I started out the 3rd of 4 or 5 big valley visits last month (still have the Vanj area on the list, and it will have to wait a few years). Riding was disrupted a large number times by a hub that stopped coasting- necessitating tying up the chain for every descent because the roads are too poor to descent no feet- and a 2.5″ read in a tire (due, I believe, to the inordinate amounts of sand and river rock that are called a road). Saw a few cars every day; most were at risk of bottoming out and several lay in stages of disrepair in the middle of the road.
I visited the largest and arguably best hot springs resort at Garm Chasma on day 1 after an emergency tool delivery to a French couple on permanent cycling vacation. Rode onwards to Awj, and met new friends in a young guide picking up clients from Afghanistan and a chef who decided I needed American style eggs which turned out very well. Rain in the morning meant a short delay, and a ride on to the Oblast center of Ishkashim to try to find something cable of taking off a cassette. No luck, but observed and chatted with some nice local kids and had a great dinner at Hanis Guesthouse. The next day I paid for my laziness with an 85 or 90 km ride on gorgeous roads to Vrang. Met up with another cyclist and made plans for a quick hike; unfortunately he was sick the next morning so alone in my hiking scheme.
With uncertain weather- read rain snow and wind- I decided on a long day, racing across washed out trail and dodging rockfall on the way to Vrang pass. One sign of human and a few of animal, plus some herder’s huts around 3800 meters. Views of 5 and 6000 meter peaks came and went, as did a delightful wandering mountain stream. Surprised no one else visited, but again the trail would be tricky to impossible with a full pack and in many places is just a scraping on rocks or unstable slopes. I am fine with some places staying unvisited too. Learned that my Rab Latok Alpine jacket is still waterproof and my new Dyanstar Cham Light pack is not. Plus wet rock at 4000 meters does not make for easy passage, though it increases the taste of adventure. For back to a decent soup of lentils, spuds, and pasta at my Homestay.
The first of July – 6 weeks into my trip- brought a long ride up above the river Panj and into 110 plus miles of nothingness with little water. Given the multiple 4500 meter passes and steep drop offs into the canyon between Afghanistan and Tajikistan, I for the more than first time erred towards caution and attempted to ride back down the first pass with my feet off the pedals, metal whirring beneath me. The other cyclist I met decided to continue on despite illness and signs of respiratory issues; let’s just say I tried my hardest but I’m not a police suicide negotiator. But there are at least a couple cars per week, and I made sure he had some food and a mobile. On the ride back down to Langar I survived and my bike only decided to lead my near to death 5 times. And my brakes survived. Made it another 30km to Inif village in 35kmh headwinds on a mix of every flavor Safo juice and was pulled off the road by a young looking girl who asked if I had a few minutes. In villages -most here in the Pamirs- where few understand English and less to none speak English, this is codespeak that someone wants to practice. Little did I know that the girl was older than me, a 3rd year English student, and had a Homestay of sorts down the road. We spent the night practicing grammar and pronouciation; a fair trade in my opinion for a good nights sleep on a rainy day.