Pat Deavoll had climbed both peaks on a climbing trip in the area last year and recommended the trip up the valley as well. The Shakdara river flows into Khorogh so from the Pamir Lodge it wasn’t far to where we started peddling up alongside its continuous whitewater. There were many villages alongside the … Continued

To Khorogh and a pleasant break

We are so impressed with Tajikistan so far. It is a Muslim country but is very moderate. We have seen few mosques and the the president has banned the Call to Prayer perhaps in an effort to reduce fanatical muslimism. Women do not seem oppressed and not all wear head scarves. It is presently Ramadan but it does not seem to be strictly enforced. People are smiley and welcoming. The children rush out onto the road and with big grins want to score a hand slap from cyclists cruising by, rather than … Continued

Biking the closed northern route to Kalaikhumb

There are 2 routes to Khorog- the southern route is 100km longer and goes thru lower hotter countryside. The northern route is presently closed to cars because of 2 bridge washouts and goes through the mountains, but it was not guaranteed we could get through. We liked the sound of another closed road so we headed that way. As is our MO we were cycling out of Dushanbe before 6. The day got hotter and windier and we only made 50km before we gave in to the climatic conditions and found somewhere … Continued

First taste of Tajik peaks

17 hours on a plane was a record for both of us. That got us to Dubai and then we had 17 hours on the ground before our flight to Dushanbe, the capital of Tajikistan. It was near 40 degrees in Dubai and riding the air conditioned public transport helped kill some time. We were blown away by how built up the city is, tall towers all trying to outdo each other in height and architecture. The tallest building in the world is there, a spire reaching higher into the sky than … Continued

Riding the Stans..

We are off to pedal two of the ‘Stans in Central Asia, formerly USSR. We fly into the capital of Tajikistan and out of the capital of Kyrgyzstan 3 months later. Part of our route is along the border of Afghanistan, a mere river crossing away. We expect dry, desert conditions in Tajikistan, with high mountains,  high plateaus and passes over 4000 metres. In contrast Kyrgyzstan (the Switzerland of Central Asia) will be a lot greener whilst biking in the Tien Shan mountain range. In contrast to previous trips communication will be … Continued

A chocolate box finish

We were warned by those heading south that the views were going to be stunning on the last days of our trip – and they were right. Sadly many south bounders had to tolerate bad weather thru this northern section but in the style we were accustomed to, we had good weather and no rain while riding. From Elkford we had a long ride up the Elk valley – it was a roller coaster of a road adding extra climbing to an already uphill day. Our reward was a gorgeus lakeside camp at … Continued

Canada – big mountains, big mines and big tyres

From the Canadian border north there are two options – the alternate, lower route that goes thru Fernie or the main route that tackles 3 significant passes and traverses thru the Flathead mountains – said to have the highest concentration of grizzlies in North America. Many Dividers go for the Fernie alternate (for obvious reasons) but we had the time (and the bear spray) to take the longer route. A couple of miles after our passports were stamped we turned off the highway and started the 1500m steep climb up to Galton Pass – … Continued

Eureka – only 6 miles from Canada

Just before the town of Bigfork we were befriended by motorcyclist Steve, who lived up the road in Whitefish and offered us a spot on his back lawn to pitch a tent when we got there the next day. Whitefish is an old logging town turned ski resort/summer lake destination so it was nice to stay with a local. Ski instructor/assessor and ex-cycle tourer Steve was kind enough to get up early and cook us breakfast to see us on our way up and over our next high point, Red Meadow pass. … Continued

Beating the bears to the berries

We have been enjoying some lakeside camps – Coopers Lake, Lake Clearwater, Seeley Lake and Flathead lake and they have varied from no people, no lakeside houses, no motor boats to lotsa people, privatisation of the shoreline and motorboats. At Lake Clearwater I was introduced to huckleberries which is a major food source for the bears – the berries are similar looking to a small blueberry but with a much stronger flavor. We wonder why we bother hanging food when we are camped in close proximity to huckleberry patches, but we do … Continued

The kindness of strangers

After our holiday in Bozeman we were ready to spin the wheels again. With forecasted bad weather we had a big day to Park Lake. Starting on paved roads, gravel roads followed for the first climb of the day. Then down  into the old mining town of Basin for chicken and taco soup, followed by apple pie – doing it hard, I hear you say… We headed up our second climb with threatening skies and the road deteriorated to a fun track around Lava mountain with a few pushes and then a great 4 mile … Continued