The Eastern Trail Nirvana - BE to Central Asia

Discussion in 'Ride Reports - Epic Rides' started by OldManJoris, Jul 20, 2017.

  1. rattis

    rattis Long timer

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    Yep this is good, drooling with envy, even though I've done three trips this year.
    Motorbike riding in foreign lands is highly addictive, making heroin addiction being like a mild spring breeze compared to an arctic storm.
    Good stuff, no excellent stuff Joris.
    OldManJoris likes this.
  2. OldManJoris

    OldManJoris Rider

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    Agree of course, and thanks!
  3. OldManJoris

    OldManJoris Rider

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    D47: June22 - 190Km - Tajikistan6 - Bumpy roads & Wet feet

    Not a drop of rain, how cool was that! But it was very likely the mountain roads would be slippery. Another fun day it would be :).

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    We broke camp and left for Tavildara.

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    On arrival, Ben had reception on his phone. We purchased a Tajik SIM card (data only) in Dushanbe and could set up a hotspot. On my phone, I created screenshots of Google maps sat imagery to help us along the way.

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    We had to work with this, no other maps available.

    Again a lucky break, a local guy in the village wanted to help us with his own version of a map: his son :-). Ben took him as pillion rider so he could show us the start of the trails. When he jumped off, there was a power line which we had to follow. Easy!

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    The satellite images weren't really accurate. The river has taken out whatever trail was on the picture and we needed to guess now and then.

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    Crossing the valley took some time. We had approx. 20 crossings to do, mostly minor ones. The rocky bed was challenging but overall just fun. After that we had to clear a pass over muddy trails.

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    Not so many pictures, the focus was on the ride. It was a tiring and technical ascend to the top, after which we were greeted with easy trails and surface.

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    And villages, with mud roads

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    leading back to the M41

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    Mission complete, time to have a breather and enjoy the views

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    (Height 3244m)

    We could now continue south to Qal'ai Khumb, where the South Route meets the North. There was no traffic on this road until we reached the border with Afghanistan

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    Ben got very VERY close losing his phone here:

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    Tajikistan to the left, Afghanistan to the right

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    We wanted to push on a bit and skip the Overlander guest houses (wanted to avoid ego-busting cyclists) and scouted for a camping spot away from the road. When we passed through a village, a local guy declared his house would be a hostel just for us. Cool!

    Well… they were very noisy in the night (had a sing-along at 2AM, wanted to talk for hours) but hey you don't complain about this stuff. We slept in their house while most of their family members (the guys) slept outside. Of course, pictures had to be taken on their request

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    That was an experience, but nothing to be repeated. Nice folks for sure, but my sleep was heavily impacted. Camping would have been better. We learn every day.
    DavidM1, DC950, powderzone and 9 others like this.
  4. OldManJoris

    OldManJoris Rider

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    D48: June23 - 140Km - Tajikistan7 - Time to relax (?)

    If I had 2 hours of sleep that night, it would have been a lot, probably more something like 1 hour. We feared they wouldn't let us go before everybody was pleased with received attention so did something… impolite.
    At 6:00AM we left in silence, with a zombie look on the face. We did give them money for hosting and feeding us the day before, so there was no debt to be paid.

    Again Afghanistan to the right, Tajikistan to the left.
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    I was hoping to start riding the Bartang valley. A couple problems were to be considered:
    • I was dead… the lack of rest days was taking its toll. Bartang is a bit technical, so that could be problematic
    • We noticed that the water level was high in the river, and there has been a period of rain. If water is too high, it floods the tracks and you have to turn back
    Bartang was one of my goals, but I just totally failed to commit to it. Ben was ready to roll (though dude) but after a meeting I had to admit defeat. It would be unwise to try it in my current state, so the idea was abandoned.
    A future encounter with a Spanish rider would show us this was the correct call to make.

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    The plan changed to reaching Choroeg, which is the start (or end) of the Wakhan valley road, also on my bucket list. We could rest there and gather energy for the southern trails.
    If you read this: sorry Ben, I still feel miserable about missing out on Bartang. There's always next time :-).

    Off we went, following the Afghan border

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    And we checked into another Overlander hostel (Pamir Lodge) where the ego-killing bicyclists and some bikers were gathered

    This dude was on his bike for close to 2 years now
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    and suffered from a failed drive train. In a joint effort we managed to get him rolling again with tools, grease and fuel from the bikes.

    These two (2-up) from Croatia were having a hard time in the Pamir, but succeeded in all goals regardless (they even ran a marathon and 100km run in Mongolia few weeks later).
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    They took the South route and he would ride the bike while the lady would follow in taxi when the roads were though. That's commitment right there.

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    The little Honda 250 in the back belongs to a German girl, riding solo from Mongolia to home. First motorcycle trip ever, and she had plenty stories, mostly about her doing face-plants and struggling to pick up the bike. She was there nonetheless and would ride on through the Stans and Iran.
    When me met, my first question was: "Hey nice to meet you, do you know you have a puddle of oil under your front fork??". Something to fix again.. Funny times :D

    Nikita got some attention
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    And yes, it was time to rest. I was dead..

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    But lucky for us, this place was like a quiet relax zone.
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    I went into town for beer, Ben cooked us a nice pasta meal and everybody at the hostel decided to go out for food. The place was ours…. Pure heaven!
    I managed to forget my Bartang defeat with the help of the beer, all was good.

    Normally I should stay put for at least a day.. Too bad "staying put" has never been an option.. We would move on the next day.
    DavidM1, keepshoveling, DC950 and 7 others like this.
  5. OldManJoris

    OldManJoris Rider

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    D49: June24 - 200Km - Tajikistan8 - Wakhan

    Plan for the day: Buy a permit for Zorkul and start riding the Wakhan corridor.
    Let's explain this a bit:

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    At the bottom of this map, there's a red/yellow line. That's Wakhan, a road with villages next to the Afghan border which is often used by overlanders and cyclists. That section ends at the tiny blue line, where the road goes north again over the Khargush Pass (4355m) and connects with the M41. If you look at the red line going East from the Khargush pass, that's Zorkul area. This is a reserve which you can enter if you buy a permit. This permit can be bought in a number of places, like Khorog where we were stationed. We would ride Wakhan en enter Zorkul with the permit and ride up to Murghab again, if all goes well.

    What we didn't account for was that it was a Sunday, and the place where permits were sold was closed.

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    No worries, a local saw us and called the people running the place. In 10mins they came up and opened the place just to sell us the permit. Cool stuff :clap.

    The German lady on the CRF250 came with us for a few miles. She planned to go to Dushanbe via the North route and was worried going by herself, after seeing pictures from our last trip over the mountains. She also admitted she fell in love with Rocket, my mighty DR. Well I can't blame her, he has a certain attraction :gdog. While we waited, she took the bike out for a spin and was completely sold.

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    Her pleads to join her (which means turning back) were useless of course, we do not turn that easily :-). She would write to me later that if we ever met again, she would strangle me to death for advising her to take the North route. Rumor has it she had another record of face plants that day, this time in mud and water. She met a few other bikers who joined her, and they as well had problems like drowning a bike and more stuff.

    Her written account of that struggle, including her love appeal for Rocket, is here:
    http://27laenderauf2raedern.de/index.php/2017/07/12/afghanistan-zum-greifen-nah-der-pamir-teil-2/
    (let Google translate that for you, there's another weirdo translation in the text. Something with Trio :hmmmmm )

    From her blog:
    "From Chorog there are 2 ways to get to Dushanbe. After Kalaikum a bridge on the Pamir Highway is collapsed and you can either take the well-paved "south route" over Kulob, or the "demanding" (O-Ton Joris) Nordpiste over 2 passes. Demanding and piste sounds tempting! So I decide on the advice of Joris and Ben for the northern route. Bad idea. Very stupid idea! Accurately a 10-fall stupid idea." (google translated)

    We said our goodbye's and started the Wakhan section.

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    A few km's later we bumped into this cool fella:

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    He had some interesting stories to tell. On his very well prepared 640, he did do Bartang solo but would not recommend it to anyone. On two accounts, he "drowned" the bike while power-walking a ford and was saved by the decompression valve on the LC4. Another crossing, his bike was carried over by 5 locals. He was certain the Bartang was off-limits for anybody with some common sense, so it seems our decision to skip it was without shame. If we would have taken the Bartang, we would ride the Koitezyak Pass back to Khorugh which he also wanted to do, but it was blocked for all traffic due to heavy mud, caused by abnormal rain fall in the last weeks.

    Good stuff, but he also warned for Zorkul, there could be unusual mud as well. He didn't ride it, and this guy looked like super experienced, seasoned and hardened.
    A Dutch rider (Peter Remkana) would try the Bartang later in August, but had to turn back as water was still too high.

    All noted, and with that in mind we carried on.

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    Afghan road
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    Very nice area there, with villages on both sides. Sometimes the river would be low enough to cross, other times it was wild and furious.

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    Even though the river is the actual border and not really impossible to cross, there were no guards and minimal military presence. It's a very peaceful place by the looks of it.

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    I'm not lying when I say we probably gave 200 high-fives to the kids running out when we passed villages. My hand was burning red in the evening. Many times they asked us to take their picture without wanting to see it or asking for money. Weird, but fun.

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    Close to the evening, we started looking for a camp spot and found a sheltered area at the mountain side. Out of sight, with a view on the Afghan mountains (7000m) and a private shower. The place was gold!

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    Unfortunately our stock of food was nothing to cheer for. We carried some pasta and sauce plus some canned fish, but that didn't work well on our stomachs. This would force me make a small visit to Afghanistan the next day. Why? That will be revealed in the next post :wink:.

    This was a rather easy day. Some folks at the guesthouse warned us for tricky sand sections and deep crossings which we just failed to find (we tried). On the plus side, this meant we could relax and enjoy that wonderful scenery.

    Another night in a billion star hotel… life can be good.
    Oldfatbeerman, Yannick, DC950 and 7 others like this.
  6. OldManJoris

    OldManJoris Rider

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    D50: June25 - 270Km - Tajikistan9 - Wakhan & M41

    When we camp, we honour a certain agreement to keep the peace. If you have to go out to take a dump, make note of the location so your buddy won't have unpleasant surprises the next day, when he's scouting for a toilet spot. Basic simple rule, it never failed.
    That morning, there was a small issue. When I asked Ben for his "logs", he was uncertain.

    "Ow man… I had massive problems last night.. I must have been out 30 times and went all over the place. Just consider it being a minefield, no way there an unspoiled spot.." Well that's rich.. And I had to go urgently.

    When I looked around, weighing my options, I noticed that the river isn't really super high here…

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    A devilish plan took shape and off I went. Now I can say I've been to Afghanistan, for 5 minutes, not just for show but for an urgent business :augie. No offence intended, it just felt like a thing to do at the time :D.

    Also took the drone out for some shots. Pretty sure drone flights aren't really legal in Afghanistan, so didn't tempt fate to cross the border in the sky.

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    Time to brake camp and go

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    And soon we met another two-wheeled hero with some familiar looking colours:

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    How about that.. A very proud Belgian from the stone age. He was there with his daughter cycling to Mongolia, but the daughter got fed up with the slow pace and they split up. She was two days ahead. This guy had a crazy amount of positive energy, was more like the ambassador of happiness. Aaaand… yep I felt tiny again.

    Last fuel stop for a long time, in Zonk
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    ("That's 95 Octane right there my friend! Best quality in the whole Pamir!!" … sure it is :lol3 )

    For the next couple 100km there would be no more villages if we stuck to the Zorkul plan.

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    And here we go, another top-3 best picture for the whole trip (that's Ben in the middle, Afghanistan in the back):
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    What a country.. If you ever choose to sit down and soak up the view there's a high chance you can't get to your feet anymore
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    After a while, the road to Zorkul came into view

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    But we had a problem. Ben was not feeling super well after last night. I was ok, but not at peak efficiency. We had seen a couple dark rain/storm clouds going over the Zorkul area from a distance, so mud was to be expected. From what we learned from the Spanish rider, we figured it might be unwise to ride into Zorkul from Wakhan, as we had no real spare fuel to cover for mistakes, let alone we felt like crap. A joint decision was made to ride to Murghab over the M41, via the Khargush pass which is beautiful by itself. Once in Murghab, we could ride South into Zorkul to explore some trails.

    Plan was set, now execute!
    … well after we marked our territory..

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    This was a decision we never regretted. The Khargush pass is something you can't skip. Landscapes from Mars are followed by moonscapes.

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    (Height: 4261m)

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    And after a very enjoyable ride, we connected with the M41.

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    We reached Murghab and checked into the Pamir Hotel, another Overlander meeting point. Not what we planned for, but there wasn't another option with the current stomach issues. Unfortunately there were many other travellers there (cyclists and bikers), so our game of avoiding conversation had to start again. We definitely have people issues :evil.

    This was day 14 of riding without rest day. Reasonable people would now stay put and sleep/relax. Fortunately for you guys, we're far from reasonable and planned for the most intensive day to start tomorrow. We can rest later, when we're old :grim.
    Oldfatbeerman, Yannick, DC950 and 9 others like this.
  7. mudmonster

    mudmonster Been here awhile

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    Envy is a terrible thing...great report !
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  8. BensonCrusoe

    BensonCrusoe n00b

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    Man.This bicycle dudes are really the nemesis of any motorcycle rider that beginns to think he is doing sth adventurous.But unfortunately i liked them a lot of times more than the motorcyclist we met on the road.No one of them was showing of-in opposite of some motorized wanderers.Arturo is a legend!Hope you have a good time when he passes your place man!
  9. BensonCrusoe

    BensonCrusoe n00b

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    Oh man.That day i really felt like shit....Well.After my stomach did not hold any food and having cramps all time my energy was at an all time low.When i look at that picture of riding on the edge now I still remember how hard it was to keep my weak ass in a good riding line! Remember the wrecked bus/truck that was lying on the bottom of the valley?
    Actually that day was preset for an accident,which fortunately did not happen.If i would not have had your Immodium i would have probably had an even worse time;)
    But still-Awesome riding and great landscape!
  10. C5dad

    C5dad Man on the Run!

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    Arizona, fer now
    what a bomb ride! I am jealous! Need to figure out how to get a few months off. cough cough, i think i have Dengue Fever
    OldManJoris likes this.
  11. OldManJoris

    OldManJoris Rider

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    Yeah he's a great ambassador of positive energy. Had a good time at an Irish pub, introducing him to the local liquor. Gave him an OldManJoris-kinda route for the next day. He suffered, so all went well haha
  12. OldManJoris

    OldManJoris Rider

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    Ah the great Immodium Era! To be continued in the next post :lol3.
    I do remember that truck yes.. Weird, seems i didn't snap a picture? Anyway, that was proof indeed you better don't take risks when you're not running on all cylinders. Safety First! :beer
    Damn that was a nice day..
  13. OldManJoris

    OldManJoris Rider

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  14. OldManJoris

    OldManJoris Rider

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    Just remembered now how you were riding on the Bayburt of Yolu in Turkey. Mountain road with cliffs, you were at 10%, bike was fooked. You did put ice cubes between crash bars and radiator for cooling, which prevented you from turning and almost ended up in a troublesome skydive. it's a good thing we're not maniacs *cough*. Good times i call it, good times :loco
    powderzone likes this.
  15. keepshoveling

    keepshoveling Long timer

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    Great ride report, thanks!
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  16. OldManJoris

    OldManJoris Rider

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    thank you sir!
  17. squadraquota

    squadraquota mostly harmless

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    Those photos make me droole...absolutely stunning landscapes.

    How did you deal with food and water? I suppose you carry enough to last a few days? What about options to stock up again?
    OldManJoris likes this.
  18. OldManJoris

    OldManJoris Rider

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    Thanks. Well the pictures make it look like a deserted place, but in a day you always find at least a single village, usually more, if you're not in a desert area. Every village has some shop or person willing to sell. Water is available in plastic bottles, or you can take the risk and drink from mountain streams (we carried filters).
    Food is sometimes a challenge, depending your expectations. Some stuff can be found anywhere, like products from Nestle or Coca Cola (snickers, fanta, chocolate bars, ...) and everywhere you find noodles and pasta. That's the safe course of action, and gets you through a day. They also sell bread and some fruit like plums. Hostels serve very basic breakfast, usually eggs and meat, but care has to be taken as they cook in some sort of oil that we're not used to. This caused some stomach problems.
    You'll always find food in a village, sometimes for free. We usually carried basic food for 2-3 days, with 3-5 litre water per person and a bottle of soda (coke) for quick sugars. Not healthy, but does the job. I had a bag of cereal for breakfast at hand. Lunch was just a bar or some crackers, or nothing. Dinner at campsite mostly pasta. Nothing with milk (can't keep that fresh) and almost no meat.
    keepshoveling and squadraquota like this.
  19. OldManJoris

    OldManJoris Rider

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    D51: June26 - 170Km - Tajikistan10 - Seasonal Lake

    I mentioned in the previous post that today was a toughy, but now you see only 170Km. So what's that about?
    Rewind to November 2016:
    I was looking for a place to ride to for the 2017 trip. Something out there that's not on every ride report or facebook page. Something appealing for no reason. On my daily scout sessions, I stumbled on this:

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    Courtesy of AmsterdamToAnywhere. The look of this was exactly what I wanted. No clue where it was, out in the open, on the dirt, great views, … I got in touch with Peter & Leonie and they provided me the GPS coordinates of this place, which is called "Seasonal Lake" on some maps. It's somewhere in the Zorkul area. That would be my goal, and today was the day I would ride that lake.

    There are some trails leading to the lake (crossing it actually) but I wanted something else. According to satellite imagery, there should be a trail between the lake and Murghab that leads us to the "Meteor Crater" (actually just a huge sinkhole) and then over some mountains leading to the lake.
    The route wasn't long, which was good as we both had several sessions on the toilet that morning. Armed with a good stock of anti-crap pills and toilet paper, we went for the lake.

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    Long easy stretches of 4x4 trails, this went super fine

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    And very soon we found the so-called "Meteor Crater".

    Bikes are there in the back, crazy German at the bottom
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    Yes, it's a huge hole. I'm not a geologist, but I fail to see how this would have been created by a rock falling from the sky.

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    This is more like a sink hole in my simple world. But an impressive one for sure. Ok, seen it and taken pictures so onwards!

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    Now and then we found these gimmicks

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    They belong to the Argali mountain sheep ("Marco Polo" goat), the largest species of wild sheep. It's an endangered species so very hard to find. When we left the common trails and headed for the mountains, we were lucky to bump into a group of 5, but had no time to snap pictures. Impressive beasts, that's for sure.

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    (pic from the interwebs)

    After an hour or so riding in the valley's on fast trails, we went for the hills on a pre-plotted track. That was a bit of a challenge, and one could say it was a mistake. The actual status of the trail changed a lot since the latest sat image was taken… Rivers washed away the trails and it hasn't been used for years. The dry riverbed had to be crossed 20-ish times with steep sides.

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    We did spend many hours trying to find a route across the hills and occasionally we were discussing the wisdom to continue. As this was a bit challenging and nerve racking, I didn't take many pictures. All went well with very low speed and we found flat terrain again

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    This went on for some time, until I saw a special waypoint appearing on my GPS screen.

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    We were there, the most remote point of my trip, the Seasonal Lake

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    While that was a bit of an emotional moment for me, there was little time for celebration. We took a few pictures, but suddenly Ben looked at me with horror in his eyes and said "I need to go!!!!". Crap… he jumped on his bike and raced like a madman to the nearest rock for a bowel explosion that would have been heard in Afghanistan. So what do you do when you're alone waiting for your buddy to finish whatever nasty thing he was trying to finish? Take some pictures!

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    Lots of folks back home loved this one, it even made it to the local newspaper. But… if you look at the small rock there in the back you'll see a black dot at the right side. That's Ben, or his jacket. He was having a hard (or rather fluid) time there, fertilizing some square acres of gravel. I suppose some pictures have more to it than your first guess. Just funny this made it to media :lol3.
    When he returned, he immediately had to race back to the rock for second session. After that, we could continue our picture taking and start heading back.

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    All done, let's go back to proper toilet before our stock of toilet paper runs out. That stuff was heavily used that day, supplies were melting before our eyes.

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    When we arrived back at Murghab, we checked into the same hostel again. Everything was booked, so we got a small bed in a shared room with a French hiker. Why was it booked? Well for these hardcore travellers:

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    Italians on a Moto Guzzi rental bike riding the M41. Everything included in the trip, even a journalist (had to give a 3rd interview), a mechanic, a truck with their own fuel and more stuff. To each their own, this was not my cup of tea. We avoided them at all cost after one of them was joking with our bikes and setup. That's thin ice right there my friend, tread lightly

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    This was a cool day, and somewhat taxing on the body and mind. As of that moment, I would be riding homewards. There would still be some unexpected adventure of course, but first beer to celebrate! Another long night ahead, now with an Aussie cyclist (2 years on the road) and the French hiker.

    Next up: Borders and flats.
  20. BLucare

    BLucare Ambitious, but rubbish

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    Location:
    Milwaukee-ish, Wisconsin, United States
    Joris, more excellent stuff :-) I'm curious: what do you think has caused the "digestive distress" for you and Ben? Local cuisine? Bad water? Apologies if you mentioned this earlier. I may have been too distracted by the awesome photos :thumb
    OldManJoris likes this.