On one of our first dates Chris asked me if I had ever thought about doing a long distance ride. It turned out he was thinking of L-E-L or similar, so when I said I’d love to cycle back to Perth along the Silk Road one day he was intrigued with the idea. We didn’t talk seriously about doing it, but a couple of months later he bought me a pass for the Adventure and Expedition Planning Expo at Earl’s Court which we went along to and spoke to a few ‘adventure professionals’ about our idea. As it turns out, the idea is far from original, but it was encouraging that in this day and age people are still travelling safely through Central Asia and it hasn’t all succumbed to wars and terrorists.
We continued to talk about it on and off but never with real conviction. I guess neither of us were certain the other really wanted to do it, or that it was a good time to do it, or whether it was even a good idea anyway. Then this Easter we drove to Amsterdam. Easter traffic turned a four hour drive into seven and by the time we arrived at our camp site we had committed to a September departure – and that night we got engaged!
I bought the Cycle Touring Handbook as soon as we got home and we started planning. It didn’t take long to realise there is a lot to think about! So many countries, so many climates, so many bike options! We decided to play to our strengths so Chris has the responsibility of bikes and gear and I am planning our route and getting the visas.
The reason we need so many visas in advance is because we want to cycle the Pamir Highway. This is described brilliantly in our Handbook as being “a high altitude adventure that is like the Karakorum Highway on steroids.” My favourite sentence of the whole book! Obviously I want to do this if nothing else. I suspect Chris still hasn’t clocked on to what he’s getting into – but he will! To describe it, the Pamir Highway is a 1,200km road in Tajikistan which climbs and winds its way through the Pamir Ranges. The Pamir Ranges being a knot of 7,000m peaks which extend into the Himalayas of Tibet and Nepal, the Karakorum of Pakistan, the Hindu Kush of Afghanistan, the Tian Shan of Krygystan and the Kunlun Ranges of China. A lot of the road is above 4,000m, some of it is unsealed, all of it is remote and it culminates with huge descents into Krygystan which appear to be at least partly unsealed and without crash guards to keep you from falling off the edge. Armed with this knowledge it is important, I think, that we get there before the Northern Hemisphere winter really takes hold of the region which apparently happens in November. We have therefore changed our departure time to as early as possible which is 17 August. We don’t want to wait for a week at a time in big cities for visas but rather enjoy our exploration across Turkey, Georgia, Azerbaijan, a corner of Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan before, if all goes to plan, reaching the border of Tajikistan and the Pamir Highway on 8 October.
Picture nicked from this blog – The Pamir Highway – who wouldn’t want to go there!? Chris and I will reccy it for 45 Degrees North and report back.