Setting out from the Kyrgyz border post at Bor Dobo, I had a decent idea of the distance (15+ km) between me and the Tajik border. I assumed that I would be able to catch a ride, but figured I could hike the difference if none came along. From the start, the scenery was stunning.
After several kilometers, I glanced back and spotted a large truck in the distance making its way towards me.
Well, I thought to myself, that wasn’t so bad.
It drew closer and, hitching for the first time in my life, I stuck out my thumb and did my best to look helpless and cheerful.
The driver stopped and shouted a question in Russian over the roar of an ancient diesel engine.
“Where are you going?”
“Tajikistan border,” I replied in Russ-lish.
The old man motioned for me to get in. Man, hitch-hiking is easy!
He took me a few kilometers, the truck needing to stop several times to cool off along the way. After the third stop, he motioned for me to continue walking. I mimed a question, asking if the border was close. The driver nodded and gestured towards the door.
It seemed like an endless distance. Lugging about 15 kg of gear, I set a slow pace and tried to regulate my breathing. Even so, the trek was exhausting.
After some time, I saw a cluster of buildings. Finally! I drew closer, my elation dissolving into despair as I realized I was walking up to someone’s house and garage, not a border post. I took the liberty of using their toilet and, after, asked the owner how much further I had to go.
“Five kilometers,” he said, gesturing at the road winding its way up the side of a mountain in the distance.
I pressed on, my energy level plummeting. Over the next few kilometers, my breath started coming in gasps and I grew tired after walking distances of less than 100 meters. By the time I came within sight of Kyzyl-Art pass, I was walking for one minute and resting for five. When I took this picture, I was at 4282 meters above sea level. That’s over 14,000 feet!
It didn’t occur to me at the time just how much danger I had placed myself in. Days later, after dealing with horrible chest pain, a lack of appetite, and vomiting both at the border and in Murghab (elevation 3618 meters) and Khorog (elevation 2,200 meters), I headed to Dushanbe and descended to a normal altitude (706 meters). I figured I’d had altitude sickness, but didn’t realize just how serious my symptoms were. After reading accounts of people who died or came close to it due to altitude sickness, I know better. I was very, very, very lucky.
After resting at the pass, I descended; walking downhill felt like heaven. The going was much easier, and it seemed only a matter of minutes before I came within sight of a second cluster of buildings. This time, my relief was justified.
I’d made it.
My next step–after clearing the border–would be to hitch a ride over 200 km south to Murghab. Little did I know just how difficult that would end up being.