It was great to see my friends in Dushanbe again, but I didn’t know what to do with myself. For the week following my re-arrival, I was having an uncomfortable inner dialogue about what my return to Dushanbe meant. I’m not sure I could have fixed my rack, but I hadn’t even tried. I couldn’t even walk past the bike without making some sort of snarky comment. I would catch a glimpse of it around the corner of the house, and my eyes would narrow to slits with hatred. “Bellend”, I would hiss.
The day after I got back to Dushanbe, I partook in a swell little picnic in the botanical garden, relaxed and listened to Eryn playing the Eukalele. I felt like I was in a folk music video.
I thought hard, and sincerely, about working for a while to generally wait out the horrible feeling I had acquired. This involved a number of conversations with my mum over the course of a few days, during which I gave talk in Ilana’s English class. Well maybe “talk” is a touch rich; I mentioned I was English and cycling in Tajikistan. The rest was one huge interview, though it went over pretty well.
A day or two later, I came to a decision. My bike would never hold up in the Pamiers, and there was an increasing body of evidence that I would need a new one altogether. The next place I could get an appropriate replacement was at least one flight away, and I was so sick and tired of cycling mishap that I had grown resistant to any time in the saddle at all. So here I was: I needed a new bike and time to heal. I was going home.
It was actually my mum’s suggestion, though I am certain it was made for no selfish reasons whatsoever. I rejected the idea at first, out of principle. I have never been one to give up, and this felt a lot like giving up. But the longer I thought about it, the more I realised that principle alone was clouding my ability to make the intelligent choice. It was horribly difficult to come to terms with and I am not an accomplished enough writer to put the angst onto paper. Some kind words from some friends made it marginally easier, most notably when Ago (my friend from Turin) proclaimed with authority over Skype, “Danny, health above everything”.
Following these events, I went for another picnic being held for Aine’s birthday. It was a gentle afternoon, and despite planning to go out clubbing, I fell asleep outside watching the American office with Ilana. Clearly I needed to rest.
It also became clear that I was cursed. I was near Ilana’s bicycle two times. Three punctures resulted. That is all.
Then I booked my flight. There was a hollow feeling in my chest, but I couldn’t help feeling like I was learning something more important. On a trip where I had been stuffed to the brim with new experiences, this decision, and the emotions that came with it were possibly the most novel.
One morning, I got an unexpected call. It was Adrien. His chain had snapped, and he too had to come back. He arrived in Dushanbe the following day. I felt awful for him, but it was awesome to see my chipper Swiss friend again. Over a beer (what else) he told me tales of dreadful roads being washed away by torrents of water, and second hand stories that further on, the road was blocked by 4 feet of avalanche snow. It sounded like a bike-wrecking obstacle course.
Early the next day, we went to sort Adrien’s bike out. In the 10 minutes it took to get there, my back wheel bent, emphatically answering my question, once and for all, whether my bike would have made it in the Pamirs. I was almost grateful it went when it did! Adrien, for the record, left at the crack of dawn the next morning to catch a taxi that would take 16 hours (yes, you read that correctly) to get back to the place he had broken down.
With my short-term fate decided, I had a little time to reflect. I remember writing that I was struggling to find one thing that I was enjoying about the trip. Well, there was at least one thing, and it was huge. In spite of being uncomfortable, tired, or mentally and emotionally drained, or even occasionally because of those things, it has been categorically the greatest education of my life. Not school, not university, but that 7 months. Mark Twain once commented, “I never let schooling get in the way of my education”, and that sentiment is now one I feel I profoundly understand. It is actually kind of annoying, because I feel too many people do this kind of thing and on completion proclaim, “It changed me, man”, because they feel like it should have. This adventure is by no means over (I hope) but I wanted to come home and be able to tell it like it was; that it was hard, that it was an experience, but most of all, that I had chipped away until I had obliterated the challenge, like a piece of granite smashing into chalk. The trouble is that past Danny was uninformed, and I can’t return a conqueror. Instead, I come home, if only temporarily, humbled and with my tail between my legs. But at least I know now; even chalk can change the shape of granite, provided there is enough of it. Forgive the metaphor, but for this realisation, I am truly thankful, and one day, might even look upon this re-shaping kindly.
On the evening of the 27th of April, I went to a jazz evening. It was shit, so I won’t talk about it. A bunch of us got together afterwards for a few drinks before I left at midnight. Ilana kindly came with me, and helped me to take all of my stuff to the airport. We waited until I had to go through and said our goodbyes. I waved at her through the glass separating the public from the passengers with a lump in my throat. She will be sorely missed.
My baggage was awkward, but getting through check-in was relatively painless. I boarded the plane, and before I knew it, a black abyss was beneath me, where Tajikistan used to be. We flew west, and months of work began to unravel. It made me feel sick. I shut my eyes.