An epic day in both mileage and scenery. On the road by 7.30am after a great night’s sleep and dodgy breakfast of one solitary fried egg, I made great progress early. The road was dead straight and flat and at 30kms in I stopped at a river to refill the bottles. Stupidly I put my winter gloves on the back of the bike and took off not realising they were still there. After 5 kilometres I realised the mistake and ruefully turned around. I was tempted to leave them but the big passes were still to come and winter gloves were a necessity. The road degenerated into sandy corrugations at 45kms but the scenery compensated. High mountains everywhere, some of them with glacial tongues lurching down the valleys.
I stopped at the base of the highest mountain pass in Tajikistan (left), rising to a height of 4650m. By some stroke of luck the best I felt for the day was on the climb, and I was able to make good progress despite the road conditions and altitude. I was also relieved that the altitude sickness didn’t return. Once over the top I still had 50 kilometres to go to Murgab and started to feel terrible. Hot flushes, sweating, stomach cramps and nausea combined to make the final run to town unpleasant. I thought about camping but thought it would be better to ride out the sickness in proximity to a toilet.
I finally pedalled into Murgab at 6pm, more than eight and a half hours of riding, and found a great family to stay with. I enquired about the Internet facilities in town but apparently the electricity had been off for a week and a cow had fallen on to the town’s generator. I headed for the telephone exchange but the phone attendant had no idea how to use the switch.
The cold sweats came and went, as did I between the house and the toilet. I am desperately hoping it passes as now is not the time to get sick. That night proved to be the worst of the trip. Doubled over with stomach cramps I had to make several trips to the outdoor – and distant – squat toilet in the back garden. I can think of few things more depressing than sitting in a cold, dank toilet waiting for the waves of diarrhoea to roll in. When I was in bed I was frequently awoken by bizarre hallucinations that may be the result of altitude. I would wake up in the dark room and struggle to get my bearings, imagining that I was asleep in the toilet one minute, a field the next.