Without knowing exactly what constitutes cycling utopia it would be foolish to make any claims about getting there. However, the route through the Pamir-Alay Mountains in western Tajikistan is certainly knocking at its door. The largely uneventful days of climbing from the northern city of Khujand and ongoing language battles were spectacularly rewarded by the huge mountain descents and towering gorges that followed. Tajikistan was on fine form.
Such beauty though clearly comes at a price, and the price for us on this occasion was an entirely dire experience through the poorly constructed Anzob tunnel. It is only around 6km in length and although we were heading predominantly in the favourable downhill direction, it stands out – without exception – as the most unpleasant riding conditions either of us has ever encountered, or in fact can even imagine. The absence of any lighting, frighteningly deep potholes, errant driving, frequent broken rebar and the shin-deep flooding were all fairly inhibiting for a bicycle, but the lack of ventilation and build up of fumes was the real kicker that provided most concern. A puncture or any type of mechanical issue would have really put us on the back foot, and escaping without either is likely to remain as the kindest fortune of our trip for some time. Once out into the fresh cold air, despite being muddied and just a little shaken by the ordeal, the descent into Dushanbe was a two-hour, free-wheeling, aesthetically pleasing delight.
Thankfully all the events from the past week appear to have counter-balanced each other perfectly and we remain married. Which is positive.