Posting Aug. 21, 2017—Running out of gas seemed very unlikely the day we bypassed Kazakhstan’s capital, Astana, and continued on a ring-road around the city. Dave and I had ridden roughly 300 km (185 mi) over the last few hours and had passed gas stations frequently, so it didn’t seem far-fetched to believe there would be many along the main highway stretching north out of the city to the border with Russia.
This was true. There were many gas stations. Too bad most of them were closed due to construction of a brand new highway.
My stock tank holds 16 litres and in Switzerland, Dave installed a Camel Tank that had been sent to us from the company in Canada, which added another 7 litres. In total I could now carry 23 litres of fuel and Dave 24. We also each carry fuel bags that compress when empty. Dave has two that can hold a total of 10 litres and I have an 8 litre one. With average speeds of about 100 kmph (60 mph), we can push our fuel consumption to roughly 450-500 km (280-310 mi) on a tank, not using the extra fuel bags and not accounting for what’s left in the reserve tank after the low fuel light comes on. This range is dependent on average speeds and head winds.
When we left in the morning on July 17, we filled our tanks and enjoyed a much-needed ride through a forest leading to the lake we were hoping to get to the night before. The site would’ve been OK but it was the ride through the forest that was the best part. Not since we’d left Austria almost three weeks earlier had we seen anything close to a curve in the road and although it was raining, that only brought the sweet smell of the pine forests to our noses that much more intensely.
This natural area wasn’t for long enough though and we soon found ourselves riding a huge freeway heading toward Astana. My fuel reserve light came on earlier than usual—at around 335 km (220 mi)—as we had been riding freeway speeds and it was pretty windy. I told Dave we needed to find the next gas station, which was closed so we continued on. We passed more closed stations along the way and started to get nervous. Dave emptied the 1.5 litres of fuel we carry for our camp stove into my tank and that gave me some wiggle room but not much. I watched the miles add up. As I bought my bike in Alaska, it tells me info in miles and Fahrenheit. The little screen on my dash was telling me I was now 25 miles into reserve. We were riding through far less populated areas passing nothing but small villages and eating tons of dust from the road construction.
We came to a Y-junction. There was a guy was standing by the road talking on the phone. We pulled over and asked him where the nearest gas station was.
”Where you came from, about 3 km (1.8 mi) back.”
We said that gas station seemed closed when wed passed by but he insisted it was open.
We were using our translation app to communicate with him, which is already time-consuming and usually inaccurate. Add into the mix the guy’s phone kept ringing mid-sentence and he’d stop using the app to answer it. Things were getting confusing.
It would drink up more fuel but we had to assume the guy was right about the closer station being open. The next station was 35 km (20 mi) down the road in the direction we were going and the guy said it closed at 6 p.m. It was 5:15 p.m. and I was 40 miles into reserve. Dave’s fuel gauge still hadn’t clicked into reserve. I found it hard to understand the extra one litre capacity he had would give him that much more range but we didn’t have time to think about it.
We turned to go but now the guy was intrigued by us and asked where we were from. I shut off my bike sighing and Dave told him Canada. He grinned and said cannabis? in a low voice, making smoking gestures with his fingers. We shook our heads no and he didn’t waste any more time with us, jumping into a car that had suddenly appeared in the intersection and driving off.
Dave and I rode back to the gas station we were sure was closed. It was more like 7 km (4.3 mi) back. Things looked more promising this time as there were other cars now at the pumps. As we rode in a guy yelled making gestures to leave as there was no fuel. He was telling everyone that. People were pulling in left, right and centre as they saw others at the pumps and assumed the station was open, but it was just a circus show of about a dozen vehicles. No one was actually fueling up. The man and a lady inside were annoyed so many people were pulling in. But we wondered why they didn’t just lock the doors and go home?
Now we had burned through an extra 14 km (8.5 mi) of precious fuel and 15 minutes off the 6 p.m. curfew for the next station down the road. If it even had fuel. We could only keep riding down the road. Eventually there had to be a station. I suggested to Dave to ride ahead. If he could make it to the station in time, he could fill his bike then our extra fuel bags and ride back to wherever I was stopped. When he rode off I had a sinking feeling. I’d forgotten to give him my extra fuel bag. What if 10 litres wasn’t enough for my bike on his return to get me to the next station? What if he didn’t make the station by 6 p.m. and had to ride farther down the road? What if all the stations were closed or out of fuel and I ran out on the side of the road? I couldn’t spend the night there of course.
All I could do was roll along watching my dash trying to keep my consumption rate low and in the sweet spot. I was now 62 miles (100 km) into reserve and was amazed I was getting so much out of the fumes my bike was gasping for. Then I crested a hill and saw Dave at a gas station with his back to me. I turned on the intercom and proudly said, “Hey! I’m here! I made it!” He said, “OK, good,” but then got on his bike and rode off. WFT? I got back on the intercom and said as much. He told me that station had no fuel! And that the woman was super grouchy. As Dave was writing out a message on our translation app to ask where the next station was she slammed the door in his face. This wasn’t the Kazakhstan we knew and loved. And why were all these people keeping gas stations open that had no fuel?
I wondered what we were going to do until I saw down the street, another station. We pulled in and yes! Not only were they open but they had fuel, cold drinks and salty snacks—what a concept!
With us and the bikes happily satiated now, we rode off in search of a spot to camp. Every time we’d pull over to let cars pass so we could turn off on a dirt road unnoticed, people would pull over too and ask to take our photos. I swear if you Google Kazakhstan, you’ll see a bunch of pictures of Dave and I with the bikes. We were getting some sense of what it must feel like to be famous; you’re just trying to go about your day, but everyone’s stopping to look at you and ask for photos.
Finally, I noticed a road off the highway that went up and over a hill. There were no cars coming so we went exploring and found a recessed gravel pit. It was a great place to call home for the night. The view was vast and we were completely hidden from the highway.
It had been a long day that ended well.
Next post: meeting Adventure Team Latvia at the Kazakhstan/Russia border.
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