In Iceland, we told a German cyclist along the way it was our first real, long, bicycle adventure. He appraised us carefully, laughed, and said, “Well, you’ve chosen the hardest spot in the Western Hemisphere.” He probably means the North-Western Hemisphere, but the point and praise was well taken. In retrospect, Iceland was a good test of mettle — cyclist against the elements. Yet, a bus ride to civilization was never too far, and usually too close.
I’m daydreaming again of high passes and empty roads — this time of Central Asia. I was completely taken by Dervla Murphy’s account of Afghanistan and Pakistan. For me, one of Murphy’s great feats was to capture two ethnically diverse nations and peoples at peace, as encountered by bicycle. What an unimaginable encounter that would be today. What a document of loss.
Instead, I think it’s going to be Tajikistan. From various other cycling blogs, it sounds like altitude sickness, rough roads, checkpoint extortion, giardia, and yak cheese are likely encounters for my prospective (lactose-intolerant) adventure. As well as yurts, yaks, and remote mountain passes. And hard hard cycling.
Before and after our last trip, everybody asked us, “Why Iceland?” We didn’t have an answer. Looking back, it was probably Bill Holme’s book, The Windows of Brimnes. Or the high value of the dollar in the bankrupt, Icelandic economy. But, by the time we were ready to go, we had really forgotten why, or that why was overtaken, by a general sense of wondrous nature and wholesome adventure.
Here’s a promise then. This will be why I’m in Tajikistan. Not the New York Times, but a reminder that I haven’t seen a life’s quota of granite passes, yak butter, and intestinal parasites. Not yet.