Sagirdash Pass 3252m to
Up the Creek 60km to
Abical Abon 80km to
The cloud had dropped over night so everything was damp, inside and outside the tent. Neither Nick nor I had stood on a mine overnight, so that was good news, and we knew that we had a fair bit of downhill to cycle, which would be a rather nice change after yesterday's uphill pounding of our already tired bodies. So despite the gloomy weather, things were looking good. And indeed the downhill was long, and challenging, and I was wishing I had my mountainbike, without the panniers and trailer...... and Nick was wishing he had wider wheels and......brakes. His collapsed perhaps 5km into the 30km descent...oh bother.
We reaccessed at a river crossing near the bottom of the descent, and he decided, that with care, he would see the day out. We chatted to a group of fishermen, off on a weekend trip, with a overloaded donkey. They seemed pretty excited about getting away overnight, but we both commented.....fishing? Without beer?
Not long after we meet Nita and Kieran, from Christchurch, and sat down for a picnic lunch with them. I'm always excited to meet fellow kiwis, hear news from home, find out who we know in common, and speak NZish. It's a delight. Even better when the other kiwis have so much in common. Nita and Kieran's only mistake.....they're cycling in the wrong direction. Wow, they have so, so much uphill before reaching Osh or Bishkek. Both Nick and I felt for them, as we smuggly cycled even further ..... downhill.
We are stopped at a Police Check Point. They like to keep tabs on us cyclists, and a lone Frenchman cycles in from the other direction. We all cross the river to a small town for supplies. The Frenchman, who is gluten intolerant, starts plying us with food..fruit, and nuts. We try to refuse as he is also heading uphill, and we know he needs these supplies. Being gluten free in an area where bread, goat and potatoes is the staple food is going to be hard. We learn later, that this guy has been cooking for everyone staying at the Green House Lodge for a week. Just a very generous person.
Yesterday's climb, and today's pounding on the rough downhill have taken their toll. We stop early to camp. Nick does some maintenance on his brakes. He hopes they'll get him to Dushanbe. How much more downhill can there be? A couple of local kids turn up on their BMX, and "help" him. As always, they're really interested in all our bits and pieces. Thankfully, after an hour they loose interest, or remember they've got stock to shift, and leave. Then a puppy turns up, pretty cute, and obviously homeless. I was convinced Nick was about to adopt him, but the puppy, even after a lot of coaxing, was still very shy, and kept moving away, lying down and observing. Perhaps Nick's load would not be heavier tomorrow.
Day three, and we figured we had another 40km to go to the road junction, where it was hinted the road condition would get better, oh but it felt a long way.....still downhill, but still rough road. We did have a short respite under a gorgeous waterfall. That's not to say the scenery wasn't pretty amazing. Gorges, huge rock faces, fast flowing streams, but still rutted corregations, sand, stones, mud, clay, open drains, occasional broken asphalt, rim buckling, tyre pinching, hard core boulders, muddy puddles, and animal excrement to tend with. Since entering Tajikistan, that's the only type of road we'd seen for over 1000km. We were looking for some relief. Then, after a particularly rough piece of road, and a very rickety bridge......the highway junction, and yet another Police Check..... and heading towards Dushanbe.....smooth tarmac.
But the dream was short lived. Although the sealed surface was so much better, it came in only short segments. The rest of the road seemed to be prepared for sealing, but not yet completed. Bother. And there were hills. And the uphills were generally the unsealed bits. And the traffic was heavier. And it was hot. And Nick was knackered.
We found a restaurant of sorts, more a truckers stop, and I forced some food into him, soup, bread and Chai, but that didn't lift his spirits much. But he was determined. Nick really wanted to get to Dushanbe the next day, so we needed to get closer. We took off again. To be honest, after the bashing we've been given our bodies over the last week, seeing the road rise up before us, high onto bluffs above the river, wasn't really attractive, but I felt reasonably good, so I lead the way. Up the gravelly, stoney, rutted hill, and sometimes, if we're lucky, down a smooth bit of tramac......repeat five times. It was tough. It was hot. It was tiring, and it was getting late in the day. It was time to start looking for somewhere to stay. And then I found it......a"magazine"(Soviet kiosk) that sold cold drinks. Not drinks out of a cabinet that isn't turned on...... but real cold drinks. Bliss. The first cold drink all week. Couldn't come at a better time.