We left Franks early, at least early for us when trying to leave a city. We were all very eager to start cycling again after the long downtime. On the way out of the city we pulled into the big mall to indulge one last time in some western comfort food before riding out to the remote KPK and Gilgit-Balitistan regions of Pakistan and the Taklamakan desert of Western China thereafter.
For riders if the Karakorum Highwaym, the road we were starting out on now, there are two routes out of Islamabad that both meet in the next big town of Abottabad. A flat route and a decidedly more hilly route. We figured the practice would do us good and so set off along the hilly route.
The Karakorum Highway used to be one of the biggest magnet for cycle tourists in the world. Nowadays, given how difficult it can be to get a Pakistan visa and to travel within the country itself many cyclist crossing Asia into China instead opt for the Pamir highway. Not for us though, the second option, the also-ran. We knew before leaving Dublin that riding the Karakorum was going to be one of the high points of the trip and seven months later we were here.
Out of Islamabad the road climbed gently, easing us back into the ride. Only thirty minutes of riding took us away from Islamabad and back to real Pakistan, where the roads were pitted, the traffic was twisted and the people and buildings spilled out onto the streets, it was great to be back.
We were climbing through thick deciduous forest with running streams that sandy cliff faces would jut out of frequently. Cars waved and people on motorcycles said hello as always. Before too long the gentle climb became steep and the rolling hills grew higher and higher. We were winding our way up a river valley now, the road following one side of it as we pulled away from the valley floor. This was just the beginning of the climbing we would get to do, but after so much flat cycling through Iran and Punjab it was a joy, a breath of fresh air to look back and have a view, a reward for lugging these piles of steel halfway around the world.
We got higher and higher as the evening drew in. The landscape was very steep, finding somewhere with flat ground to camp would be hard so we stopped a big earlier than usual to find a spot. We eventually settled on a small patch of flat ground under some low hanging trees on a small hummock next to the the road.