The stretch between Qal'ai Khumb and Khorog was only 240 kilometers. But with bike issues, military visits and patients along the road it was a very eventful couple of days.
There are a million amazing camp spots on the Pamir, but some days it seemed nearly impossible to find one. We were locked in between the river and the mountains that formed a high wall next to the road. The only flat grassy area was right next to the road, but after clearing some of the dried up cow droppings we made it work.
Wheel of disaster
Happy to be cycling as a group we set off the next morning. Daniel noticed a wobbly wheel, so we stopped to check it out. Thats when disaster struck. He had broken a spoke on his rear wheel, and needed to replace it. Everything that could possibly go wrong happened. His derailleur pad snapped and the cage bent while he was trying to take the cassette off.
We will rock you
We found a small shop where we could borrow some tools. With a lead pipe, our cassette tool and Daniels chain, Robin and Daniel managed to finally get the cassette off to replace the spoke. Of course a big group of local kids (plus one old man) found all of this very interesting. They all wanted to see what these strange people where doing in their little town. Thea was great at distracting them from the guys, by teaching them the We will rock you dance and her signing (not singing), which she does as a profession.
With 32 kilometers it was just a short day, but we were rewarded with a great camp spot. Next to the road, down by the river was a flat area with some trees and enough flat grass to pitch our tent. Across the road was also a military base camp, so before we pitched our tent we checked with them if it was okay. We knocked on the big green door and a small hatch opened.
In our best Russian (read by saying palatka, tonight, sleep, okay, yes? and putting two thumbs up with a big smile) we explained the situation. Every time the hatch would close and open again with a bigger hat to hear our request. Eventually we figured out it was no problem. We even asked them to charge our power banks and Wahoo’s and that was fine too.
How we ride
It was a beautiful starry night. Daniel and Thea celebrated their successful bicycle repair with a camp fire. We sat around the fire and talked about how and why we travel. About the choices we make and how they affect us. Should we be hard or easy on ourselves. Fight or bend. Give in or soldier on. Hitch or ride. Amongst many cyclists there is a feeling you should cycle everything. Even the extremely hard or absolutely boring parts that don’t give joy in any way. After all we chose to go bicycle touring right? We even get comments about hitchhiking a 400k desert stretch from strangers on Facebook. ‘Cycle all the way or go backpacking’.
But why? We are doing this because we are cutting ourselves slack. Not following the typical life path that fits in a consumers market. Yes we went to college and got a job. For us however, the next step wasn’t a mortgage and first a dog, then a baby. We chose to do it in our own way. It isn’t necessary to do difficult things just because it’s in your expected path. You can certainly choose to, but you don’t have to. To each his own.
Thankfully most reactions we get are positive, no matter if we ‘cheat’ sometimes. People are curious about our daily life, always on the road. How we cook and how we sleep. So were the soldiers that came to check up on us, scaring us a bit when they emerged from the smoke from our camp fire holding their big rifles. They too, just wanted to see what we were up to. These weird cyclists next to their base. The next morning they came again, this time with our fully charged devices.
Four becomes five
At our first snack stop, we see a familiair bicycle outside a restaurant. Immediately after we saw the owner, James from the UK. Our other roommate at Green House in Dushanbe. He had set off a few days before us together with Frederik from Belgium. They were quick fast, so we hadn’t expected to see them again. They had both fallen sick and had a few days of recovery in Qal'ai Khumb. James had opted for a fancy hotel and recovered before Fred, so he had continued but only to find himself sick in this little town again.
Luckily the restaurant owner took care of him and he was just about to get on his way when we cycled along. We loved cycling in a group, so we were happy to add James to our little cycling quartet. Four had now become five.
Sharing stories distracted us a bit from the terrible road conditions. It kept going up and down all day long and you had to focus on the road to avoid the big rocks. At one point Sabina’s panniers even decided they'd had enough of it and completely gave in. The glued seam had popped open, probably due to all the bouncing and the hot sun melting it. We had just stopped with some overlanders we’d met previously in Green House Dushanbe. With their help we taped them back together, so they would hopefully last until Khorog.
We all rode at a slightly different pace, but that didn’t matter. We would always wait for each other at the small shops. We had to fill up on water, and of course eat a million Snickers bars and gallons of ice cream. In Rushon we had a special mission. Our SIM cards had stopped working after only ten days, even though the employee had promised us a month. We had tried to address it in Qal'ai Khumb, but they didn’t want to help us and simply closed the store. In Rushon they weren’t of much help either. We agreed with the lady that we would get new SIM cards, but then all of a sudden she wanted us to pay the full amount for a whole month again.
Stealing SIM cards
After at least forty-five minutes of going back and forth we decided we had enough. As James and Robin where just starting a tea party across the street, we decided to leave with our new SIM cards. The lady said she was calling the police, so that tea party had to be cut short. We cycled out of that town as fast as we could, constantly looking over our shoulders. For obvious reasons the SIM cards where deactivated immediately and the coppers never showed. It was a big waste of time, and of a tea party too.
Khorog in sight
As Khorog was getting closer and closer, the roads where also starting to improve. Just one more night and one more day of riding before we could finally rest. It was much needed, because Robin was feeling worse by the day. Sabina and James insisted on camping on a sand bank, where they’d hoped to find some shelter from the wind. We carried the bikes down and pitched our tents in the sand. The pegs didn’t get any grip in the sand so James’ tent almost ended up in Afghanistan if Robin hadn’t sprinted after it and caught it.
We saw a truck pass by with Frederiks bike on it, so we knew we would see him again in Khorog. One more thing to look forward to. That and coffee of course.
The Pamir Lodge
The last stretch to Khorog we cycled with just the two of us. The road had truly become a road again and we felt like we had cycled back into civilization. We passed the airport with a cow on the landing strip. There are no flights anymore since Aeroflot suspended the flight to Dushanbe in 2017. This was the only route on which Aeroflot paid its pilots danger money.
As we finally cycled into the city we saw Fred. He had just been to the hospital and was given some medicine and they’d ran multiple tests. He was staying at the same hostel we wanted to go. The Pamir Lodge is the place to be for cyclists. We have no idea who came up with this, because it is only reachable by a ridiculously steep road. It felt so mean.
The Pamir Lodge was a good place to stay and to meet other cyclists. Unfortunately Robin was only feeling worse and after a few days of only getting sicker, Sabina made him go to the hospital. Within ten minutes he was seen by an English speaking doctor and she immediately admitted him to the emergency room. He was completely dehydrated and needed to get fluids asap.
With a bag full of medicine, dietary advice and supplements we were sent on our way the same day. Now it was time to recover and that needed time. The hardest part was after all still to come.