The end of central Asia

(Before I start I must credit Barry for taking a selection of these photos, he has been putting in a huge effort in his photography whilst we ride and is producing some great images. Thanks man!)

Kyrgystan is a country that all long distance travellers heading west, that we came across, said was their favourite. Word was it was simply beautiful.
Having overcome illness from Tajikistan and meeting fellow bicycle tourers we had befriended in Dushanbe where we were staying in Osh, it was hard to leave.
We were eating well and socialising in large groups.

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(evening communal meal)

However the road eventually called and a group of 7 of us decided to head north to the capital city of Bishkek.
Alongside Sarah and Scott were 2 more Aussies, Paul and Leiset and a french man, Bertrand.

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We spent 5 days and nights riding as a group together, meandering slowly through small villages and winding hills towards our first big mountain pass.

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One day it was raining, after a few hours and negotiating large mud pools we collectively decided to stop and rest in an empty farmers building. Here we made a fire to warm up and dry our clothes.

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The next day Paul & Leiset decided to turn back and find an alternative route to the capital, avoiding the upcoming mountains.

So we carried on as a group of 5 up to a 3050metre pass. This was also the first time many of us had cycled in snow!

As we carried on though the valley a big wall of mountain lay ahead, we could see what looked like impossible switchbacks up to the snowline, we laughed that surely we weren’t climbing that!

Oh yes we were!!

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Bertrand and I reached the summit at 5pm, it was freezing cold. The water bottles on our bikes started to turn solid.
However the other 3 were some distance back and couldn’t make it up before sunset so we parted ways and us 2 headed down the other side arranging to meet them in the next town. This was achieved by sending paper messages to each other via passing trucks.

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(We camped inside the buildings in the centre)

When we regrouped we had another pass, this time 2800m. We all managed to stick together for this one.

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The road up the pass was gruelling, the road conditions similar to Tajikistan. But we all made it!
The descent after this was just simply incredible, it also blessed us with the best view I have seen all trip, hard to give it justice with my point and shoot compact camera.
It was a real ‘pinch yourself’ and ‘you had to be there’ moment for many of us.

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Slowly but surely we found our way to Bishkek.

This city marks the end of of time in Central Asia and with our good friends, Sarah, Scott and Bertrand who carry on to China through the winter.

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From here Barry and I we have decided to fly to Bangkok in Thailand, in time for the good weather there.
We will have a farewell beer here before we too part ways and continue our respective journeys.

This point also marks the end of stage 3, a continual line of travelling through connected countries and just under half the distance I want to cycle around the world (20,000km).
On refelection I feel priviledged to be undertaking such a trip and am still as motivated and eager to continue.

Next stop, south east Asia!

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I hope you are all well Xx

The Pamir Highway

For a lot of long distance cyclists travelling between Europe and SE asia brings up a few possibilities. Like Barry and I, some choose through central asia, and others, the middle east. Then either travel through China or fly to India to continue east. However most end up in the same place midway. Here in Tajikistan, on the renouned M41 ‘Pamir Highway’. A road starting in Afghanistan meandering through 5 countries into the mountains of Tajikistan and finishing is Kyrgystan. It poses both extremely challenging road and riding conditions. Its almost a right of passage and a real test of a riders physical and mental abilities. The reward however is incredible scenery. The Pamir highway is what a lot of us seek in a big tour. Solitude, baron landscapes, self-sufficiency and pure adventure.

I had been looking forward to this for years and was very excited to start.

Continuing where I left off, we were staying in the Tajik capital of Dushanbe at a warmshowers host property. Her name is Vero and is a legend amongst the touring community who pass through central asia. We met roughly 20 other tourers over the few days we spent there. Sharing stories and eating big communal meals together. It was a small paradise to relax and unwind.

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It is here we met up with 2 Australian riders, a couple from Brisbane, Scott and Sarah. We had met in Istanbul and then again in Ankara, Turkey and stayed in contact as we made our way throuh Georgia, Azerbaijan and Uzbekistan, whilst they cycled through Iran and then up to Tajikistan.

Their blog is: http://www.longrodehome.com

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We all decided to cycle togther through the Pamir highway as a quartet.

Our first mission was a 9 day trip to the small city of Kharog. We would have 1 mountain pass to tackle and would then start riding adjacent to the Afghanistan border.

Ok enough writing …. here are some photos!

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After reaching Kharog the next destination was the town of Murghab, in the east of Tajikistan. There are 2 ways of getting there, head directly east continuing to follow the M41 or go south and follow the Afghanistan border in a ‘U’ shape and through the Wakhan valley.
Sarah and Scott had limited time remaining on their visas so chose the first option. Barry and I had more time to spare so chose the valley route.

In Kharog we also met a couple from Linconshire, Robbie and Lucy.
Barry had been in contact with them and we were only days apart throughout our rides across Europe and the Caucasus regions of Georgia and Azerbaijan. We had met for beers previously in Tbilisi, Georgia and Baku, Azerbaijan.

Their blog is: http://www.crazyguyonabike.com/robbieandlucy

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We rested an extra day longer than the other 4 so said our goodbyes and prepared for the next stint.

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….. our first glimpse of Pakistan behind the Afghan peaks.

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……. relaxing in a hot spring!

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this night we slept in a campervan.

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It got cold at night as we approached 4000m altitude.

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-8.4 celcius in the morning.

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Robbie & Lucy left us a message in a bottle!
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I can honestly say that ride out of the Valley was the hardest cycling I’ve ever done. Below is an example of some of the road conditions.
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We finally found tarmac as we rejoined the M41, 100km from Murghab.

Upon reaching Murghab I was shattered. On the way to Kharog and upon leaving the valley I had suffered prolonged bouts of severe Diarrhea (sorry for that image). This had completely drained me of energy and I was weak, I felt a broken man.
To put in perspective I’ve lost almost 12kg of weight and 4 inches off the waist since I started this trip. I’m a bag of bones you could say.

In Murghab we met up Scott and Sarah who had themsleves succumed to illness on their route and 5 other cyclists from Poland who were ill. It seemed that the ‘Tajik tummy’ was rife!

The weather was cold and it appeared to be closing in. All of us, sick of being sick decided to get taxi’s the remaining way out of the country. All except Robbie and Lucy, two super tough ironman athletes.

On the way out we stopped to take a few last photos.

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As we approached the biggest pass in the region (4600metres) we spotted Robbie and Lucy. It was freezing cold and looked like a really tough cycle.

We then continued onwards to the city of Osh, Kyrgystan.

2 days after us arriving, R&L both appeared at the hostel we were staying at. Unfortunately the weather had become a lot worse in the mountains. Snow blizzards and temperatures of -15 forced them to stop and a passing truck helped them out to safety.

We now are here resting. For about a week to cure of our illnesses and fatten up.

We will now head north up towards the capital city, Bishkek and the lakes to the east. We’ve heard horse riding and paragliding is cheap to do here so may give them a go!

The Pamir highway. 3 weeks and 1000km of almost completely off-road touring. What a beautiful but brutal riding adventure it has been ……. Phew!!

Next entry I will aim for the end of October.

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I hope you are all well Xx