Everytime we meet some guys doing the Mongol Rally they do not hesitate in pointing out how crazy we are for doing the Pamir Highway on bicycles. On the steep 10km out of Khorog I couldn’t agree more with them. After a few rest day at the Pamir Lodge, the legs struggled to move, just as I struggled to feel motivated on carrying on. Lukas and Birk had left a couple of days before us, while Annalise and Lien, 2 Belgian girls, decided to spend an extra day at the Lodge to recover from a stomach bug. Lena and Stephan, too, made it to Khorog a day later but it was also their turn to rest. Hence, when we left, we were on our own again. It took us two days to reach Jelondi and the hot springs. It took us two more days to leave it.
At 3500m of altitude I was having a mild headache, while Ross developed an inexplicable knee pain and swollowness that prevented him to move. So the day we were meant to start the second mountain pass we only rode 10kms, in which we moved from one hot spring to the other. Being stuck a couple of days in Jelondy meant that Lien, Annalise, Lena and Stephan were able to join us once again.
The anti inflammatories worked well on Ross’ knee and the day after we were able to ascent Koitezek Pass altogether. We were proceeding slowly and steadily on perfect tarmac, but the last 6-7 km of the climb became a nightmare made of gravel and an inclination of 12%. My legs and lungs were not cooperating. And so did my brain, as I leaned the bike on the dusty road, sat next to it and started crying.
The struggle was mainly in my head, which was refusing to find a justification for what we were doing. Why would I self-inflict such a physical pain? What is there to gain from it? What do I need to demonstrate? And to who?! Do you know you could see exactly the same scenery from a car window??
Well, I just couldn’t stop thinking of all this and when Ross came to check on me, between another tear and a sniffle, I shouted that I was hating it.
With a patience I am so grateful for, he helped me stand up and get back on my bike, encouraging me and stopping with me until we reached the most inglorious mountain pass we have ever done. At the top there wasn’t even a sign. You know, one of those you find all over Europe’ s Hors Categorie climbs and where you can take a photo, just so you can tell the world: “Hey, look at me! I did it! I did it!”.
After all that effort, a dusty and windy plateau opened in front of us. We cheered and high fived each other, played around with Lena and Stephan’s drone, and off we were on our bikes again.
We pushed for another 25km and decided to camp early. The wind was cold and felt like blades on our faces; by 5pm we were in our tent, having had only instant noodles for late lunch/early dinner, and devouring the first season of “The Americans” in our cosy sleeping bags.
The day after, without too many troubles, we reached Alichur. A tiny village in the middle of nowhere, with sparsely built mud houses, it was quite a surreal view. We found a warm heaven at Rahima’s homestay, where she fed us with plov, bread and plenty of tea.
The sight of fresh fruit and veggies had been drastically diminishing since getting deeper into the country and when we tried to buy some apples from a local shop in Alichur, the lady behind the counter simply said: “Niet!”. For the first time on our trip we encountered some reluctancy from the locals in selling some produce, but it didn’t come as a complete surprise. We had read somewhere that shop-keepers try to preserve the most precious stock for the community – which I suppose it makes sense if you live in such a remote and isolated place.
We didn’t have the most amazing night sleep, but that gave me time to think and convince myself that I wanted to make it to Murghab in one day.
It was going to be a 108km ride. With Neizatash Pass in between. Crazy, right?!
Well, after a filling eggy breakfast at Rahima’s place, we got back on the M41 and managed to do 30km in less than 2 hours. And then 30 more, until we had the pass behind us by 1pm. At that point, with strong tailwinds and a glorious descent ahead, nothing could stop us.
Soon Murghab was on sight, sitting in a large valley and half shadowed by the mountains behind it. One of old soviet check points marked the entrance into town. We rolled into the Pamir Hotel – the one with the most electricity allowance in town – and had a few beers.
I looked at the map, contemplating how far we had already gone, which was as far East as the Tajik geopolitics would allow us to go. All was left of the Pamir Highway was a 400km ride North, over the mighty and infamous Akbaital Pass – although, personally, I wasn’t particularly looking forward to that.
But that, of course, is another story.