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.
- Hiking to Refugio Frey and Beyond - January 20, 2020
- Christmas Letter 2019 - December 18, 2019
- My Walk Out of the Woods - June 30, 2019
These photos are amazing. I could have not read a single word of your post and still felt pretty happy about visiting your website. I’m not sure if I would ever feel comfortable trying to hitchhike like that in a foreign country. Too many murder movies in my childhood!
This was my first time; I’ve always been super paranoid! I guess I still would be, I just didn’t have any other option in this situation. Good times!
Great story, and we’re glad you’re ok! Ryan has been hiking in Colorado several times in, as he calls them, the 14’ers, and has gotten sick but it sounds like you had it worse. Interesting read and I’m sure this all was a terrific experience in the end. The most trying and strenuous stories end up being our favorites, and I’m sure this one is going to stick with you!
It’s scary, that’s for sure! A wee bit jealous, Colorado has been a dream destination for a while. Which peaks did he hike?
I definitely wasn’t prepared physically, and I pushed it harder than I should’ve. I got pretty damn lucky, and I’m pretty sure I learned my lesson!
I’m very glad to hear that nothing too serious happened to you. I remember dealing with a little big of altitude sickness when I moved to Ecuador… Nose bleeds, breathlessness, nausea… I thought that was rough, but can’t imagine how you felt. But, now what an incredible story you have! My friend is currently in Russia too. It was honestly the last part of the world I felt a drive to go to, but after keeping up with some of your posts and his, it seems like quite an adventure.
The scariest part was actually later, I had agonizing chest pain off and on for about a week. I could barely eat, threw up a few times, and felt generally miserable. Next time I work on my conditioning first!
Geez, man! No Man’s Land indeed! Glad everything worked out. And at least you had some incredible scenery along the way.
You’ve been to some badass, far out places that I’ve never heard of. Definitely an inspiration, so thanks for that.
Jeepers, it’s hardy for me to get my head around just how high that is. I grew up in Johannesburg which is 1,753m above sea level and that was bad enough. I remember my cousin sucking at her bottle and her little lips getting sucked right back in, and it was all because of low air pressure.
I’m glad you lived to tell the tale but especially glad to see this remote place vicariously through your eyes. Thanks for sharing!
I felt like that too! We don’t even have mountains that high in the lower 48 States. I’ve never had any problems back home, but I doubt I’d been higher than 3000 meters before this trip ^^.