Astara to Namin 59km
To Nir 67km
I have to regretfully and sadly announce that my favourite blue short-sleeved Icebreaker shirt is no more. It was already pretty (Juliet would say very, or disgustingly) scruffy, but it was oh so comfortable, and if I wore my hi-viz top over it, you couldn't see most the holes.... Anyway, yesterday, I was invited for lunch, and the Icebreaker was soaking wet, so I changed into another shirt. After lunch, trying to put the Icebreaker back on, my fingers snagged in one of the holes..... and the Icebreaker ripped right up the back. I almost cried. Please Mr Bivouac Outdoor. Can I get another one?
I reckon I must be getting soft, after the last week or so on flat roads. Suddenly, I'm climbing hills again, really big ones, and being smashed by a fierce headwind. I've had it good for too long I suppose. This means my daily kms have suddenly dropped, from 120 and 140km to 60ish.... and I'm really tired after the 60km.
I'm not the only thing tired. Some of my kit is feeling the pinch of 17 months on the road. My Solar Monkey charger, after sitting on the back of my bike for 25,000km, has stopped working. My Brooks seat, that split some months ago, and has been held together with duct tape ever since, is looking worse for the wear. One of my Keens clip on sandals has a huge crack across the sole, which makes clipping the cleat into the pedal difficult. A dose of glue fixed it for about a week. And one of the clips that connects the trailer to Fiona keeps bouncing undone. Zip ties are not solving the problem. Despite all that, I'm still the tourist attraction.
Yesterday a guy on a single front fork bicycle, Cannondale I think, turned up for a chat. I was taking a breather halfway up the hill. "Come to lunch". Okay. We go across the road, where I order, but he doesn't. He has to wait for his wife. Turns out, he's 69 years old, a retired Engineer, he built this road, and
a very experienced mountaineer. He pays for my lunch, and invites me to stay with him when I get to Tabriz in a few days. Normally he and his wife live in London, because all his kids, who went there to study, didn't want to come back to Iran. Apparently most of the well educated Iranians are living overseas. Three million live in the USA, and many of them are top surgeons, doctors or scientists.
When I leave the restaurant, a thick mist has appeared. For the next 20km of the climb I can hardly see 50m in front of Fiona. That doesn't slow the traffic down though. It doesn't stop me spotting two German ladies cycling downhill. We chat for a while, and the tell me it's 5km to the top. Sorry ladies. Wrong. It's five kms until I get out of the cloud and get to see the mountains of Azerbaijan in the north. By this time I feeling pretty knackered, so I stop for a drink, and to take a photo, and become the subject of about a dozen holiday snaps. At least some ask. Others just side up close and smile at mum.
Then from up the road, another cyclist. This is Allan, from Costa Rica. He's been on the road for two and a half years, and we are already Facebook friends...... how did that happen? As always, it's great trading stories, routes and thoughts. Allan had more idea than the German ladies. It's 5km to the tunnel at the top of the hill. By then, I've had enough, and my mountaineer friend has warned me of a rough nights weather, so I find a hotel, just as the heavens open.
Next morning, the rain has stopped, but there's a wind, and it's right in my face. I'm in granny gear on the flat, and then there are a couple of hills, where yesterday's climb, and today's wind really stretch the fitness. I'm trying to spot a sheltered campsite, even though it looks like another rain storm coming, when I top a hill, and there's a small town, with a hotel. Couldn't have come at a better time.
The morning of Day 3, heading into the wind, I'd got up really early to try and beat the wind. It didn't work. It's 9.30am, and in three hours I've cycled 18km. Well some I've walked. The wind is so strong I'm being blown off the road. When trucks pass, I'm being sucked into their slipstream, then spat off the edge of the road. It's dangerous, but there is no where to stop for shelter. Hmmmm. After walking two kms I find a shed to hide behind. Now I'm getting cold. For the first time in Iran, I'm glad I'm wearing longs. At this rate it's going to take three days to get to Tabriz. My visa is running out. I start looking at vehicles that might be able to fit Fiona and I on board. I wave at one, a small ute. He stops, and motions that I should load everything on the back. Hmmmmmm, okay. To the next town, I think, where I can re-evaluate. 20km later, and I motion to stop. He has no English. He shakes his head. "Tabriz". Hmmmm, okay. In 90 mins I save myself three days of hard cycling, and I learnt lots: not to buy a secondhand Iranian car, it's red lining every gear change, how to triple pass, and how to save fuel going downhill...no motor.