Today is the 22nd of August, I wake with a full stomach and rested legs. In a small way, I feel that I have personally acomplished a huge task over the last three weeks! Here’s why….
I survived the bitterly cold nights and mornings of high altitude camping. Flying debris from controlled explosions on the Afghan boarder – missed me by seconds and feet. An earthquake woke me from an already disturbed slumber, as it shook the cardboard walls of my hostel. Several bouts of stomach issues slowed, and drained the life out of me. Pushed myself to my physical limit and beyond like never before, In the Wakhan valley. Questioned my mental health and reflected on my personality – was a strange moment. I conquered the highest point of the highway 4655 metres on a bicycle, and narrowly escaped getting kicked in the head by a horse.
I did so on a three week tour of stunning landscapes and intriguing culture. I look back to my early post sitting in my tent in Khorg.
“So here I am wondering, on one hand is this too much to attempt?”
It was a huge undertaking – I can already see some eyes roll. But for me it really was. As you read, I had no plans to enter this magical world and knew nothing other than rumours here and there. “You have to be extremely light, its very cold, there are landmines and drug runners”. The last of which I dismissed as adventurous exaggerations, until a NGO land cruiser drove past with a Landmine warning label on the rear door. I gave it a little more consideration after that.
I knew that it would be challenging at times and I would say that most of the difficulty came from the road conditions and altitude. I struggled with having a small day, in the sense that I am used to covering distance when I cycle and being limited by factors out of my control is hard to deal with – element of control freak in there?
Leaving Dushanbe on the south road was an incredible introduction to the mountains. Snaking along the Panji river with towering peaks above you. I didn’t find anywhere else in the Pamirs like it.
Because as you move through you almost cross into different sections of landscape and environment, the obvious one being the Plateau.
Before you reach such heights, you can dabble with a more barron and desert like voyage through the Wakhan corridor. Known for its difficult terrain – sand, gravel, large rocks; and lack of shops/settlements or people.
Which was a stark comparison to my introductory route. Especially, as I lazily left Khorg after a full day and a half, foriging for chocolate, eating terrible pizza and guzzling Coca Cola.
Spurred on by this looney idea of standing in the footprints of a real adventurer – Levison Wood.
I bid farewell to Amund, and as foot met pedal, he left me with his final thoughts – after deciding himself to take the shorter route. “If the Taliban wanted to kidnap a Westerner, the Wakhan would be the perfect place” Well that just made it even more exciting.
I struggled at the start, middle and end of the Wakhan, but made it from Langhar to Alichur in two days!! No doubt, a longer journey through would have been an easier ride. But there was no way you could avoid the deliberating effects of an altitude climb up the Kargush pass.
Legs would turn the pedals for several rotations, before muscles screamed and lungs burst. It was an incredibly strange experience, especially given that sixty seconds later, I felt fit again to give it another go – process repeats itself.
The likes of Alichur and Murghab leave little to write home about, until you hit the Karakol lake and really get a sense of the Plateau. But I cannot forget the Ak–Baital pass, which takes you up to 4655 metres, the highest point of the highway.
Here, I felt like a mountaineer, and on a bicycle too! Especially given that Mount Blanc is only a few hundred metres taller. I wont pretend that the view wasn’t underwelming. But then again its hard not to be, when you have cycle amongst snow capped peaks for the last two and a half weeks – and continue to do so.
Down and along Lake Karakol, into mystical views of what seems like a never ending desktop background. Insane backdrop to breathe in. Finally, the last two passes of the Plateau and I’m on my way to Kyrgyzstan already.
I was relieved to be leaving after taking so much in. But I underestimated the journey to Osh, with a couple more high passes, the last of which belonged back in Tajikistan. I understand now, why the Pamirs finishes in the second largest city in Kyrgyzstan.
There is still so much more that I couldn’t fit into this post, because im trying not to waffle and I want some secret material for future stories.
All in all, an amazing and tough experience that Im glad I tackled. I hope that when people – at home especially; get a sense of this stage of the journey, feel it deserves a donations to Meningitis Now and Macmillan Cancer Support. Perhaps it motivates them to get outside and start an adventure?!
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