Out, and slightly rejuvenated after a good sleep, I whirred down the road through Shurobod for a second time, but this time with Adrien at my shoulder. It was a glorious day.
Through the other side of Shurobod there was a bit of a commotion in a nearby field, and it was spilling out onto the road. Scores of people were moving, almost magnetically, to the entrance of the enclosure, and were dressed in all the colours of the rainbow. We stopped to see what was going on, and were instantly swamped by a sea of interest. Before I knew what was going on, we were inside the fenced space, surrounded by young faces and being treated to a huge array of local dishes. But that food wasn’t about to come free. It was the final Navroz celebration of the year and spring had finally arrived. But what was the price of our food? One dance performed by Adrien and myself in a performance square formed by 500-plus expectant Tajiks. Naturally, we excelled, with my move of choice being “the light-bulb-screwer-iner”, and Adrien’s, I don’t know. I was just too focussed. That we had been included so readily, and so enthusiastically was testament to the fabric of the local community, and we both left with a huge smile on our faces.
We crawled through the countryside on increasingly rough roads, as we edged our way towards Afghanistan. The people were becoming darker towards the Afghan boarder, and the dialect seemed to change slightly.
All in all, the events of that morning had me feeling a little better than the day before. I breathed a little easier, and started to be able to absorb the surroundings again. I dared to dream that maybe maybe, just maybe, it wasn’t so bad. Things were looking up, and I was actually feeling lighter on the bike.
Until my front pannier-rack snapped and jammed itself into my front spokes. There was an explosion of apocalyptic proportions. That was it. I had reached breaking point. After fixing the luggage I could no longer carry to Adrien’s rack, we made our way to the next village. The village was filled with goats, children and a man who thought he could fix everything, though I don’t remember much more than that. We flagged down the only driver we had seen for a while, who agreed to take me back towards Dushanbe for a price. I opted to go for it. It was a choice that sat horribly with me, but in reality, didn’t feel like much of a choice at all. If I continued, I was going to destroy my relationship to cycling. That I knew, but beyond that, I was filled with nothing but a dull, unsettling emotion. I had left Adrien, and jumped ship. I was sure he would be fine; my concerns were only selfish. I wish I could say more, but I am just unable to.
At this point I should dish out some thanks to my driver from Kishti Poyen to Dushanbe. Not for his driving, oh no no, but more because his shenanigans effectively stopped me stewing in this perceived catastrophe. I do not want to talk about the fact he consistently drifted precariously towards the edge of rocky mountain-top roads, or that he looked about 3 blinks from nodding off at 100km/h. No, what I want to discuss was his love of everything except driving. So let’s begin. Firstly, 5 minutes after beginning our journey, he slammed on the brakes and smiled, obviously having remembered something important. Reversing 200m back down the road, he pulled into a field. It looked like the land that time forgot, and we spent the next 10 minutes dodging boulders and donkeys to reach a guy lounging lazily under a blossoming tree. Picking up his bounty (a shed-load of suspicious plants rammed into marked sacks) we bounced back through Jurassic Park to the road. 20 minutes later, and halfway up the latest mountain, he pulled over, confidently pulled out his bog-roll from the glove compartment, and pinched one off over the edge of a nearby cliff. Next up, he stopped to leave the car for “one moment” in a village. 45 minutes later, now back at the car, and looking pretty pleased, he proudly showed me the paperwork he had just completed. After insinuating that I didn’t care, he laughed playfully, drove 2 km down the road, and slammed on the brakes to call his peeps to see what the haps was for that evening. Two police bribes later, and another few kilometres, he brought the car to a stand-still, got out, and then ushered me out of the car. I filled the next 35 minutes watching my driver enjoying a jovial meal with some friends from the corner of a gloomy café, while the waitress relentlessly spoke Russian at me. The fun wasn’t even close to over. A little further on, the man sold his sketchy plants to even sketchier men, before getting them involved in a cluster-pray in a nearby field on a mat he appropriately had stashed under his seat. Two more stops were required to piss around with his new sim card and then to get petrol to replace the 1/6 of a tank he had used getting us to that point. This was followed by a fairly uninterrupted stretch by, of course, the marvellously low standards for driving consistency he had set himself in which he stopped only to urinate from a seated position out of the car door, and to bribe some more policemen because they waved their batons at us. I should point out that these batons never stop waving. They look like light-sabres, and every policeman in Tajikistan fancies himself as a Central Asian Obi-Wan Kenobi. On we went, next grinding to a halt for a truck that had overturned on a muddy pass. I appreciate that this one isn’t the drivers fault, but you’d better believe I was going to blame him anyway. Finally we arrived in Dushanbe, and the drive had taken 4 hours longer than the 3 ½ hours it should have. It was 11 pm, and we passed the sign for the parameter of the town. He stopped for one last time. I asked him what he was doing, since he had agreed to take me into the centre, a good 7km away still. “Niet!”, he exclaimed several times. After I complained bitterly, he kicked me out and took my bike off the roof. But as he did this, he noticed his tyre was flat, and turned to me for help. I couldn’t prevent a smug grin spreading across my face. “Niet”, I chirped happily.
Though it was awkward (with the bag arrangement etc.), I made it back to town to find Ilana and Co. having drinks at Opera Ballet. I sat down, and exhaled for what felt like hours.