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24/03/2011 – 26/03/2011 Shal to Rasht – No you can’t get up there, it’s not possible

May 31, 2011

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Anticipation for the track is high, we’ve committed ourselves, going against a lot of people’s advice, I’m looking forward to the challenge and as long as the snow isn’t too thick for long stretches we’ll be able to carry the bikes over it. We leave with a mix of good feelings, nerves and for Sasha a stomach bug, its very bad timing but he soldiers on.

The asphalt quickly runs out and we find ourselves climbing on rough ground, meltwater streams cutting their way down the track. We pass through many villages, everyone telling us we can’t pass and that we should turn back. Having climbed so far we’re not eager to take their advice and continue up the remote and increasingly cooler way. The climb is gradual but unrelenting, the scenery is special and the feeling of remoteness makes it even better. At the top of the climb there is thick snow, waist deep but its been pushed aside to allow traffic from the next village to get through. At the top of the hill I am completely alone, Sash and Mathias are a way behind and all that stands is an abandoned house and the snowy topped hills all around, I spot a Sheppard and his flock traversing the steep hillside with deft ability.

The Sheppard tells me the track from now on is impassable due to snow, still keen to see this impassable block for ourselves we continue. Sure enough around the next corner the snow has built up over the track, further along its happened again and round the next corner god knows, but it’s passable, easy to wheel the bike over. The next day is spent cycling in between these snow piles and then getting off and manhandling the bikes across. Feeling quite proud of sticking to our guns and enjoying the adventure, Sasha doing a good job to keep going despite visibly looking very ill, we come up against a huge snow slip which covers the entire track. The snow has no flat top and we will be unable to wheel the bikes across without slipping down the steep mountainside. We unload all the gear and move it down the hill to below the snow line and then back up to the track. It takes us about an hour to move all the gear with some sketchy moments, which could have seen us or the bikes rolling down a long way.

This is real adventuring, I feel very happy to have completed this section as the track starts to descend and we can see no more snow blocking the way. Triumphant we stop for tea at the side of the road, a fellow Geographer and his friends are having a picnic, all of them wrapped up in fleeces and jackets. We retell our valiant adventure and they give us coconut biscuits. Some figures begin to appear from the top of the hill as we had done, surely not other cyclists? They turn out to be a group of Iranian motorcyclists who’ve taken the same track.

Masuleh is now in sight beneath us, I’ve heard its beautiful but it looks more like a hillside village blighted by a power plant, perhaps it’s the dull weather. We arrive and it’s rammed full of people, cars and expensive hotels, someone takes pity on us and tells us there’s a cheap hotel down the road. It turns out to be more expensive and we’re now 3km outside the town with a huge climb to get back in, thanks a lot. Luckily a lorry pulls up and we convince him to take us back into the town. Camping seems to be the best bet and we find a couple of rock climbers who are doing the same, one is very eccentric and bemoans the fact he can’t wear shorts in Iran the other two have climbed in the Communist mountains in Tajikistan, where we will be going. Mathias and I share tea with them in the tent with their mum whilst Sasha gets some rest. Camped out at the top of a hill overlooking the village, the lights from each house shimmering and the rushing sound of the rivers, Masuleh takes on a magical quality.

Masuleh is a bit like a theme park, painted dear statues, stalls and a real buzz make it superb to watch from our hillside encampment. We chat to lots of friendly Iranians, curious to know where we are from, one guy says he was a bit radical when he was younger and told us of anti-British rallies he and his friends would attend, assuring us with some vigor that he no longer thought this way. Apparently old Iranians have coined a phrase “If somethings wrong, blame the British,” which refers to Britain’s insatiable desire to meddle in other countries. I thought this was quite apt.

The road winds along the river and the hordes of picnickers line the way, we pass paddy fields and fields full of trimmed tea bushes, the Fuman region is well known for its agricultural output. Sash is desperate need for a bed to rest in so we push onto Rasht to find a hotel.

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