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Happiness Hurts

Rains wakes us up. Then a roar of shouting – must be some shepherds passing by. Before we could decide to check out the weather, something hits our tent. So I pull the zipper. A bleak blizzard is consuming the valley, now mountains almost invisible through the fog. My stomach is my emotional gauge and it gurgles as I look around me. Out in the distance, where last night there was bare brown rock, now there’s is fresh snow.

We inspect the tent: next to the canopy lies a wood stick, and about half a meter from the ground the rainfly has been slashed open. The cut is perhaps 5 cm long. We are not happy. Last night we didn’t eat anything so hunger is the first thing to tend for. While we boil our porridge and brew our tea, we have plenty of time to feel sorry for ourselves, then regroup and decide on our game-plan. Two hours later we make a move; rain and wind haven’t loosen their grip since morning. But the Pamir retains its beauty eve under inclement weather.

The anemic sun could fool us into thinking that the day is ending, but it’s just noon. We ride carefully, hands gripped on the frozen levers, lips almost blackened by cold.

If it were not so damn cold, we’d be on cloud nine. This road is awesome. But happiness… hurts, man.

70 kilometers before the first pass we spot a tent pitched next to the road and a bicycle lying next. We meet the owner: a Hungarian who has opted to wait here for the weather to improve. We exchange information about the distance to the next presumable settlement where there might be a shop for food supplies,  about who else might be coming this way from one direction or the other. Then we take a hasty photo and wish each other the best of luck.

Higher up we are riding in thin air, among the clouds.

Nobody still, and we are freezing alive.

We are not able to stop often enough to take pics, and it’s a shame, cause the landscape changes with almost every bend.

So varies the distance to the Wakhan river: it’s either far, munching deeper on the bottom of the abyss, or very close, almost spraying onto our tires. Something like this:

The road is deceiving: it sometimes feels like we are crawling across a plateau surrounded by gentle hills, but in fact we are hoovering around 4000 meters altitude.

We arrive at an unmanned barrier. As we bang and rattle, two soldiers show up, heavily dressed in winter clothing.

But only up the Kargush pass, at 4344m, the weather unleashes its doom. It’s snowing; our riding gets nervous, we roll on a slippery mix of mud and gravel, taking our left arms off the lever only as long as it takes to swipe the dirty flurry of ice off our visors.

Suddenly we hit asphalt. The junction with the Pamir Highway is so unexpected that we forget to take a finish photo, and keep on riding like robots. Then I remember about my GoPro.

As we descend we feel normal again. The road is smooth and flat, and there are many Chinese lorries loaded with merchandise. It still feels like we have come from another planet, and at 3863m the village of Alichur does little to alleviate this feeling.

Before entering the village we pass two phantasmal creatures: two cyclists, one of them on recumbent bike. We wave hello, then regroup 30 minutes later in front of the same restaurant for a triumphant pic. We are sporting no frostbites, nor eyebrow icicles, our butts, heads and limbs are numb with pain, but hell we’re happy!

In the restaurant we decide together with JP and Jacques to offer ourselves a generous dinner of everything they have on the menu and in the kitchen. It’s an unspoken truth among us: this is one of the best days of our lives.