Chris and Gabs provide their September update on their World Cycling Tour in aid of Prevent Breast Cancer. This month they were in Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, taking on The Pamir Highway!
Author: Gabs – September 2019
Cycling for… 478 days
Through… 22 countries
Currently… in Krgyzstan
Raising so far… £7,655.45
CLICK HERE to see a recent Chris & Gabs’ video
The Pamir Highway
At Tajikistan, the highlight was cycling the Pamir Highway up and over the Pamir Mountains, which was an elevation of 4282m – the second highest highway in the world.
Still high up in the mountains, we entered Kyrgyzstan at a very remote border crossing with a wood hut and a couple of friendly military guys with a dusty note book that they write your name, passport number in, and ask if you are “Manchester United or City…..???” These are the only few words in English they seem to speak in the ‘stans, and then you are free to enter the country. After the border at the altitude of 4282m, we had a long way to go before we dropped down to sea level, with lots more mountains passes to climb from Sary Tash till we got to Osh.
We crossed the border at Irkeshtam Kyrgyzstan into China (country 23) heading to Kashgar, (but that is a whole other story for next month’s newsletter.)
The most beautiful area has definitely been The Pamir Highway
We could really appreciate how the mountain ranges radiated high up into the sky, as the height of these snow-capped mountains is something we have never witnessed before, and how they dominate the views of each village. When you are in amongst the mountains, cycling so slow over the worst ground we have ever cycled or walked on and you seem to see the same view for days, you can take your surroundings for granted, as you forget where you are and what an amazing place you are cycling or pushing your bike across. The Pamir Mountains have long been known as ‘The roof of the world’, a region of utterly breathtaking scenery and home to a fascinating mélange of cultures which is so true. We didn’t plan to come over the Pamir Highway but even though it was the toughest challenge yet, we wouldn’t change a thing.
The most bizarre experience whilst cycling has been…
Cycling so close to Afghanistan… we cycled the Pamir Highway where the road follows the border of Afghanistan, and the only thing between us and Tajikistan and Afghanistan was a river about four meters wide (we could have walked or swam across). You could actually see the locals living in the mountains, walking along unbelievable high mountain tracks, either alone or with some donkeys or cows. We could not understand where they would be going as it took us days before we saw anyone, so how long before they got to somewhere, we don’t know. It was like looking through a window going way back to BC times. We felt like we were on a film set and they were all actors, and it’s actually really difficult to explain how it was, but this was a highlight for me. It was so different from over our side in Tajikistan – the people, the way they dressed, how their homes were built and what they were made out of was so different from just a few metres from where we were standing.
Tajikistan- Chris became extremely ill after having some rice and carrots from a food hut at the side of the road (bad, bad food poisoning, not pleasant when you are sharing a tent). For three days we camped in the wilderness as Chris was too weak to go anywhere. We quickly ran out of water so I had to find anywhere that would have water, which happened to be a walk to the farm about half a mile away, and I couldn’t get there by bicycle. Imagine this family, who see no Westerners, or anyone for that matter, and I come walking over looking like I do with a big yellow bag full of water bottles! So, over the fence I offered a big smile and showed a water bottle. There was no English spoken, not even the Manchester United, so all communication was done by hands and facial expressions. At first the young girl gestured to throw my bag over the wired fence, then four other women appeared and opened the gate for me to come in, and within minutes an older lady was filling my hands with hot small bread buns she was making in a stone oven outside. Then I was given tomatoes, pears and apples, and it was all appreciated as we were running out of food as well. I felt like I had won the lottery.
I have never seen so many babies and kids, they were everywhere, from newborns to ten-year olds. The young women started laughing, then this baby appeared, and I had no choice but to hold this baby boy in my arms. What a great family. The older lady baking the bread was a mum of ten kids – their ages starting from the age of 18. She had five daughters all with four to five young children each and they all lived together in this large farmhouse growing all their own fruit, vegetables and with many cattle. There were no taps here which you can turn on and get clean water, hot or cold, no power showers or hot bubble baths…. just a pipe in the garden that water runs through from the mountains above. They use this to wash themselves, their clothes in buckets and to drink. They were so friendly and very generous, and they would not take any money for the food. They were all so happy and giggled, and it was a lovely experience. I even went back the next day to take some photos and give them all a Chris and Gabs wrist band.
The most challenging part has been…
The Pamir Highway mountains were the most challenging. We thought Turkey was remote but here we really struggled to find and carry enough food and water. This is where our water filter was our life saver. Each time we came across a stream or waterfall we were able to top up our water bottles with the filter pump. The roads were nonexistent, just rocks and sand. The mountain passes were so steep, and we spent many days pushing our bicycles up and over mountains. It was very frustrating, and slow and hard work.
As already stated, Chris suffered badly with food poisoning and with the high altitude, he had a bad few days. One night he was suffering from severe headaches and a high temperature and we were in the middle of nowhere and it was very scary as I could not do anything to help. I felt hopeless, as we were hundreds of miles from anything and anyone. You could feel the thin air and when you did anything like putting the tent up ,you felt yourself getting out of breath. The sky however was filled with bright stars, and they were so close you felt you could reach out and touch them and put one in your pocket.
It was a sleepless night, hoping nothing serious would happen to Chris as there was nothing I could do, but we have our Tracker which has an SOS button for emergencies. That didn’t bring comfort though as where we were there was probably no emergency services or mountain rescue in operation.
The next day before the sun was up, we were on a mission to get up and over the highest pass as soon as possible to get down from the high altitude. We finally made it and asked ourselves why on earth we decided to come this route as we had the wrong type of bicycles and still too much weight to be able to cycle comfortably in this part of the world. Chris did manage to lose 25kg from his bicycle on the way over the Pamir by giving his things away. He gave his telescopic police baton, battery packs and bike lock to the police officers at the border of Kyrgyzstan, and they were very happy with their gifts. Chris also made a shrine at the side of the road with his bicycle tools for others fellow cyclists to use or take.
A special highlight this month has been…
Chris on a donkey was a highlight for him, as he has wanted to ride a donkey in the mountains like the locals for a while. One day we came across some young shepherd boys with their donkeys, and they were highly amused when Chris got on one of the donkeys and went galloping down the mountain. In return Chris gave them his machete, which was very useful to them in the mountains, his winter cycling jacket which would keep one of them very warm in the winter, and both a waterproof bag and a thermal base layer.
Reaching Osh in Kyrgyzstan and getting a hot shower was also a great highlight, as we were so dirty and smelly, which you don’t notice when it’s just the two of us in the wild, However, when when you hit some sort of civilisation and enter a guest house, you realise how bad you must look and smell!
Next, we are heading to …
China,to Kashgar, as this is the first town we come to after crossing the border, then Xian, Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong which could take us a few months, then into South East Asia, Vietnam for Christmas. We hope.
Thoughts and feelings?
Gabs – Like Dorothy said ‘There’s no place like home!’
Chris – It’s all a good experience. Here’s to China.
Thank you everyone for your ongoing support and donations for Prevent Breast Cancer.
Read last month’s newsletter here.