My story of riding the Panj River section of the Pamir Highway is one of managing sickness in a rather inhospitable place, as I was hit with five days of giardia and other stomach and dehydration troubles. In some ways it was a rather profound experience, and a phrase occurred to me as I slowly, gently pedaled around another bend in that great gorge: that I was tapping into a new rhythm, a ‘rhythm of weakness’.
In our stage of life and health, we usually face the world with strength. We can move quickly, strongly, do a lot, suffer little. This was new for me. As I pedaled slowly along, limited by a nausea barrier that would stop me if I got too ambitious, I didn’t feel as frustrated (most of the time!) as I would have expected, but instead felt that this was somehow, on some level, ok.
This was a new rhythm that tied Ollie and I ever tighter together, he relying on me to keep on moving, and I relying on him to do everything else that life out here required. This rhythm where the giant pulsing river and the mighty rock peaks above, were companions that lent me some of their strength. Where prayers and trust were constant conversations. Where hopes for being healthier in the morning were deferred again, but I knew not forever. A very slow rhythm, of many small goalposts: a hill, a corner, a village. Where very simple things became very important – a flat rock to sit on, a tree to give shade, water that is cold, a boiled potato with salt, a time to rest.
We rode in the clear cool of the morning, and again as the gorge filled with shadows in the evening, but in the middle of the day we rested. Dushanbe, our goal, seemed a long long way away, but each corner brought us closer. Our rhythm was new to us, and not particularly comfortable, but somehow in our humbled slowness and newly-set limits, I felt like I had gotten in tune with some new song of the earth and the heavens, and this was our “rhythm of weakness”.