Monday, 29 September 2014

Cycling through Clouds in Central Asia: Cycling above and around 4000 Meters All Day; today: 100 km; Total: 963 km

May 20, 2014

For some reason, I didn't sleep well last night. I woke up again and again wishing to see the morning light from the window. The house we stayed at was very warm because the water from the hot spring was the source of the heating system (radiator). All we could do was to open the window.

After having a coffee and some bread, which by no means was enough for the kind of activity we did everyday, we left the house.

We started gaining altitude in a very changeable weather. We were close to 4000 meter, so in a second, there was snow, and a second later, sun.

Close to 4000 meter, the road turned into gravel and very steep. To make it more challenging for us, we were struggling with a very strong head wind too. So... The altitude, the wind, the condition of the road, made it very difficult for us to ride our bikes. From 3900 to 4240 meters, we walked our bikes, which in fact, was more difficult than riding it, but at least when we got dizzy because of the altitude, we would easily stop. So we walked all the last 300 meters.

We thought we would coast down from the top, but we went down to 3800 meters in a very bumpy road with big gravels. I was not enjoying the ride down at all. There was an incredibly strong wind from behind that pushed us forward, but what a waste because I had to break harder to slow down the bike on the bumpy, stony road.

I had seen a lot of pictures of this place on the Internet, and I had been dreaming of biking in this place, but little did I know how tough it would be. No water, no vegetation... Only nothingness and beautiful scenery.

After going down to 3800, we had to climb again to 4115 meters. Then we stayed in this altitude for an hour or so until we went down again to 3800 meters. In general, we were biking at 4000 all day. The only good thing was the tale wind.

It was getting late for camping. We had to decide what to do. We were in a tough situation: either we had to camp in 4000 in an incredible wind, or we had to keep cycling to see if at some point, the road takes a dive down. The more we biked, the more we realized that the road stayed in the same altitude. Finally, at about 6:30, we saw another ugly village, like the one last night, and decided to stay there.

A man invited us to stay in his house for $20  including dinner and breakfast. 


Saturday, 13 September 2014

Cycling through Clouds in Central Asia: Climbing to 3600 Meter; Today: 70 km; Total: 863 km

May 19, 2014

We left our beautiful camping spot at 8:20. The weather was fine, but later it started raining, so we had our rain gear on when cycling--not fun.

Pangs of hunger kept distracting me because I had only a coffee and some bread for breakfast. We stopped at a village and bought some eggs, but we couldnt find any bread. The shopkeeper, a nice lady, made some calls and asked someone to bring us some bread, for free. How nice of her! We then had a good breakfast: six eggs.

We were gaining altitude, so it got colder and colder. At about 3 o'clock, we reached  3500 meters where there was a statue of "the goat",  the statue I had been dreaming to see for some years. This statue, and statues alike, are placed in the highest mountain passes in Tajikistan. I was so excited to finally cycle to one of them. We took a moment to take pictures, but all of a sudden, it started hailing. It got really cold. I could not wear my warm clothes because they were at the bottom of my pannier. I did not want to stop in that weather and dig my clothes out. I would have snow and hail in my panniers, so I rode along. My hands were numb with cold. It was not fun at all.

After half hour or so, when we were still climbing, we got to a very ugly village. No trees, no farms, just very ugly houses. We had to stop there, so we asked a couple of guys where we could stay for the night and if there was a shop in the village. The guys took us to the shop. Like many shops in Pamir, the shop was a small room with a pile of stuff here and there. On the shelf, you could see expired cans of food. There was a freezer in the corner with some chicken legs in it. We bought two chicken legs and some potatoes.  One of the guys offered us his house for some money. We checked his house which was very close to the hot spring. It was OK. He asked for 50 Somoni for both of us. It was cold and miserable. My hands were frozen, so we decided to stay.

In the house, his sister also lives. She is a Russian teacher in the village. The guy, himself, works in Moscow two years and takes a two-month break. What a life! Of course, I don't blame them. In this village there is nothing to do. There is a hot spring, that's it, that's all. 

The Pass: 3600 meters

The Goat and the Scene

These men load trucks with boulders; that's their job. The Balaclava is their UV protection.

The Way to the Pass

Clouds Closing in on the Way Down

Sunday, 7 September 2014

Cycling through Clouds in Central Asia: Pamir at Last! Today: 60 km; Total: 793 km

May 18, 2014

Feeling very tired, we left the lodge at 8: 30. With no energy in our legs, we kept riding on a very steep road. Fausto had a lot of problems with his panniers. At one point, his rear pannier fell off the bike! So strange! We were not having a good morning at all.

We were registered by the first checkpoint at the beginning of Pamir Highway. Then we went to a small grocery shop and the only edible thing we could find was a loaf of bread and a Fanta (soft drink). There were no restaurants or cafes anywhere. The bread and Fanta tasted OK (I remembered that Coca Cola and bread was the only thing many poor construction workers in Tehran could afford to have on their lunch break). Feeling hungry, we stopped at another shop to get some biscuits and yoghurt. The guy then brought us some bread from home for free. From then, the good Karma started--people on the way being Tajik again and offering us tea by showing their mouths and their houses.

It was about two o'clock when an old lady gestured "tea" to me. I asked her if she had some vegetables to spare for our dinner. She had been talking to her friend when I asked her. She said goodbye to her friend and went to her house to bring me some veggies. Fausto and I were waiting outside her house when two young girls came out to invite us in. We first didn't want to, but then we decided to experience a Tajik house.

They took us inside the building, into the living room. Their mother and the girls waited at us with such hospitality I had never seen before; they brought us anything they had: Tea, food, butter, cookies, etc! I was speechless. I was thinking about my neighbour who would sue me if I stepped on his grass. What has modernity done to us? The concept of "my property" in Canada or in any modern society is destroying our humanity.

For about an hour, we were waited at with tea and food. And who were we? Total strangers! Some guys on their bikes who would never be seen again.  

We said goodbye to the family with a plastic bag full of carrots and onions. We kept riding in beautiful mountains on a relatively good road, gaining altitude little by little. At the end, at 5:30, we were at 3000 meters above the sea level, 1000 meters more than Khorough.

We are now camping in a beautiful spot surrounded by snow-covered mountains. We had dinner: boiled chopped carrots, onions, and potatoes.

My Achilles' tendon was not hurting as much today. I guess the pain is very much related to the condition of the road. 

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Cycling through Clouds in Central Asia: Badakhshan Region; Total: 733 km

May 11-17, 2014

We woke up to find, that "everything" under the cover of the tent was wet and muddy. It was 11:30 when we dried our stuff. We were very lucky that we were not flooded because we were camping very close to the top, which meant there wouldn't be a lot of water accumulated in the creek we had camped near.

We started climbing again and in an hour, we were over the pass 2000 m. The decent down, was even harder than the ascend due to the condition of the road. I had to constantly break. At the bottom of the mountain, there was the police check point. After checking our permits, they gave us a lot of bread and wished us a safe trip! How nice!

From then on, we basically were riding in mud. Thank God it was downhill. I don't know what would happen if it were uphill in that condition. We finally got close to a village by a river, on the other side of which was Afghanistan. We camped in a garden with a fantastic view: very tall mountains, at least 4000 meter high.

Close to the Pass

The Pass: 2000 m

Our Camp Ground: The Other Side of the Panj River is Afghanistan

May 12, 2014

Since we rode our bikes in mud most of the time yesterday, our bikes was covered with a thick layer of mud all over. We were hoping it would rain during the night to wash off the mud.

We started riding our bikes in very muddy roads again, but we had to struggle tremendously to keep the bikes moving even down hill. I could hear the tires rubbing against hard clay, the chain and the cassette was squeaking too. We had to wash the bikes or we would wreck something on them, but the muddy road had not finished.

It was about noon when we reached good road, and in the first creek we found, we striped our bikes and washed everything. After that, we faced the strongest head wind on a very steep road.

At about 3:30, we found a roadside cafe and decided to have something. But at the end, we spent the night there and enjoyed good organic food.

My Achilles' tendon got worse, and I have a cold! I now have a sore throat added to my bad physical condition.

The two Chinese guys were documentary film makers trying to get into Afghanistan

Which way to take? That's the question!

The Way Down

The Cafe we Dined and Stayed the Night at
Spectacular View on the Road

Friendly People Everywhere

Desperate, we asked Abdulrahman, a meteorologist, to stay in this weather station.  He played the dutar for us.

May 14, 2014

At 6 am, we woke up and at 7, we took off. In the morning, the ride was usual: mostly off road along The Panj river, going up and down the mountain. At about 11:30, we saw a sign of a homestay in a village where we had lunch and rested for two hours. At about 2, we hit the road again, but the road turned almost impossible to ride on. In most places, there were big stones, the size of a baseball, all over the road. Very beat, we pushed it and pushed it to get to the next villages where we pitched up our tent, and had some really bad pasta, half of which was trashed.

My Achilles' tendon hurt so much today. And my big toe, is very big now. I am sure it is infected. I should see if I can find a doctor on our way.

May 15, 2014

At noon, we found a homestay in a village and stayed there for lunch and an hour of rest. When I took off my shoes, I saw a yellow thick liquid oozed out of the corner of my big toe. So... It WAS infected. I pushed the germs all out and sterilized my toe with disinfectant. I then kept the toe in the sun for some time, and it is behaving itself ever since. After lunch, we kept riding through very tall mountains along the river, and finally at 5:30, we stopped to spend the night at a garden in a village. The altitude was 2000 meters above the see level. 

May 16, 2014

At 8:15 we took off. My foot was hurting very much right from the start! What is going on with it? One day, it is good, one day, it hurts so much! I am really tired of this concession. With a lot of pain, I rode until12:30 when we stopped at a cafe for lunch which was eggs, and a leg of chicken. We were getting close to the main town of this area--khorogh, so we decided to camp outside the town instead of arriving in a town late evening. At 4:30, we stopped to buy something to cook for dinner. I asked the shopkeeper, a nice lady, where we could pitch up our tent for the night. She offered her back yard. How nice of her!

May 17, 2014

Khorough is a small town, so it was easy too  find the guest house, Pamir Lodge where we met a Spanish cyclist, Raimon, who had been on the road for a long time. He had ridden his bike from Barcelona, and he had a fantastic time in Iran. He told me about the parties he had been to and the beautiful girls in Tehran. His bike had a defective hub and his fork was not adjusted well. It was surprising to see that he didn't know how to fix his hub! I fixed his bike for him and he took off. We will probably see him again as he is going to Osh too.

After 6 days of bathing in mountain creeks and taking a shower with two litters of cold water, we finally treated ourselves with a hot shower in the lodge. How refreshing it was! Then we gave our filthy clothes to the lady who ran the lodge to wash it. She charged us 30 Somoni ($6).

At noon, a couple came in on their huge motorbikes. Laura and Christofer had been on the road for 20 years (18 years in an RV and the rest on motorbikes).

We tried to take a nap in the afternoon, but our bodies were too tired, so we couldn't at the end. Then we started to repair our beaten bicycles. We spent three hours on our bikes cleaning and lubricating the parts. At about 5, we went out to grab a bite. We found it difficult to find a good restaurant. At the end, we went to a buffet and had a huge meal.

My foot was hurting a lot today. I don't know what to do with it.

Tomorrow is a big day. We officially start Pamir. We will go up and up on the mountains.