Grumpiness on being woken at 5 by noisy people in the lodge soon gives way to exhilaration when we get onto the road up into the mountains. Stunning landscape and suprisingly good tarmac making it a contender for best riding day. We stop at 9000 feet next to the fast flowing river of ice cold melt water for coffee and scrambled eggs to go with the fresh bread we picked up before leaving town. Soon we’re up to 14000 feet, after a brief stop to fit a new air filter when my bike started struggling at about 11000 feet. The mountains are spectacular and the feeling of blasting along on the bike on this road with this view at this altitude this far from home after riding more than 7000 miles is amazing. It’s also great fun having the road to ourselves. We stop for lunch (french onion soup and bread), and are just getting ready to leave when another bike appears. It’s Tiffany and pillion Anna, seems we finally caught up with her and overtook while they were in a cafe. Another superbly enjoyable blast down to Murgab where Tiffany finds the best guesthouse and negotiates a great rate. Tiffany offers to cook tonight, so we offer to buy food. Petrol is the first need, and the guesthouse owner makes a phone call then leads us in his lada to someones house where we buy petrol from a jerrycan. We find a mostly empty market and manage to buy a selection of vegetables and a bottle of vodka. Tiffany makes a really good curry with sticky rice, and we share biking stories and vodka.
Off at 6.30 am in anticipation of a long ride. Bike feeling much better on the rough stuff with dirt tyres front and rear. Must have been some rain overnight, making the roads a bit slippery. After about 40 miles we came across a fresh landslide from last night’s rain, blocking the road. There was a 4×4 stuck on top of the pile of very wet mud and rock, and a bunch of people standing around not really doing anything. Being British, we got stuck in and started shovelling mud and helping to push the car, which was well and truly stuck in mud that turned to water under your feet, like quicksand. They called up a truck to help tow the car out, but the only tow rope around was too short. I offered up my tie down straps, but the idiot truck driver pulled away so sharply that the hooks bent. Eventually, after much pushing and pulling, mostly by us as all the locals just stood around not wanting to get their shoes dirty (they wear very impractical clothes here, and it’s quite comical seeing a man in military fatigues wearing school shoes), the car made it over. Then it was our turn. With absolutely no help from the crowd of onlookers, we dug away a path through one pile of mud, perilously close to the edge, and i piled some rocks to give traction up the next pile. After removing the panniers to make things more manageable, i carefully rolled round the path we had just cleared, trying not to look at the steep drop on my right, and then gunned it up the steep slope of sticky mud, hanging on for the ride, fingers metaphorically crossed. Made it about half way. With dave pushing and pulling, we gradually rocked it over the top for another roller coaster ride down the other side. Exhausted, relieved and amazed, we went back for dave’s bike, and with better technique on my second go, with dave pushing again, we made it over, covering dave from head to toe in mud. And off we went, while all the idle onlookers just stood there. They’re probably still there, even though between them they could have shovelled it all away in an hour or so. Staring seems to be the national passtime in this country. The road was much better than expected, and blasting over the gravel was fun. The scenery was just incredible, like Lord Of The Rings country. We made good time, avoided getting robbed by any more militia, simply by blasting past and waving in return to their gestures to stop. Arriving in Khorog we rode around for a while trying to find the Pamir Lodge, and with a little luck we found it. Another exhausting but exhilarating day.
Filled up with petrol in Kulob. No pump, just scooped out of a barrel. Then after asking half a dozen locals for directions we eventually found our way out on to the road to Kalaikum and quickly started up into the mountains. A quick a thankfully bribe free passport check at the end of the tarmac and onto the rough stuff. Very rough. A lot of fairly easy gravel with loads of potholes, but the recent landslides were really hard to cross. Amazingly there were a lot of big trucks on the road, it must take them forever and be very difficult. We came to a very rickety looking bridge and walked across to scope it out. It looked pretty scary. Big holes, no barrier. Nervously, we rolled onto it and found it to be actually pretty easy going. Not so the next obstacle, a fast flowing torrent of water about 3 feet deep at the edge, 50 feet across and flowing straight over the road and out into space. With a load of trucks queueing up to have a go, and no other option, we had to just gun it and pray. Incredibly we stayed upright, weren’t swept away, and blasted to the hill on the other side. We covered about 10 miles in an hour over stuff like this. Twice we were stopped by groups of 3 young lads in military uniforms carrying AK47s. They looked about 12 years old and seemed to be just walking along in the middle of nowhere. Probably some sort of border patrol as just across the river, literally a stone’s throw, is Afghanistan. The first group obviously wanted money, after playing dumb for a while it became clear we weren’t getting away free, so handed over 10 of the local each for each boy. 60 smackers. The next 3 seemed happy to walk away with 3 tins of sardines, a tin of tomatoes, a tin of sweetcorn, and a packet of toffees, thus depriving us of a campsite meal but leaving wallets intact. It really was little short of robbery, but if you give kids guns in a place like this it’s what will happen. A brief hold up at a fresh landslide being bulldozed out of the way, leaving us a very challenging ride across freshly torn up ground, uphill, squeezing past more trucks waiting to get through. Then bizarrely a stretch of perfect tarmac in the middle of nowhere and eventually to Kalaikum for more petrol from the barrel and another passport checkpoint. Riding through the villages kids come running out to shout and wave. They shout “hello hello hello!” and look so pleased when we wave back. In the town a group of kids link hands to block the road so i twist the throttle wide open and roar directly at them. They scatter, laughing and cheering. After asking a few times for “gastinitsa”, the russian for guesthouse, we found our way to a very odd little shack of a house where the lovely Maya made us chai and a meal of potato, onion, and the bits of chicken you’d normally throw away. After dinner, which was actually very nice, we set to work changing my front tyre, then experienced the horror that passes for a toilet for these people, before retiring to our room, seemingly in the family home, to sleep on the floor in our sleeping bags in conditions nowhere near as nice as our tents, but much more unusual.
Up early to fix the rear brake master cylinder on Dave’s bike that fell off and melted on the exhaust yesterday. Bled the system, all seemed ok. Dave found out he’s just become an uncle for the first time. Elected to take the southern route to Kalaichum as it’s apparently better road and we still have road tyres on. Good ride, nice fast road, good views. Some left over mudslides on the road, now dry and easy to navigate, but making us glad we weren’t here 2 weeks ago when it was raining and the mudslides were fresh. Dave’s bike running perfectly, but the rear master cylinder sprung another leak. Got to Kulob about 3pm, found a massive soviet hotel, far too big for the town, and decided to check in and have a breather til it gets cooler, then set about changing tyres. Attracted a lot of attention arriving at the hotel, till the staff shouted at the kids to clear off. Had dinner in the hotel restaurant, wierdly empty, some sort of chicken stew even though i asked for steak and chips. Then 4 hours changing tyres in front of the hotel, right outside the entrance, with a full crowd of onlookers sat or stood watching for the whole 4 hours. Only got 3 tyres done, still need to do my front. My rear tyre was painful, hard to get on and then wouldn’t stay up so we had to start again. Absolutely worn out and filthy with grime, back to the hotel room to clean up and have a beer.
Up very early. Dave’s bike still not running right. Tried cleaning up the carb enricher which was a bit dirty inside. No real difference. Swapped in my carb, bike runs fine. Compared carbs side by side. Checked everything. Found a tiny beetle in the float chamber. Maybe that was the culprit. Also adjusted a screw that does god knows what to make it the same as mine. Carb back in, bike seems to be running. Fit temporary air filter made from mesh pocket of tent. Still running ok. Could we really be ok now? Was it that tiny beetle blocking the fuel jet? Off we go, up to the Anzob tunnel, and Dave’s bike runs perfectly. The tunnel is frightening. 5km of pitch black half-built road, thick with exhaust fumes and nothing but deep, water filled potholes. It’s a nerve wracking ride but we make it through, and most of the rest of the way to Dushanbe is good new tarmac. Dave runs out of juice and has to switch to reserve. In the city, i make an illegal left turn right in front of some cops. They pull up over, we act dumb until they get bored and let us go. We find the guest house and allow the relief of having a working bike to sink in.