We had heard that the route we were taking would be challenging and they weren't wrong. First it was incredibly hot as we followed the river with 1000 metre cliffs on either side and no greenery anywhere except the very occasional oasis village.
The track deteriorated and was very tricky to ride with dried river beds to cross, some still with rivers to cross - I reminded Annie of the key point when crossing a river - keep your mouth shut as sometimes the water has a nasty habit of flying up and straight into the helmet.
We crossed a bridge with broken metal plates covering it like crazy paving but with sharp edges and big gaps to negotiate - not nice on two wheels. Then we reached a bigger river, Annie got off to walk while I promptly dropped Thelma in the deepest part - a bit too blase about it, I should have done a recce first and walked through to judge the depth and uneven boulders underneath.
Luckily a lorry driver who happened to be washing his lorry mid-river waded over when he heard me screech "Annie" and between the three of us we got Thelma upright and onto dry land. I checked for signs of water entering the engine, which mainly consists of looking at the air filter under the fuel tank to see if it looks wet - is anyone has any other top tips about what signs to look for, please let me know. If water has been ingested and then the ignition switched on the engine can blow up, so the consequences are pretty severe.
I nervously turned the key and Thelma started first time - great, the only damage seemed to be a missing mirror which is probably halfway to Kabul by now. On the plus side however, the neutral light which has not been working for a couple of weeks was once more operational, obviously immersion in fast flowing water was the key; maybe I should have washed Thelma more regularly.
The next river was a nightmare to look at - much deeper with massive boulders, very fast flowing and to add an extra spice it flowedover into a 20 foot drop. I wasn't taking any chances with this one and carried some of the bags across first whilst also doing a thorough recce- the water was very deep in places, and I was almost knocked off my feet several times, the riverbed was also extremely uneven and covered in slippery rocks and boulders, we watched a land cruiser struggled to cross. The shallowest part was right next to the 20 foot drop off and that would be the line we would have to take.
We enlisted the help of two blokes who were passing, and explained with fairly graphic sign language what was required of them ie to accompany me and the bike across and to ensure the bike did not fall over. However they were unprepared for the speed that I neede to tackle the water with and got a bit left behind, just about managing to catch up as the current got hold and Thelma started to tip over. They grabbed the pannier racks and struggled to keep their footing as I slid off the seat and revved up to try and drive Thelma onwards, a few slippery rocks kept us stationary briefly before we got some momentum going and I roared up and over them and across to the other side - we had made it!
I felt such a sense of relief and achievement but also a feeling a dread, how many more of these were there.One of our helpers did quietly ask if we were heading to the Pamirs, and when I replied yes, he just raised his eyebrows, not a good reaction I thought.
I kept that little exchange from Annie - she was ferried across with the lastof the panniers by a kindly jeep owner and didn't even get her feet wet.
Next we faced a waterfall which was landing on the road, luckily this looked worse than it was, though I did get completely drenched.
Cars and trucks were being held up as there was a semi-official one way system in place for some stretches of the road ie east to west on the even hours and vice versa on the odd hours, but the road workers deemed that we were OK to pass through which led to more hair-raising encounters with massive chinese lorries on the narrow track going round sharp bends, once more we almost ended up in the river below a number of times.
It really was a tough ride. We had a break in the shady garden of a friendly family- it was the first sign of habitation we had seen for 40 miles and we were desperate for water- which turned out to be only available from the stream running through their garden- needs must and we glugged it down.
As the sun was setting we reached a restaurant with outdoor eating consisting of two shaded platforms covered in carpets which we sat crosslegged and ate out of a communal plate of rice - also known as plov or pilau in this area. The woman who served the food enquired if we needed somewhere to sleep and showed us what was basically a trucker's dosshouse above the kitchen- a stuffy room with five narrow beds side by side. We were so exhausted that we said yes and then negotiated to have the room next to it with mattresses on the floor and the hopeful possibility of no room mates (truckers or otherwise). We dropped off to sleep straight away - it was 8.30pm; a late night intruder was shouted at until he left the room - there was no way of locking the door so I stacked some of our stuff in front of it.
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