“Remember VisionAli, vee are bikers, vee are trekkers, vee are not just car-sitters” – Rana Vikas Waqqas aka The Doc
There ain’t no wiffy in them thar Karakoram, so apologies for the delayed update. But there are a lot of hills. Arguably bigger ones than anywhere else in the world.
It’s all looking great, at least for the 3 1/2 minutes that it takes to descend the 500m from Karimabad to the KKH. It’s then that the troubles begin. My front brake no longer works, an issue in the morning commute through Curry Mile, but potentially more tricky on the other side of Shimshal. Then again, it’s pretty much all uphill to today’s objectives of Passu and Sost, so I doubt I’ll have much call for heavy braking.
I should have noticed before, and I have known him ten years, but Ali Raza, the first of my cycling companions, has many more physical attributes in common with Billy Vunipola than Sir Bradley Wiggins. Broad is polite form. Stout would be accurate. Chunky would be better. His mum sang him to sleep with ‘Chu-bby, Chu-bby Ali, floats like like a lump of cement, stings like a bee’.
Anyway, you get the drift – King of the Mountains VisionAli ain’t. But what he has in stature, he also has in heart. The occasional ‘uppy bit’, ‘catchy-uppy bit’ and ‘uppy catchy-uppy bit’ in the van notwithstanding, VisionAli fights the bike and the road like a Mughal emperor wrestling his tiger. And he ends up with as many sore bits.
It’s a big day with three big climbs, the route criss-crossing the Hunza river and occasionally straying out of the gorge. Those are the bits that hurt: hour-long climbs as a minimum that forever promise ‘you’re nearly there’. It’s hard to get your bearings as the scale of the soaring peaks dwarfs whatever reference you place on the top of a climb – you begin to feel that not only will it never end, but that you’re actually going backwards.
It’s no surprise that we’re a couple of hours’ late for lunch. The situation is so spectacular, they really didn’t need to put it another 100 steps higher off the road. What is a surprise however is that my long-lost Pashto brother is the head chef (see photo). I say long-lost, but to be honest, newly-discovered would be more accurate. We cuddle, joke and agree to keep in better touch – or at least that’s what I think he says. Frankly, I was proud of how that kid cooked curry.
VisionAli is quiet over lunch, contemplating the thankfully shorter leg in front of him. But the road quality deteriorates to the point that off-road would becomes a better description. Wind, the cyclist’s enemy, compounds the fatigue. VisionAli tells me that he only got into the van to look for his fags. But that it took him 30 miles to find them.
When he arrives at Passu’s Five Star Ambassador Continental Hotel (an immediate priority for the Pakistani Trading Standards Authority, in my view), VisionAli’s howls of anguish are amplified by news that hot water has not caught on in these parts. He declares chamois cream to be ‘haram’. Over dinner, he relents and describes how he treated each of his cheeks to a dip in a bucket of cold water to soothe it. This is a family show, and I can’t record the ‘what happened next bit’ when a Spanish trekker asks to see if they really are as swollen as suggested.
My second companion is Rana Vikas ‘The Doc DaCosta’ Waqqas, the brightest mind at the Gujaranwala bar. Perhaps the only mind at the Gujaranwala bar. Which is a shame, because he was meant to be a doctor. ‘Don’t worry, don’t worry, I’ll bring my friend the doctor’ was regularly expounded to coax my involvement in this trip. Except now the doctor is a lawyer. His brother, The Colonel, thought about becoming a doctor, indeed joined the Army Medical Corps briefly, but The Colonel then became a tank commander. This is the closest Viki has come to being a doctor.
No matter. You never know when a lawyer might come in handy in the outer reaches of the Karakoram. Encouraging VisionAli by way of constant abuse and invective (see ‘vee are not just car-sitters’ quote above), Viki brackets all our rides with a session on his prayer mat – this must be working so far, as the Vision Lahore office were convinced that only Allah would get VisionAli uphill on a bike. Perhaps they were right?
To read more about Dan and Ali’s bike ride, please click here. Dan Wright is raising money for The Knowledge Foundation, a social enterprise based in Pakistan. The project aims at supporting young people with education and academic development. To donate to Dan’s Virgin Money Giving page, visit this link.