We got up with the intention of leaving a lot earlier than we did. Mitch was hoping to bring the car to a mechanic to see if there was anything we could do about the right rear suspension – the broken leaf spring. Someone at the hotel said that they would get a hold of a mechanic and they would meet Mitch early that morning. When the guy got there the hotel manager let Mitch know. He went outside and started showing the guy what the problem was, and then disappeared. I went outside to grab something from the car and the guy was still there and pantomimed me to pop the hood. Strange request considering it was a suspension problem, but I acquiesced and let him take a look. After I was done I went back inside and told Mitch the guy was still there. Turns out that guy wasn’t the mechanic at all, he was some guy that saw our car parked in front of the hotel and wanted to buy it. He also had a Fiat Doblo and wanted it for spare parts as they are hard to come by in this part of the world. No kidding…
Mitch did manage to bring it to a mechanic down the street and within about 30 minutes had a spring rigged up in the back, so when he got back we headed out. The ride was considerably nicer! For about an hour. A couple big bumps in the road and it managed to shimmy itself out. At least it had the courtesy of making a big noise when it popped out, so we stopped to grab it and continued on our way.
Today we decided to continue the playlist challenge, which we had 6 hours of songs to listen to thanks to Marshall and Kate. As awful as some of the songs were, it was a welcome break from the music we had on our phones which we had exhausted, and considerably better than listening to the god awful song that Robby had picked for us to listen to on a loop. We were trying to make it to Murghab, which is about 320 km to the east of where we stayed the night.
We had head that the roads leading out of Khorog were nice for a while, and they were. We were able to keep a speed of over 40 mph for almost 3 hours, coincidentally just about as long as the first playlist. Towards the end we started climbing to the top of one of the mountain passes which was incredibly beautiful. Right after we finished the first playlist and damn near what we hoped was the top of the pass, the car started overheating like crazy. It spiked all the way up almost to the red, so we stopped to see what the problem was. We had had a slow radiator leak since Turkey, so every morning and halfway through the day we would check all our fluids and top off. Some days we’d put as much as a liter or so of water back into the system. Radiator fluid was too expensive to keep dumping in there, and rather hard to find as a matter of fact so we were only using water. The car ended up overheating for a bunch of reasons. The combination of the hill being relatively steep and our car being underpowered and heavy meant we were creeping up the mountain in first gear, which was revving the engine over 4k rpm of about 7 total. Right around that area we were close to 14,500 feet above sea level, so the air was super thin and we weren’t getting enough air into the engine going so slow. Combine all that together with a lower boiling point of water and you get a car that is trying desperately not to melt itself. We let it cool off for a little while and topped it off again before continuing on and soon back down the peak. Fucking cold up there btw, and windy. Really had to be careful which direction you were peeing.
The next 3 hour playlist drive could best be described as absolute hell on wheels. The road became a combination of hazards that are almost impossible to describe. Imagine take a thick rubberband and giving it a few twists until you’ve created a corkscrew pattern, then make that a road. It would be slated crazy up to the right like you’re hitting the corner of a NASCAR track, but then immediately alternate with the road being slanted up to the left. It’s absolutely incredible how something so terrible could be built. Then there would be potholes the size of your car which we named moon craters. At one point the spikey mindfield gravel road we were on met up with some concrete on a steep hill. I kid you not, the concrete did not touch the ground by damn near a foot. Thankfully on the side of the “road” the dirt was still there so we were able to (barely) ramp the car up onto the concrete. I can’t understate how stressful this kind of driving is. It requires 100% of your focus at all times because one of these moon craters can who knows how just pop up in front of you, and if you hit that thing at a decent speed you are destroying your car and your hopes of hitting the finish line. Then there’s the whole thing where it’s so remote and such a bad road that if you do break down, it could be hours and hours until you see another car that *might stop to help if they can.
Around 6 or so we eventually hit Murghab. On the way through we didn’t see anything that really looked like a hotel so we continued on out of town to find somewhere to camp. This presented a unique problem. We were in a valley and the sun had already passed one of the mountains so we were losing light fast. The valley was also incredibly flat so it was very hard to find somewhere to pull off to and have at least a little bit of privacy. There’s an app called iOverlander which is pretty cool. It’s a list of just about every campsite in the world, as well as places that people have camped before and marked as a decent place to stay. We had gotten the GPS coordinates of a spot that said it was close to a river and far enough from the road to be decent. The closer we got to the spot we realized that it wasn’t going to be nearly as remote as we hoped, and when we got in the area, there was just a little dirt path that dropped off the road and the “spot” was off to the right by a couple hundred feet. Completely flat and within easy visibility of the road, but we were losing light as well as energy to press on and find something better.
It was so windy that we had to park the cars nose to nose and set up our tents right on the other side, and pretty darn cold. Someone cooked us a nice little dinner and Hendrick pulled out some wine he had bought, and we all hoped it was better than the last stuff he bought. It wasn’t. It was worse. Way worse. I cannot stress enough, if you ever see a bottle of wine from Tajikistan, either stay very very far away from it or try it to see what the worst wine ever tastes like. I choked down about half a bottle to help sleep because it was only around 9pm. Oh what a day.