They say you have to fight through some bad days to earn the good ones. And this day would turn out to be one of those that would best be forgotten.
We left early from Khujand for Dushambe, the capital ofTajikistan. The locals warned us it was going to be a long day with two mountain passes and bad tracks. Little did we know….
Obtaining fuel is a regular problem and when you do see a source, you grab it with open arms, filling up the tanks and the extra fuel cells that we carry. Normally the petrol is of a low octane, 80 at best and of dubious quality. Precious time is spent filtering the fuel through a strainer and adding an octane booster to prevent the dreaded knocking.
We have got used to this.
We did not however count on an overzealous petrol pump attendant forcing the fuel pump nozzle into Linda’s bike and as a result snapping her fuel tank cap off its hinges. Without a lockable fuel cap we were bound to loose the fuel on these bad roads. We spent 2 fruitless hours trying to repair this, with no joy. Fortunately we had some duct tape and managed to tape the cap on, a short term solution that at least kept most of the fuel in the tank. As a long term fix it would become a sticky mess every time we needed to refuel.
At least the sun was shining and we could proceed. Lunch was an interesting mix of horse meat and some strange sort of vegetable that I have never tasted before. Kudos to the folk here who are able to make a meal this tasty with very little at their disposable in such a remote region. At these high altitudes one can only imagine the difficulties they must experience in winter.
After lunch things started to go south. Linda noticed a few drops of oil beneath my bike (I call my bike, Josephine). At first it looked like oil leaking from the tappet head gasket. More time lost striping the bike down in effort to sort it out. Oil, like water can be very difficult to trace in the event of a leak. No joy. It was not the gasket.
We decide to move on and monitor the situation as the bike is running normally.
The first of the 2 mountain passes was a spectacular road comprised mainly of stones, sand and some mud/ice sludge. The narrow road snaked its way up the side of the glacier and required absolute concentration with little time to look down at the motor to monitor it. This was also the part of the silk road route plied by travellers centuries ago and it would seem little has changed except for the beasts of burden.
Motorcycles here are seen as strange modes of transport and other drivers assume that given their relatively small footprint that they can go anywhere. On passes such as these they simply hog what little of the track there is and force you to take a line that is by no means suitable.
I never knew I was capable of this amount of cussing in my helmet.
We reach the summit and stop to take in the view, not noticing the angle at which I stopped at. Side stand out and nothing. The bike goes over with me trapped underneath it. I lie there with an over laden bike on top of me, too heavy to lift for either myself or Linda. And it is cold at 4000m . One would hope that the cold would numb the pain in my trapped ankle, but it does not. It is at times like this you curse the weight of the extra fuel one is forced to carry. It is also at times like this that you get to see your engine from a different angle.
Lying there at that angle I noticed that Josephine, my trusty companion up to this stage, had became incontinent, spewing oil all over the place.
Finally free from my trapped position we lift the bike and find the source of the problem. Oil is blowing back into the airfilter box. More time lost checking for the possible obvious causes, which they are not.
The more probable causes involve opening the motor, something which is impossible here. How is one supposed to remove the cylinder head to check for blown rings or split the crankcase to see if the counterbalance shaft seal is ok? Even if we were in the capital city no such expertise exists.
More time lost. It is impossible to camp here and we are forced to move on being hours behind schedule. We crawl down the pass, oil over everything including my tyres, boots and new riding pants! A slippery mess!
Nothing is supposedly ever so bad that it can’t get worse. And it does.
At the bottom of the pass there is a small village set against a spectacular backdrop of geological layering. I stop to take a picture and park the bike alongside the road. Linda is a little way behind me and tells me there are two guys running toward me. By the time I turn around one of these fellows has already jumped onto my bike. He wants me to take a photo of him. Unfortunately he is drunk and cannot support the weight of my bike and rolls down a slope into a ditch with Josephine again landing on top. What is it with wanting to be on top?
We are now forced to extract him and the bike (upside down in the ditch) and get the bike back up the slope. And all he can do is moan about his sore leg, in Russian I suspect.
Josephine now has a shattered screen and broken rear view mirrors. It could have been a lot worse if it were not for the aluminium panniers, Barkbuster hand guards and crash bars. Something to be thankful for on a day like this.
The drunk stumbles off muttering, leaving me wondering if the stumble is alcohol or pain induced.
Linda and I pick up the pieces. It makes no sense to try and pursue the matter which would be as useless as the pieces were.
And Josephine remains incontinent, and defaced to boot. How much more must the old girl still have to endure?
‘God weet, so kan dit nie aangaan nie.’
We move on .The rate at which the oil is blowing back into the airbox is becoming a serious cause for concern. It has the potential to starve the motor of oil and seize it. The only way around this would result in another blow to Josephine’s ego.
In one day, from a good looking bike to a defaced one with a catheter. And this after we have travelled more than 70 000 km together.
I need to rig a catheter/colostomy bag of sorts that would allow me to capture the oil she is pumping out and recycle it. The difference between enough oil and too little is 400ml. We need a container of sorts that is in this 400ml region so that I can route the oil from the airbox into it for recycling. Why Munich do not offer such a part in the accessory list is a pity at times like this. What would their marketing department call it anyway?
Things are looking up. I have a plastic Coke bottle which will work. All I need is a pipe that I can extend from the oil box to this bottle. Not any old pipe but one with a specific diameter and that can tolerate hot oil. As luck would have it the plastic pipe we carry to purge the cooling system of airlocks is the exact diameter! Things can only get better.
Josephine now has a colostomy bag, not the ideal but life sustaining. And we can move on. We do however have to relieve her ever 30 -40 km, consuming more time in a quickly diminishing day.
Our map, although not detailed shows two tunnels. Great we think. Where there are tunnels there must be some sort of improvement in the road conditions which will allow us to make up some time. Or so we thought.
Imagine a tunnel, at an altitude of more than 3500m in a picture perfect setting. The type of thing you experience when in the Alps of Europe. Except this is not the Alps and these are no ordinary tunnels. Tunnels from hell would be a more appropriate description.
Built in Soviet times they have not been maintained for the last 30 years.
What once was a tunnel has now been reduced to a narrow, pot holed and water drenched tube of death. There is no electricity in these tunnels and therefore no lighting or ventilation. Pitch black and thick with exhaust fumes (which have nowhere to go) making it difficult to breathe.
Water drips constantly from the roof of the tunnel (one can only assume from the mountain’s water-table), eroding what was once a single road into a series of interlinked water filled potholes the size of a car and bigger. And these pot holes are also deep, some being almost half a meter filled with freezing water.
As is the rest of the tunnel at this altitude, freezing cold.
To make matters worse the potholes have also exposed what once was the buried rebar of the road, now a mangle of 20mm thick rusted steel bars which you cannot see under the water. All pointing in different directions. The potential for these to do bodily harm or wreck your tyres and bike is obvious.
Compounding matters is that you cannot put your head light beam on bright as the light refracts off the dripping water making it impossible to see. Oncoming vehicles however do not seem to realise this and use their high beams (some also with spots), blinding one in the process. They also do not care if you are stuck and will hoot and force their way past you, even if they bump you!
In one instance I was stuck in a pothole that was knee deep in which I could feel the rebar around me. It made more sense for Linda to sit on the bike and for me to try and push the bike out. Cars and trucks back up, hooting and screaming. No one offers to help. Who after all would want to get wet and cold?
And to make matters worse the cold made me think with the wrong head pushing Linda in the opposite direction to which she wanted to go. I still do not know how she managed to keep the bike upright.
You truly are on own here even if there are other humans around. This is probably why they are nicknamed named the “tunnels of death”. People simply do not care about others in these instances.
And there are two of these monsters, one 34 km’s long and the other mercifully only 9 km’s.
We finally emerged, freezing cold and as normal, way behind schedule.
And oil all over the place as Josephine’s colostomy bag could not be drained during this saga.
And it is getting dark. Again nowhere to camp at this altitude forcing us to break our self imposed cardinal rule of not travelling at night. We have no option.
We finally arrive in Dushambe at 22h30 after 15 hours of wondering why we are on this continent.
It was the 4th of July after all. In the land of Burger Kings, silky roads, petrol stations and all types of consumer conveniences; people were on holiday. Perhaps it is time for a Harley and a tour there……
Somehow however I do not think Josephine would approve of a Harley though.
I read once that ones attitude toward life determines life’s attitude towards us.
Today I must have really screwed up in my attitude.
Thankfully there is always a tomorrow.
(Some of the photos below were taken with the Contour helmet camera which unfortunately had mud from the road on its lens. )