Well, it turned out to be 3700, which wasn’t that much worse. Broke camp early and were climbing by 9am. As we were breaking another group of shepherds drove their flock right beside – we would be passing these guys all day.
The climb wasn’t too bad, 800 metres up in 6km. Met some german guys in a jeep with mountain bikes slung on the back who were cruising around Kyrgyzstan – their jeep seemed like a much better idea when I was sat at the bottom of the climb. Only took two and a half hours for me to reach the summit, and the others arrived over the next forty-five minutes. We took the obligatory top-of-the-pass photo and as the flock started to turn up, we finally got to descend – all downhill to China! Or not as it turned out.
We descended about 400m and immediately had to climb up another 400, but once it was done, surely it would be all downhill! Well, it was downhill to Sary-Tash at least, a tiny wee dot on the map, but what a downhill. Yaks and cows in the fields, beautiful road and the enormous Pamirs rearing up in front of us as we rode downhill towards them. Probably something i’ll never forget – looking up at one point as I rode 40k down this hill and seeing the peaks and just thinking holy shit, where did they come from!? They were beautiful.
Once we got to Sary-Tash, we stopped for a bite of samsa and then got a move on, finally with a tailwind on our side. we managed to make a decent 20k or so, before we started climbing again. The road was really great quality, and it was mainly just fun ups and downs as we headed along the valley, the Pamirs a constant presence on our right hand side. We stopped for a break at the bottom of a hill, just at the snow line and decided we’d get over this hill, down the other side and find a place to camp. We were all knackered, and it was about 4pm at this point. Unfortunately, the hill had other plans. It just went on and on for ever, and once we got to the top of it there was always another one that went on forever. The road started to narrow as the snow crept over the sides until it was single lane with trucks passing every minute. Finally, at about 630 I got to the top of the hills and looking back, realised I might have enough time to boil some water for tea. I only had four matches, and these were shitty quality matches, so when three broke I was ready for disappointment. The fourth struck though, so fifteen minutes later when everyone arrived we had some steaming bouillon to keep us going, and as the sun started to slip behind the hills we began to descend.
Again, it was great riding, with the downs long enough that they would carry you right up the hills. We were riding along the crest of a hill, with two massive valleys to either side of us and it was liberating to be able to move at speed after such a long day of often slow cycling. We descended enough for the snow to disappear and I spotted a decent place to camp. Ryan and Irene arrived a few minutes later, and we decided we should move off and find something a little slow, as we still had some daylight left. Just as we were pushing off Anne arrived, shouting that there were people on the hill and they were waving a flag. We thought they might need help so we rushed over to say hello.
They turned out to be Johannes and Flo, two German dudes who were going from Beijing to Germany. Johannes had previously cycled from the Atlantic to the Pacific in the US so was now finishing the loop. We introduced ourselves, and pushed our bikes over to their camp and got set up. They’d just arrived in Kyrgyzstan that day, and we were able to give each other loads of useful information on what to expect. Here we were, two Germans, two Dutch and two Brits, in the middle of the Pamirs on, what turned out to be, the 70th anniversary of WW2. How could we celebrate it better?