Along Afghanistan and Meeting James

Feeling the effects of yesterday’s slog, I procrastinated happily in my tent until at least 730, leaving only when I felt pretty full of bread, honey and tea. The imposing valley I had landed in last night quickly started to impress me as I began my journey upwards along the Panj river.

240km away from Khorog, my first real destination and the only conglomeration of houses worthy of being called a town in the Pamirs, the average gradient was set to be about 0.4%. The deception of that number is great, as hundreds of steep and gravelly hills up to 11% in gradient and not smooth enough to coast down the other side, decorated the road as one should really expect from a mountain road… On the other side of the powerful river I was following stands Afghanistan. Sometimes less than 40m away, always less than 150m, rose the huge mountains which are the edge of the nominally dangerous country. Admittedly littered with land mines, this part of Afghanistan is separated from the Taleban by 7000m peaks and therefore relatively safe. Regardless, it is beautiful and a sight I would have stared at more often while cycling if it would not have led to me falling off a cliff…

The intensity of the traffic is much greater along this road as the main route from China to Dushanbe, which means more face fulls of dust and some seriously kamikaze lorry driving! I was spurred on to reach a tea house 40km down the road for lunch only to find they just had frankfurter sausages. Luckily, my lunch was improved by meeting a trio of cyclists going the other way, two of whom were British men travelling now for over a year and bearded to their belly buttons to prove it! They came with news of another British cyclist they had crossed going in my direction an hour down the road.

The race was on. The novelty of having whole loaves of bread to myself had worn off and I was keen to regain a riding partner at least for the next couple of days! I knew I would not catch him just by riding faster, but I might catch him by riding longer than him and so pedalled hard without stopping (other than when I lost the road in a sand dune…) until night was setting in and just in time, I saw a clutch of trees where someone was putting up their tent!

I met James, an intrepid 36 year old ex-historian turned computer programmer also cycling to China. We wolfed down some plov and meat from a local eatery, and after fighting off the army men trying to get us to move our tents as we were too close to Afghanistan, fell asleep and dreamt of smoother roads…

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