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Tips For Cycling Tajikistan’s Pamir Highway

Posted November 29th, 2013

Tajikistan’s Pamir Highway is the world’s second highest international highway and one of the most challenging bike touring routes out there.

Grace Johnson cycled the route in the summer of 2013 with her husband Paul Jeurissen. Along the way they picked up a few tips and updates for this route, which Grace has kindly shared in the article below.

Grace Johnson & Paul Jeurissen

Paul and Grace on the Pamir Highway. Photo by Paul Jeurissen.

Her notes build on the advice given in 10 questions: Cycling The Pamir Highway (an earlier guest post written by Christine McDonald) so please read that post before reading Grace’s observations.

Grace’s Tips For Cycling The Pamir Highway

There have been many changes since Christine travelled the Pamir Highway:

Visas - There is now a next day visa service (which includes a GBAO permit) in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. A letter of invitation is no longer necessary. On the visa form we didn’t have to present a complete route itinerary. We just wrote down that we were planning on cycling the Pamir Highway. That turned out to be enough information for the embassy. The embassy operates on regular opening hours and was easy to find since we looked up the GPS coordinates beforehand via internet.

Telephone and Internet - Internet is still pretty much non-existent. The only connection we came across was a very slow one via a single laptop in Murgab’s Pamir hotel. Telephones are more accessible. The main Pamir towns such as Lake Karakoal and Murgab have telephone send masts powered by solar panels and the villagers own mobile phones. At Lake Karakoal the Swiss cyclists at our homestay decided to take a day jeep tour to a scenic outlook. The homestay owner got on her mobile phone and within a half hour a had jeep arrived.

Transport - There are no buses on the Pamir highway. You could hitchhike (as Christine noted), however it might not be very easy. We saw 5-10 vehicles per day between Sarey Tash (Kirgizistan) and Murgab but most of them were fully-loaded and didn’t have room for cyclists. Between Murgab and Dushanbe there is more traffic – Chinese trucks (with Tajik and Chinese drivers) heading to Dushanbe – so it might be possible to get a lift with them.

Water - Of course in the summer months there was less water and some of the rivers were murky. Since we only had a steripen and water sterilizing drops we often had to fill our Orlieb folding bowl with river water and wait for the sediment to sink to the bottom before sterilizing it with the steripen.

Grace Johnson
Grace Johnson cycling across the Pamir landscape. Photo by Paul Jeurissen.

Winter versus summer cycling - If you cycle in the winter as Christine did, you will miss one of the biggest attractions of cycling the Pamir highway: the colourful landscape. It will be covered in snow. We didn’t find the strong summer sun too much of a problem. We just carried a couple bottles of strong sun block. There was always a strong wind to cool us off. Make sure you carry cold weather gear, even in the summer, since storms and sharp drops in temperature can happen at any time.

Route finding via GPS  -  You don’t need a GPS for the Pamir highway and the Wakhan valley. There is only one road and even though there isn’t a sign marking the turnoff to the Wakhan valley – it’s still quite obvious. If you want to try some off-road cycling to the more remote villages, you definitely should consider using a GPS. The routes to outlaying villages are via jeep tracks and as soon as the main track becomes too rutted the locals create new ones. When we rode from Bulun Lake to Alichor, we regularly checked our GPS to find out if we were still on the “correct” jeep track.

HomestaysA sign for a homestay on the Pamir Highway. Photo by Paul Jeurissen.

Homestays - The homestays are now marked by English signs in front and for 100 Somoni you sleep on a blanket mattress on the floor plus you receive three meals of tea, bread plus eggs or soup. The toilet is an outhouse. Most of the homestays can provide a hot shower. Sometimes the hot bucket shower isn’t included in the price so ask beforehand. In most homestays, electricity is only available after dark. Don’t count on it working. Note: the homestays are often poorly ventilated so if you are sleeping in a room with a number of other cyclists you may find yourself breathing hard due to the lack of oxygen in the room.

Pamir hotel in Murgab  - In 2013 the Pamir hotel in Murgab opened. It has hot showers, clean sit toilets and serves “substantial” food such as omelettes, meat, salad, potatoes and pancakes in the hotel restaurant. It also has 24-hour electricity (via the hotel generator) so we were able to recharge all of our camera batteries plus laptop there. The Pamir Kids on the Pamir Highwayhotel manager speaks English and completed the required Tajikistan registration for us. The registration was a hassle (the forms aren’t in English and the police complained that the first photocopies of our passport weren’t “dark enough”). It took the manager 7 hours before we (and the other hotel guests) finally received our registration papers. We offered to pay the manager afterwards for the service but he refused our money. Our registration papers were checked at the police checkpoint just south of Murgab.

The People - Christine is right when she says that the Pamir people are great. We especially enjoyed the kids. They love having their picture taken and will even run up to you smiling and yelling, “photo! photo!”

Towns - The villages and surrounding area are very desolate. Everything is built using whatever material is available. Car doors are used for gates, and sea containers as market shops.


An improvised shop on the Pamir Highway. Photo by Paul Jeurissen.

During the months of July and August you will come across other cyclists every day. They are a colourful bunch (we met a Hungarian carrying mountain climbing gear on his bike, Italians on Decathlon bicycles) and are another good reason to cycle there in the summer instead of winter months.

Additional Resources:

  • Pamirs.org - contains a number of links to Pamir cycling sites
  • Carry On Cycling – a report from a cyclist who rode the Pamir Highway in May 2013

For more on Grace and Paul’s trip around the world, please see their website Bicycling Around The World.

 

A Free Guide To Cycling Across Australia’s Nullarbor

Posted October 16th, 2013

If you want to cross Australia on a bicycle, chances are you’ll find yourself riding across the Nullarbor plain. It’s a hot, long and dusty ride.

Nullarbor Desert
Push-biking it across the Nullarbor. Photo by Mike Boles.

To make things easier, download this set of notes. Our free guide was written by cyclist Mike Boles and laid out by us here at TravellingTwo HQ.

free guide to cycling the nullarbor

Inside the PDF, you’ll find Mike’s story of pedalling across the Nullarbor and day-by-day notes for the entire trip. He tells you where to find campgrounds, hotels, wild camping spots and − most importantly − water. Mike even gives tips for sightseeing along the way!

We hope you enjoy the notes. Download them. Share them. Let us know what you think.

If you have updates or further advice about cycling across the Nullarbor, please leave a comment below.

First Test of MacPac’s Prophet XPD Rain Jacket

Posted September 14th, 2013

MacPac Prophet XPDOver the summer, we were fortunate to pick up a couple rain jackets at an outlet sale. One of those was the MacPac Prophet XPD.

It’s made of eVent fabric and is actually aimed at mountain climbers. That said, we love it for cycling.

It’s waterproof of course, and has a ton of zipped pockets. The fabric is reassuringly thick and with a fleece or wool layer underneath, we’re confident that this jacket will be great in cold winter temperatures.

Perhaps our favourite feature is the hood. It’s made of a stiffened fabric that doesn’t budge an inch — even when biking straight into a head wind.

The eye-watering price tag is less pleasing. We shelled out just €100 at the outlet sale but the list price is closer to €500. Keep your eye out for clearance deals!

You might also have trouble getting ahold of it. We couldn’t find any shops that carry it online, aside from a few in New Zealand and Australia. We’ve asked MacPac for more details, and hopefully they’ll let us know if it’s available elsewhere, under another name perhaps?

Posted in Trip Equipment

Hilleberg Nallo 3GT Tent: A Brief Video Overview

Posted September 8th, 2013

We’ve been in Canada for the past 3 weeks, visiting family and doing a bit of camping along the way.

While there, we managed to shoot a short video of our beloved Hilleberg Nallo 3GT tent. As you can see, it’s pretty quick to set up (even when you have a ‘little helper’ to contend with) and it’s the perfect size for the three of us.

Read the full review of our tent.

Nine Tips For Cycling The Cabot Trail

Posted August 30th, 2013

The Cabot Trail in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia must be one of the most scenic bicycle rides in all of Canada, if not the world.

For a taste of the experiences that await you on this 300 kilometer road, set your mind on breathtaking sea vistas, framed by dramatic cliffs; curvy roads through timeless fishing villages; old-growth forests in the Cape Breton Highlands National Park and some truly epic climbs.

DSC_7317

On a recent trip around the Cabot Trail, we picked up a few tips that may be helpful to anyone planning to ride this classic route.

#1. Prepare For Wind

We camped for a week in mid-August and experienced stiff winds every day, blowing clockwise around the trail. It’s true that the views are better if you travel anti-clockwise (with the sea on your right) but on balance we would recommend going with the wind. This was also the choice of most cyclists we saw during our visit.

The strong winds also meant that our camp stove quickly burnt through fuel, even though we used firewood and stones to build a wind break around our stove. Keep your fuel bottles topped up, and preferably take a stove that uses either white gas or fuel from gas stations. We could not find gas canisters anywhere on the trail.

DSC_7341

Our stove surrounded by a make-shift windbreak.

#2. Pack Lightly

It almost goes without saying that when the hills are steep, it pays to travel as lightly as possible. We wouldn’t normally recommend dehydrated campers meals as they’re fairly expensive but it might be worth carrying a few on the Cabot Trail to save weight. Remember, sustained climbs at grades above 10% are common. Some grades even reach 15%. Ideally, you’ll get a bike with thin tires and a couple back bags. The exception is Meat Cove (see tip #7). In that case, you’ll want more robust tires for the dirt roads.

Rest Stop on French Mountain Climb

Rest stop on French Mountain. Photo by Bobcatnorth (flickr).

#3. Not All Campsites Have Water

There are campsites dotted regularly around the trail, including several in the Cape Breton Highlands National Park. Of the six main campsites in the national park, however, only those at Cheticamp, Broad Cove and Ingonish have water. The private campsites around the trail have all the services you’d expect (eg. wi-fi, water, showers). Expect to pay $25-30 Canadian a night for camping. Firewood and ice is usually available at campsites, for an extra charge.

#4. Reserve If You Plan To Stay In Hotels

Nearly every B&B, hotel and hostel we passed had a ‘no vacancy’ sign outside. If you don’t plan to bring a tent, you’d better reserve a room.

#5. There’s A Bike Shop In Cheticamp

We saw one good bike shop along the trail: Velo Max in Cheticamp. The owner does plenty of work preparing bikes for tour groups and should be able to help with any mechanical problems.

#6. Take Hiking Boots 

Most cyclists breeze around the Cabot Trail in 3-4 days but there are so many world-class hiking tracks on the Cabot Trail it almost seems criminal to pass them by. If you can, lengthen your stay by a few days and stop to explore on foot. You’ll see a side of Cape Breton that isn’t revealed until you walk away from the road. You could easily spend 10-14 days doing a mixture of cycling and hiking on the trail.

We do realize that hiking boots are a heavy addition to your panniers. If the weather isn’t too hot, you might consider using your boots both for cycling and walking. We personally find hiking boots very comfortable for both activities.

DSC_7396Ready to walk the trails of Cape Breton.

#7. Meat Cove Makes An Amazing Side Trip

The most northerly community in Cape Breton is Meat Cove. It’s literally perched on the edge of a cliff, overlooking a sheltered bay.

Meat Cove
Meat Cove view. Photo by Kaymoshusband (flickr).

Don’t kid yourself: this is a tough side trip. You’ll travel 30km off the Cabot Trail. The hills in the 15km leading up to Meat Cove are steep and relentless and the final 8km are on a rough dirt road. Still, your hard work will be rewarded by the stunning views and you can treat yourself to a bowl of chowder and a cold beer at the campground restaurant. There are also several hiking trails that lead up the hills and to hidden bays.

DSC_7323Chowder at Meat Cove

For an easier option, cycle the relatively easy (and entirely paved) 18km to the picturesque fishing community of Bay St. Lawrence. There you’ll find a campground, grocery store and delicious fish ‘n’ chips at the harbour.

#8. Be Aware of Bears And Coyotes

This is wild country, particularly in the national park. Bears and coyotes call the forests home, so if you are hiking or plan to wild camp, take appropriate precautions. Don’t eat near your tent or keep any food inside. More information is available on the national park website.

DSC_7397Lobster Supper with all the trimmings in Baddeck.

#9. Celebrate With An All-You-Can-Eat Lobster Supper

When you’ve completed the Cabot Trail, you deserve a treat! We very much enjoyed our meal at the Baddeck Lobster Suppers. With unlimited chowder, mussels, salads and desserts it’s the perfect place to fill up your hungry cyclist’s belly. If you don’t fancy lobster, they also roast salmon on a maple plank. Delicious!

These articles provide further tips and advice: