I am getting into the swing of things now and am starting to form new habits. Already the days are blending into one another and when I complete some camp setup tasks, I feel a great sense of déjà vu. I was very slow to get going this morning and even before I started cycling I’d seen seven other cycle tourers. I was alerted to the first pair by a yelp from the road. I stood up in my little fortress and saw two bikes on the ground and one guy running back to the other one. His female riding partner had stacked it as she entered gravel from bitumen. I was in the middle of preparing my breakfast at the time. I finished adding my dried bananas to my bowl of oats, sultanas, dried apricots, almonds and milk, then took this along with my first aid kit for a walk down to the road. She was okay, so there was no need for my first aid kit. I ate my breakfast as we chatted. They were keen to know where the next bike shop was as she needs a new rim and gear system. It seems that a lot of people have bike problems on the Pamir Highway. Ash from a couple of days ago had broken several spokes. I am so glad I spent the money on my Santos as it is bulletproof. I know this from experience and it seems others know of its reputation too, as I am getting comments on it about how I won’t need to worry about the rough roads. The seven cyclists that passed me in the morning had all crossed over the Akbaikal Pass last night and were just starting their day. As I got ready to start my own day on the bike, I actively began to prepare my mind for the physical challenge to come.

I was pleasantly surprised to find that the climb to the top wasn’t as tough as I imagined it would be. There was one really tough section that was quite steep. It was on here that I met another seven cyclists who had just crossed over the Pass. I was recording a video at the time so was stopped on the side of the road. Seeing other cyclists is a great boost to the morale. Before I’d seen the cyclists I had already picked which places I would push my bike, but my chat with the cyclists filled me with enough motivation to cycle all the way up, albeit with a few rests along the way. The last 1.5km were quite challenging due to the altitude, and I had to stop and regain my breath after every 50m or so. Then suddenly the flat top was ahead. Just as I made it to the top a 4WD reached it from the other side. I pumped my fist in celebration and grinned widely. The 4WD had a tourist family in it and so it was really great to chat and share the experience of making it to the top. Once they left I actually rode the last little bit for a second time so I could film it myself making the summit. The top of the Pass is nothing special at all. There is no sign or anything, just an ordinary dirt road carved through the top of a rocky hill.

Video done, I was free to descend. What a feeling. Three kilometres down the road I came across two Belgian cyclists who are also riding Santos’s. It was nice to be the one on the descent side of the Pass this time. They were really nice guys and we had a good chat. A third Belgian soon joined us, but the poor guy has major stomach troubles. I wished them well as they returned to the grind to the top. Meanwhile, I returned to my leisurely roll down the mountain.

The rest of the day was incredibly cruisy and I didn’t have to pedal a great deal. I had one horrible time when I stopped by a river to collect some drinking water and was set upon by ferocious mosquitoes. If I stopped moving I became covered in at least 100 of the buggers. And they were vicious. I ran around madly as I finished collecting water and repacking my bike. It was only when I was riding in the wind that they disappeared. As time went on I began to think about whether to ride into Murghab or not. I could have made it by 7.45pm (Kyrgyz time) if I wanted. Or I could camp another night and finishing riding the last 20km in the morning. I ended up deciding on the latter, but thoughts of the former kept creeping into my mind as I struggled to spot a good place to camp and Murghab drew ever closer. In the end I spied a place about 15km from town. I have set my tent up behind a low rock wall that runs in a square.

Finally, I set up camp and got to bed without any problems whatsoever. Last night dinner took ages as twice the water boiled over and extinguished my stove. Tonight was a one-pot dinner that went off without a hitch. I have realised that petrol is way easier to use than kerosene, but it burns dirtier. For dinner I cooked pasta with onion, garlic, salami, egg and masala mix. It was absolutely delicious, unlike last night’s, which was edible but not really enjoyable. It is so satisfying to make an awesome-tasting camp dinner at the end of hard day.

Hopefully blending in

Accommodation Free-camp
Distance ridden today 89.17km
Average cycling speed 14.2kph
Total distance ridden 19,875km