Gulcha River to Taldyk Pass (3580m) 46km
To Sary Tash (3100m) 12km
I've ridden 20km and spot a "Cafe" and decide a chai and flat, round loaf of bread might be appropriate. I'm joined by a young Frenchman, dressed in all his winter clothes. He's just come over the pass, and is heading downhill, into a cool breeze. I'm sweating, going uphill, with the breeze behind me. He told his mother, as he cycled away from home, that he was going to Italy. Eight months later, and he has obviously been bitten by the bug. He offered me a bed in the French Alps.
Not 5km later and I meet a group of six cyclists from Poland and Slovakia. Four ladies and two lucky young men. They're cycling for just a few weeks, and finish in Osh and Bishkek. This is the largest group I've seen on the road. It reminds me of how lonely you can sometimes get, riding alone. They're all very happy, perhaps because they only cycle 40 to 50km a day.
Just a few kms later, and I cycle into a linear village.....and see a large number of tiny people running towards me. I'm surrounded by at least 20 kids, most under 6 or 7 years old. I can't move. They want photos. They want food. They want to ride my bike. Some of the girls are dressed really colourfully, even with painted fingernails. As I try to move through them, they run beside me, making it very hard to move. One small tot runs under my handlebars and bangs her head. In Russian, "ouch" is "ouch". I eventually get away from them.
And then the climb starts. It's a big hill, and it's steep. I stupidly refuse a lift early on. I'm then rained upon, sleeted upon, and rained upon again. It's tough. I have numerous stops. I eat, I drink, I stop for photos, but the zigzags continue. This is so much harder than Nepal or India. I decide I'm going to camp at the top....
3580m. I'm exhausted, and there are two scrounging, inquisitive shepard boys hanging around, and it's bitterly cold. I layer up and enjoy some downhill, although it's wet and the road is slippery so I moderate my speed. I come to a saddle, and before me is more uphill.....nope, can't do it. I see a small side road down to some pasture. That's my campsite.......
It's raining and I'm rushing to get the tent up and get everything in to shelter. As I finish, the rain stops, and five kids from a neighbouring yurt turn up, two boys, perhaps 7 or 8 years old, and three girls, 12 to 14. Immediately, they try to convince me to shift my tent to near their yurt, perhaps 500m across the pasture, swamp and streams. They tell me I should be sleeping in their yurt, as it will be warmer, and I will be safe from the.....Grrrrrrrr...... I disagree, and start unpacking sleeping mat, sleeping bag and the like. They are all eyes......and hands, and questions. What's this? Is this for me? They find my Prostate Cancer Hats...and take them hostage. I need to visit their yurt to get them back.
I go with them to the yurt, and am given the prime spot next to the fire. Chai and food appear, including freshly made butter. They grab my phone to take photos, and for the next hour amuse themselves looking at my photos. Mum, Dad and Grannie are all captivated. I don't have to do anything but observe. The young boys are sent out to retrieve the animals from the hill, and Mum starts cutting up fresh meat. It's time for me to leave. I head back to my tent and have a snack instead of a meal.
Then the kids turn up again, bringing me freshly picked flowers. For the next hour, we play "don't touch that", as I try to protect my stuff from inquisitive young hands. Just before dark, I finally convince them I need to sleep. All five, climb on a horse and return to their yurt. I'm just drifting to sleep, and I hear...."Mister..mister". It's Dad. He's ridden over to ensure I'm okay, warm enough, and have had enough to eat. He also wants to have a look inside the tent, and to have another look at some photos, particularly of animals in other countries. He tells me it will probably snow tonight. Do I want to come to the yurt? Thanks, but no thanks.
My tent fly is frozen solid. I've slept really well. I did climb a big hill yesterday. Turns out, it's only 30 minutes uphill to the next pass, 3540m. And then it's a wonderful 10km downhill to Sary Tash, with the most amazing backdrop......the Pamirs, a huge wall of mountains, covered in fresh snow. I reckon a couple of days rest here will not be too unpleasant.