From the little homestay in no-mans-land it was just 30km downhill to the village of Sary-Tash which sits at a junction connecting China, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.
The dirt road followed a deep chasm between the tall, red mountains.
Frozen hands and toes curbed my ability to appreciate the striking, rainbow-hued landscape and we stopped so I could put on a pair of Jack’s socks over my own.
At the Kyrgyzstan border a young guard inspected our passports and exclaimed with delight that he and Jack shared the same birthday.
We rolled easily over the smooth tarmac away from the Pamirs, across grassland in shades of green far from the grey hues we’d got used to and into the little town tucked against red hills.
After a meal of plov and manty, (rice and meat pilaf and cabbage dumplings), a welcome change from oily noodle soup, we wandered to the grocery store.
A girl no older than eight manned the shop, confirming prices in shouts to her mother as she weighed our apples and chocolate.
Jack asked a nip from the half-full bottle of whisky sitting on the counter. The child poured him one with a routine efficiency that indicated this was a standard request from grocery shoppers.
The outstanding hospitality of the preceding days stopped abruptly at Sary Tash.
Our host explained she had to leave for her grandfather’s funeral, or so we interpreted from her violent lynching motion.
We’d been looking forward to a shower and were assured her husband would gather the water.
The husband seemed uninterested in helping with any tasks, slumped at the kitchen table engrossed in his phone while his wife hurriedly showed me where the bread and coffee were so we could make our own breakfast in the morning.
So we took the large aluminum keg propped against the front of the house and wheeled it the 500m to the river.
The river was freezing and the keg an unwieldy, awkward vessel that splashed a fair bit of the water out on the trip back as we weaved through sheep and cows being herded along the main street.
Nonetheless, it was enough to fill the drum fitted with a showerhead in the outhouse. We flicked the switch to heat it up - a process we were told would take 30 minutes.
After about 35 minutes I turned on the shower. It was barely tepid. I relinquished plans to wash my hair and settled for a swift, shivering splash-down.
Jack went about 20 minutes later and by then the entire drum was scalding.
The following morning brought a rude surprise in the form of a steep, 700m climb out of Sary Tash that was, of course, accompanied by a headwind.
Near the top, I heard tooting behind me and ignored it because I was already cycling in the shoulder and there was plenty of space for the truck driver to pass.
It was only when Jack shouted a warning that I turned to discover the truck bearing down on me with its cargo of hay, protruding about 2m out each side, about to plough me down.
I skidded off the road in a fit of swear words.
The other side of the pass descended in a long set of switchbacks which were great fun until the headwind returned and we were pedaling hard to keep going down a 10% gradient.
The landscape changed dramatically into a feast of autumn hues, brick red cliffs and towering granite. In the pasture below were people on horseback herding mobs of livestock. It felt like we’d cycled into an old Western.
We crossed a rickety walking bridge to find somewhere to camp away from the road. A marshy patch of grass too close to the river seemed like the best option until Jack scuttled along the cliff side, following animal tracks to where he found a secluded spot hidden from the road.
In the morning the telltale clacking of a donkey signaled that we’d camped in the middle of a fairly busy thoroughfare, but the few people who weaved around our tents greeted us cordially.
Osh, the second largest city in Kyrgyzstan, was 129km away but beers and burgers beckoned. We decided it was doable in a day.
Unfortunately there was a mountain pass we hadn’t accounted for, a small one at 2402m, but it required 600m of climbing.
That might’ve been fine had we not cretinously opted for a “shortcut” that took us off the easy tarseal switchbacks and onto a near-vertical ridgeline of slippery, exposed dirt.
It was 5km to the top of the pass following the road, while the shortcut was just 2.8km.
Logic and basic mathematics would dictate that such a discrepancy in distance to the same destination would require the difference to be made up by a steep climb. Unfortunately this only occured to us halfway up.
The gradient was too steep and the loose stony clay too unstable to even push our bikes so we resorted to carrying our panniers to the top then pushing the bikes up.
Sweating, breathless and arms and calves turned to putty we resolved never again to take “shortcuts” that must’ve been added to Maps.me by some sort of sadist.
From the top of Chyrchyk Pass it was mostly downhill until we reached the outskirts of Osh, where erratic driving, loud tooting and exhaust fumes greeted us.
Time for a beer and, as it turned out, two steaks, two fries, one large pizza and four desserts… All gloriously guilt-free.