Once I had sorted my visas in Tehran I had 9 days remaining on my Iranian visa. It was a case of best foot forward to get to the border. I thought getting a taxi out of Tehran would give me the headstart I needed and of course help avoid the traffic around the capital. I did this all the way to FiruzKuh. By the time I got there it was already quite late in the day. I ate my Iramian baguette in the street with lots of people looking at me. Rama wot? It was four days after climbing Damavand that I got back on my bike. That night I camped next to some cousins who were sleeping next to their uncle’s grain to protect it from thieves.
I woke up to a strong headwind and thought perhaps it would’ve been a better idea to get a taxi/bus a little further but no sooner had I gone up and over the crest of a big hill I quickly changed my mind. As I entered this northern area of Iran the landscape became noticeably greener, which made for a welcome change to the bone dry conditions of Tehran. Huge moderately luscious valleys took me closer to Caspian Sea. Great fun blitzing it down them through long tunnels. That night a watermelon vendor said it was ok for me to pitch in his back garden. I had pretty much pitched when his mates came along and said ‘no nono, you can’t do that’ and then uttered something about the police. What followed were 4 frustrating hours cycling through the dark trying to find somewhere to sleep. Various people tried to help, including the fuzz who suggested I pitch my tent on the tarmac on the side of the busy road next to their cabin. Thanks but no thanks yea. In the end someone helped me out in a town called Neku. I had cycled nearly 100 miles – a lot more then I intended to. My legs were tired, my knees were tired, and I was tired. It was a hustled operation getting my bike into his flat. He was totally paranoid about the police or anyone else seeing us enter his place because he thought people might think he was a spy for helping out a foreigner.
I was back on the road just gone 6am. It was all going relatively OK until late morning when my right knee started to hurt badly. It got progressively worse until I really struggled to crank anything out of my right leg without a debilitating shooting pain emanating from the knee joint. I had experienced this before from the last tour I did. I knew I had to stop and rest it ASAP otherwise the situation would only get worse, and I wasn’t particularly keen on taking pain killers. I took me maybe as long as a month for my knee pain to subside after completing JOGLE. This was the first time I had experienced knee pain on this tour. I guess there’s just something about mountain climbing and cycling a heavily laden bike long distances which my knees simply don’t enjoy. I got a lift the last 10km into Gorgan in the back of a motorbike-trailer thinger.
I met two groups of English people taking part in the Mongo Rally driving ambulances. We all checked into the same hotel. The next day I was out of it in terms of knee pain and general wellbeing. I’m pretty sure some guy gave me dodgy water the previous day to make matters worse. I lay in bed most of the day recovering. It was good to hang out with the English and hear their experiences taking part in the rally. One group left the first morning because they had visa commitments for Turkmenistan and further plans for the Pamir Highway, the others meanwhile (Dan, Jess and Pat) hung around an extra day because they needed some timeout to relax for it had been more or less none stop driving throughout Europe, Turkey and Iran. They were heading to Mashad and agreed to help by taking me closer to the Turkmen border. The next day we went to check out a beautiful waterfall where you could just about swim in the plunge pool. A Scottish guy who was travelling back from Australia came with. He had just travelled through Pakistan and Afghanistan, and after Iran was heading safe area of Kurdish Iraq. In yet another display of Iranian hospitality a local invited the 5 of back to his place for lunch. It was still Ramadan of course so he didn’t eat, but his mum put on a lavish feast for the five of us which we couldn’t finish. He invited us to stay for dinner but we were stuffed and had to move on and so had to make our apologies.
I spent the next three days with Jess, Dan and Pat while me knee recovered. We checked out some beautiful spots and I felt gutted not to be cycling the roads. On the 16th they dropped me off in Bojnurd, and I made my way the 130km to Quchan en vélo. I checked into a hotel to get a good night’s sleep to set me well for the 80+mountainous km to Bajgiran the following day.
By the time I had bought enough food and fluid in the morning to see me through the mountains it was later than I hoped to get away. A headwind didn’t help. My map showed there were two passes. It was slow progress and I was unsure I would make it the border town. In the mid-afternoon I was taking on the umpteenth climb when a lorry slowed down after he overtook me. It was obvious he was offering the chance to skitch and I would be a fool to pass up this opportunity. I caught up and latched on to a taught wire. The hill was steep and it took a bit of coordination to make it work. It was easier to keep balance by pedalling rather than just being pulled. After a few minutes my arm felt fatigued but I knew the pain of the fatigue was less than the effort of biking up the hill so I clung on and stuck it out. After maybe 1.5-2km we reached the peak of the hill and I let go, waved a big ‘cheers drive’ and started the descent the other side on a total high.
The following few hours were serene. I felt energised, the wind had stopped, the sun wasn’t so strong, and I was loving the mountain scenery. I was offered some opium by locals who were completely boxed on the stuff. I didn’t really feel it would help my cause so I politely declined. After a mega descent, a few more kilometres climb finally lead to the border town Bajgiran. I asked people if there was anywhere I could pitch my tent. 3 people suggested the green patch of grass in the middle of the roundabout. It was less than ideal. Another guy suggested I try the security compound at the entrance of the border control. It was worth a shot. Of the security guards spoke good English and there was the perfect spot to pitch my tent just next to the building which he kindly let me use. I ended up eating dinner with them. ‘So tell me something about Turkmenistan’ I asked the guard. ‘Well, they say that there are 6million people living in Turkmenistan, and 7million police!’… It was a pleasant end to my 30 days spent in Iran.