We woke up to the dulcet tones of the police van arriving. They busied themselves observing us preparing breakfast and taking down camp and then we were off again. Cheekily we had been driven to the top of a pass yesterday to get to the police checkpoint so it was all downhill to start off the morning.
The ride followed the Nahdihar River Valley, a lush and verdant valley and tributary of the Indus. Terraced fields continued to defy the gradient of the steep valley walls, only giving up once the valley narrowed to a gorge.
The Nahdihar River joined the Indus, a merging of a rapid clear river with the sluggish brown lethargy of the Indus. We were following the Indus back upstream now so the relaxing descent of the morning was replaced by a less relaxing but equally beautiful slow climb. The rose steadily from the stoney banks of the river affording a great look down into the valley.
After an hour or so of climbing and falling along the remote road we pulled over to the side to cook up some noodles for lunch. As always as soon as we stopped the escort rolled down its window shouting ‘go, go!’ Once this didn’t work they decided to get out of the truck and observe us cooking. Of course our presence was a cause of excitement amongst all the local children who came over to watch as well.
From lunch it wasn’t far to Besham where we were going to take a half day and stay in a cheap hotel to get rested for the next climb- heavy section of the KKH. We rode back down to the banks of the Indus as we approached Besham. The hotel recommended in our book was closed but we ended up at a nice government subsidised places where the friendly manager gave us a great price on a room since we were the first tourists of the season to pass through.
We were going for a bit of a half day today – or rather it ended up being a half day, we were delayed in the morning with some bike issues that took some time to work out and it was late morning by the time we got going.
We were passing by a UNESCO heritage site, a domed mausoleum belong to one of the Mongol rulers of Persia from the thirteenth century. It was only six km out of the way and we figured we’d look around and head on.
Well by the time we reached Soltanieh after a long flat morning riding next to snow gleaming in the sun it was late afternoon. We just changed it to another half day and spent the rest of the daylight in town.
We timed our visit to the mausoleum with sunset. We found ourselves out up on the roof of the building looking out if the flat countryside as the sun dipped under the mountains that marked the limit of the flat basin.
After that it was, of course, dark and so we got back to the bikes and rode a small distance out of town, looking for somewhere with some coverage from the road in the flat terrain. There were some piles of dirt now covered with snow that we set up behind. It wasn’t great shelter if the wind blew in, but it was a clear night and calm the whole way through. We were up at 1800m now though, so it was certainly our coldest night yet.
I forgot to take photos today so the only shots I have for this post are of camp. Sorry!
It was a relatively warm morning when we woke up. Certainly the bunker insulated us some, but we were still quite low down (comparatively) at less than 1300m. We were right out in the middle of steppe or plateau or a basin – I’m not sure exactly what it was but it was flat.
We didn’t rush off cycling this morning, shortest day of the year or not. We are breakfast leisurely and threw stones around camp for a while – we really were the only ones around for miles, except for the cars whizzing past.
We got going eventually and continued this long, almost unnoticeable climb. There was very little around us all day, a few farms and the occasional turn off that led to a town off in the distance but by and large we were cycling over undeveloped, unsettled land.
At lunch a rest stop emerged around a corner at just the right time and we pulled up to eat. It must have been the only place to get food for miles around as several coaches pulled up while we there disgorging loads of people out into the big hall eatery.
We continued apace after lunch, full bellies fuelling us all the way to Zajan, the next biggest town since leaving Miyaneh. We rode through the town, an exhilarating change of pace to the steady cadence we had been at all day. Cars swerved this way and that, clogging up and then dispersing pretty much at random it seemed. We didn’t go ten meters without someone yelling out ‘hello’ or ‘welcome’ or even ‘I love you’.
We went to pick up supplies at the first supermarket we had seen since crossing the border. As well as groceries you could buy a motorbike or even a full sized Persian carpet. We were given a security guard to escort while shopping, although we didn’t really realise he had been assigned to us. We thought he was just being friendly. It wasn’t until he asked us as we stood outside after checkout ‘can I go now?’ that we sussed it.
Zanjan took a bit longer to get through than we allowed for and it was getting dark by the time we started to leave (shortest day of the year and all). We had certainly gained some altitude, it was much colder tonight than last night. We found a small field next to the road where a tree had kept the snow from the ground so we set up camp there.
Amir came around to the tourist house this morning with a breakfast of fresh bread and homemade cheese. We got going a bit later than usual on account of this and having to fix a flat tyre, but we were off before noon.
Riding out of Miyaneh we were in hills for a while, rode through one tunnel and along a river gorge but soon the land opened up and we were in steppe country again. We found ourselves by the famous (made famous to us by Amir) broken bridge.
We had another charming interaction with an Iranian family pulling over and getting out of the car to talk. Tea from a thermos and some tasty cardamom sweets. The kids were eager to get photos for the gram.
We’ve had cars, buses, trucks – all sorts of vehicles beep at us and wave on the trip so far. Today we experience a new one. Riding through the wide expanse of the steppe a railway line snaked over the horizon towards us and then ran in parallel for some time. One train blew the horn and looking over we saw the driver giving us a big wave out the window!
We were climbing slowly – and would be over the next few days. We came back within view of the main freeway to Tehran, both roads cutting through the steppe. We found somewhere to camp between the two roads in an old concrete bunker.
A wonderful surprise was in store for us today: the first proper switchback climb of the trip. We knew we would have to do some climbing, but weren’t really prepared to cross a pass on the Schwabian Alps.
Leaving Strasbourg wasn’t too hard. Sometimes getting out of a city can be a real challenge. Once we crossed over the Rhine into Germany though, we were greeted almost immediately by the familiar green bike signs like a warm embrace.
One quick Lidl pitstop later and we were away, racing across the flat planes of the Rhine basin towards Munich. And while it was at the time easy, flat riding on the horizon the land rose up. We would have to cross those peaks eventually…
The incline was pretty gradual most of the day. We started off through orchards and vineyards where fresh fruit was for sale in unmanned kiosks by the side of the road. After a sudden, very steep but short climb we got into the first plateau and met up with a small river in a nearby village.
After lunch, during which time we looked ominously at the contours of the map, we followed the river up into the hills. Once again a long period of slight incline left us feeling pretty good in our ability to tackle the mountains, until we had to cross the pass.
We hauled ourselves up pass, a long steep road for about 3Km but soon we were on a series of switchbacks that seemed never to end. Huffing and puffing, all to aware that we still have to cross the Alps in a week, we hauled ourselves up the mountain and a bit over an hour later reached the top. Here we were got a shot of this sign, a warning to cars on the descent we had just climbed.
After the hard work though, we got the reward and cruised downhill all the way for 12km into Freudenstadt where we rewarded ourselves with some ice cream.
We rode on a bit further as the evening drew in. At one point we found ourselves riding on freshly laid road, no lines or anything yet painted and still closed to cars. We cruised down this for a little while before getting funnelled onto a cycle route that left the road we wanted to follow.
Ghent was great, but while we were there we couldn’t help but feel something was missing. What was missing, as it turned out, was the students. The place felt deserted as we had arrived just after the summer holidays had begun, but before the big 10 day festival Gentse Feesten started. As such a lot of stores, bars, cafes etc. were all closed. Nevertheless a day off the bike had come at just the right time, it was a welcome break.
The day before, when we had checked into the hostel before getting in contact with Tom we had paid for our rooms and weren’t able to get a refund once it transpired we wouldn’t be staying. The room came with breakfast so of course in the morning we left Toms place to go back to the hostel and get our money’s worth.
We split up in the afternoon and went to check out the city at our own pace. I spent a bit of time moseying around a few museums and the old part of Gent before finding somewhere with Internet to update the blog.
in the evening we met up again to check out a Genever bar, a little hole in the wall place that served a traditional Belgium liqueurs in a wide variety of flavours. Tried some crazy flavours (coconut, chestnut, avocado…) and then went back to Toms to patch up the tubes that had punctured before bed.