[blog post for Grinta! cycling magazine]
‘Doroga normalne’ I hear myself babbling as I drag my bicycle over big rocks. A loud laugh escapes me. Some miles further on, I’m sprayed completely wet when cycling through melted snow that turns the road into a river.
Welcome to the Bartang and Khudara Valley, valleys with ‘normal roads’.
I left Rushan. ‘At the end of the village, go left, a bit further left again and afterwards ‘just straight ahead’.’ The ‘straight ahead’ followed the winding, loud and raging Bartang river. One moment on the left of it, the next moment again on the right and always higher.
I really looked forward to it. The Bartang Valley is known as one of the wildest and most memorable places in the Western Pamir Mountains.
After crossing Bartang and Khudara Valley, I would arrive at Karakul Lake at an elevation of 3914 meters.
Landslides and river crossings are a certainty. But how many and how tough, nobody can tell. With the words ‘not possible for cars, with the bike no problem at all’ in my ears, I enthusiastically continued pedalling.
After 12 kilometers I left tarmac behind and adventure was ahead.
The Bartang Valley kept it neat. The road was mostly cleared. And the ease of the first river crossings took care of my initial fear.
‘Doroga normalne’ was what I heard in Khudara, the last village, when I asked how the road was to Karakul Lake. That ‘normal road’ made me slip and fall in a bend on broken slate.
Khudara roads were not so neat, not only because of my blood splashes, the landslides weren’t cleared.
The day after, along with many narrow crossings, one broader wilder river was waiting for me. Looking for the best place to cross, I ventured my attempt. I took off shoes and socks, rolled up my pants and started a first test trip to the other side. Mission accomplished! My feet red with cold, my dry shoes were waiting for me. Now my bike to follow.
The water was knee high. The current was strong, very strong. And sometimes the pebbles under my frozen feet were too slippery. Ouch … my loyal companion slipped. There ‘he’ floated on the water in a current that tried to push him further away and unbalance me. I was loyal and allowed myself to be carried along with the bike. The icy water now came to the midst of my thighs.
Keep calm Trien and pull!’. ‘Pull! I tell you!’. ‘Harder!’.
As soon as possible I had to rescue my travelling companion from drowning. Or did I, like theories claim, have to let him go before I got dragged down by the water too?
Suddenly we were both on the other side. He more soaked than I. I more panting than him. But both ‘alive and kicking’.
At eleven degrees and in a strong wind I shivered like a granny and quickly took all the wet stuff out of my rear bag. The bread for the next four days was sodden. But we weren’t! We made it! We were there! Yes, I was there! 1-0! Yes, a big fat zero for you. Yes you, you wild river!
That evening and the following I counted the river crossings for the next day. There were many, too much to my liking.
‘Is this a test?’ ‘Why?’.
The nights were short in Khudara valley. Not only because I slept at altitude but also because of my worrying. ‘What will tomorrow bring? Will I make it? Will I survive this?’.
For once I was happy with climate change. Many rivers on the map were dried out. There was up to five rivers per day, small and larger.
I was cycling through an unseen nature documentary. The scenery didn’t bore for a moment. From the narrow, rough valley I suddenly landed on a giant plain, like a huge football field with rusty grass, surrounded by mountains as tribunes. Breathtaking!
I approached Karakul Lake, a salt lake formed by a meteorite impact ten million years ago. The soil changed. Salt sprinkled clay clung to my tyres and impeded cycling. After miles of pushing the road became rideable again. It stayed beautiful!
I stopped to take a picture. Looked behind and saw rising sand. A whirlwind! And another one! And another one! A dark sky too.
Wow, I truly love the power and splendor of nature!
It was two o’clock in the afternoon. What should I do? Make a short day and enjoy rest and lake views? Camp here? Definitely!
As soon as my tent was unpacked, the wind overtook me. It turned out to be a true sandstorm. I quickly bowed over my fast crumpling tent and stayed motionless, sitting for half an hour. In no time I was sandblasted and the dirt of the past five days was replaced by a layer of -what do you think?- sand.
It got quieter. I looked behind. My eyes were looking for big stones but found a giant dusty wall coming towards me. ‘Bend Trien, bend!’. And again, there I sat, bent over my tent sail. If I was a shooting disc, I was pierced by sand bullets. After fifteen minutes the wind dropped. Then, I knew I had five minutes to find some big stones, pitch my tent, jump into it as fast as possible and close all the zippers.
Five hours I was in that storm. It was fine. I felt good. It was cozy inside of my tent. The sand apparently thought likewise and made me a nice sand carpet through the smallest openings.
Suddenly it was quiet. Suspiciously silent. There was … nothing. No waving tent sail. No bullets on my roof. No extra sand on my carpet. Quiet. Noiseless. ‘Would I dare? Would I dare to go outside?’.
I saw a clear open sky and a beautiful soft light on the lake. I heard … nothing. It almost hurt my ears. I enjoyed it.
Not the rest and lake views in the afternoon, but an evening and night in silence.
The next morning I had to move on. Further towards the Pamir Highway. Further towards Murghab, towards the ‘inhabited’ world.
There was asphalt. There I was, on the ‘highway’. A Snickers as a reward.
Because yes … I was tested, my tent approved!
Thanks a lot Lottie for going through my text.