Pedaling from the Black Forest to the Yellow Sea
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Posts from — September 2008

Day 186 (Tajikistan): Upalisai - Ak-Balyk (two down, many more passes to go and feeling strange)

daily distance: 81km
total distance: 11,162km
riding time: 6h

It was still bittercold when we woke up the next morning. I was happy to stay under the blanket for a while as the road leading up to the pass was in the shadow and it seemed to make little sense to go up without the sun warming things up a bit.

When they did, it was still a steep, steep battle. Parts were again not fit for biking, the upper part of the pass being obliterated by the big trucks that are taking this route and for some reason there being no asphalt. This is the case so often here - you get to the most challenging part and it is made even harder. Very few vehicles passed me over the course of the next 45 minutes or so. Which was great. And here is to yesterday’s picture of me pointing up …

The pass flattens out towards the end and then you’re up at 4272m and it’s a cool feeling to be up that high under your own steam.

The other great thing here is the complete change of scenery from the valley I had been following to the other side of things. It is sometimes described as a lunar landscape - at any rate the mountains are more rolling than anything and there is a salt plateau further on. It is an amazing scenery once you can enjoy it when being on asphalt again. Which takes a while and the haphazard efforts of the Tajik construction workers don’t seem to make things a whole lot better.

Just as things were getting nice in terms of the asphalt, the next climb looms ominously in the distance and it was clear that there was no blacktop and that it was steep again. Unrideable for me in parts, but with great views.

Once over the pass and getting through some rough road on the other side, a plain comes into view with several lakes dotting it.

It was here - after passing the turnoff to the Whakan Valley that I seemed to be running out of steam completely. Nothing seemed to help much. Water was OK, I had eaten, but I was running on empty it seemed. It may have been the altitude (still at 3900m) that made want to go no further. Plus, the weather seemed to be turning as well, so the detour I had thought about taking was out of the question. I didn’t have much of a choice I felt and continued at a snail’s pace until Alichur. Bonk - what a drab place. It may have been the weather, gloomy and cold, it may have been the place. But I didn’t want to stay. Got myself some chocolate after which I seemed to be doing better again and slugged on for another 13km or so. The plain was still sparsely inhabited by Kyrgyz people in yurts. But I ended up in a home not far from which I had asked for some water source. I was invited in, the place turned out to be a restaurant and because of the wind and how I felt I decided to stay for the night instead of heading for a different place.

Good choice. Bek and his wife are fun people, they invited me into their kitchen after the other guests had left. The kitchen consisting of a tiny space and a stove where an atrocious soup was cooked up. It wasn’t really tasty I must admit, but hey. There also wasn’t any more space than the four of us (one other person helping out) and the stove. But it was warm. Heated by dried up cow doo-doo (no, it doesn’t smell, everyone heats with this stuff here) and light supplied by batteries powered by a solar panel we spent the evening together.

September 25, 2008   No Comments

Day 185 (Tajikistan): Wer - Upalisai (almost over the pass, but not quite yet)

Note: I am in Kyrgyzstan as I am posting this, having gone over the Pamir Highway, and am doing great, heading up to Bishkek to sort things out with the US visa. Thanks to all those who sent messages and for those who donated via Paypal on the inbetween. For more info, head over to the donations information page.

More updates to follow in the coming days as I can upload pictures and the like. It’s still all a bit complicated here.

daily distance: 79km
total distance: 11,081km
riding time: 5h

Again, I had the wind in my back as I was heading up the valley further. Not sure about the last place to replenish, I decided to go with the basics and do my purchases early. Meaning that I also had to lug them up the mountain. But I shouldn’t have worried. You can get supplies fairly far up the valley, except for bread. No one sells it. You have to ask for it and then they won’t have any money for it here. No, we don’t want anything for bread, even in a little store. Thanks a bunch!!!

The scenery was great, the fall colors out in force.

I left the Gunt behind me and went up a side valley, passing a few more hamlets and a statute of the Marco Polo sheep that is prevalent here.

In the village of Jelondy there is a sanatorium (which is a hot spring), but I decided to move up a bit further towards the Koy-Tezek Pass, but not to go over it tonight.

No need to rush things really.

Turns out it was a great choice. Just before the switchbacks start I saw a house and without asking was invited in. And it was a good thing. The night was bittercold and extremely windy. Temperature went down to -10C and wind was pretty fierce all night long. Lying in the house with a snug blanket around was a good thing (despite heavy snoring next to me).

Here is a picture of where I would be going up the following day … fun stuff.

September 24, 2008   1 Comment

Day 184 (Tajikistan): Khorog - Wer (Straf, Straf!!!)

daily distance: 72km
total distance: 11,081km
riding time: 4-5h

A day split in two - the morning part quickly told. Some last minute shopping and more internet organizing and updating for Bishkek and the website. Can’t leave you without some reading material. But now it was up to some heavy-duty biking I was guessing. Or at least the altitude got a little higher. You pass this car - the first one ever to make it over the Pamir Highway - as you leave Khorog.

After noontime I set out to bike some distance - turned out to be a glorious 70km until just before nightfall. The first part a bit ugly until you get outside of Khorog, then you get to the checkpoint - but after that it was all greatness. The police I had been warned about. Other people had been told that they didn’t have the right papers and would have to pay a fine. The same with me. I was given the “Straf, Straf” spiel (and here German comes in handy, as the word for penalty in German is Strafe). I looked at him kind of surprised and kept blabbering in English that I had no idea what he talked about. He then said that my permit wasn’t good enough and that the town of something was missing. It wasn’t and so I just said that I didn’t know what he wanted and in the end resorted to talking about Dushanbe and the office there … at which point he slowly seemed to loose hope in getting anything. He still mumbled “Straf, Straf”, but by then I had picked up my passport and was on my way out.

Even though it was uphill, the wind in my back helped a lot and pushed me further than I had planned. The area was - as has been the case - simply amazing. The river Gunt has an eerie green color stemming from its glacial origin and the trees make for a sweet alpine feeling. You could forget that you are close to Afghanistan … Swiss Alps are a good image.


In the end, I wanted to camp again, but was refused and instead invited to the home of a family in the tiny settlement of Wer. The old man was adamant about not sleeping outside as it would get cold and instead we shared a room while the rest of the family; his son, wife and two kids were in the other room/kitchen, which was under renovation. They forced so much food (potatoes) down my throat I had to stop at some point. And it was an interesting conversation about religion and all things Pamiri - how much they make in a year (very little), how life is going in this part of the Pamir (OK, but not great) and many other things.

If it wasn’t for biking, there would probably be somewhat of a lack of private space here for me. This is a rather Western approach, but you literally sleep, eat and drink in some sense communally. You share the rooms, the cutlery, plates and most everything else. Cars are always loaded to the brink with people. It may be a reason for some harsh reactions when someone is riding next to me for too long. I don’t like the reaction I sometimes have, but it is getting to be frustrating at times. Not being able to communicate properly certainly doesn’t help … but that is not something that happened today, so we’ll save it for a slow day.

September 23, 2008   No Comments

Day 183 (Tajikistan): planning day in Khorog (keep your fingers crossed)

It was rest day and it really wasn’t. I spent the entire day organizing things over the web. The people in the internet cafe were not only helpful, but saved the day. I have to schedule an appointment for my visa interview, but you have to print all sorts of things and plug things into web forms, uncertain what you come up with in the end. The owner pulled out the non-functioning printer and together we managed to get it going. They also let me use their computer because I wasn’t certain whether I would be given a pdf and the like. But getting to this point was a bit daunting.

But here is where things stand:

1. Filled out form DS 156 - check

2. Passport pictures - check

3. Bring money - check

4. Bring notarized notice - check (on its way from the US)

5. letters of recommendation - check (on their way from several places)

6. made an appointment - check

I will now have an interview on October 7, 2008 in Bishkek. I will leave Tajikistan on October 2, 2008. Leave the bike in either Sary-Tash or Osh, head to Bishkek and apply for the visa there.

This took all day, so no pictures for today. You get one from yesterday.

At night, I was invited to Bianca’s farewell party. She is the friend of Bettina - and I happened upon Bianca in the internet cafe already. It’s a small place.

So, for the next 10-12 days there will not be any updates. There will not be any internet access and for the most part no electricity. Things are set up for the visa though I think, but do keep your fingers crossed at any rate in the meantime.

September 22, 2008   2 Comments

Day 182 (Tajikistan): Dersu - Khorog (slow days are good)

daily distance: 74km
total distance: 11,009km
riding time: 4-5h

The night had been cold as anticipated, but it was a great way to see the Milky Way above me. Can’t beat that kind of stuff. In the morning I set out in the still frigid air and pottered along the valley for the next few hours. The landscape was still at its grandiose best and the riding not too difficult. The road was mostly good.

But after the last days of roughness by bike has taken a beating and certain screws are becoming problem children it seems. One has actually completely failed and has shaken loose. I could replace it on the spot - and at night was given an even better replacement by Bill, another biker staying in the same hostel here in Khorog.


Khorog is nothing special. It’s a place for me to rest for a day, try to set up things for an interview at the US embassy in Bishkek in a couple of weeks and replenish some supplies. I will no longer ride along the river that I have been seeing for days now and Afghanistan will no longer be on my right hand side.  In the hostel I happened upon Bill, another biker from the US who is taking an indefinite vacation (limitation: money) and has graciously let me use his lockite on my screws - which I hope will settle the issue.

September 21, 2008   No Comments