Cycling on your own. When it’s good, it’s really good, but when it’s bad, it’s awful. I woke up, and realised that most of my cash had been stolen by the waiter at the choyxana where I had stopped for lunch the previous day. Two minutes, and no more, I spent away from my bag, filling up water bottles. And during that time he rifled through my things and took most of my cash (but leaving enough that I wouldn’t notice immediately) and, most infuriatingly, my Swiss Army knife, impossible to replace around here. I set off from Gulmurad’s house in a filthy mood, as you can imagine. It was three kilometres down the road that I really plumbed the depths, though, when the hook on my rear left pannier broke. Had I brought any spares? I had thought about it a couple of months before, but not bought any. I felt perfectly useless, angry, and frustrated.
The rest of the day was a hilly uphill, a net climb of well over a thousand metres, with at least five hundred metres of descent over the course of the day, into a ferocious headwind. I arrived in Boysun, which I had hoped to make in time for lunch, three hours later than expected (admittedly I though the road was flatter), in a marginally better mood than the morning.
Fortunately after Boysun, the hills turned into a smooth plateau, with a slight downhill, and I made good progress on a smooth road, stopping only at a police checkpoint, where I was offered watermelon and fresh bread, before carrying on up the road towards Deynau in the company of one of their friends, Ulugbek. Another uphill stretch was rewarded with a turn through the pass into the Denau valley, and a smooth descent on fifteen kilometres of perfect asphalt. I said farewell to Ulugbek, and carried on over the hill, looking for somewhere to sleep. Barely had I gone five hundred metres before an old man on the side of the road called me over and offered me a place to stay for the night. It emerged that Abdul Karim had hosted another cyclist a couple of years before, a Frenchman on a mission to prove the power of an assisted bicycle (hard to explain, but check out http://www.aventureelectrique.com if you’re interested). I was treated, once again, to a slap up meal containing lasagne(ish) sheets, tomato, egg, butter, and lamb stock. As well as a discussion of Islam and Christianity (as much as my broken Russian would allow). Abdul Karim was the first of my hosts to observe the daily prayers, and this meant a 5am wake up. This rather suited me, however, as it meant 1) no alcohol 2) an early bedtime and 3) an early start, perfect for the final push to Dushanbe! We fell asleep in the warm evening with the door left open to the sound of heavy lorries rolling along the road. Exhausted, I didn’t hear a thing.