We are back on the bike. The environment is beautiful, rounded rocks with different colors in them, it is mainly dry but where water flows you have grassy landscape. The roads are quieter, we can chat while cycling and enjoy the surroundings. We worry less about food and water and find that we have everything under control.
We go to Ardabil and cycle through the mountains. We know it will be exciting and there will be a risk involved because there will be no village or life for 150 kilometers, it is a dirt road and there is little information on the map so we do not know how much water we will encounter. We do know that we will ascend to more than 3600 meters. One problem.. I’m starting to feel unwell and notice that I have no energy. The kilometers go by with difficulty and I can hardly get over the hills. We are doubting, do we keep cycling on roads or do we take the risk and go off-road. We both need peace, nature and few people around us. But is it wise? We have done all the shopping, put extra water on the bike and cycle on the gravel path anyway, but after a hundred meters Q decides it is to much of a risk. It is not wise if we cycle the most difficult part so far at this pace and in this condition. So we go back and cycle towards the main road.
The next day we go to Ardabil. We are in contact with our Warmshowers host but we are in town early because we have hitchhiked a part and our host is still at work. We first discover the city and then we play a game of backgammon in the park when a young family joins us. They speak good English and invite us to discover the city with them. We put our bikes in their garage, drive to a lake, walk and chat and decide to stay with them tonight. They cook for us and we drink delicious homemade cherry wine made with their own cherries from the garden. We have interesting conversations and it is nice to get to know Iran better from different perspectives. It’s so special how people allow strangers into their homes and make us feel at home so quickly. It was as if we had known each other for years and it was the most natural thing in the world that we stayed the night.
The next day we go to our Warmshowers host. We discuss with him the climb we want to make to the top of Sabalan mountain. He’s a mountaineer and wants to come with us. He tells that a couple from Switzerland also want to stay in his workspace where we would stay. We don’t think that’s a problem at all. That evening we meet Iris and Dominik. At that time we don’t know yet that it would click so well that we decide to travel together.
Dominik and Iris hear about our plan to hike to the peak of Sabalan and they decide to join us. Due to the holidays we can’t get to the top until Monday so we have time to explore the area and take some rest. We go together to a Hammam which is a special experience. A little less relaxed than I had imagined and we see how the ten days of mourning for Imam Hussain is completed.
Then we finally go up the mountain. We have to wake up at 2 am to make sure we will be at basecamp at 7 am. But today I (Nina) feel very bad. I have a stabbing pain in my stomach, my energy is gone and the doubt whether I will reach the peak is growing.
We go up slowly and I keep going and try to enjoy the surroundings. It is a cloudy day so we are above a sea of clouds with some islands in it. It is a rocky mountain with large boulders and loose gravel in between. We sometimes slip a bit as we walk uphill and I can see how difficult the way down is going to be.
We get higher, the air gets thin, it’s a little heavier but we find we can do it and I live up. There are beautiful flowers and birds hopping around us and when we pause to eat someting they hop around us for the crumbs. And then we’re almost there! We start to get a headache from the altitude but enjoy the views. We now get a really good idea of how big this mountain actually is.
We arrive at the top where there is a plateau with a lake. It’s -7 degrees there so we put on all the layers we have and go out of the wind and sit in the sun to have something to eat. But right now my body is collapsing. The food won’t go in and I try to take a good rest by sleeping so that I can start the way back.
It’s a nice atmosphere among the people. Everyone treats each other as if we’ve known each other for years, everyone takes a picture with each other. Of course they think it’s great that there are foreigners present and they all want to have their picture taken with us and want to know where we come from. Often we are also invited to the city where they come from and to their home when we will be there.
The way back is tough to say the least. I try to stay strong and try to focus on every step I take. But where I normally hop from one rock to another, I now have to sit on my buttocks and carefully place my foot on the next rock. Everyone supports me which makes me feel like a disabled person but it’s kind. There’s not much to enjoy at that moment, even though I try to. I try to absorb the environment, but even there is almost no energy for that. When we see the shelter in the distance I feel a relief, we are almost there! We walk and slide and I sometimes fall over the gravel. We often have to look for the best road, not too big boulders, towards the shelter, not too steep down. And then we make the wrong decision. We arrive at a place where it is very steep and we climb our way slowly and horizontally to a safer path. And when we get to the safe path we are really close to the end.
We made it down. I’m glad I went, it’s a memory I won’t soon forget. But I’m aware that when you’re on a mountain like this you really can only save yourself.. if you think you can’t do it then don’t do it. We saw a person walk down who was in a much worse shape than I was, due to high altitude disease.
Now we can rest, we don’t have to move anymore, what a luxury. A car takes us home. We eat some leftovers from the day and go to sleep. We are awake for 22 hours and have delivered a physical performance so we could use a good night’s rest.