Started poorly but ended well. I woke up this morning with a plan to get a ride to the top of the mountain pass and save myself half a day. I made the decision when I woke up with a splitting headache that had lingered since fainting. My ride up the mountain was a comical affair, if it hadn't been so treacherous. I was offered a lift in a beaten up Jeep Cherokee with 9 passengers and luggage. The fact that they believed they could squeeze another adult and bicycle in is testament to their spirit and comfort with discomfort
Though the trip was short in distance it was long in woe. The first problem was a puncture, which is usually a straightforward fix. Unfortunately in Tajikistan they don't carry a spare, but rather a tube and tyre levers. The change took 45 minutes of hammering away and pumping the tyre up by hand. I took my turn at the end of the pump and we rotated the strike. Second problem was failing suspension. The ride felt more like a speedboat than an automobile, and the occasional bottoming out send all nine of us into the roof. The third problem the gearbox. As I was next to the gearstick it was my job to quickly throw it back into the gear while the driver pumped the clutch. Eventually I was just hold the stick in second until he needed to change. And by the time we hit our fourth problem - another puncture (to the same tyre) - I pulled out my bike and kept pedalling. It had seemed like a good plan.
Back to solitude and grinding over long, hot hills on some of the worst roads I'd encountered. This route is only open in summer and obviously hasn't attracted a lot of government funding. I made good progress despite the heat and rode until light faded at around 7pm. I was getting a little concerned about how I'd find a flat, hidden campsite in this rocky landscape. I gingerly approached a guy standing in his front yard and asked whether I could camp. To my relief he not only agreed, but also offered me a place to sleep on the front verandah. He sat me down, fed my soup, bagels, cucumber, eggs and tea and gathered the whole family around me. The true Tajik spirit came through for me.
I'm now laying on the verandah next to the host's brother. He probably sleeps here every night and unfortunately for him he has to share. As much as I have looked forward to reaching Dushanbe it fills me with sadness to know tomorrow is the last day of cycling. It's also my birthday tomorrow.