Severely dehydrated tonight after one of the most brutal, scary days of my life. I got an early start to beat the heat but progress was slowed by the headwind and steady incline up the Shoestring Gorge. I stopped for breakfast two hours in with only 20kms covered. The five-egg omelette with bread was great, with plenty of salt but not much taste. As the day unfolded the heat became more and more excruciating.
At one point I stopped under a rare tree on the side of the road where a mother and daughter had set up a stall selling some kind of hard cheese. They looked at me like I was demented cycling in this heat, and I was inclined to agree. They took pity on me and gave up their bench and allowed me to sleep there for 15 minutes or so. They also gave me one of their cheese delights – congealed goats cheese I think – which was interesting…
From there I took a detour off the main road towards the mountain village of Kochkor. I had been told there was a small pass between there and Kochkor. It was in fact, to my horror, a 15km climb at 12% in places. I was travelling in slow motion for two hours before I reached the summit. I had also developed saddle sores, making climbing in the seat unpleasant and with little prospect of getting better. The relentless sweating has also rendered the sunscreen next to useless.
The scenery in the gorge was dramatic but I could barely lift my head to look at it. At the summit, however, it was a different story and the views coming down the other side of the mountain were a great distraction. Descending towards a huge salt lake I was amazed by the lush green fields that contrasted with the rock I’d just come through.
Unfortunately the extra time it had taken to climb the mountain had depleted my water supplies, and I ran out of water with 10 kms to ride. I inched my way to Kochkor trying to preserve my strength at the same time as trying to get to the destination (and water) quickly. The last five kilometres I had to stop under a tree every mile or so to regain my breath and hide in the shade. My urine was the colour of strong tea, I was nauseas and unsteady on my feet. I cramped in places I have never cramped before, including my ribcage.
I was almost delirious when I pulled into the Community Based Tourism office in town, where I was able to secure accommodation with a local family. After a large drink and quick shower I headed into town to use the Internet, which I discovered was not working due to power failure. The main reason I rode through the heat of the day was to time the email for when Sarah was still up – very frustrating… I was miraculously able to find a working phone and quickly called home – relief all ‘round. I’ve had four litres of water since I arrived and have developed an acute sense of respect for what this climate can do to me. Given that I will climb to 3000m tomorrow I’m hoping I will be elevated above the furnace.