Not only did I strike gold with two guests from Geelong, but one of them turned out to be a doctor. Robin kindly offered to look at and treat my saddle sore, which by now had taken on status as a passenger on this trip. The gauze patch and Betadine I had applied in Naryn had adhered completely, but was quickly replaced with decent dressings from the strong-stomached Robin. Unfortunately for Robin’s husband Peter he got the job of holding one cheek for the procedure. A debt of gratitude owed. They also donated food (prosciutto no less) and I was also able to source some iodine to purify water.
Freshly bandaged and stocked, I cheerfully pedalled off into the desert again. Despite the initial joy it was clear that I had paid dearly for my effort yesterday. Energy levels were low and the morale quickly followed as the road degenerated into deep sand. The rock and sand was so deep that I could hardly retain traction. After two hours I’d travelled just 20kms and was at my lowest ebb for the trip. To make matters worse the gale of yesterday returned and it reached 40 degrees by 11am.
I resorted to pushing my bike through the sand, kilometre after kilometre. As I pushed the bike up the mountain pass that never ends I started to have real doubts. The past two rivers that had been marked on the map turned out to the dry, and I was feeling vulnerable. At 30kms I stopped to contemplate what I was doing. I was covered in dust, sunburned, dehydrated and exhausted. As I’d done twice before on this trip I set myself the task of getting to the top of the hill before making an assessment of whether to retreat. For 10 more kilometres I pushed my bike uphill – two hours of toil. At the crest I collapsed on to a rock and lay there staring into the sun wondering what to do. I was concerned that if I didn’t find water soon I was in real danger. I hadn’t seen a car for three hours and at this rate it would take three days to get to Jalal-Abad.
My time on the rock was suspended animation. I waited and waited, somehow expecting that something would happen that would give me clarity. I burst the sun blisters on my arm in a kind of drunken haze, falling into a heat-induced delirium. It was high 40s and I was done. With resignation I mechanically stood up, turned my bike around and pedalled back down the hill towards Kazarman. It had defeated me. I felt I’d tempted fate a few times on this trip and eventually my luck would run out. With mixed emotion I pedalled downhill and downwind back to town. At first I was angry, upset and then resigned. I feel a little less superhuman than I did last night.
I arrived back in Kazarman just before 5pm – 7 hours of pedalling and walking. To distract myself I washed my clothes then finished off the book my friend Phil Montgomery had written – “Human Transformation”. The book struck a chord, partly because I’d just been through the kind of crisis that forces reflection, and partly because the book’s core theme was the role of ego. On a day like today my ego was reduced to tears… Today I chose safety. Tomorrow who knows.