Unexpected Highlights from the Silk Road Mountain Race
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Last year, Jon Woodroof was one of the nearly 100 competitors who took on the inaugural Silk Road Mountain Race. As riders now make their way through this year’s second edition, we asked him to share some of the highlights from his trip, so anyone doing the race—or considering doing it—might know what they could encounter in the high alpine of rural Kyrgyzstan.
Snow Leopard Skull on the Kegeti Ascent
We saw plenty of wildlife on the course last year, but no one caught a glimpse of this extraordinary predator. As racers dash through the remote corners of Kyrgyzstan, I know they’ll each come across rare and unique sights. Somehow, Max, Justin, and I were the only ones to spot this carcass.
An alpine lake in northern Naryn Province, Song Kul lies at an altitude of 3016 metres and has an area of about 270 square kilometres. Finally conquering the steep ascent to see this mountaintop lake, which is so big that seems like a sea in the sky, is a sight I will never forget. I arrived at CP1 only 30 minutes before the cut off, after a gruelling 91-km day in which I had to hike my bike for hours. At the start of the race, I thought I’d arrive days early.
The moment I saw this on a school near Baetov, I knew it had to be. That was the moment I really felt I could finish the race. The dancing wolf caught my eye and touched my spirit. Not every bike-packing racer digs tattoos, I know, but appreciating local art is something every cyclist should try to do.
The China–Kyrgyzstan Border
This washboard gravel section along a pretty hotly contested boundary between the two countries is a tiny fraction of China and Kyrgyzstan’s 1,063-km border. Cycling alone between the watchtowers and barbed-wire fences is enough to make you contemplate the implications of geopolitical quarrels though. In fact, this section was supposed to change for 2019, but some new Chinese border regulations mean that this year’s racers have to stick to this solemn stretch.
This relaxed and exceptionally welcoming nomadic sheep herder’s tent was the last place I slept during the Silk Road Mountain Race. With no shared language between us, we still managed to trade stories, compare tattoos, and become friends in one evening. Thank you, Ramir. The views in Kyrgystan are uniquely awe-inspiring, but the peaceful and content people I encountered along the ‘road’, with their inspiring warmth and hospitality, is what sticks with me the most. With so little, and yet still enough, they are ready to share whatever they have with a total stranger. We could all learn from them.