22 AUGUST 2011
DAY 143: SHARGHUN – DUSHANBE (TAJIKISTAN)
START: 6:30 – FINISH: 17:00 – DISTANCE: 95 KM – RIDE TIME: 6H 50
Last night we camped just 12 km from the border. If I had known it was going to take 3 hours to cross this morning, I may have pushed a little harder to get over the day before.
Reuben and I were up and gone by 6:30am and at 7 am we were on the border. We filled out the exit form, but still had to wait till 8 am for the border to open properly. We had to take all our bags off the bike and bring them into the customs hall. The x-ray machine wasn’t working so we then had to take everything out of the bags. Reuben was in front and started to get a bit stroppy with the customs office and was constantly making smart comments…………who then asked what’s the matter.
I wasn’t impressed at all when I heard that. I sure won’t be crossing another border with Reuben because I don’t need any of that hassle. If he carries on like that again he is going to come unstuck and I don’t want to be next to him when he does. There were two lots of forms for Tajikistan which took time. It’s not made any easier for the tourist when they are only in Russian.
After the border it was a 66 km ride up to Dushanbe. On the way we passed the 3rd largest aluminium plant in the world. It was bellowing out what looked to be a horrible green toxic smoke.
It was 50°C for the ride into Dushanbe. Accommodation is not great. We ended up getting a room in the old Soviet hotel. It is massive and a real $%^ hole. We paid 20.00 us$ each for no shower or toilet in the room and we had to share with one other person. Luckily for us the guy we shared with was a Dutch guy Albert I had previously met in Samarkand so it was ok. Tourists pay 89 sum each while the locals pay just 32 sum. Dushanbe is a lot more westernised that the other Stans with lots more shops and fast food restaurants and funnily a half decent supermarket.
DAY 144 – 148: DUSHANBE
Plan was to get there early so as people left we could grab one of the few camping spots. It was a good plan and the three of us were able to squeeze our tents on to the lawn. Quick chat with some fellow cyclists and then it was off to the Kyrgyzstan Embassy to apply for the visa……pretty simple $ 50.00 and come back Friday. The guest house is far from town, so I have been using my bike to get around. Usually I prefer to park it up and have a break.
For most of the week I just chilled out. Spending a lot of time in Merve eating Turkish fast food and using the free wi fi.
After more than two months, at 3am Thursday morning I had to rush out of the tent to put the fly on as it started to rain. Completely out of the blue……………..it didn’t last long. Friday, I went back to the Kyrgyzstan Embassy and came away with a good result – Visa in my hand!
I should have left Dushanbe Saturday morning. I nearly did. I even took my tent down and had the bike loaded and ready to go. Sitting down for breakfast was my downfall because I got too comfortable and quickly decided I would stay another night, part of the draw card was I wanted to watch or listen to the All Blacks vs. Australia game in the afternoon…………Shouldn’t have because we didn’t get the result I would have liked.
DAY 149: DUSHANBE – kAMSOMMALABAD
START: 6:45 – FINISH: 18:30 – DISTANCE: 137 KM – RIDE TIME: 9H 25
I finally left Dushanbe this morning……………. Since I had taken my tent down yesterday I just slept outside and pretty much just got up and left after a quick cup of tea. The road to Khorg (gateway to the Pamirs) is terrible…………
In fact, undescribably more than terrible. The 560 km journey takes 16 – 22 hours in a taxi. Depending how crazy your driver is. By bicycle it takes 7 – 8 days. The road out of Dushanbe was fully sealed. The Chinese boys have been hard at work………..Chinese road crews are rebuilding roads all over Central Asia……for their neighbouring countries………in an effort to make it easier for them to export. All roads lead to China ………The trucks leave China full and go back empty.
After 113 km of new seal the party was over…………, the main highway became a dusty goat track rolling up and down beside a large river with long drops to the water below. The edge never far away. The road was rough. Full of potholes and large stones. I dropped the pressure in my tyres in an effort to try and preserve my bike and also to make the ride a little more comfortable. Worked slightly………but still developed a bit of saddle rash because you are just unable to sit still with the constant bumps. The cycling day is becoming shorter. It is dark shortly after 7 pm. I stopped just before 7 pm and asked a local if I could camp in his field………… – as always no problem. I have never been refused.
DAY 150: KAMSOMALABAD – SAGHIDASI
START: 6:45 – FINISH: 18:30 – DISTANCE: 80 KM – RIDE TIME: 9H 22
Today was a very tough day with 9 and a half cycling hours and only ending up with an average of km per hour………..it was a slow old day. At more than one point in the day I was thinking………… if I am going to have 5 days of this maybe I should get a taxi.
All of the 5 Cyclists I had met in Dushanbe had got a taxi instead of cycling from Khorog to Dushanbe because they said the road was just too bad. I was starting to agree with them………….I was a little nervous as to whether the Surly was going to hold up……..or fall to bits with the pounding I was giving it. You hear stories all the time of the rims cracking. As well as physically being a very tough day, it was also very challenging mentally.
With time on your hands you search the dusty road looking for a Swaribe trail (Tyre track of another cyclist) at one point I thought I had found one…………only to be disappointed when I caught up with the bike to discover it was only a local. I met a tourist coming the other way and she said she had seen 5 cyclists which got me excited………….until she said they were 300 km in front of me………………..no chance of seeing them. About 2pm a Dutch couple stopped their taxi and asked me if I was ok, or if I needed anything. I was ok and thanked them for taking the time to stop. It was nice to have a chat.
Late in the day I got to a police checkpoint and after checking my passport they wanted me to give them something and wanted to see inside my bags, I made sure they didn’t get a very good look and when they asked for a biscuit, I gave them a dried cracker and they gave it back…………..they wanted a whole packet of biscuits and I told them that wasn’t going to happen…….in the end I parted with a broken pen. I camped that night down by the river 100 meters from the road and slightly hidden by some trees.
DAY 151: SAGHIDASI – KAILIKHUM
START: 7:15 – FINISH: 20:30 – DISTANCE: 62 KM – RIDE TIME: 9H 15
The days are just getting harder. Yesterday was bad. But today was 3 times worse and very very tough. After 7km I started to ascend the 3200m Kailihum pass. Going uphill on a very rough road was not easy.
On some parts of the road you have to cycle through creeks and at one point I got wet feet when I had to push my bike across the river because the bridge had been washed away. After 10 hours I had only managed to cycle and sometimes push my bike up the 38km to the summit.
I finally arrived at the summit at 5pm. It was windy and cold at the top. I had to put a hat and jacket on. Just before the top I got a bloody puncture so I had to stop and change that. It was then a rush to get down the other side, because I didn’t fancy getting stuck up a mountain. With two hours of light left I got 15km down the other side. The further down the mountain, the darker it got. My head lamp wasn’t up to it and I couldn’t judge the potholes. This was proven when I took a spin. I then pushed my bike down the mountain for another 1 and half hours in pitch black.
I had no choice because on one side of the road was a sheer drop and the other side a cliff. So there was nowhere to camp. Some more tourists stopped and asked if I was ok………….They gave me some water because I had run out. I hadn’t expected the pass to have taken so long. At 8:30pm I reached an army checkpoint 10km from Kailikhum. I was exhausted and didn’t want to go any further. I asked them if I could camp at the checkpoint. I put a roll mat on the ground and didn’t bother with a tent or dinner. They brought me out a bed and I slept outside their hut.
DAY 152: KAILIKHUM – XEXIHK
START: 5:50 – FINISH: 18:45 – DISTANCE: 106 KM – RIDE TIME: 9H 40
Sleeping on the side iof the road.
I didn’t bank on all the truck fumes. There was a fair bit of traffic in the night. So woih the noise I didn’t sleep that well either.I got up and left straight away. No breakfast.
I didn’t want to hang around at the checkpoint. I shaked a few hands and said goodbye.
Continuing down the valley at 7am I got to Kailikhum and restocked with water, Snicker bars and that was about it. Things are pretty limited out here. I am actually carrying a lot of food from Dushanbe. Heading out of town, hundreds of people were following in the same direction for the special prayers at the mosque for the end of Ramadan.
Only 12km out of town I had my first tea stop and a bit of breakfast. I regularly do like the locals and dip my bread in my tea. It is a very simple breakfest. But at least it does fill the gap
Around lunch time I saw my first cyclist coming the other way. His first words were I know who you are……….He had seen Reuben the day before, who had mentioned I was following behind. It was great to see a fellow cyclist and have a chat. Len was from England and cycling from Mongolia back to the UK. Come 100 km I was ready to camp. One problem was cliffs on one side, river on the other………….so when after 6 km and right on dusk I was happy to see an orchard between the road and the river.
Ideal because often there are also signs for land mines along the river bank because it borders Afghanistan. So it can be real difficult to find a place to camp. I was cooking my dinner and I had a real heart thumping experience. It was dark and I could hear but not see a number of people approaching me. I shone my torch and then I heard the frightening sound of click, click, click as the safety catches were removed from a number of guns. I reacted quickly putting my hands straight up and shouted. Salam, Salam………..Tourist, Tourist.
Then out of the dark from three directions came 3 soldiers with machine guns. The situation was quickly defused. We shook hands and they explained Afghanistan………..Afghanistan……………..they were patrolling for drug smugglers. They said I could stay……………but not to use a light.
I pretty much got straight in my tent for the night. My heart was still thumping for hours. If having the Tajik army come round wasn’t enough. Later in the night I had another visitor in the way of a wild dog who was sniffing around. My empty pineapple tin was of intrest to him.
DAY 153: XEXIHK – RUSHAN
START: 6:45 – FINISH: 18:30 – DISTANCE: 85 KM – Ride time: 6H 20
It has been 4 tough days of cycling, but the scenery has gone some way to make up for it because it has been so beautiful and pleasant cycling along the river and between the mountains. I had an early tea stop for tea and naan down on the river at a small restaurant. Passing a village near lunch time
I was invited to stop at the house of a Russian teacher for tea, bread and some other goodies. Half-way through lunch two other guys turned up with a bottle of vodka. I insisted I would pass on that one. But of course ended up with a shot – glass full. That is the only way they drink it. No hanging around……………down in one. I finally got away two hours later. Shortly after I came across 3 Aussie cyclists heading in the opposite direction. Had the usual chat and was back on my way. I cycled right till dusk and after coming out of a small town camped in a field.
I was joined by a number of locals who were keen to help me put up the tent. They were surprised when I told them I was going to camp in the field and asked …………- are you not scared -……………………after 5 months its too late for that now. From my tent I could see some snow on the tops of the mountains and a clear sky which is nice when you have the fly off. It was windy, but it was not cold.
DAY 154: RUSHAN – KHOROG
START: 6:00 – FINISH: 11:00 – DISTANCE: 72 KM – RIDE TIME: 5H
Knowing I had a biggish town and a few days rest waiting for me, I was up at 5:30am and on the road at 6 am. It was a beautiful morning……..crisp but sunny. With only 70km needed for the day.,
I put my foot down as much as I could considering the conditions of the road . The road was quite well-sealed most of the way and continued to follow the river and the border with Afghanistan. Every few km or so I would see a lot of greenery and a small very simple village on the Afghan side…………..never any sign of electricity. I rocked into town at 11am and went out to the Pamir lodge……………I missed my mate Albert the flying Dutchman………….but my old mate Reuben was there. Since there was only half a day left, I did a bit of house work.: washing the tent for the first time in five months, giving my pots and pans a good proper clean and a load of washing. I then headed into the centre of town for some lunch. I treated myself by going to the flashiest restaurant in town for a very nice lunch of Italian chicken salad, beef stew and fries..
DAY 155,156,157&158: KHOROG
Saturday was spent mostly in the internet café catching up on things and in between I went to the park for lunch and sat and relaxed in the restaurant which is right on the river. For dinner I heard there was an Indian restaurant in town so with a Swiss couple we went and tried it out. It was good and it was nice to have some different food.
Sunday morning, I joined the Swiss couple again and we followed the water canal behind the guest house 5 km up to the botanical gardens. It was an interesting walk as the canal ran behind the houses and you could look down.
As we passed one house an old lady called us back to collect apples from her tree. Her grandchildren then arrived and invited us down to the house for tea. We didn’t expect lunch. But an instant feast arrived. After lunch we continued our walk with a large bag of apples up to the Botanical gardens. we were joined by the three girls. One was at university, one was at secondary school and the youngest was at primary school. They all spoke good English. It was a steep walk up to the gardens. They weren’t great. The best thing about the gardens was the flash President’s holiday house .
Come Monday I thought I was leaving Tuesday. So it was a mad rush to get everything done. I was up early to give the bike a good clean, change the inner tube in the back tyre (I have had a slow puncture since Turkey).
Headed to the bazaar to get some more supplies in and fuel for the stove. I then found myself in the dark repacking all the panniers. Importantly putting all the thermal gear to the top, in readiness for those cold nights in the Pamirs.
.Just when I was all packed up and ready to go. I refueled my stove and found it didn’t work. So for the very first time and after 5 months of use I had to take it apart and clean it. I soaked all the parts overnight in petrol. It gave me an excuse to stay another day. The fuel here is rubbish……..but the next day I put the stove back together and I was relieved when it worked okay. It was good because it meant I didn’t have to hunt round town for some cleaner and probably better burning white spirit. Instead finally relaxed after a few hectic days it was back to the Indian for lunch……………back to the guest house to chill out watching some movies I have just acquired…………….and then back to the Indian for dinner. Here I met up by chance with the American couple who had stopped for me in the pitch black when I was crossing the Kalaikhum pass and had kindly given me some water. The Indian was really good food and an extra dimension was added when the power went out and we had to eat in the dark..
DAY 159: KHOROG – GARAMCHASHMA
START: 8:30 – FINISH: 13:30 – DISTANCE: 45 KM – RIDE TIME: 4H
I pretty much packed everything up and had the bike loaded up and ready to go last night so it would be easy to get away this morning. I was up at 6 am to make sure I got one last hot shower before heading into the Pamirs as it could be 8 days before the next proper shower. Got the tent away and headed down to the bakers for some bread for breakfast.
Was joined by two German guys and a Scottish guy for breakfast………..one of the Germans had some nice smoked cheese which he had brought from Kyrgyzstan and the other just arrived from Dushanbe by bicycle yesterday and has decided to quit………so he gave me a number of things that might come in handy later………………….The bike now is really heavy with all the extra food and water……………………I am going to try to eat a lot quickly to get the weight down. I think I have overdone it. 8:30am I was on the way heading south to the Wakhan Valley on a very gentle slightly up and down road following the Afghan border. I had a van of Swiss tourists stop and talk to me. I really appreciate it when people make the effort to check you are all right and take interest in what you are doing. At the Police checkpoint I got through okay even though my permit is open to discussion. It is missing some keywords and I may encounter problems later. After only 38 km I pulled off the main road for a 6 km steep climb up to some hot springs.
I planned to camp here but got a nice home stay for 4$ so I took that. I am sharing with a Polish guy who arrived at the same time but from the opposite direction. We waited a few hours for it to cool down a bit before heading down to the hot spring………….you could smell the strong smell of sulphur. When we got round to the pool we soon discovered it was a no clothes affair…………………so as do the locals in we got. It was nice and hot and the closer you got to the source which came in via a waterfall of hot water………..the hotter the water got. The locals were covering themselves in sulphur mud. So we did that too. After letting it dry and washing it off…….the skin felt so clean and smooth.
DAY 160: GARAMCHASHMA – KHAKHA
START: 7:30 – FINISH: 17:30 – DISTANCE: 90 KM – RIDE TIME: 7 H
This morning it was an easy 7 km back down the valley to the main road, though one of the back panniers did fall off. Third time this has happened. Luckily there was no damage. Cycling in the valley I have seen quite a number of different birds, ranging from birds of prey to some birds I hadn’t a clue what they were.
They had beautiful crowns on their head. The only other wildlife in the valley has been wild dogs and a marmot. I continued through the valley when I got to the army checkpoint at Ishkashim it was busy……….I didn’t bother to sign in and just slipped through. From Ishkashim the first of many steep snowcapped mountains appeared, mostly on the Afghan side. After putting a brand new inner tube on the back wheel in Khorog……..I got a bloody puncture. It was late in the day and just before I passed the 10000 km mark. I didn’t even stop to take a picture to mark the event………….In the scope of things it was more important to push on. So many times I miss a good photo because I won’t stop simply because you just don’t want to lose momentum. It is always an extra effort to get the bike moving again. As I was passing Khakha mud fort I had some kids take me to a very strange shrine of sheep skulls and goat horns. From here I continued just a few kms down the road before setting up camp on a little green patch of grass a few metres from the road. While cooking dinner an Army patrol passed within 10 metres of me. But on this occasion they didn’t see me
DAY 161: KHAKHA – YARNCHUN FORT
START: 6:30 – FINISH: 17:30 – DISTANCE: 66 KM – RIDE TIME: 6H55
I have had to start treating the water………………none of the few shops sell water. Only coca-cola. Everyone I have met who has been out this way has been sick from one thing or the other. You are warned to be careful of the water and fruit (the watermelons are dodgy because they have been treated with pesticides. The meat and eggs should be well cooked and not runny. Doesn’t leave you with much to eat. I got another flat tyre (two in two days and now number 5 for the trip) The roads are so bad the bike is really taking a pounding. I left the main road for an even worse road to push my bike (it was impossible to ride) 7 km up a very steep road in an attempt to find a mountains mud fort.
I am happy to say it was worth the effort as the fort did look good in the setting sun. The other reason for coming up was to visit the Bibi Fatama hot spring a further km up the road. I bathed here naked again (like the locals) and then quickly headed back to the Fort where a family had offered me a home stay for $4. I got to stay in my first Pamir house. I was told macaroni was for dinner and it came out as a plate of fried potatoes. Technology has come to the Pamirs and I sat with the family watching satellite tv shows of a Russian version of Judge Judy. It was Tajikistan’s independence day………not celebrated out here in the Pamirs because they are oppressed and think they are now worse off since the Russians left.
DAY 162: YARNCHUN FORT – LANGER
START: 7:15 – FINISH: 17:00 – DISTANCE: 51 KM – RIDE TIME: 5H50
Today has been one of the most testing days to date,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,I had a smooth ride 6km back down the mountain to the main road and that is where it ended. I only cycled a few km before being stopped by an Australian called Ian who was in a 4×4. We chatted for an hour and he kindly gave me some bottled water. I got going again and within 1km I got flat tyre number 6 (3 in 3 days). I mended it but noticed there was a tear in the tyre itself.
I didn’t get very far and the tyre just shredded itself. So I had to get my emergency tyre out. Something at one stage in the planning I contemplated not to take since it took up too much room and was a bit heavy, I am certainly glad now that I packed it. Come 11am I had only done 20km in 4 hours with all my stops. The road itself wasn’t making things easy. It was very difficult to cycle…………very sandy so I was having to get off and push every now and then and also parts were very stony. I am also gradually getting higher and higher. Up over 3000 metres now and that makes cycling harder as well. There is still no water for sale in any of the small shops so I am having to treat all my drinking water with Chlorine tablets which doesn’t taste the best.
Come 3pm I arrived in Langar and with only 45km on the clock decided I would push on for a few more hours. Leaving town on a steep sandy/stony uncycleable road I started to push my bike…………I had some kids help me push the bike. Catch was they wanted some money. But they did make it easier. I finally found a leg of the road I could cycle and just when you thought nothing could get any worse……………the chain broke……………..with only an hour left of light the road flanked by rocky cliffs my first priority was to find somewhere to camp. I pushed the bike for a good few kms before I came across a small village.
I asked a local if I could camp for the night and he led me up a trail through some bushes till we came to a small but very nice grassy area. I got the tent up and then went about fixing the chain. Hopefully it is all good now. We will find out tomorrow. I was about to cook some dinner and the local brought me out a bowl of potatoes and bread. Saved me cooking which was good. It could take me another 3-4 days to get to Murgab and I am running low on fuel. You just can.t get it out here. I hope tomorrow will be a better day. The troubles I have been having are certainly making me stronger. Of the 50 km I did today. I pushed my bike for at least 25km. All this uphill pushing has been making my legs ache.
DAY 163: LANGAR – +50 KM
START: 7:30 – FINISH: 17:00 – DISTANCE: 50 KM – RIDE TIME: 6H55
It is really getting tough now. There is nothing out here. I only saw 5 cars in the morning and then nothing till 11am the next day. It was the same old push, cycle, push as I just got higher and higher.
I was starting to wonder why I had deliberately gone out of the way to put myself through this pain and hardship. I guess the good looking snow-capped mountains running down to the river went some way for making up for it. At one point the river narrowed so much that I was able to throw a stone in to Afghanistan and other parts where it thinned out ~I could have walked across into Afghanistan. As soon as I reached 50km I stopped especially when I could see another steep bit coming.
I camped just off the road on a sandy bit of ground next to a smaller river. As soon as the sun started to go down it got really cold. I had to whip out the thermal gear. While cooking dinner I started to feel really sick. My stomach was churning. I didn’t feel like eating, but managed to eat only half a pot of rice and beans. I didn’t even wash my pot. I just packed everything up and went straight to bed. I figured I was suffering with altitude sickness. I had a very uncomfortable night’s sleep. In fact I couldn’t sleep. The thought crossed my mind that I should pack the tent up and head down. They say if you have altitude sickness just dropping back down a few hundred meters will make you feel a lot better. I could have found out what altitude I was at by checking my G.P.S. I didn’t want to know because I think it would have just made the situation worse. Checking this a few days later, I found out that that day I had gone up from 2800 meters to 3800 metres over just 50km.
DAY 164: +50 KM – ALCHUR
START: 7:00 – FINISH: 17:30 – DISTANCE: 61 KM – RIDE TIME: 7H40
It was a cold and bitter morning. I had a bowl of muesli to get me going on my continuous climb up. I knew I was getting close to the top of the 4244 metre pass. My churning stomach told me that. It was important I crossed the pass and got down the other side to as low as possible. As I went higher the snow-capped mountains looked better and better.
15 km up the road I passed the remote army checkpoint in the corner of the valley and could now see both the snowcapped mountains of Afghanistan and Pakistan. Here I left the river I had been following for over 300 km to head up a steep road to the pass. I found myself pushing the bike most of the 5 km. Only a few km from the top I had 3 vehicles stop for me in quick succession to see if I was ok. The first was two French couples. Then another French couple who had lived in Kyrgyzstan for 12 years and knew the area well. He had been the French military attaché and decided to stay. When I finally reached the top it was a relief. The road was still bad coming down the other side and as we came down we passed a number of salt lakes. Late in the afternoon I finally reached the main highway. It was so nice to be back on a sealed road.
DAY 165: ALCHUR – MURGAB
START: 6:30 – FINISH: 14:00 – DISTANCE: 115 KM – RIDE TIME: 5H37
Today I was determined to get to Murgab no matter what. After doing only 50 – 60km a day for the past 4 days, the 115 km to Murgab felt a bit daunting. I started well and after 10 km found a nice little restaurant to stop for breakfast ( standard tea, eggs and some bread) – continuing on I saw some fellow cyclists from Germany so I pulled over to chat to them.
Just as I was leaving they noticed I had another flat tyre. Their trip was coming to an end and they offered to sell me a brand new Swaribe Marathon extreme tyre to replace the one I had shredded a few days before. It was a great offer I couldn’t refuse and felt a lot more comfortable with it on the bike and the spare back in the panniers. In the end most of the ride was downhill to Murgab and with a good tail wind for a change I made excellent progress.
DAY 166, 167 & 168 MURGAB REST DAYS.
After a very tough week in the Wakhan valley I was very pleased to have a couple of rest days in Murgab.
Murgab itself is just an old Russian outpost.
The only shops are the small stores in shipping containers in the bazaar. Its a pretty rundown town. The electricity alternates each day between two halves of the town. At least the guesthouse was nice. Very quiet. I had the dorm room to myself for 3 nights. After doing the chores: cleaning the bike, tightening the racks (one nut had come lose on the bumpy roads), getting more food (biscuits, snickers and a packet of dates) there really is a limited choice out here – I enjoyed kicking back and watching a few movies on my note book.
One of the strangest sights I have seen was a 1950’s Bentley coming down the dirt road of the bazaar.
I ended staying an extra night in Murgab because on the morning of my supposed departure I woke up to find it was snowing
the ground was completely covered. I wasn’t go to take any chances so I stayed put. I didn’t fancy being out in it anyway. It turned out to be a very boring day in the guest house because my computer had gone on the blink so I was unable to watch any movies. The problem with the computer is that I cannot get any power to it. I think using it on a low voltage has killed it.
DAY 169: MURGAB – 4655 METER PASS
START: 7:45 – FINISH: 17:45 – DISTANCE: 100 KM – RIDE TIME: 8H
It was a completely different day from the previous with a morning of a sunny blue sky though cold.
Just before 8am I got a nice send off from the fellow guests who came out to see me leave.
The road was in pretty good condition and I started fast clocking up 30 km in two hours……………But as I got higher and higher my pace dropped well off as it got really harder and harder to cycle…………….
the last 3 km to the summit were a killer. Very very steep and I was back to the good old days of pushing my bike for the last bit and it was like 2 hours for the last 3 km because you push the bike 10 metres, stop and get your breath back…………………push another 10 meters and stop. If you try to do too much, you start to feel sick in the stomach and come close to throwing up.
I finally reached the 4655 meter summit at 3pm. I then tried to get down as quick as possible so I would be able to camp at a comfortable altitude. I dropped down a few hundred metres. Frustratingly, I started to go up again which wasn’t good. I had planned to spend the night at Kara-Kul lake which is at 3900 meters. But I was still 40 km short and exhausted. It takes it all out of you. The altitude and the cold. At 5pm I made the decision to stop and camp. Knowing I was likely to still be above 4100-4200 metres, I wanted to cook my dinner and be in my tent before the sun went down because it gets so cold (below freezing).
It was a very cold night in the tent. I ended up having to wear my thermals, fleece, hat and two pairs of socks to bed because my season 3 sleeping bag is just not up to the task. It has been good for 99 percent of the trip. Just this 1 percent it has been lacking. It was an uncomfortable night…………..still a little cold. But I was okay. It was also very windy. I was thinking of a few people I had met and who had had tent poles break on £400 tents because the wind was so strong. I was a bit worried how my £17.00 tent would fare.
Day 170: 4655 METER PASS – TAJIKI BORDER
START: 8:00 – FINISH: 17:00 – DISTANCE: 85 KM – RIDE TIME: 6H40
It was a very cold morning on the plateau. I got the tent down and everything packed up and then found it was not very pleasant having breakfast out in the open because it was freezing and my hands were so cold it was difficult to eat breakfast. All the surrounding mountains had snow on them which was pretty.
Thankfully I left the plateau pretty quickly and started to head down. It was a cold but lovely morning. I saw a few large white hares run across the road and some nice birds. I am also sure I saw a large cat – it had a small head and big body and took off at 100 miles when it saw me coming. Just to the right of the road a brand new looking fence has gone up to mark the Chinese border. It was that close I could have thrown a stone in to China. Further along I noticed parts of the fence had been cut in a few places.
I think it was because the locals in Tajikistan wanted to send there sheep over the border to graze. After two hours I reached the lake town of Kara-Kol and stopped for a much needed pot of tea and a hot breakfast. Pushing on around the lake it looked nice completely surrounded by snowy mountains. Things in the mountains can change so quickly and it went from a very nice day to a not so nice day. The snowy mountains disappeared in cloud and I began to cycle up hill into a very strong head wind and a big white cloud started to get closer and closer. 15 km from the Tajiki border it started to snow. It was bitterly cold and I had to again push my bike up to the 4200 metre pass. The sealed road had also disappeared and was back to gravel which didn’t help. At 5pm I finally reached the Tajiki border post……………freezing cold they gave me a cup of tea.
Stamped my passport and sent me into no-mans land. It was another 20 km down the mountain to the Kyrgyzstan border post. I didn’t fancy getting caught out in it if it got any worse. The border guards let me sleep in some building that were been built. I was able to cook in there, which was good. After dinner I boiled up a litter of water and putting it back into my metal water bottle made myself a hot water bottle to put in my sleeping bag. It was very nice and stayed warm for about 3 hours.
DAY 171: TAJIKI BORDER – SARY TASH (KYRGYZSTAN)
START: 8:00 – FINISH: 12:00 – DISTANCE: 47 KM – RIDE TIME: 3H 25
Waking at 4255meters it was another very cold morning. I packed everything up and started heading down the mountain.
It was sunny and very crisp. Even with gloves my hands were freezing cold holding on to the metal brakes. I had to keep stopping because my hands were so numb I couldn’t hold the brakes properly. There was lots of snow everywhere. It took two hours to reach the Kyrgyzstan border post. When I did they wanted to give me a shot of vodka. I politely refused and they kindly let me on my way.
After the border I came out on a big prairie of flat grazing land. I saw 3 eagles on lamp posts beside the road. Coming down from the mountains I had a bit of time to think and I was going to cycle around Kyrgastan for 3 weeks………………But with the snow and the wintery conditions I have decided to leave my bike in Sary Tash and just travel around Kyrgastan by hitching and bus. So in Sary Tash I found a random guest house where I could leave my bike for a week. I will have a 70km cycle to China when I get back.