What a birthday present: tailwind, silky smooth roads, flat parcour and the end of the cycling. I woke at 5.30am to open my card from Sarah containing balloons and candles, which made me laugh. I tried to offer money to the family who'd taken me in but they wouldn't accept a cent.
The first 10kms were uphill but without the jarring of dirt roads and wheel ruts it was a pleasure. After the climb it was smooth sailing as I weaved through tiny villages and around livestock. Even 30kms from the capital it was incredibly rural, with people selling grapes, tomatoes, capsicum and eggplant on the side of the road. The sounds of Muslim prayer also rang out in the early morning silence, with devotees drawn to the music.
Just out of town I hit the sign officially welcoming me to Dushanbe (above). I took a photo to mark the event and headed back into traffic I hadn't seen since Osh. Dushanbe is built around a long boulevard making orientation simple. I settled on the Hotel Vacksh which was used by the mujahadeen only a decade earlier during the civil war. Though it was depressing I needed to get out of the heat and figured I'd stay just the one night. The Russian gestapo - or female concierge - are not happy about me having a bike in the room. I assured them that the head of the gestapo - the front desk clerk who seemed to wield some authority - had given the all clear which wasn't exactly true. The TV screen in the room is green and shows only Russian soap opera. The cable TV I'd hoped to watch the Olympics on didn't materialise.
I spent my birthday mostly wandering aimlessly in markets. I had a very ordinary Russian rissole for lunch - advertised as a Tajik barbecue - which had me almost immediately living my own Trainspotting moment. The wave of panic that rose from my stomach sent me desperately begging a nearby restaurant owner to use their toilet. He sent me around the back to the worst toilet I have ever seen. The relief and stench was palpable.
For my birthday dinner I went to a restaurant across town. I'd hoped there might be some travellers there to chat with but the waitress who served me a small piece of cake was the only person to wish me happy birthday (after I told her to). A truly great, if difficult, trip has come to an end. Often I'm sad in these situations but this time I feel satisfied.