– The adventures of a solo round the world cyclist –

Day 839 (Tajikistan Day 28)

Another morning, another embassy trip. Having got all my paperwork and payment sorted yesterday, my trip to the Iranian embassy was very short. No one else was there so I was let in straight away and spent just one minute inside handing over my stuff and having it checked over. I was told to come back tomorrow to pick up my passport, but I asked if it might be ready today. ‘Come back at 6pm’, I was told. Back at home I spent much of my day planning my time in Turkmenistan – you need to say exactly what dates you plan on arriving and leaving and you are tied to these dates –  and preparing a letter of intent as part of my transit visa application. I expect to be in Dushanbe for the next couple of weeks and then, if I am lucky enough to get the Turkmenistan visa (which is thought to be a 50/50 chance), I will spend about ten days in Uzbekistan and then five days in Turkmenistan before reaching Iran. With such an expensive visa fee (150 euros), I really want to focus time and attention on getting to know Iran and am happy to sacrifice time in Uzbekistan for this purpose.

I also spent time editing the video for Vero and washing clothes and camping gear. In the evening I raced to the Iranian Embassy and picked up my passport, complete with a new visa as promised. I bumped into Dorothea there and we worked out we will see each other yet again tomorrow morning at the Turkmenistan Embassy. At home I lay in a hammock until dinner was ready, realising it is the first time since I arrived in Dushanbe that I have stopped moving for just a few minutes. After submitting my visa application at the Turkmenistan Embassy tomorrow, I expect I will finally be able to relax properly and start recuperating from the general exhaustion that has gripped me.

Reunion with Etienne and Mathilde

Accommodation Vero’s
Distance ridden today 0km
Total distance ridden 20,875km
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Day 838 (Tajikistan Day 27)

No rest for the wicked…or the sick and exhausted. Sleep didn’t come easily and it was too soon after blacking out that I rose in time for a communal breakfast of bread, jam and fruit. Then it down to business. I collected the things I had prepared last night (passport documents etc) and rode into the city in search of a printing business near the Uzbekistan embassy. I printed six pages for a grand sum of 2s. It was about 8.55am when I approached the Uzbekistan embassy and the area outside the office door was already crowded by a mass of people. What followed was the most horrible visa-getting experience I have ever had. I had heard you just have to push your way to the front of the line to be served, so this is what I proceeded to do. For the next 45 minutes I was crammed in the midst of the crowd, squeezed in on all sized by similarly sweaty bodies as the hot sun beat down on us. Occasionally I would inch closer to the front, only to be shoved back again. All the while the crowd was getting more impatient and the officers at the door more violent as they tried to keep everyone bay.

I was very nearly about to give up when Dorothea, a German cyclist I met in Sary Tash turned up and joined the throng. I was surprised, then a little angry, when she, being small, female and foreign, spent just five minutes pushing to the front before being let inside. I then began to wonder whether she would try and get me in too. To my delight her head appeared above the crowd at the entrance to the office. ‘Give me your passport and papers’, she shouted. I managed to hand these over to her and she disappeared back inside. A few minutes later she appeared again. ‘Do you have passport photos?’ This time I handed her my whole backpack and told her they were in my passport wallet. After another few minutes, she appeared again and managed to pass me a completed application form to sign. I was amused to find that the attached passport photo was not of me, but of a Pakistani guy who gave me a copy of his photo to remember him by. In the moment we had, I told Dorothea this as I passed her back the signed form. She passed me back my backpack of things and again disappeared inside the office. All the while I continued to be rammed and crammed as I tried to hold a position in the crowd. Dorothea emerged a few minutes later. We retreated out of the throng and into some space where we could breathe. Once we had shared our thoughts about how awful the system is, Dorothea explained that we were now waiting for our names to be called, at which time we could go in to pay and collect our passports containing fresh visas. How long we would be waiting was anyone’s guess.

After about fifteen minutes I decided to take just one minute to move my bike closer so it was within eyesight. Of course it was in this minute that our names were called. When I returned to the crowd, Dorothea was gone. Bless her though. A few minutes later her head appeared again. ‘Money?’, she shouted. I pushed into the crowd and managed to hand over my money wallet. Soon enough she appeared for a final time, shouting out that I had to go in and pay myself. I forced my way to the front, got shoved back by the guard and then managed to convince him that I had to go inside to pay. I entered what was in contrast to outside a little slice of heaven. It was cool and I could stand without having bellies pressed against me on all sides and elbows bashing my face. I paid my US$75 and then it was over. Dorothea and I escaped back onto the street and again took some time to calm down from the ordeal. I decided I might still have time to get my  visa application into the Iranian embassy. I jumped on my bike and found my way there, where I was happy to find it empty of other customers. It was air-conditioned inside and there was even cold drinking water available. I submitted my paperwork without issue and was sent off to an Iranian bank to pay the fee. I knew I had to keep hurrying if I was make it back to the embassy with my payment slip before it closed at 12pm. In my haste, I didn’t think about the fact that I didn’t know where the bank was. I called my friend Torsten who explained roughly where I could find it.

Things went wrong from here. I ended up at the wrong bank, despite asking at the door if it was the Iranian bank where I could pay for my visa application. ‘Yes’, the doorman said. I then waited patiently for 15 minutes for the previous customer to complete his business before approaching the counter and finally learning it was the wrong bank. I eventually turned up at the right bank at 12.02pm, two minutes after it closed for lunch. I chatted with the bank workers as they emerged from the building for their break, then was left to come to terms with the fact I was too late. As I sat outside getting over my mild misery, I checked the opening times of the Iranian embassy and learned that it closes at 12.30pm and not 12pm. My misery resurfaced as I realised I could have begged the bank workers to complete one quick transaction and still have time to get back to the Iranian embassy. Oh well. I again sat for a few minutes getting my mind back on track. Still feeling exhausted from yesterday’s ride, and with little sleep last night, and with the torturous experience at the Uzbekistan Embassy, I was feeling quite ill. I decided I would wait until the bank reopens at 1.30pm and at least sort out the payment so I can return to the Iranian embassy in the morning, ready to submit everything. I found a fast-food restaurant a hundred metres down the road and rested there as I enjoyed a burger and chips.

The guys at the bank were friendly and the payment was processed efficiently. I dashed back to the Iranian embassy just in case they would let me in, but no, tomorrow it is. As I started making my way back to Vero’s, I bumped into Sebastien, a French cyclist also staying there. We walked home together (me wheeling my bike), stopping off at a café on the way where I filled my stomach for the third time of the day. At home I attempted to chill out, but my mind and body doesn’t quite seem ready to settle yet. I still feel a bit ill and out of sorts, mostly from pure exhaustion. At the same time I can’t completely relax yet as I want to get my visa business sorted before the weekend. After that I will be able to start relaxing properly.

Torsten and Lisi were working on a video as a gift for Vero. Vero is leaving Tajikistan soon, ending a bit of an era of hosting hundreds of cycle tourers. The video is a photo/video montage of previous guests expressing their thanks. I ended up taking the lead role as video editor. We worked on it on and off through the rest of day, taking us to dinnertime, which was tonight prepared by Mathilde. She made two amazing salads, which were topped off by an incredible dessert of ice cream, biscuit, sliced banana and chocolate sauce.

Home sweet home

Accommodation Vero’s
Distance ridden today 0km
Total distance ridden 20,875km
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Day 837 (Tajikistan Day 26)

I did it. Somehow. What a day! The first 55km of the day were incredibly hard. Extremely rough roads led through rolling hills that gave the most intense interval training I have ever had. While hitting constant bitumen was a nice achievement, it also marked the start of a climb that just never seemed to end. I pushed on all the way to Abigarm, where I saw the first proper grocery shops that I have seen since China. They were small shops by any standard, but what joy to have a choice of fruit. I gorged on an icy pole, cool drink, cold water, yoghurt and nectarines before stocking up on supplies to get me through the day. At this point I was preparing my mind for the realisation that I probably won’t make it to Dushanbe, given my rate of progress through the morning. On my way into Abigarm, I passed a pair of cyclists who told me that the climb only continued for another two kilometres. I went through a rollercoaster of emotions as I slowly learned that the climb would continue for another 30km. Yes, there were some relieving downhills, but these were all too brief and did nothing to alleviate the pain of the uphill battle.

From the peak of the pass, the day just got better and better. Having averaged 10km/h on the way up, my average speed at the end of the day ended up being around 15km/h, courtesy of a general downhill that meant I could at times cruise at 30-40kph. The day was super-hot and I continued to stop for cooling energy top-ups in the form of chocolate and icy poles. The traffic was increasingly horrible the closer I got to the city. In one incredibly appalling experience, I had just passed by a head-on crash that caused serious injuries to the people involved when a car containing young guys decided it would be funny if they drove at me head-on, only just veering around me in the last second.

By the time I reached the outskirts of Dushanbe, I felt completely ready to pack it in, yet I still had another 30km to get through. With the terrain flattening out and traffic increasing, this became slow and tedious. During one of my several breaks in this time, I stopped at a bustling roadside market area where I sat on the pavement and ate some onion filled pastries and of course another cola and ice cream. I recorded a closing clip to my Pamir video and chatted to the young guys running the little shop I’d chosen. As I left, they filled up my drink bottle with cold water. I then had just 11km to go. I slowly found my way to Vero’s house (Dushanbe’s infamous Warmshowers haven), stopping for one last time at a little shop to buy a bagful of chocolates to share with the other guests. I was a bit of a mess when I rolled into her magical compound. I couldn’t hear properly as my ears were filled with sweat (a problem I have on hot days – it took a couple of hours for them to clear properly), but I was happy to be able to immediately say hello to people I have met before – Etienne and Mathilde from Khorog. It was around 7pm, so without stopping for a rest, I set up my tent, before having my first shower in four days. I got a massive shock when I saw myself in the mirror and learned how much weight I have lost over the last month. Soon after my shower, Lisi arrived home, having been out for the day. Seeing Torsten and Lisi was a moment I had really been waiting for. One of the first things she said was how skinny I was.

In a state of complete exhaustion, I didn’t know what to do with myself as the night wore on. I didn’t quite feel like crashing and instead just seemed to want to keep moving. I think this was from over-tiredness. I ended up helping cut some stuff for dinner before sinking into a chair with a beer. As I slowly adjusted to being at Vero’s I began to realise what an incredible place she has created. Lisi led dinner preparations, resulting in a beautiful rice and vegetable salad, followed by ice cream and the rest of the chocolates I’d bought for dessert. Through the evening I had been battling with the idea about whether to start my visa organisation first thing in the morning, or just sleep in and just not worry about. I decided to stay up and put together the paperwork I needed to visit both the Uzbekistan and Iranian embassies tomorrow. All going well I can get my Turkmenistan visa application submitted before Friday. It was after midnight when I finally crawled into my tent.

Bus stop scenery

Accommodation Vero’s
Distance ridden today 126.56km
Average cycling speed 15.2kph
Total distance ridden 20,875km
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Day 836 (Tajikistan Day 25)

They say bad things come in threes. Or is it good things? The first bad thing came about five minutes into my day when a truck with about seven teenagers standing on the back passed me. All seven pelted me with mulberries. The second came mid-morning, when I bought some potato-filled bread things from a little girl who promptly pretended I hadn’t paid her anything and not give me any change.  It blew up into a bit of a scene from which I just had to walk away. The third came towards the end of the day when a kid held out his hand for a high five as I passed (like so many do here), but grabbed my hand and tried to yank me off my bike. They are all little things, but they contribute to a negative impression of Tajik people. Yes, some are friendly and nice, but a lot are not. I put a fair bit of brain power into sending the perpetrators of the bad deeds negative vibes, as much for a distraction from the hard riding as anything else. I took it as karma when the truck containing the teenagers passed me again in the other direction. Out of mulberries, most were quiet, but one wearing a red cap made some rude gestures at me. When the truck was a couple of hundred metres ahead, I came across the red cap sitting on the road. Clearly it had blown off the ringleader’s head. They could all see me stop next to the hat and pick it up, but then they were too far ahead to see what I did with it. Let’s just say he won’t ever find it again (wrong approach I know, but it made me feel better at the time). Several kilometres further on, I was riding up a small hill when the teenagers emerged from the side of the road. They had obviously just been dropped off after their ride. Because there were so many of them (about eight now, aged between about 14 and 19), I got off my bike and started pushing it instead of riding, so that I was in a less vulnerable position. As they walked towards me, the ringleader gestured to his head and said ‘cap’. I said, ‘What cap?’ and kept on pushing my bike. To my surprise, they let me pass through them without creating further incident.

After a morning spent riding hard on rough gravel roads, I finally hit bitumen. Oh the joy! It was good bitumen too. I was finally able to move along at a decent pace and even a headwind didn’t bother me. After an epic climb, I had just crossed the peak and was readying myself for a fast descent and hard final push before looking for a place to camp when I came across a Kiwi cyclist called Nige. Probably in his sixties, Nige is a well-seasoned cyclist, having been riding since 2015. He was keen for a chat. I enjoyed talking with him, but then it became hard to get away. I really wanted to make some more distance in the day but in the end I wasn’t able to. After saying goodbye, I rode on about three kilometres before jumping at the chance to get off the main road and hide myself behind a row of mulberry and apple trees. Being just below the road, it’s a bit noisy with the traffic, but it should quieten down soon. I made another delicious dinner tonight out of the same ingredients as the last two nights’ dinners, but with the addition of polony meat. For dessert I had a packet of strawberry flavoured wafer biscuits. There is a small chance I will reach Dushanbe tomorrow, so I am preparing myself for an early start in the morning.

Meanwhile…

Accommodation Free-camp
Distance ridden today 87.75km
Average cycling speed 12.2kph
Total distance ridden 20,749km
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Day 835 (Tajikistan Day 24)

Today was very adventurous if nothing else. It drizzled through the night but luckily, come morning, there was just enough warmth in the air that my tent dried in the few rays of sunshine breaking through the overcast sky. I was ecstatic to discover that a cold night and dry morning had hardened the mud that caused me so much angst yesterday and it was possible to ride again. It turned out the top of the pass was just 1.5km away. After this initial short distance, I basically didn’t need to pedal again for the next 18km. At the end of this lovely descent, I was forced to come to a sudden halt. Mud. Worse than before. I spent the next three hours moving about 3km. The only way I could progress was to unload my bicycle and carry all my stuff piecemeal along the muddy road. The worst bit was the mudslide affected area, which was so sloppy my sandals disappeared within balls of mud attached to my legs. Very annoying was the fact that three guys sitting around a bulldozer just sat and watched me struggle the entire time. My mood improved a bit when I spied another cyclist approaching from down the road. They were riding, suggesting the mud was about to end. I smiled a little when they also hit the mud and stopped. Knowing others are suffering just as much seems to make everything a little easier. The cyclist was French girl, ahead of her two riding partners. She brought the depressing news that the mud will continue for another 3km. I was able to depress her with exactly the same news, adding that there is also mud at the top of the pass. By the time the other two cyclists arrived, a French couple driving a massive travel truck had pulled up. They suggested I hitch a ride down and for the first time I seriously considered it. When a 4WD with an empty roof rack came by a few minutes later, I jumped at the chance. As they passed, I pointed to my bike and mimed lifting it up onto their roof racks. It worked. They stopped and I was able to ask through sign language if they could give me a ride for the next few kilometres. With no English being spoken, I managed to arrange the lift and five minutes later I was slipping and sliding down the hill inside the 4WD with my stuff safely secured on top. Once we had gotten through the mud, I indicated I was ready to get out, but the driver insisted on taking me a couple of kilometres further. On more solid ground, we unloaded my stuff and I handed over a 30s payment. During the ride a couple of the passengers had made it clear they wanted me to pay something.  I had been thinking I would pay them 50s for the help – a generous amount from a Tajik point of view, but fine by me when I thought of it as paying a little over AU$1 for every kilometre I don’t have to torturously haul my stuff through mud. I didn’t have a 50s note, so I ended up just handing over the 30s, which the driver seemed happy with.

I loaded my bike and rode on for about 5km before stopping to eat and gather my thoughts. By the time I was ready to move on again I had hit the refresh button in my mind, pushing aside the frustration of the pass and mud, and readying myself for a ‘new start’. Soon after I passed a police checkpoint, I had to push my bike through a waterway beside a collapsed bridge. When I realised all the caked on mud was washing from my feet, I got the idea of cleaning my bike. I parked it in the middle of the rushing stream and began throwing water all over it. The mud slowly came off and my bike began to shine again. The sad thing was that I dropped the titanium knife I had been using as a mud scraper and it disappeared down the river, gone from me forever. Bike and body clean, I resumed my ride. The road continued to be a bit muddy, but nothing like up the mountain I had just descended. It wasn’t long before I was keeping an earnest eye out for a camp spot. I have found a very nice one in a fairly big open area between the road and the river. I had enough time to do some filming for the video I intend to make to document my time in the Pamirs, recording myself set up my tent and preparing dinner. Earlier in the day, in the mud situation, I also did some filming to show myself carrying my things through the mud. I cooked the same thing as last night, but got the seasoning mix just right and it was very enjoyable. For dessert I treated myself to my last orange. It has gotten dark while I have been writing and I am a bit cold, being out of my sleeping bag. It’s time to snuggle down and get some rest. Hopefully tomorrow I can get some decent kilometres completed.

Not fun

Accommodation Free-camp
Distance ridden today 37.23km
Average cycling speed 12.1kph
Total distance ridden 20,661km
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Day 834 (Tajikistan Day 23)

The day was going exceedingly well until I hit mud. Before then I was pleasantly surprised to find that the climb wasn’t half as difficult as I imagined it would be, based on other people’s reports of the road condition. I have learnt during this Pamir adventure that it is sometimes good to expect the worst, as things will likely seem much easier then. I think people coming from Dushanbe will be in for a shock when they realise what a bad road actually looks like. The northern road out of Kalai Khumb was in okay condition. The dirt sections were hard-packed without patches of sand or loose gravel, so even though my rear wheel slipped on occasion, I was always able to get going again from the same spot. Of course all of this refers to that part of the road before the mud. I was just 3km from the top of the pass when I hit it and was quite literally stopped in my tracks. The occasional rain shower throughout the day (which I had thought was fortuitous as it kept the temperature down and hardened some of the dirt) had made a complete mess of things at the pass. The mud is so sticky that my wheels and mudguards became clogged immediately. I have enough clearance in my front mudguard for it to not be too much of a problem, but my rear mud guard is set very close to the wheel. As I struggled to push my bike through the muck, I had to stop every ten metres or so to unclog my rear wheel. I quickly realised the distance I would make by pushing my bike in the mud would not be worth the huge amount of energy expended.

Beaten, I began searching for the best place to set up my tent. I probably should have waited on the road and flagged down a 4WD with enough room for me and my bike, hitching a ride through the mud. At the same time, I didn’t want to wait through the time I would need to make camp and cook dinner. Potential camp spots were limited, so I have ended up just below the road on a slope covered in stubbly green plants. When I started carting my gear to the site, I was feeling fairly downhearted and negative about the whole situation. Then I thought, ‘I can stay in my tent for as long as I feel like it…and I can take as long as I want to get over the pass…there is nothing really to feel so negative about’. This thought instantly calmed me down and I was worry-free as I set up my tent in light rain and got dinner on. My stove finally performed perfectly when needed and I enjoyed the meal I made: rice with vegetables (onion, potato, capsicum, garlic and beetroot), seasoned with salt and with some of the contents of three different spice packets. I majorly overdid it with the spices but it was still nice nonetheless.

After dinner I spent about half an hour digging out the mud that had clogged up my bike. By this time the temperature, which was already cold, had really dropped, so I returned to my nylon home and set about cleaning myself and getting snug in my thermals and sleeping bag. With this diary entry coming to an end, I am free to get out my kindle and read for a while before falling asleep. My legs are incredibly sore – not surprising after climbing 2,052m over 35km. They actually started the day quite sore – my left one seemed to be filled with some kind of fluid, which dissipated as the day wore on. My bum blisters are painful as always. I am hoping the rain, which has just stopped, will stay away through the night so the road has a chance to dry out a little before I see it tomorrow.

Climbing out of Kalai Khumb

Accommodation Free-camp
Distance ridden today 33.24km
Average cycling speed 5.9kph
Total distance ridden 20,624km
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Day 833 (Tajikistan Day 22)

Finally I feel well and truly ready to leave this place and challenge myself physically again. It’s a nice feeling. Today I managed to break all recent records for laziness. Besides heading outside for breakfast and to say bye to Tim, I remained cocooned in my room until about 5pm, when I panicked with the realisation I hadn’t done anything I was meant to do today. Instead, I had spent the majority of my time writing answers to a journalist’s questions for our impending newspaper article about my journey. From 5pm I have been in a bit of rush. I washed my cycling clothes, which have been festering in the corner of my room since I arrived. I realigned by eccentric bottom bracket so the new belt I fitted to my bike yesterday runs straight. I pumped up my tyres. I took a leap of faith and purchased a new bike seat, praying that its delivery to a hostel in Dushanbe proceeds without a hitch. I progressed my order for a new belt and sprocket system with Gates. I waited patiently for another reply from AfterShokz that never came. I monitored a stream of Whatsapp messages between a fellow group of cyclists travelling in Tajikistan, waiting on news about whether the overnight landslide is blocking bicycle access along the northern route between Kalai Khumb and Dushanbe. With the southern route also experiencing blockages due to landslides, there has been some concern that there is no road access at all between the two locations. I think road access is still blocked for vehicles, but bicycles are apparently managing to get through. I ate a rushed dinner (which was disappointingly small) before rushing into the main street and raiding a bunch of shops for fresh food supplies to cover me for the next couple of days. On my return home, I tried treating a bunch of water to carry on the bike, but became incredibly disappointed to learn that my Steripen water purifier has stopped working, its pattern of LED lights telling me that the lamp has failed and needs replacing. I emailed Steripen thinking I am eligible for a free replacement through their Premium Lamp Life Pledge; however, I since realised that this is only applicable if my lamp reached the end of its life rather than failing altogether. I should get a reply anyway telling me what the next step is regarding lamp replacement, although I suspect it would mean the annoying prospect of sending the thing off for repair. Whatever the case, I am without a UV light to clean the water I collect from streams as I continue my way through Tajikistan. I do have some Micropur tablets, but as they have been crammed in my first aid kit for two years, the packaging has started to corrode and many of the tablets have become useless. I have just collected my clothes, which dried quickly in the warm night air and I have packed my bags as much as is practical. My bum is still painfully blistered, so I am a little worried about returning to the bike, but as I alluded to in the beginning, staying any longer in Kalai Khumb is now out of the question.

Kalai Khumb

Accommodation $ Guesthouse
Distance ridden today 0km
Total distance ridden 20,590km
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Day 832 (Tajikistan Day 21)

I finally feel I have had the relaxing day I have been chasing, despite being busy for most of it. I think I feel this way because (a) I never changed out of my pyjamas and (b) I only left the guesthouse at around 6pm to buy beer and snickers for myself and Tim (the Dutch cyclist who arrived yesterday and who has been nice to hang out with throughout today). I was going to put off working on my bike until the afternoon, but when Tim started working on his in the morning, I thought I’d do the same. My main job was fitting my new belt (chain). I still need to align the belt so it runs smoothly. I also replaced a bolt that has fallen off my front mudguard, as well as a couple of broken zip ties holding plastic protective tubing onto my front rack. I then looked at my stove. With Tim’s assistance in providing a long pin that I could stick down the metal tube of containing the blockage, we managed to solve the problem and I now have a working stove again! This made me incredibly happy and was the cause for my leaving the guesthouse for drinks and chocolate. In between these tasks I continued to work on my emails. I am now likely to buy a new Gates belt system (centretrack, expedition, splined sprocket style) at a heavily discounted price – hopefully I will get the purchase finalised tomorrow. I received a reply from AfterShokz, asking me which country I’m in, as this will influence how they can help me with my broken headphones – haha, Tajikistan, let’s see how they respond to that. I received a reply from Selle Royal, confirming that they are unable to post a new saddle into Tajikistan – with other sellers not shipping to Tajikistan, I still have no way of getting myself a new seat in the near future. In the evening I noticed my feet and ankles were swollen and during the shower I have just had I realised that my entire legs are swollen. I’m not sure if it’s because I have been on my feet most of the day, or because my body is reacting to rest after some heavy-duty cycling. I have decided it feels right that I rest again tomorrow and leave the following day.

Kalai Khumb

Accommodation $ Guesthouse
Distance ridden today 0km
Total distance ridden 20,590km
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Day 831 (Tajikistan Day 20)

I slept in as much as I wanted. I got up to receive a nice breakfast included in my stay before returning straight to my room and lazing about perusing the internet. Thus went most of my day. My internet work was productive, despite the slow WIFI. I emailed a journalist from The West Australian newspaper, for which we will be producing an article about my travels for the Travel section – I now have a set of questions about my trip to work on answering. I emailed Primus to see if they can give advice about my stove issues, given that the Trangia office is shut down for the next month – no reply yet. I emailed Gates about the aging of my sprockets and of the belt, which has officially reached the end of its life, with two teeth missing and many others cracking – they have suggested I replace the entire system with their ‘latest and greatest’ model, so I am awaiting answers to some questions that will determine whether I think it’s more economical to upgrade as they suggest or simply replace my current system. I emailed AfterShokz about a fault with my headphones. I emailed Selle Royal about their delivery options, given that Tajikistan recently blocked access to courier services – I am now ready to call myself a non-fan of Brooks saddles, having had two that fail to give me a comfortable riding experience without blisters, despite giving each about 10,000km to wear in. I visited Megafon in town to get more mobile data on my phone and along the way I went shopping for lunch supplies (coming home with bread, yoghurt, water, a can of sweet corn, sausage meat and a humungous jar of pickled cucumbers). I had to visit Megafon again a couple of hours later to get help activating my new data package, and I couldn’t resist shopping for food a second time, this time coming home with the same sweet treats I treated myself to yesterday: four mini Snickers bars and an icy pole. In the late afternoon I chatted to a Dutch cyclist who arrived at the guesthouse having cycled from Dushanbe and in the evening I chatted to a Sydney-sider who is travelling through Central Asia with his partner. Dinner was good again, but not as great as last night. I have no plans to move on again tomorrow.

Lost a tooth

Accommodation $ Guesthouse
Distance ridden today 0km
Total distance ridden 20,590km
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Day 830 (Tajikistan Day 19)

My level of exhaustion reached a new height today. I got going okay, even receiving breakfast from the loving family in whose backyard I camped. Baatovar (the boy) again had fun riding my bike and Ruzigool (the girl) pottered around and brought me the breakfast. Then it was back to the slow grind of rough roads and short climbs and descents that characterise this section of the Pamir Highway. I broke the day up into sections of 20km, but by the time I reached 60km my body was telling me it was done for the day. My mind forced it to keep going. A final burst of energy from knowing I’d made it spurred me on over the last hill and I had a very relief-filled descent into the town of Kalai Khumb. My wheels had been turning (not including breaks) for over seven hours. The first thing I did was stop in at a shop for sugar in the form of four mini Snickers and an icy pole. I then rode through town in search of a place to stay. It seems there are two main options in town, situated right next to each other. By the end of the night I was completely satisfied with my choice of accommodation, having had a delightfully hot shower and having been served what seemed like an overly extravagant meal: fresh bread; a brothy soup containing a delicious stuffed capsicum; plates of fried potatoes, tomato and cucumber salad; and a spread of watermelon, yoghurt, apricots, apples and cherries, all washed down with green tea and pomegranate juice. I gorged myself until I felt sick. The only thing left to do was crawl into bed with the welcome knowledge that I don’t need to get on the bike tomorrow.

Still beautiful

Accommodation $ Guesthouse
Distance ridden today 83.14km
Average cycling speed 11.4kph
Total distance ridden 20,590km
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