Karakul to Musket 52km
Muzket to Mugarb 80km
Imagine cycling up Jacks Pass, dragging 50kg of gear, and only being able to breath through two milkshake straws. Very quickly your leg muscles tie up, and you're gasping for oxygen. If you're lucky you might cycle 100m between resting, to suck in breath. More realistically 50m is the maximum you will cycle. That's what yesterday morning was like for me. Eight kms of very, very hard up hill. But after just over two hours, I was rewarded with reaching the high point, probably of my whole world trip, 4670m. It was very cold, and very windy, so I only stayed long enough to take a couple of photos, and catch my breath, and then headed down the other side. Wow it was easy.
The previous day, in contrast, had been almost all flat, but still exhausting. I know I haven't recovered from the beating my body got on the first Pass, and to top that off, I'd slept really poorly, unusually, and today the wind continued, and now some of the road was badly corrigated (washboarded is how the cyclists described it), and that is very hard work. But I did meet a delightful Belgium couple cycling in the other direction. Their most useful information was to take the track just to the side of the main road, as it ran parallel but was a lot less rough....and excellent advice it was too. Thank you folk, and thanks for the invite to stay in Brussels.
I came off the much better side track at a yurt. The lady there was very enthusiastic that I come and have chai, rest and perhaps sleep with her family, but I turned her down. I wanted to get as close to the next climb as possible before I stopped for the day. As it worked out, this was only about four, bone rattling kms of corregations away, and any thoughts of perhaps climbing the Pass were very quickly forgotten, as I could see a big storm heading my way.
At the side of the road, right next to a clear stream, the first since Sary Tash, was a ruined mudbrick cottage. Inside was just enough room to put up my tent. No sooner had I got it up, and everything inside, than the storm hit. Initially it was just wind, but wow what wind. I was convinced that the tent, all my gear, and I were going to be airborne, and that was in the shelter of the ruin. With the wind came the sand, and even with everything closed, I could have built a sandcastle with the amount of sand that came inside the tent. I buried my head under my sarong, and sat it out. After about an hour, the wind stopped, and about three rain drops fell. The storm was over. I could hear the marmots coming out to investigate the damage, calling to each other.
I was just getting some food together, cleaning the sand out of my sandwiches, when I heard someone call out to me. A French couple from Paris had arrived. They had come down off the Pass in the wind storm, riding a bike with the front person on a Recumbent, and the back person upright. Interesting set up, but room for lots of gear. They decided to pitch camp as well, hoping to get some shelter should the wind return overnight. She was a recently qualified Doctor, and he worked for the French equivalent to Department of Conservation (DOC and Doc). The night was very calm.
Over the Pass, I met a Polish couple, and two Swiss lads. We stopped and had chai together. One of their main concerns was mosquitos. Apparently they couldn't get away from them. I hadn't seen any, but I found out about them a little further down the road, when I stopped for a break. Within seconds I was swamped.....nasty beasts. One consolation was that I was cycling downhill. Two further cyclists coming towards me, the first two solo cyclists I've seen in Central Asia, were being mauled by mosquitos. The difference was that I had a slight downhill, and was riding faster than the mosquitos could fly, while the mosquitos were able to keep up with the uphill traffic......ain't I lucky.
The last 8km to Mugarb was downhill, lovely. I rolled into the biggest town I'm going to see for the next three weeks, and it's smaller than Hanmer Springs, and a lot less pleasant. Surrounded by completely barren, rocky hills.....not a tree or bush in sight, you have to wonder why it was even built here. The "shopping centre", the Bizarre, is two rows of containers along a dusty gravel street, and there is very little stock of any kind in any of them......just the very basics. The only sealed road is the main one. Everything else is dirt.
There's no running water, electricity for only a couple of hours a day, and only open pit toilets. There is one hotel, and a new bank, but I can't figure out what the rest of the population do to make a living, and why here? We really don't know how lucky we are.
Despite that, I'm having a rest day. I'll scavenge a few supplies from the Bizarre, wash some very sandy clothes, eat and sleep. The hostest makes some very very yummy bread, butter and jam. Wish I had some Marmite.