A Cycling Revelation

JULY 2012, TAJIKISTAN

Traveling through Central Asia, a predominately Muslim part of the world, I had noticed that when accompanied by a man I don’t have opportunities to talk and interact with locals, as all conversation is directed to the men. Descending into a valley together with a new and temporary cycling partner by the name of Chris-Alexandre, we would part ways around 10 am in the morning.

The morning Pamiri sunrise from camp, looking over Chris-Alexandre peacefully sleeping.

The morning Pamiri sunrise from camp, looking over Chris-Alexandre peacefully sleeping.

Chris-Alex, whom I had met in Uzbekistan and planned to meet in Dushanbe, Tajikistan, would wish me luck after three days of cycling together towards the famous Pamir Highway. We promised to stay in contact through our intermittent cell phone signals and meet up ahead. I was now on my own again, something I know so well after two years and close to 25,000 km cycled solo.

Beginning the ride for the day, little would I know what lied ahead of me. Photograph by Chris-Alexandre of the “All School Project”.

Beginning the ride for the day, little would I know what lied ahead of me. Photograph by Chris-Alexandre of the “All School Project”.

Spending the day riding through a hot and arid valley, but where the small villages are tree lined, I pull over to rest under some trees on the western edge of a village in the late afternoon.

It’s currently Ramadan, which explains the quiet and calm through the days. At sunset, Muslims will quit fasting and have a meal together. It’s considered rude to eat and drink in front of fasting Muslims and I take consideration in hiding myself a bit when eating on the side of the road. At this resting point, I’m not eating but rather just sipping my water and trying to figure out what my plan will be for the night as it’s nearing 6 pm.

There is a fence separating me from a front yard with trees and between the house and trees is a small garden. An older woman wearing a traditional Tajik dress and pants, similar to an Indian styled shalwar kameez, as vivid green as the short trees surrounding me, walks over with a young blonde boy holding her hand.

Exchanging smiles, her mouth of gold glistening in the Pamiri sun as she says “aleikum asalaam” after my greeting of “asalaam alkeium.” She looks at me and my bicycle and directs me to bring my bike and to return to her home down the dirt road that leads behind the garden.

The matriarch of the homestead and her blonde grandson at the home I would spend the evening in.

The matriarch of the homestead and her blonde grandson at the home I would spend the evening in.

I would be greeted with children and one of the most beautiful Tajik girls I’d ever seen with her perfectly henna-dyed eyebrow. She is all smiles and I can feel the love among the women while the children are still apprehensive about the lonesome traveling woman.

Many villages through Tajikistan have few men. I have learned that many men work in Russia, and often they will have a second family in Russia, in addition to their family here in Tajikistan. Images of hippie communes flood my imagination here in Tajikistan—happy, beautiful women together with their children living off the land.

Children running around playing in the dirt, a toddler in a crib made of crudely welded steel you would see about construction sites, and the young woman chopping fresh vegetables from their garden. This might just be “the life”…

A young Tajik woman chops the fresh vegetables in preparation for the Ramadan feast after nightfall.

A young Tajik woman chops the fresh vegetables in preparation for the Ramadan feast after nightfall.

The gold-toothed older woman in a traditional Tajik dress and pants, with the most elegant camouflage fabric print I’ve ever seen, begins to pantomime to me about taking a shower and washing my clothes. It has been awhile and I’m wondering if she can smell the odor of travel, woman, and just the scent of a foreigner.

It’s a hot afternoon, where temperatures can get close to 50°C in the sunshine during midday, and I’m not going to deny a cool bath. After a few minutes trying to communicate she lets me know she will heat up some water for the bath. Then I’m led to a corner of a mud packed building, where my bike leans against.

Following her out of the shade and into the cooling Tajikistan air, I’m led into a dark room with light entering from a single window and she directs me to undress and get into the tub. I remove all my clothing except for my knickers and tank top I use for a daily base layer. She looks at me, not even flinching and somewhat serious with no concern, directing me to remove EVERYTHING.

I look into her eyes and I know in my heart she’s a good woman and mother just seeking to help and accommodate the strange traveler that has fallen into her life. Taking a deep breath, I drop all my clothing along with my modesty and step naked into the tub. She pours water over me that is the perfect temperature for this hot July afternoon and she uses the bar of soap that’s splitting to wash my back and hair.

I have gone years without an affectionate, and innocent, human touch and I feel my body slump over in ease and enjoy the gentle and intimate touch of her hands running through my hair and over my shoulders.

Stepping out refreshed, I follow her into the garden where more women are arriving and I’m handed fresh vegetables such as cucumbers from the garden to eat. Cooled down, clean, snacking on vegetables and being served a never ending supply of chai.

Children greet me at the homestead, my bicycle in the background leaning against the building where my glorious sponge bath would occur.

Children greet me at the homestead, my bicycle in the background leaning against the building where my glorious sponge bath would occur.

There is a woman who appears to be around my age, and she is. It turns out that she used to be a teacher and can speak a little English along with some Russian so we can communicate a little bit.

She explains her husband lives in Dushanbe and that she is childless… I can’t imagine what that must be like to live in an area where child-bearing and raising is of the utmost importance to the culture. I take an immediate liking to her, her warm and comforting brown eyes, and I watch her tend to the children as they are her own.

Shortly after her brief explanation to the other women about me, we go inside the main house, passing a teenage boy sitting near the entrance. We enter a room directly off the side where I’m accompanied by a few young male toddlers and about a half a dozen women. The woman with the henna eyebrows is in the room, along with five or six more, and is accompanied by another younger woman carrying the brunette baby from the yard.

It’s explained that they are married to the same man, and along with the gold tooth matriarch, they invite me to become the third. Hysterical laughter breaks out when I smile and nod my head “no.” But after months in Central Asia, and my first time among a commune of women, the thought of sister wives doesn’t seem like such a horrible idea.

After the joking and the conversation, as women slouch against the wall pulling up their pants and dresses to cool down, the matriarch shouts to the teen in the other room to turn up the music. She shuts the door and begins dancing as any beautiful Tajik woman does.

I’m pulled up off the floor and it feels as if I’ve returned to a dance party from my university years. Talking, dancing, laughter… the children are enjoying themselves as well.

There is an advantage being a woman traveling alone.

A young Tajik girl watches the boys play before she joins in the fun.

A young Tajik girl watches the boys play before she joins in the fun.

I have been allowed to see and experience moments that are usually behind closed doors or in the kitchen. We have jokes in the West about women being barefoot in the kitchen.

Well, as a feminist, I’ll tell you I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else besides behind those doors or kitchens…it’s where all the fun happens...and gossip…and just behaving like all women around the world.

The matriarch, blonde boy, and I take a nap in the room after the dance party and neighbors leave. Around 7 pm we get up and she takes me for a walk around her land, showing me a new storage building that’s being built out of stones and through the gardens. The children play and we go to a fence dividing the neighbors where I meet a young girl. The adults shout back and forth to one another, along with explanations of who their visitor is.

Boys play outside before the fast breaks at sunset for the evening Ramadan feast.

Boys play outside before the fast breaks at sunset for the evening Ramadan feast.

The sun is setting and we return to the woman’s home where the two sister wives are preparing food and the teenage boy is still listening to music acting indifferent to the entire situation. The matriarch serves me food separately from the family unit and then they begin to share a large platter of “polo”/”plov”, a traditional rice and mutton dish of Central Asian, eating with their hands which is the traditional and standard way. The daily fast has ended and they will eat and then pray. The teacher that I warmed up to returns, the television is on and we all lazily lounge around having a very gentle conversation.

The teacher speaks to the room of women and children after dinner, as the television plays in the background.

The teacher speaks to the room of women and children after dinner, as the television plays in the background.

They will see my exhaustion and offer me to my sleeping mat as they will stay up later to continue eating and praying. I’m led back to the room where the dancing happened earlier in the day and directed on the mat next to the wall, furthest from the door. I will be sharing it with the matriarch and the small blonde boy that never leaves her side.

Little would I know what the next day would bring…

Awakening the next day with heavy eyes as the cool dawn begins to break into the early morning heat. The aches and pains are extremely acute as I roll off my sleeping mat, as if an invisible force is nudging me to get out into the bright sunshine, onward through the beautiful and majestic valleys of Tajikistan. I’m more groggy than usual, as dogs barking throughout the night kept me awake. Careful not to disturb the old woman and small child sleeping, I move to the window to check on my bicycle and the four bags attached to her sides and top.

The house begins to take on life, as women’s voices break the silence, and I dress and prepare to depart. The old woman asks me to stay for breakfast but I kindly insist I must carry on. Generally breakfast will take a few hours and it’s never been a eat and run type of an affair. Using those early morning hours to cycle will make the difference of 50-70 km a day, and being able to end with a full belly of traditional Muslim food and a long nap under an apricot tree.

Saying my thanks with “rexmet”, speaking in a native tongue based upon Turkish, I exit the mud packed home into the chilled morning light to continue on.

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The sun gets intense, and heat unbearable where it sometimes reaches 48 degrees, so I need to make as much progress as possible.

Yesterday had been a short day and I remind myself that I must make up for lost time.

Traversing along a single lane, with deep crevasse jeep tracks, I go slowly up a valley. I lost asphalt nearly two days ago as I had chosen to take a route that most people don’t ride. I had debated about the route as no one could give me an accurate description of the area and there is a missing section of road on the map. Like usual, I was not quite sure what to expect but I knew that I wouldn’t see dozens of cyclists. Having already spent over 20,000 km cycling through China where I can speak the language, I am notorious for pulling myself off well-traveled routes to see what else the world has to offer...but...sometimes there is a reason a particular route is not taken by the masses.

Stopping about fifteen kilometers on from the community I had stayed in the previous night, I stop for breakfast and supplies. Far from a proper town, supplies are limited but I make do with sodas, naan, and sugar-glazed cookies filled with an apricot jelly.

Thankful for the dark storm clouds rolling in and the cool breeze on my skin, I know this will cut down immensely on the heat. I will be able to cycle through the early afternoon without a break. The trees are disappearing and it’s becoming rock mines along a raging brown river. I had been warned of the rivers and glacier melts during the summers, and I would later learn that they were higher than average this summer. The water is angry and completely out of control, I could hear this river beating against the stone banks and walls. Such a contrast to the cool breeze, gentle rolling clouds, and the steady and calm beat of my heart.

There have only been one or two Land Rovers driving in the opposite direction since leaving the last town about four hours earlier. It’s becoming lifeless except for the massive rusted mining machines and mounds of gray stones. The road is more difficult now and the stones cause me to lose my balance at times…tipping sideways a few times, causing my right foot to try and find traction among the broken stones.

Broken bridges and roadways because of the heavy mining machinery traveling through the area.

Broken bridges and roadways because of the heavy mining machinery traveling through the area.

Spotting a small pond where the water was flowing clear and shade provided by some short trees, I decide to push over to watch the direction of the storm and to repair a snapped bolt on the front rack. There is no one around and I decide to wash my clothes, feeling guilty that I now have a clean body living in the filthy and salt-marked cycling clothes. Although my hair had been washed yesterday with bar soap, it seemed to make my oily hair even worse, so a proper shampooing was in order.

One man stops to speak with me, only to return to give me some strawberry cookies he had in his Land Rover. He begins to get a little closer and asks me more questions than I bargained for and realize I have to back him off. I’ve had enough men make assumptions about a single American woman in Central Asia and knew I needed to ward off any preconceived ideas.

“Is he your friend?” the man asks me in Russian and points to a blonde Tajik boy with a knapsack and dog. It took me a second to figure out if this kid was another traveler just choosing to walk, but I realized he was a local. Deciding that an innocent lie was in order for this moment I said, “No, my friend is ahead.” This usually confuses them because they assume friends should always be together. The man drove off after putting some water in his radiator and the boy went towards the cliff across the road from my trees.

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After washing my clothes and hair, I put on some traditional Tajik Atlas printed pants that were made in Dushanbe and hang my wet clothes up in the trees, needing to secure them as the storm is making it’s way closer. My hair tied and wrapped up on my head, I attempt to fix the snapped bolt. The best I can do is to use pliers to tighten the headless screw into the eyelet threads.

The vivid blue sky has now been completely grayed out, and it begins to rain upon me and my damp clothes. I put on rain gear to cut down on my chills and to cover up my wet, yet clean hair. Thinking it’s probably best to stay under this tree for a little bit of coverage, I begin to organize my panniers, as I had dumped everything out digging for soaps and tools.

There is a sound in the bushes behind me…like the sound of something hard falling into dried grass. I stop, there is no one around…what was it, who is it? Another. Then another but it comes through the two meter high trees I’m standing under.

Rocks!? Why are there rocks falling from the sky?

Walking out from under the trees to straighten up, I look around. My left arm is hit with a piece of gravel then “crash” and another “crash”, these are fist-size stones if not bigger.

Across the gravel road and about 15 meters from me there is a cliff, approximately 50 meters high. I see the blonde boy and his dog. The sky is dark and I can barely make him out as he begins to launch another rock, then another.

“Hey! You, I see you!” I shout in English. I had studied Russian for three weeks in Bishkek but when you begin to feel your blood boil it’s not so easy to squeeze out the translated words.

He launches another and begins to pick up another rock. The rocks are getting bigger; the heaved stones have less time between them. His aim is definitely improving too. I again repeat that I see him and he needs to stop while choosing a few four letter words that are understood throughout the world.

The dog is barking and running back and forth along the edge of the cliff. Rocks continue to rain from the sky, overtaking the harmless precipitation that had previously been speckling my body.

During my first few months of tour I learned my “War Cry”, something I didn’t even know existed until it had to be used to remove a man’s body lying atop of me. It came to surface because it’s all I had to fight with. The shrill death cry coming from a woman who feels her existence being shattered from within. This moment wasn’t as frightful as some of my previous battles so I knew it must be conjured up like a masterful magician, or rather a resourceful sorceress.

Now intense feelings, deep buried memories, frustrations are brought to the surface; I allow myself to feel vulnerable and scared. Opening my mouth to inhale has much air as my lungs can take to push the call of anger from my cracked and sunburned lips. As my breathe moves from my guts, I keel over at the waist to make sure that all of these emotions have found their way out of my soul. I let out another and another. Sometimes it feels difficult to stop, releasing emotions that have been shoved deep within my mind for the simple act of survival.

The boy and the dog have now disappeared. I pack up my bike and know it’s time to get out of here as fast as possible. Slightly damp and clean clothes are put back on my shivering body and my clean hair braided, I assumed I would be leaving danger behind.

I had rested my bicycle on her drive-train side, so I could manage repairs. I’m a bit uncomfortable pulling her from the other side so the tire slips down the damp soil. The sharp silver teeth from the triple crank puncture deeply in the front of my right ankle. Water nearby is turning bright red from the blood rushing from my body. There is nothing to do but remain calm.

All I can question at the moment is,

“Did I puncture something important under the skin, deep into my body…I hope this stops…and I don’t bleed out here in the middle of nowhere Tajikistan.”

I’m splashing water on it from the stream, which I know isn’t the best antiseptic to be cleaning an open wound. Especially since I had been watching the cattle bathe and drink from the same water a few meters away, my little pond only separated by a few inches of mud. The bleeding continues…and it’s not letting up.

A Tajik woman is now watching me from the cliff. Too many people are aware of me, I’ve let out the crazy woman “war cry”, and the boy has also returned. I hate, and avoid, confrontation or really any uncomfortable situations in unknown territories. Especially when I can barely speak a few words of the language. In China, I’m more than willing to argue and reprimand as I can speak and understand the culture after living there for more than four years.

I push the bike to the road keeping my eyes on my foot, watching the blood stream down my leg and the dark red beads of blood stream down into my sandals. Another battle scar.

Deciding to walk the bike after the injury, the rocks, the scream, and the storm…just get the hell out of here and to allow myself to find calm physically and mentally. There had been days like this before, when I did not take notice of the omens.

Around the cliff and continuing up stream I am met by an older Uzbek man carrying a stack of newspapers. We communicate through broken sentences and some pantomiming. He has me write my name down on a notebook and invites me to stay at his home for the night, as it’s storming. I politely decline, as his home is about three kilometers downstream. Rarely do I backtrack and I had made little progress over the past 24 hours. We parted with smiles and I continue to walk my bike over the road which had now become loose stones. Experience was telling me I was finding my way off the beaten path.

The next two hours I would be alternating between riding and pushing through loose gravel, slowly going up, then navigating some rocky and steep descents. Once passing a mining community I saw a village inset up in the mountains about ten kilometers away. I would be going over a pass and I was hoping that was not it because of the infinite switch backs for endless miles, or so it seemed. I told the men banging away at new homes where I was headed and they directed me at the fork of the road.

Continuing upstream, I pass a man lounging a top a mound of stones nearly five meters high and he lazily assures me I’m headed in the correct direction. There are many roads branching off this mining road and doubt is beginning to grow within me, with a nagging hint of anxiety. Traversing through mounds of stones, old rusted mining machines and equipment, the road is going up and down and crossing paths with a few massive trucks, so I assume that if I was going in the wrong direction, someone would alert me.

Intense Tajikistan heat and sunshine along the route thorough abandoned, and a few active, mining towns.

Intense Tajikistan heat and sunshine along the route thorough abandoned, and a few active, mining towns.

Around three o’clock I find myself looking across the raging river that was the source for the water I had been cycling along for the day. The water is coming from the mountains, my right side and snaking to my left and continuing down through the villages I traveled through earlier. There are some trucks to my right, so before deciding to cross the water, I ride the two kilometers up a hill to find someone to speak with or to find an alternative route.

Riding through a few switchbacks and passing a shepherd and his cattle, I arrive in a small work community where mining trucks and Land Rovers are in a parking lot with a few old aluminum-sided buildings. I pass through the checkpoint before two men stop me and tell me it’s the wrong way. With arm movements and finger pointing, they communicate that I must cross the water.

Backtracking to the bank of the water, gulping the hints of fear and anxiety down, I know that if I were to set up camp and wait until sunrise the water would perhaps be lower.

Standing on the edge of the riverbank, created out of massive stones and gravel, my thoughts and apprehension is drowned out by the water beating against the stones and cliffs. The opposite side of the bank is about fifteen meters across and turns into a field of gravel and stones. No sight of a road or tracks. The miners told me this was it; I can’t doubt the directions of locals.

I apprehensively lay the bike on her side, briefly examining the dried blood all over my ankle and foot while noticing the flies enjoy taking a brief rest on the wounds. The water is rough, muddy…it’s bad, nothing I’ve encountered before and I look up into the mountains standing silently, innocently, and curse their summer ice melt.

My recent riding partner, Chris-Alexandre, is about 30 centimeters shorter than I am, so I reassure myself with “if HE can do it, I CAN do it!” Heck, and I’ve been on the road longer and am a well-seasoned veteran. This isn’t a big deal.

“Moseman, you can do this…you’ve been through hell and back, there isn’t anything you can’t defeat.”

Taking a deep breath, standing with my bike to my right and holding the handlebars with a white knuckled grip, I give a good push into the water and the front wheel rolls forward. The front of the bike drops so far down that the water is nearly rushing over my front panniers. The tire doesn’t hit the bottom so I’m pulled further into the water than I anticipated.

My heart skips and stalls when I realize that I’m well over my head in this situation. Water is now brushing along the bottom of the rear panniers and up to my knees. I can feel the front of the bike wanting to be whipped down the river, giving no consideration to the woman between it and the wall of stone further down. The bicycle behaves like a buoy and I think if I can press the front down it will surely help stabilize.

Taking all my might while trying to prevent my body from trembling with fear, this technique doesn’t work. The further the front goes down the greater pressure I feel from my bike, as mother nature’s force is not going to take mercy on me.

Two helicopters are above me, as I had noticed them circling the area all day. I thought maybe they were surveying the high waters. (I would learn the following day that the reason for the helicopters was because a Civil War had erupted in the Pamirs that morning.) I look up, now one is hovering over me. Do they see me, and are they worried for my safety?

The next few minutes would feel like hours, a lifetime, an eternity.

I trudge further into the water so I’m standing next to the left front pannier, pressing my body against the bag with the hope of steading the bike and pushing her back up to the bank. Looking up into the sky, watching the helicopter hover above me, I realize my body isn’t going to be able to stand against this pressure for much longer. What do I need to do to survive this situation to the best of my ability?

It’s very difficult to make a fast, drastic, life-altering decision when fear has taken over your senses. Colors are more vivid, sounds more intense; your heartbeat is pounding in your head while your mind is sitting in the bottom of your guts. Your reality, and world, is spinning out of orbit and you have no idea where you will land or how you will fall. One is left, merciless, to innate instinct; I could only hope that a mere 30 years of existence in this lifetime have taught me a few things for survival.

Traveling upstream towards the raging river.

Traveling upstream towards the raging river.

I realise that continually trying to push the bike up the bank, from the side, is not going to work. Gripping for dear life on the handlebars, knuckle bones, tendons, muscles wanting to break through my sun cured, leathered, skin from the desert sun. I move my body very slowly and carefully to the front of the bike.

Attempting to awkwardly straddle the front wheel between my thighs, but still a bit lopsided to the left. The water is well up to my waist, as I stand at 6’ tall. Breathe, relax, concentrate, PUSH.

NO.

Looking up. Am I praying for the helicopter to drop a ladder like I’ve watched on those rescue shows or for the Gods in the heavens to save me? Wanting to raise my arms to wave for help, I know this is impossible as I will lose the bike, my stance, and that I will be swept away before my palms leave the handlebars.

Do I let go of the bike? Do I sacrifice all my gear and let her go? The only possessions in my life for years to be swept away simply because of a completely ignorant and irrational decision?

Did Ego come to play with me by the river that afternoon?

The camera! Just not the camera…my digital files! A year of photos and files are in that back rack bag. The water is not over the rear bags, yet, but if I press my front wheel down the water rushes against my bar bag that has my DSLR, passport, and cell phone.

I look downstream where the river crashes against stone cliffs and then turns left at a nearly 90 degree angle.

Turning my face to the sky and scream “HELP!!” like I’ve never screamed in my entire life. I suddenly realise that I am going to die…my life is going to end, right here, NOW. There is no way my body will survive that abrupt bend in the river. I imagine my body hanging onto the floating bike until it crashes against the stones. How long would I go down the river with my bike…imagining my greatest possessions in life being bashed against stones, thrown around the river, until my lifeless body gives up and nothing would be recognizable?

Long, loud, and wailing screams of help are being released into the canyon, echoing and bouncing around the mountaintops. Finally I see three men watching from the mining area I had been earlier.

“Please, help me, I’m going to die!!!! Help me, PLEASE!!!”

They stand there watching and I know there is no way I can hold this up even if they do come to help.

“PLEEEEEEEEEEEEEEAAAAAAAAAAASE!!! HELP ME!!!!!!” I had tried to bring up my Russian to clarify my meaning but I couldn’t grab the necessary words from the air spilling from my terrified body.

I begin to have images of my mother and father. There is a feeling rushing over me, almost like their presence is near. The images alternate between them; my childhood home and town. It’s more a feeling than imagery. I am going to die, this is the end. With another near death experience in my past because of a car wreck, I know this feeling and it’s growing stronger every moment.

My personal fears are overtaken with the realization my parents will NEVER see me again. They will never be able to say goodbye; not one last hug or kiss. The crashing water will dismantle my undernourished body and they will never see the physical presence of what they had created. I am not fearing my disappearance but the pain I will cause my dear mother and father. Losing my life WILL kill them. I must figure this out, not for my own livelihood but for the sake of those that made the sacrifice of their own lives for mine.

It’s guilt that overwhelms my consciousnesses during those last moments of life. I’ve been selfish. Leaving my friends years ago, ending a long love affair, and not being closer to my parents. Not being a better daughter, sister, friend, girlfriend…a better person.

This would be the ultimate act of selfishness, to let my life be taken away and leave those behind to suffer.

What’s the most important thing on my bike? I’m going to have to try and remove the bags and throw them up on the bank and hopefully lighten the pressure of nature beating against me.

The bar bag: it holds my passport, camera, cell phone, and money. How am I going to manage this balancing act and release the bag to toss onto the river bank? Am I even going to be able to get enough force behind the launch of these essential items? I’m no longer even thinking about the hard drive and year’s worth of files in the back bag. Thousands of photographic images of the persecuted Uyghur minority of Xinjiang, would now be lost and destroyed forever.

A split second after I release my hand to reach for the bar bag release, the bike is thrown on top of me and I’m pinned under the freezing water with the top tube against my collarbones.

All my gear is completely submerged and I visualize my photo gear and files being flooded by the brown silt-filled water. The current turns me counterclockwise and I’m facing my death, heading straight towards the bend in the river and the unforgiving stone wall.

My parents are now standing before me in a grayish and hazy cloud, arm in arm as I remember them from my childhood. This is the end, you will never see me again. It’s over. This is going to kill you both, so much more pain for you two and I will realize none of it.

I can’t…it just can’t happen this way.

Two meters down the river and somehow I’m pulling myself out on my back, with my eyes finally opening, I crawl onto the bank with my face to the sky and the bike still on top of me.

The plastic bin that holds my food, cooking supplies, and a book had been pushed out from a tight bungee cord and are now moving swiftly down the river.

Within a few more seconds the bike is clearly out of the water and I’m examining myself for serious wounds and seeing the water line on my shirt nearly hitting my shoulders.

There is no time to cry, no time to panic, not even a chance for recovery and to smack myself to see if I’m actually still ALIVE because the bags have been flooded and I have to get my gear out to dry.

Unloading the bags trembling, shaking, teeth chattering, absolutely exhausted. This shouldn’t be happening, but it has and it’s my fault. I should have known better, I’m an idiot. Beginning to cry, the first in years…not heavy and heaving because I’m too exhausted...but silently with big crocodile tears rolling down my sunburned cheeks.

Drying all the gear after being soaked in the muddy river.

Drying all the gear after being soaked in the muddy river.

A coal mining truck eventually comes to my rescue and takes me across the water explaining to me that they saw my friend earlier. They would leave me at the base of the pass that was a meter wide stone path. Pointing up, telling me that’s the direction I must go.

We unload and they leave, after plenty of “rexmet” and my right hand over my heart. The first friends, a meeting of souls, I would have for this second chance at living. Or, were they simply angels that had descended that mountain in a steel chariot on massive wheels to only escort me safely over Sytx to the “other side”? These days, dreams and reality intermingle too much for me to ever make sense of the dividing lines.

Dumping all my bags next to a pile of rusted mining equipment for the hot Tajikistan sun to dry, I let it out. The tears are running down my face, all over my shirt, losing my breath because of exhaustion of nearly drowning and now the emotional melt down.

There is no longer a fear of death, was there ever? Perhaps my fear has been more directed at living? What do I fear? Fear prevents movement, progress, growth...this is not me. Maybe I don’t define and experience fear as many do.

I’ve pushed the limits, and beyond, more than most will ever in an entire lifetime. My fear is of the torment I would cause others; I nearly lost my life only to cause others a life-long mental and emotional death. Near-death stories often tell how the hero sees fleeting images of his lover, his children, and his close friends and feels grief stricken that he will never see them again. This was not the case. I saw the only two people who gave me life out of love, lose one of the greatest things that they’ve created and nurtured in their lifetimes.

Sunset looking back into the Pamirs from the Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan border, “no man’s land”.

Sunset looking back into the Pamirs from the Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan border, “no man’s land”.

Momma and Pops raised me to believe that I must live life for myself, but I have learned that one of my responsibilities is to hold onto this life for those who love and need me.

This simple existence and lifetime isn’t for my benefit, but for those who my soul has intermingled with. I vow then to continue to travel within this life, full of passion and conviction, using my personal power and inner strength to overcome whatever obstacle may stand in my way.

Whether man, beast, machine, or my own inner demons...I must go on for there are those who are counting on me, and my many safe returns.

 

THIS ARTICLE WAS ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED ON MAPTIA.

 

ELEANOR MOSEMAN

Photographer. Storyteller. Exploring spectacular lands and sharing the stories of the beautiful, and mystical, inhabitants of Asia. www.eleanormoseman.com