Into the Pamirs

Kyrgyzstan + Tajikistan | Osh - Sary Tash - Karakul - Murghab | 15th to 26th October '15  | 15,146km

Neither of us are saying it, but we’re both thinking it - there’s a wolf in the tent. 

The Kyrgyz border guard was less interested in passport checking and much keener on telling us that the Pamirs were riddled with wolves, ‘much bigger than European ones’. We both tried to give appeasing nods, as though we were familiar with the European variety, and pointed determinedly at the dog bashing/bike propping stick Luke was now carrying. He was not impressed. Back in the tent, rigid with the irrational dread that noises you can’t see the origin of induces, we’re recalling the sizable paw prints we’d seen in the snow earlier that day. Mummified in every item of clothing we have we’re feeling particularly vulnerable and given our tent boasts the world's smallest awning, a quick calculation suggests we have approximately 30cm between our very cold heads and whatever is snuffling around out there. Self defense wise, our dog bashing stick is regrettably deployed on bike propping duty. If we were able to sneak past the intruder, who has now realized the food bag is veggie, really pissing him off, we might be able to acquire the dog bashing stick, switch it to wolf bashing mode, and fend him off, dressed like the Michelin man.

The laughable scene snaps us out of our half asleep state. Back in reality we realize firstly, how numb our toes have gone, and secondly that the wind has picked up - the rustling in the awning is much more likely to be the Morrison's bag we left out, catching the breeze. Still silent and unwilling to get out and actually check, but 95% sure that a wolf isn’t about to invade our personal space, we sinche up our sleeping bags even tighter try to get back to a more dreamless sleep. The next morning we’re passed by a Anglo American couple in a snazzy 4x4 who say is was -20° in Sary Tash last night, several hundred meters lower than where we’d pitching our tent, between the Kyrgyz and Tajik borders. We had been escorted for a good 15mins into no mans lands by an enormous anti wolf guard dog, the more likely owner of the footprints we’d seen no we come to think about it. As the 4x4 grinds up the switchbacks ahead of us, Luke gets a flat tyre. Bollocks. Tyre removal with hands that cold was not an option, so we push the last km up to the Tajik border post. ‘Not my problem’, was the first guards response. Mercifully, a second guard allowed us inside and talked loudly at us whilst we fixed the puncture, mainly on the topic of wolves.

Osh was hot. Men ate kebabs, played chess and drank chai. Young ‘uns kept the aging soviet amusement park in business and women seemed to do everything else. Unable to bare any more forewarning on how cold/windy/remote/rough the next few weeks would be we filled all available space with fresh things and then squashed them all by cramming in extra Snickers. Likely to be two of the last cyclists to do so this season, we finally began our assault on the Pamir Highway. Referred to as the roof of the world, the road was built by the Soviets to link up the most remote parts of their empire.

We made it an emphatic 32km before noticing we were being chased by some ominous clouds and were ushered inside by a man aggressively selling apples. His grand daughters restyled Flora’s hair, Luke was given apple peeling lessons and overnight, the pressure dropped. Having sweated out of Osh we woke up to a thick mist and the first snow of the season - we were going nowhere and weren’t arguing. 24hrs later we did leave, full winter riding spec donned and apples spilling from our pockets. After two days climbing up through the valley, practicing our inability to layer correctly, we were offered a yurt to sleep in. There was a bit of a family do on and three sheep had been slaughtered to celebrate, the entrails of which we would spend the night extremely close to. We learnt that once boiled, sheep ear can be generously sliced and forced upon new guests, and is best washed down with vodka. Up some significant switchbacks to the double headed 3615m Taldyk pass, we battled into a headwind before flying down into Sary Tash. We spent Flo’s birthday snowed into a spectacularly be-carpeted room along with another British cyclist called Dave. Together a dash to the local store was braved, for wine we could have used as toilet cleaner and a Morrison's bag full of chocolate. We inched out of town the following morning towards a wall of white and into the most camera battery draining scenery of the tour. We passed through Kyrgyz border control and entered no mans land under the escort of an enormous anti-wolf guard dog.

Arriving at Karakul in the dark we opted to try out a homestay. Our first full riding at high altitude and getting very well aquatinted with a Pamiri headwind meant the tri-carb dinner of bread with potato and noodle soup was just the ticket. In the flickering light of the one working bulb we double checked we still had all our toes and readied ourselves for an assault on Akbaital. At 4655m the following afternoon we were feeling smug at having made it along some of the most heinous corrugations known to man and up to the highest point of the tour with no pushing. The smugness was tempering quickly however as developing headaches and an increasingly overwhelming cold was taking over. As many cyclists have done before us, we knocked on the door of the only known (only existing), abandoned looking building a few hundred metres down the other side and, after a pause that felt much longer than it was, were ushered in. Flo curled up close to the stove and Luke read Black Beauty. Snapped a picture by the summit sign the next morning, all downhill to Penners from here, technically.

Number of wolf sightings: 0