Guest article by Lorenz Eimansberger
Bikepacking is not just a sport; it is a way of life, a journey that takes us through breathtaking landscapes and challenges our limits. The Silk Road Mountain Race (SRMR) is one of those epic adventures that fascinates bikepacking enthusiasts around the world.
I first heard about this legendary race over four years ago, and could never have imagined that one day it would take me on a journey through Kyrgyzstan myself.
Before embarking my own bikepacking journey to SRMR, my knowledge of the race was shaped by images and stories from other participants. The first edition of this now legendary race awakened in me a deep longing for adventure and wilderness romance. Last year, after taking part in the Supergrevet Vienna-Berlin, I spontaneously decided to take on the challenge and registered for the SRMR. It wasn't just the race itself that attracted me, but also the opportunity to research my thesis in Kyrgyzstan.
The preparations were intensive. My equipment was carefully selected and I spent weeks training and acclimatizing. But even the best preparation could not prepare me for the breathtaking challenge that the SRMR was to present.
The starting point was high in the mountains and I was standing at over 3000 meters for the first time in my life. The thinner air made itself felt immediately, and I felt how my strength seemed to have lagged behind. To acclimatize, I stayed in the mountains for two days before the race. It turned out to be a wise decision because on the first day of the race I felt amazingly capable. It was surreal to pound the ground for the first 80 kilometers alongside well-known names in the bikepacking scene.
But the happiness didn't last forever. An inexplicable failure of my tubeless valve caused me to stop. I tried desperately to get it sealed again, but without CO2 every effort was in vain. The clock was ticking and as I changed my tube the entire field seemed to pass me by. It was frustrating, but at the same time an incentive to catch up.
When we arrived at the first checkpoint, there was a good atmosphere. Maybe too good, because the commotion prevented me from falling asleep. After just an hour and a half of dozing, we went back into the night. Just in time for dawn, I crossed a snow-glittering 3,800 meter high pass in twelfth place.
The descent was like a dream until a flat tire shattered all dreams. My new tube didn't last long and while I was changing it, Seb Breuer, who I had last seen at the front of the race, suddenly overtook me. The surprise distracted me and I hit a pothole. The second hose was gone and I discovered that both were beyond repair due to long slots. Discouraged, I informed race officials and headed to a gas station and then into town to buy new tubes. Exhausted, I reached accommodation at the end of the second day after the tire operation had taken several hours.
But my determination was undiminished. Extreme altitudes and isolation awaited me over the next few days. The Arabel Plateau required carrying the bike, followed by 100 kilometers of headwinds and numerous river crossings. The valley, long and lonely, seemed magically beautiful. The first night in the tent was freezing and my ultralight sleeping pad failed me. Nothing seemed to hold its breath on this tour! Moderately recovered and with frozen shoes, we continued in the dark. But with the first rays of sunshine, my motivation returned and I drove to Naryn without any further difficulties. I saw familiar faces again and overtook some fellow competitors. After Naryn the path led again into the plateau. My goal was the checkpoint to get a warm place to sleep. But the exhaustion was greater than the motivation, and so I spent another uncomfortable night on my airless sleeping pad.
The next few hours were hard, but the incredible landscape in front of me gave me strength. The checkpoint turned out to be a yurt camp beneath majestic mountain peaks. After the infamous sliding passage and further slabs due to barbed wire, the journey continued through a lonely plain on the Chinese border.
The ups and downs continued, accompanied by impressive landscapes and unexpected mishaps. Every day brought new challenges, but also moments of euphoria and amazement at the beauty of nature.
Unfortunately, a combination of health problems forced me to end the race early. Although I am saddened by the untimely end, I recognize that health is the top priority. The SRMR was a lesson, a journey that pushed me to my physical and mental limits while connecting me with the untouched beauty of Kyrgyzstan.
More than a month later, I am still in Kyrgyzstan writing my paper on sustainable tourism. The SRMR may be on hiatus for now, but the longing for the open road and the highs and lows of bikepacking remains.