"you never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view, until you climb into his skin and walk around in it"
Atticus // To Kill A Mockingbird
just got home from an inspiring photography retreat, with some amazing photographers and an incredible group of councillors. I took so much from this time away. creating, dreaming, learning, manifesting and being emersed into nature (and the cold) all which I will apply to my life's journey.
the goal of this excercise was to show your interpretation of this quote. I immediately related this back to depression. it was my first thought. an illness that touches so many, yet is so confusing and difficult to understand if you've never experienced it. it brought me to tears executing these images, because I had to submerse myself into the pain of the many that surround me and don't have the words to describe it.❤️
tell me what you think? I'd like to know. do you suffer from depression, mental illness? I want to know. talk about it. your not alone.
here are the words I choose when I shot these images.
alone / disease / broken / desperation / pain / stigma / hope / external vs internal
We are going to be on hand for the @seattleboulderingproject NW Boulderfest this weekend. Stop by to say hi, ask questions about @scarpana gear and get a signed poster from a few SCARPA athletes. | #nwboulderfest
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”We don't know enough about ourselves. I think it’s better to know that you don’t know, that way you can grow with the mystery as the mystery grows within you. But, these days, of course, everybody knows everything, that's why so many people are lost.”
“You’ve got to invest in the world. You’ve got to read, you’ve got to go to art galleries, you’ve got to find out the names of plants. You’ve got to start to love the world and know about the whole genius of the human race. We’re amazing people.” - Vivienne Westwood
Woke up to vegan pancakes, fresh coffee, and a plane ticket for a surprise weekend in Seattle. So incredibly grateful for you @mcmeoww .
To all the incredible people that have touched my life in these past 27 years, new, old, or have even re-entered: I love you. Thank you for making another trip around the sun so damn memorable.
Create art, express gratitude, and continue to make our planet a better place by: .
-not eating meat
-reducing single-use plastic -loving all beings 🌿
Thankful for you all.
when the whole gang comes out to play 💥
You know it’s a good weekend when the fleet comes along! A weekend of camping riverside was just what I needed...good thing I’m heading back a few weeks in a row coming up!
Since it’s finally starting to get cold out I wanted to post a little throwback from our road trip up the Lake Superior coast! Bathtub island was a dream and definitely worth the trek through the cold Lake Superior water!
People still sit around and think, “when’s it gonna come..” and that’s the wrong way. You’re facing the wrong way, you’re facing away from it. You have to go, “it’s here, it’s here, it’s here.” - Jim Carrey
Bishkek - Cholpon Ata 🇰🇬 Kyrgyzstan
Another day in a taxi. 250km to Cholpon Ata and into the melee of World Nomad Games fever!
In the morning I downloaded the official app... and spent time looking through the schedule of competitions I couldn’t pronounce.
With our bikes packed, James, Eleanor, Stella and I left the adorable kitten at the very comfortable Friends Hostel and headed for the western bus station where we would take another Marshrutka.
The drivers knew where we were heading. We managed to fit four bikes and us inside along with three locals. We paid £8 each for the trip. I casted my mind back to getting taxis from Sheffield city centre to home for the same price but travelling 7km instead of 250km.
The journey took us through gorges and over grassland before we stopped at a well serviced truck stop for camcas and a drink.
Nearing Issyk Kul we saw that people had arranged white stones on the hillside to promote their Instagram pages. Don’t worry, I didn’t stop to add an @elliotsbiketrip but the thought did cross my mind.
We passed a large painted Kyrgyz flag and crested a hill. Before us lay the western edge of Issyk Kul. It stretched for as far the eye can sea. It was truly a sea.
We flew through small lake-side towns along decent roads before reaching Cholpon Ata in the afternoon.
Stella and Eleanor decided to take a Guesthouse whilst James and I had an invite from Andras and Josie (the owners of the VW monster van) to meet them at a beach they had found through friends of theirs.
We cycled a few kilometres down the road and then towards the lake. We bumped over fields before reaching a path along the shore.
Before long we could see the outlines of vehicles and we came to a clearing where five or six vehicles had assembled.
What a great spot they had chosen. The sun was setting and we had a quick dinner of bread and cheese before meeting our fellow campers.
Toktugul - Bishkek 🇰🇬 Kyrgyzstan
We packed up, said goodbye to our lovely hosts and headed to the bus station to find and an earlier taxi. The offer we had from yesterday was for 10am but we wanted to be in Bishkek earlier to give us chance to rest before heading to Cholpon Ata tomorrow where the World Nomad Games are.
We found a man willing to take us and the bikes. In fact, we found a lot of guys eager to take us. Bishkek da?
We agreed on 2500 som for both of us which is £13 each for the 270km journey to the capital of Kyrgyzstan. Not bad. It was a Marshrutka, a type of public transport found all over Central Asia. Mini vans instead of formal bus services. We hopped into a Mercedes sprinter with 4 over locals heading to Bishkek.
The 70km climb up to 3200m was beautiful and immediately I wanted to be on my bike. This feeling got stronger after we descended and drove 30km along a high plateau where yurt encampments were dotted along the road. It was epic scenery. We dodged herd after herd of horses and goats; their Shepard’s just about managing to keep the animals going in straight line.
Our driver was mental. Leaning his body over around every turn. Living every corner. We swayed from side to side in the back. We were glad to have paid extra to have the bikes in the car rather than on top.
After a 5km single lane tunnel at the top of the second huge pass we descended on incredible switchbacks.
Villages quickly turned to towns and a couple of hours later we were on the outskirts of Bishkek. We were dropped off on the main road and packed the bikes. We thanked our driver and headed to the Friends Guesthouse where James and Eleanor had been staying for the last 5 days.
We arrived and dumped our things. Tent and sleeping bag out to air. Pots and cutlery deep cleaned. Showered. More chores done.
We headed to the bazaar for fruits and vegetables. The bazaar in Bishkek is actually called Osh Bazaar as a recognition that the bazaar in Osh is a superior bazaar.
Toktugul 🇰🇬 Kyrgyzstan
So it was Independence Day in Kyrgyzstan yesterday. Hence the exuberant dancing in Tibet Cafe last night.
We made two decisions early morning. One, that we would catch a taxi to Bishkek. The World Nomad Games start tomorrow and we were still 300km from Bishkek and 500km from Cholpon Ata where the games are being held. I’ve done well enough to get this close having cycled the majority of the last month so no qualms about a taxi.
Two, that we need a day off to wash clothes and recharge the batteries. However, we decided that the day off might be more interestingly being spent in Toktugul rather than in Bishkek which had not heard much about.
So with plans made, washing was prepped, batteries plugged in and a breakfast of pasta, salad and bread with jam was relaxingly enjoyed.
A couple from Poland were also staying in the hostel and also taking a taxi to Bishkek. The guy spoke a little Russian so we went with them as they found a taxi for themselves and we booked a taxi for tomorrow.
We then headed to the bazaar and bought some food and I bought some brand new socks, Gucci baby. Now I can fit in with the locals. 50p a pair! 🤙😂 We took our food and headed down to the lake on bikes. We laid a tarp down under a tree and went for a swim. The water was warm. It was bliss.
We dozed for a few hours in the shade before heading back for dinner.
A simple but relaxing day in Toktugul.
Toktugul Reservoir - Toktugul 🇰🇬 Kyrgyzstan
Poor Stella woke up feeling unwell which was unfortunate because I woke up feeling bright as a button.
Tunes in and enjoying the morning sun and the continued undulations at a leisurely pace in the hope that Stella would feel better with time.
Nothing doing, we stopped at the end of the reservoir and bought a watermelon. A mother and her som were sitting by under shade with a great array of melons and squash.
The mother relinquished the bed that she had been sitting on and gestured for Stella to lie down. When we told her that she wasn’t feeling well the mother pulled out a herb and mint paste and applied it to Stella’s stomach. Proven it may not but it seemed relaxing. The father arrived and told us of a good spot to take a swim a few kilometres down the road.
We got there and found a place to lay Stella’s multi-purpose tarp. Ever more tempted to find myself one.
The water looked dirty but some locals arrived in a car and went swimming showing us the good way into the water. It was refreshing but also warm. It was perfect.
We eventually got out and let the sun dry us whilst we ate lunch. Bread, cheese and sausage.
We were determined to reach Toktugul and find a Guesthouse to recharge. We were handed a bag of grapes by a kind driver who had pulled over. Stella pilled up and gritted her teeth, 35km and two lumps in the terrain to go.
I loved the bronze colour of the grass as we passed through the rolling hills. Descending the final hill we came to the town sign and sighed with relief.
The Rahat is run by a happy local couple in their sixties. The garden is full of flowers and the atmosphere relaxing. The man suggested the Tibet Cafe for dinner. We went and couldn’t read the menu but just asked for simple meals with as much vegetables as they could give us. Rice, chicken and vegetables arrived and it was surprisingly good!
A group of women were on the table next to us with a large bottle of vodka between them. As we finished our meal the whole place turned into a disco and the women ushered us up to dance.
An hour later, we left having made some new friends! Aaaaaaaaarrrrrribaaaa.
30/08/2018 🤷🏻♂️ - Toktugul Reservoir 🇰🇬 Kyrgyzstan
The sleeping mat felt extra comfy this morning but the idea of more chocolate, fruit and nut porridge with this mornings addition being apple helped me clamber out of the tent.
Me and Stella got on to the road to see that the river was a blue mirror. Perfectly still, reflecting the mountains and trees behind.
The rollercoaster road wound its way through tunnels and around bends in the river until we reached Kara-Kul.
We stopped in a shop in the outskirts of the town and spent a while talking about life on the road.
With snickers, coffee and thoughts digesting we floated into the town proper and stopped again to grab some supplies from a better equipped shop.
We stopped for lunch next to a river and filtered water. A gust of wind blew the water filters pouch into the river and despite a quick dive and reach to grab it, it serenely floated off down the river. 🙄 Shit.
Tailwind and flatter roads helped us power through the next 35km before a steeper ascent of 10km saw us clamber over the mountain and rewarded with our first glimpse of Toktugul Reservoir.
We flew downhill reaching 60kph. Sweeping around hairpin bends the reservoir revealed itself and wow... it is massive! A huge expense of water. Looking at a map of Kyrgyzstan, this western reservoir is dwarfed by Issyk-Kul in the east (where the World Nomad Games will take place). Issyk-Kul must be more of a sea.
The sun was beginning to set over the mountains and created a beautiful atmosphere over the dark water.
We stopped at a small shop for a much needed pick me up. We interrupted the girl who was watching YouTube videos and bought ice cream.
Both weary, we started looking for camping spots. It was a little tricky. The land gave us little flat areas as it sloped heavily into the reservoir.
We had a blast joining @thecircuitgym and @nextadventure for the 2018 #PortlandBoulderRally . It was a good chance to chat @scarpana rock shoes with a few folks. A special thanks to SCARPA athlete @alannah_yip for joining us for a demo the next day and running a few mini clinics. Congrats on taking the win as well in the new Furia S!
Shamaldy-Say - 🤷🏻♂️ 🇰🇬 Kyrgyzstan
We woke up to find eagles and kingfishers gliding and fluttering around the camp whilst we ate our oats. I managed to take a great shot of the Kingfisher.
Into the gorge we went. It follows the Naryn river north towards the Toktugul Reservoir. It was a tough day of heavily undulating roads.
The gorge was a cool backdrop. Bright red and orange rock made up the cliffs that towered above us. Those colours starkly contrasted beside the bright blue of the river.
We came around a corner to a widening in the lake. Stella immediately pointed out a grassy area by the rivers edge that was lined with a single row of trees. It looked like the perfect place for a swim so we came off the road a kilometre further up the road and searched for the spot.
There was actually a homestay of sorts there which is the reason it looked so good. It was built just back from the trees and the large man who owned it was sitting on a bench in the shade reading the newspaper.
We had already downed bikes and were half changed into swimming shorts by the time he raised his head to see us. He laboured over to us with a smile and welcomed us. He asked us for the 20 com entrance fee which had seen on the way in. I wasn’t ecstatic about paying but it is very little so I concentrated on how good the water looked.
The water was cold but bearable and since it had been a few days since our last shower we made the most of paying 25p and washed.
Refreshed we hopped back on the bikes and rode on north toward Kara-kul.
A few hours more of undulating road and I heard a call behind me from a weary Stella. I cycled back to where she had stopped. “We’re not going to make it to Kara-Kul tonight. But on the plus side, what do you think to this as a camp spot?” She gestured over the concrete barriers that guarded the long corner we had stopped on. 20m below, an open area of grass could be seen next to a river that flowed from one of the adjacent valleys, under the road and into the Naryn river.
There was a gravel road down which carried on up the valley to a forest park. It looked great and it was late afternoon so I was happy to stop.
Suzak - Shamaldy-Say 🇰🇬 Kyrgyzstan
Bright eyed and bushy tailed to get us up the hill that immediately greeted us as we rolled out of the field. We slowly passed high rocks dotted with holes that Common Mynas have either created or hijacked as their homes.
Stella and I stopped in Kaiyrma for breakfast. We followed a dirt track along a canal and cooked next to the water. We cracked open a MacCoffee sachet (little pockets of gold) and cooked our oats with chocolate and berries on top.
The drivers are crazy along this stretch. The Italian lady we met yesterday was right. Swinging over into our lane to overtake with little regard for our space. Cars heading in our direction also passing within less than a foot. You can get angry for a while but it doesn’t do anything. However, raiding a nearby bush of a long, leafy branch worked brilliantly. It’s not something I want to do but needs must.
We pulled into Massy and had another watermelon stop next to a guy cooking samcas. They smelled amazing and we watched as he pulled them out of the tandoori oven and piled them up on metal plates; ready to be transported to a shop nearby. We bought three and put them in our bags for lunch later.
It was an afternoon of really enjoyable riding. Lovely scenery, warm temperatures along good roads. We skirted along the Uzbek border before turning north to Shamaldy-Say.
We made a turn into the town and bumped by an old factory before reaching the Naryn river. There we found a grassy area which although was close to houses was hidden by tall reeds.
We laughed over dinner as we spent an hour searching for things we thought we had lost. Sunglasses, head torches, cutlery, they had all somehow lost themselves in various bags but nearly always turn up in the last bag to be searched.
Osh - Suzak 🇰🇬 Kyrgyzstan
It didn’t seem long enough as myself and Stella rolled out of Osh. The three days off flew by. With food from the buffet breakfast safely stowed, we rode through areas of dried and golden grassy hills before ascending slightly into more lush agricultural land.
We bumped into André again! The life loving Swiss guy who arrived in Osh on the same day as Manuele, Eleanor and I. He had left on the same day and was aiming for Jalal-Abad. All smiles.
We also met an Italian cyclist who was heading to Osh. She told us that the road was beautiful but that the drivers are a bit crazy. She had made herself a cool bag out of foil lined material and it worked brilliantly to keep her drinks cool.
Stella has a great selection of adornments at the front of her bike. Things that she has bought, found or been gifted, they jangle down from her stem so I can feel if she is behind me.
We passed literally tonnes of squash and watermelon and when we stopped in the bustling town of Uzgen we went in search of watermelon. Stella found a smaller one and quickly split it in half. We dug in with spoons. Sweet, hydrating and tasty. Just what we needed; the lower altitudes had bought with them higher temperatures and it was quite frankly a shock to the system.
Out of Uzgen we passed plum trees with fruit ripe for the taking. We made lunch at the side of the ride under some trees.
We had one brute of a climb to deal with but we plugged in some tunes and blasted up it. The fast switchback descent was lovely as the sun started to set.
The road was good as we came to the junction of Jalal-Abad. We decided to bypass it and search for a campsite a little further up the road.
It was odd to have the sun in my eyes during the late afternoon. We were heading west for the first time in ages when normally the sun is behind us casting shadows.
23/08/2018 - 27/08/2018
Osh 🇰🇬 Kyrgyzstan
We’re off to see the wizard... Osh was fantastic. A relaxing three days with great company as always.
The standout attraction is Osh bazaar, a kilometre square area of hustle and bustle. Winding alleyways of stalls selling nearly anything you can think of. It’s mostly under cover which emphasises the hubbub of people eating, drinking and bartering. I bought a new cable outer to replace my broken one and enjoyed camca’s (mini pasties) and Kyrgyz plov (it’s still the same as all other plov). A eerie voice echoes above the bazaar. A lady speaks softly but quickly over the tannoy apparently advertising houses and cars that are for sale. It’s the voice of someone trying to hypnotise you but in public. Very strange but still I weirdly looked forward to each occurrence.
On another day I went and sharpened my knife which was long overdue and explored the food area and sniffed all the spices. We found stalls selling some sort of rock. We asked what it was and were shocked to find that people eat it. It’s a chalky substance and women consume it to improve health whilst pregnant or to improve the chances of becoming pregnant; we couldn’t quite translate.
At TES Guesthouse I was treated to all you can eat continental breakfasts; this was the main reason people had come here. The place was nice, don’t get me wrong and the option to pitch a tent was useful, but the breakfast was the star of the show. Okay, it wasn’t even that special as a breakfast but after what most people had gone through over the last two weeks in the Pamirs, it felt luxurious.
On the second day James arrived! Finally reunited with him after first meeting outside the Uzbek Embassy in Baku. We had kept in touch over the last few months and he had slowly been catching me after his delay in Baku caused by an elusive Chinese visa.
He had arrived with Stella, a Greek born Swede who was heading west. She had cycled from New Zealand and through South East Asia and China.
Kyzyl Korgon - Osh 🇰🇬 Kyrgyzstan
Myself, Eleanor and Manuele left Chris and Pete to enjoy their breakfast in the gorge that we had camped in.
We rolled down the gently sloping road to Gulcha; the town who’s name was given to the river we had been following for a day. We stopped for snacks and ice tea. We had 900m to climb over a pass towards Osh.
The start was okay and we rolled passed river side houses with massive hay stores. We saw more cars carrying ridiculous amounts of hay. One car, a small saloon car was totally unsuited to the job and was littering the road with debris.
The middle section of the climb was steep and unforgiving. The road sucked in the heat and we stopped twice on the climb for rests. I very slowly caught André, (Nomad du Soleil) a Swiss man who had been travelling for years. His was a fascinating story. He had taken a motorcycle from Argentina to Tunisia and then to Paris where he was invited to cycle 12,000km on a solar bike before breaking it in Uzbekistan and changing to normal bicycle. Amazing chap, full of enthusiasm and love for anyone taking on such journeys as we were.
We carried on and I slowly drifted up the road and got to the top section where the gradient become easier and more interesting. Carving up the mountains, it was an enjoyable final few kilometres. The views back down the valley were awesome and I smiled when I picked out the silhouettes of Manuele and Eleanor still locked in battle with the hill.
Amazingly, as I waited for the others, the redspokes crew turned up on people carriers! I really didn’t think I’d get to see them again. They had completed the cycling leg of their journey and were now driving to Osh where they would fly to Bishkek and then on back to the UK. Jonny took a photo of me with my bike and told me that he would drop in on my Grandparents in Devon to show them. A brilliant idea!
He stopped for lunch at a cafe at the side of the road. They were selling lots of Kymys (fermented horse milk) and Kurut (dried yoghurt balls). Nope aaaaaand nope. Never again I don’t think!
Sary-Tash - Kyzyl Korgon 🇰🇬 Kyrgyzstan
We said goodbye to Ali and Emily as they headed to Tajikistan in their tank of a 4x4. Ali was open about his apprehension of the such a huge car on difficult roads.
Eggs followed by bread and apricot jam for breakfast and then the three of us were off. We had two passes to tackle on today’s menu but the main roads are silky smooth and predominately downhill between here and Osh.
Rear derailleur issues plagued me up the first climb and I was without my two lowest gears. The cause: my handlebar bag has been tightly held up against the front of my headtube and crushing the rear mech cable. So much so that it had completely split and so when I change to the lowest gears, nothing happened. I taped up the split cable and put the handlebar bag back in place, now holding the casing together under the tape. This worked but new cables are needed in Osh. My list for Osh grows day by day including blog posts and a much needed day off for my body and mind.
The roads are amazing. Smooth tarmac for the first time in what seems like forever. It’s around a month I’m sure. We climbed through green hillsides. I thought of the Peak District; it the Peak District was twice as high and had no drystone walls.
We gathered at the top of the 40 Let pass for a twin and another tweak of my rear gears. I spotted a very slow moving truck coming up the pass in our direction. I formulated a plan and quickly descended to the bottom of our second pass. I started climbing the second pass with Manuele and Eleanor a few hundred metres behind. I kept checking over my shoulder. Here came the truck. I prepped a hard gear. As the truck slowly over took me I said hello to the passenger in the cab and gestured to ask if I could hold on to the truck up the climb. He nodded and so I drifted back along the truck and held on and pedalled to keep balance.
Karakol - Sary Tash 🇹🇯🇰🇬 Tajikistan/Kyrgyzstan
Bleak brown to glorious green! A tough day with great rewards.
It was cold in my tent when I woke so I rearranged and put my head back against my coat-wrapped-in-towel pillow until the sun peaked above the mountains. When it did, I felt ready to leave my cocoon.
Since the shops had disappointed me the last night I was left instant noodles for breakfast. Two packs. This gave me more reasons to cross the border into Kyrgyzstan and reach Sary Tash, the first town.
It was quietly stunning around the shores of Karakol. The air was still and all I could hear were my wheels humming on the tarmac. The sky was bright blue and my legs felt good.
The first climb was a simple rise back up to 4300m. The descent took me along a road that was surrounded by desert. I stopped for a toilet break and cracked tiles of sand fell apart beneath my feet.
Marmots were numerous in the area and every now and again I would see a flash or orange dart towards a hole in the ground. Really funny animals.
A couple of nasty pot holes found my wheel which gave me and the bike a shock but nothing broken. I stopped to check the rack. I also rolled through a patch of melting tarmac and so I rolled a few kilometres with annoying little stones stuck to my tyre before scraping them off.
A large fence was running to my right away from the road. This fence is to keep people from attempting to walk across the Chinese border which runs adjacent to the border of Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. However, there are large holes where vehicle tracks can be seen snaking up and over the hills.
The mountains around me had become a deep red colour. A change of geology as well as country was imminent. The second climb up to the border with Kyrgyzstan was tough. Gravel and washboard in parts it was a slow ascent but I met a lovely Swiss couple who told me I was nearly there.
This news and the views from the road were enough to bring back a smile. A kilometre on and I turned the corner to see a small collecting of buildings that formed the border.
Rabatakbaytal - Karakol 🇹🇯 Tajikistan
Can I come down now?
I woke to a contrast of temperature each side of me. To my right, west, I grabbed my Garmin and turned it on; it read -1 degrees. Blimey. My left side however was enjoying the warmth from the sun that was beaming down on the tent. It does keep the heat in well.
The girls were up preparing their monster breakfast. I got up and made a bad coffee and ate biscuits and a banana. I need to make more of the opportunities when buying food. I seem to stick to the staples at the moment with a few local things thrown in.
We left and Ana had headed up the road to get a head start as she was still feeling a low. It took us 15km to catch her so she must have felt a little better.
We slowly winded our way up and up but still at a leisurely gradient. It was 30km to the summit and I was feeling the altitude. The power was just not there and I was happy to stick with Linden and Florence. Breathing out hard to remove as much carbon dioxide as possible from the body to allow for the little oxygen that was in the air to do its job. It helped a bit.
After 25km of 3-5%, We came to the last 5km section which ramped up to 10%. I’d call that bad road planning. It was horrible. Linden and Florence smoothly ascended ahead of me as I stopped to take a picture (and also to recover from the effort and altitude; I blame the weight of the water bag on my bike 😉). The landscape around the summit was both desolate and incredible. Mars landscape again with ice caps on the nearby mountains.
I crawled upwards, the legs turning achingly slowly. One more gear would have been good here on the gravel. The last hairpin was a stupid 15% before returning to 10% for the last few hundred metres. Linden and Florence were there, Fluoro tops a blaze at the summit taking pictures of me and Ana and giving a much needed “Allez!” Made it. Yes! Euphoria. From the achievement and lack of oxygen. High fives all round as Ana rolled in too.
Murghab - Rabatakbaytal 🇹🇯 Tajikistan
My comfortable nights sleep was rudely halted by a fly that had missed last nights cull at the hands of Jack and his towel. The little bugger landed in my hand and irritated me enough for me to open one eye and see the diffused sun shining through the net curtains.
Ah well, I had stuff to do. I had breakfast with Bill and Ross just before they left to drive 400km to Osh. A journey that will take me six days.
I spent the morning dashing about really. I went to the welders yard to see if they could repair my rear rack. I discovered that the Wakhan valley had actually caused more damage than I thought. Four cracks in the joints of the rear rack and it looked pretty knackered. It was still holding my panniers but it didn’t seem to have much life left in it. Sasha, a smiley man who owned the place unfortunately did not have the right electrodes to repair the aluminium and so a bodge was started. Thick metal wire laced around the joins to hold the pieces together. A bodge that should see me to Osh where I can either get a better repair made or see about replacing the rack altogether.
I went to the Pamir Hotel to change over the excessive amount of Tajik Somoni that I had into US dollars. Lost a few dollars in the process but it’s very hard to exchange one central Asian currency into another. I saw some of the redspokes crew there which was cool!
Got back and filtered water for everyone as the French girls rolled out town in the direction of Osh. We agreed to camp together should we meet up later in the day.
We quickly went to the shipping container bazaar. Lots of shipping containers full of different things from clothes, to toys, to fruit, to chocolate. Fruit! Yes! I got some bananas. It’s been a while!
Neizatash Pass - Murghab 🇹🇯 Tajikistan
Top five day on the bike. Blissful despite the shits.
Woke up to a chill in the air but an excitement in the bones. It’s not often you get a day of 50km pretty much all downhill but that’s what we had.
Knowing this, we had ourselves a lie in and got up at just before 8. We packed up in our amphitheatre of rock.
We hit the road and rolled through the first 5km at a ferocious 30kph. Unfortunately, as already mentioned, my stomach wasn’t feeling too great so the descent was interrupted on two occasions.
Feeling better after, we rolled on. The scenery around us was stunning. This is what the Pamirs is about. Wide and barren valleys with high mountains of varying colours acting as a corridor for you to cycle through on great roads. Myself and Jack both had smiles on our faces. Compared to the few days of struggle that we had had through the Wakhan valley, this was ace.
The road snaked around the mountains and dived down alongside streams. A few kilometres of climbing took us around the mountain and to an amazing view of the the Murghab valley. The wide Murghab river snaked along the valley’s floor which was bright green with grass. Horses, cows and yaks grazed and in the distance, white walled buildings could be seen. The outskirts of Murghab.
We stopped for five to take in the view and threw rocks at a can of Chinese beer. “This one”.... ding. Oh yeah.
We passed another checkpoint before entering the town. It was only midday and we had blitzed the 50km. Murghab is a strange place. It could be described as a big Alichur but to be fair there is a bit more happening in Murghab. Not much but a bit more. Stray dogs, check. Few signs of life, check. General post-apocalyptic feel, check.
We got into town and found a cafe for lunch. 5 minutes later, the Italian trio turned up. Glints in their eye as they had come from Zorkol lake and had seen Marco Polo sheep.
We got a table and sat down together for lunch. Before we had time to sit though 3 girls walked in; clearly cyclists and speaking French. The French girls that the redspokes group had told us about! They had also just arrived.
Tuzkul - Neizatash Pass 🇹🇯 Tajikistan
What a difference. Night and day. Chalk and cheese. Back to what cycle touring is all about for me. The joy of riding a bike on crazy roads through crazy places and taking in the incredible scenery.
Myself and Jack set off and flew through the 17km to Alichur; the most desolate place I’ve ever been. I’ve not seen mad max but I imagine it to be based on Alichur. A town of shipping containers and mud buildings sporadically placed. Wind howling through the dirt roads whilst stray dogs prowl around looking for scraps. 3800m above sea level where little grows and where the only water is from a communal pump.
First yak! Massive!
We went to the shop and bought lots of snickers and bits and pieces. The shop was okay and had what we needed. We then based ourselves at the well to replenish water supplies and cook scrambled egg that we ate with ketchup and bread. Cracked five eggs and then the sixth one was bad. Heartbreak. Scooped it out and cooked the hell out of the rest.
The children immediately spotted us and came over. English doesn’t go much passed ‘Hello’ in these parts but the children sure had mastered that word.
A couple of men came over in traditional headwear. Peaked and pointed hats. They had about 6 teeth between them. The people were a lot more Kazakh looking than in the West of Tajikistan.
We left Alichur as quickly as we could. 5km up the road we came across a pond. A crystal clear blue pond. It was stunning against the green of the grass that grew on the valley floor.
Myself and Jack went down for a closer look and found that it was a spring. Water emerged from behind a rock out of the ground. The pond looked man made to collect water. You could see the very bottom of this large pit. It was so clear that fish seemed to swim in the water like they were in air.
Khargush - Tuzkul 🇹🇯 Tajikistan
Another brute of a day.
We cooked our royal breakfast of porridge biscuits, raisins and ate it with the redspokes crew. About time we made our own food. Myself and Jonny discussed the awful climbs in Dartmoor. He was from Bovey Tracey, where I grew up in Devon. Crazy coincidence.
Jack discovered that he had a cracked wheel rim. A pretty serious mechanical to have anywhere but to have it on the Wakhan valley is another thing. If it could get through today then he surmised that it would see him through to Islamabad in Pakistan. Fingers firmly crossed!
We left after saying goodbye to the redspokes crew. I don’t think we’d be catching them today. They’ve made these few days!
We had 600m elevation to gain to reach the top of the Khargush pass at 4325m The first 300 were awful. We spent more time walking than cycling such was the state of the road.
Luckily after 12km we arrived at the guarded checkpoint and saw some familiar faces. The Italian group who we met in Avj before we got to Ishkoshim were there. I think it was maybe the fourth time we had bumped into them since we first met. They were heading to Zorkol lake which is supposed to be beautiful but another two days detour from the road on more bad roads. Not willing. The guards checked our passports and visas and in we went.
We stopped just after the checkpoint and filtered water and ate some snacks. My new filter is already leaking from a joint. Pretty pissed off about that. Will need to contact MSR and see what they can do.
300m more to climb. we turned left and received a nice tailwind to help us on up. The landscape was more mars like with every mile completed. Less and less greenery around and more odd rocks and sloping hill sides. We were high. 4000m up.
The last 300m were okay. Traction was there and we could slowly peddle. The air was definitely affecting me. Felt okay but very slow.
We saw our first marmots of the trip. Bright orange balls of fur and surprisingly big! Jack Russell size at least.
Langar - Khargush 🇹🇯 Tajikistan
Tough day out there!
We emerged from our tents to stunning sun rays pouring over the mountain ridge to our south. I was so glad to have got the hairpins out of the way last night.
After our great meal last night, we followed it up with a great breakfast of porridge mixed with biscuits and dried fruit.
The Shepard’s were already bringing their flocks back up to the mountains.
We set off and within a kilometre knew that it would be a tough day. There was no more shops for three days, the gravel was loose and the gradient steep.
The redspokes group who we met yesterday quickly caught and passed us. A really great group of people all pushing themselves on a trip to the Pamirs. Amazing to see.
I was in my bottom gear for the majority of the day. It didn’t sound happy as it could all do with a clean.
We churned our way up and up. The first part of the day was steep. From 2700m we quickly rose to 3200m. At that point we found the redspokes group having a coffee and snack break just off the road. The guides had set up tables in the shade of the awesome truck that Kolkon owned. Coffee, biscuits and snickers which still tasted just as good in their half melted state. Although we were high it was still in the high 20s.
The leaders of their group motored on as we arrived.
As we continued up the valley it widened. The valley walls were less steep and less sharp. Smoother horizons appeared. Fauna became sporadic yet large. Grass hugged the edges of the streams that came down the valley sides. They were beautiful. Cascades of green and ice blue with a thunderous sound. They all flowed into the Pamir River which we were now following after finally goodbye to the Panj yesterday. Afghanistan still lies over the water.
Behind us we could see the ridge of super tall mountains rising above the valley we had spent two days cycling along. Such an impressive range of mountains. The highest is around 6900m. Up there.
Jack had raced on to lunch where I found him with the redspokes crew.
Yamchun - Langar 🇹🇯 Tajikistan
We woke to damp tents! Rain had fallen through the night. Not a lot but enough to bring down some of the sand that was hanging over us throughout yesterday. That was the good news. However, it had also left a lovely sandy residue on all our kit that had been facing the sky during the night.
Jack and I had a slow start. Jack went through his proposition for a new camping stove product which has legs. We made a coffee; we were going to need it to help us over the 40km of awful roads we still had to Langar. It’s the last town along this valley. From there we will rise sharply and go over the Kargush pass to rejoin the M41 (Pamir Highway). As we finalised packing, we saw mountain bikers riding by... with no bags on there bike. The lucky b******s. We got down to the road as another two riders passed us. I recognised a Dutch lady from a water stop I had with Lukas and Linette a few days back before Khorog. She was now resplendent in pink, aboard her mountain bike. They were part of a group who were cycling through the Pamirs. This area is such a bucket list destination for bikers that people will come out specifically for it.
A couple of kilometres on and it all came together. Out of a truck that had stopped was Stewart, the chap I had met on that same day but at different time with L&L. He too was now adorned in Lycra and the redspokes group must have been about 15 strong. They slowly all passed us on our heavy bikes but they promised to keep some coffee hot for us at their next break 10km up the road.
We followed their tracks through the horribly loose gravel that was really tough to ride though. It takes more out of you mentally as you’re always focusing on the road rather than the beautiful scenery around you.
Sometimes we would divert on to the grassy verges were donkeys, cows and people had worn away a path into the ground. These were great and we joked that this path could be the forerunner to the official Pamir cycle lane.
Ishkoshim - Yamchun 🇹🇯 Tajikistan
Thankfully I woke up feeling a lot better but still had tooth ache. My gum was a little red so I put some Bonjela on it. We’ll see.
The weather was the main thing of interest as I got out of my tent. The wind which had blown all night bar one hour before sunrise had blown sand high up into the sky and veiled the surrounding mountains. The beautiful white peaks of the 5000+m Hindu Kush mountains to our south where no longer visible. It created an eerie atmosphere.
I ate some raisins for breakfast which were delicious. I’ve had them since northern Tajikistan but hadn’t tried them yet. They taste like little sweets.
Myself and Jack set off and made amazing progress. The tarmac was good so we made hay. Time trialling along the wakhan corridor, why not?! The road was fun; undulations that you could sprint up and tear down. A tail wind was helping us along too. We covered 25km in under two hours and were all smiles. The dust made it feel like we were cycling on a different planet.
We met a couple of Dutch cyclists, Yvonne and Arnold who had met on the road. They had intriguingly cycled from Khorog to Langar and then turned back to do it all again! They told us that we had about 10km more of good road and then things start to get bad. And then after that, worse again, and then worse. Arnold had filled us with confidence.
We savoured those 10km and then hit it. It’s an ever changing surface which makes it tough to find any rhythm. You’re always changing gears and with the nasty road surface added in too, it’s tough on the bikes.
Tarmac gave way to stoney roads which eventually broke down so that we were effectively cycling on rubble. This then gave we way sandy gravel and in places there was nothing else for it but to get off and push.
We covered maybe 7km per hour. There were sections of good road that appeared from no where to give us a mental rest.
🤷🏻♂️ - Ishkoshim 🇹🇯 Tajikistan
Yanna woke up feeling very ill sadly. So she and Mikael stayed put to rest some more whilst me and Jack carried on. Come to Central Asia, it’s wondrous, but you will get ill.
We met an amazing guy named George. He was retired and had walked from Switzerland. Walked. From. Switzerland. Okay, there were a few hitchhikes and ferries in there but his trip had been amazing.
Stopped in Avj for lunch and met a Spanish family driving around in a van. The Dad was the last place place finisher in last years Transcontinental Race last year. He loved it. My best friend Lee finished this years edition today. Heroes.
We also met a friendly Italian trio who were being guided around the Pamirs by a brilliant young guide. He helped us out when we ordered chicken yet the last of the chicken was given to a big group who arrived after us. Don’t get between cyclists and their food. They gave us slightly discounted pasta which was okay but then made me feel ill for the rest of the day.
Again stunning scenery. George had rightly told us that you can become too familiar with the scenery whilst you are there for weeks. You have to pinch yourself and admire the jagged rocks and desolation above you. In the desolation the green villages become even more inviting.
We passed the Tajik-Afghan border crossing north of Ishkoshim. The first crossing we have seen. It was closed but a Afghan flag could be seen fluttering above a highly secured building over the river. No photos allowed.
We arrived in Ishkoshim where I was feeling quite ill. Had some yoghurt and bought some grapes and trundled out of town again to find camp. I managed to briefly video call home which. Family gathering in Sheffield; so good to see everyone.
Found a great camp spot off the road behind some trees. The wind picked up started to bring cloud over the skies for the first time in ages. Just in time to ruin the first night of the Perseus meteor shower!
Khorog - 🤷🏻♂️ 🇹🇯 Tajikistan
Keep the wheels moving!
Myself and Manuele would both keep cycling today but head in different directions so we went into town with our bikes packed and went for a coffee before heading off. I had a first cappuccino in months and he had an espresso.... Embracing that Tajik breakfast 🙄
He headed off to join the Pamir Highway and I will take the Wakhan Valley. I headed to the bazaar and topped up on fuel and paracetamol to give me some rest from toothache that started annoying me yesterday.
The Wakhan Valley should take us maybe two extra days than the Pamir Highway but I should still make the games on time.
Tears for my sun hat which I lost yesterday. I must have put it down after cycling and not picked it up. It made it from Samsun, Turkey. However, the Khorog bazaar came good and I found a nicely brimmed replacement.
Jack got in touch and said he was in town. He was also leaving today we arranged to meet at midday. In the mean time I went to the park and rest in the sun.
The funny ways of the road meant that a smiling Jordi pulled up beside in the park having just finished the last 40km to Khorog through the morning. I bought him a sprite.
Really nice guy, he would rest in the city for a day or so. We strolled through the park with the bikes giving and receiving smiles from the locals. We said goodbye and I headed to the bridge over the river Gunt to wait for Jack. Via ice cream obviously but I lost the top scoop. Sad times.
Jack rolled in! A sick stomach was preventing him from fully revelling in his new shoes that replaced the ones that were robbed. Two other cyclists flew by. We caught them up just outside Khorog. Jack introduced me to Mikael and Yanna who he had been riding with for a few days.
We had patches of horrendous washboard during the first 20km and the strap on my new hat broke... angry. I made a small hole in the brim and tied the strap into a knot which secured it. Bikes and bodies juddered over the road before we stopped and slept down by the Panj for an hour.
Rushon - Khorog 🇹🇯 Tajikistan
Me and Manuele got moving quickly into Rushon. We needed some food for breakfast and also wanted to get into the sun as our camping spot had been hidden from the morning rays.
Bread, cheese and snacks purchased from a small shop and water filtered at the town pump we hit the road. Not before a quick play with a cute dog that came to say hello.
It was ‘just’ 65km to Khorog which took me completely by surprise. I had lost my bearings of the distance. This coupled with a restful 400m elevation during the day made for good moods all round. We even got our first wave from the Afghan side as we made our way south.
I was hungry though. Yesterday’s 90km effort had definitely eaten into the stores and today’s snacks were gone before 11. We stopped just after Yamj. A lake had formed between the road and mountains and so for a time we had water on both sides of us.
Since we had completed 40km by lunch we extended the lunch. I took my sleeping mat down to the lake and searched for a small hole that has been plaguing my sleep for a few nights.
Two young local couples arrived in a Land Cruiser and went for a swim in the lake. One of the guys, Shakhrukh came over and talked to us. He asked if we were hungry and gave us a bread roll filled with meat, cheese, parsley, gherkin and mayo. Could have been from the local sandwich shop in Sheffield, just what we needed! He worked as a border guard outside of Murghab, in eastern Tajikistan.
The 20km to Khorog were done in just over an hour. Good tarmac returned and the climbing eased. We were soon in the poplar lined streets of Khorog. The city sits at the confluence of the rivers Panj and Gunt.
The WhatsApp group had given us good word on a hostel on the edge of town albeit up a steep hill. The Pamir lodge was bustling with cyclists, walkers, 4x4s and Mongol Ralley participants of whom we had seen a few over the last few days.
We got our room and I discovered a yoghurt explosion in my rucksack... you know what, that can wait. After a shower we got ourselves into a 10p bus back into town to find food. We did well, we only went and found pizza! It had been a while 😏
Vahdat - Rushon 🇹🇯 Tajikistan
Poor Lukas and Lynette. After assembling their tent twice in the dark with heavy wind, they had ended up sleeping outside because the inside of their tent had turned into a beach; covered in a thick layer of sand. They had joined Jordi who was also sleeping outside.
The three of us plus Jordi headed up the two switchbacks to start the day and saw large white and black bird of prey. Possibly Osprey. We also met a very smiley Kazakh girl who was cycling solo through Tajikistan.
We were also passed by a monstrous VW van with GB plates. Bikes on the back, surfboard on the top, it was amazing. It was pulling a local Tajik car which had broken down.
Poor Lynette wasn’t having a great morning. The rubbish nights sleep she had had left her wanting a restful day. Her and Lukas stopped at a tea house to rest as Jordi and myself carried on up the road. We stocked up on Albani bars and Pepsi before reaching the Rushon district, the main town of which (Rushon) was my target for the day.
An hour or so more and we stopped in another hamlet and sought shelter from the searing sun under the trees that lined the road. A leisurely lunch break was in order for Jordi yet I had the bit between my teeth and was happy to keep pushing on. Likely the result of being the only one who got some sleep in a tent!
The mountains along the road grew taller and I could see the layers of the rock from the road; it looked like tree bark. Along this stretch the Tajik Army patrolled the road. I would see a group of four or five soldiers, guns in hand, walking along the road. Stern looking guys but they did return my greeting as I passed.
I came to Shidz where the Panj started to widen. It’s brutal torrents subsided and gave way to a calm, lake-like area of water. The legs were beginning to tire at this point. I stopped for a short break as the sun started to drop closer to the mountain ridge on the Afghan side. A drunk, old man came over and said hello. When I told where I was from he smiled widely and shouted, “Margaret Thatcher!”... I don’t think he’d ever visited Sheffield.
🤷🏻♂️ - Vahdat 🇹🇯 Tajikistan
My phone had decided to switch to Afghan time during the night, half an hour behind, and so I got out of my tent to find Lukas and Lynette cooking breakfast having already packed most of their things.
We set off and had a tough day on the bike. The valley following the Panj is stunning but a harsh environment. The road consisted of loose gravel with occasional boulders. An ordeal for us and the bikes.
Thankfully there were a number of peaceful green villages where we felt as though we were somewhere entirely different. Children play in the street and clear water pours from fountains at the roadside. Fruit stalls are full of lovely looking fruit. I bought some apples and nectarines from a sweet little girl who handed me a blackberry to try as I cycled to the stall. They tasted great.
We stopped for a break and met Stewart from Kidderminster. He is helping to lead a group of mountain bikers on a supported tour created by redspokes. Sounds like a great trip and I may see them as they’ll follow the same route as me.
We drove on stopping for an ice cream in another small, green village. Just after we met Jordi, a Dutch Cyclist who had been ill for a day but was ready to start cycling again. He joined us for the last four kilometres to a widening in the river which due to the low waters had unveiled more prime beach camping spots.
Miraculously I had phone signal so I phoned Grieve and let him in on where I was. Good to speak to him.
All was fine until wind started to howl along the valley. Lukas and Lynnette were really unlucky as a violent gust of wind broke one of their poles as they put up their tent. Lukas was prepared and had a replacement section. All hands on deck to brace the tent as the poles were put back in place. It did get me worried about not having any spares with me. Why don’t all backpacking tents come with spares? Anyway, tents up, to bed.