28 Aug, 2009
The Pamir Highway
Posted by: Scott In: The Rally
M41, or the Pamir Highway, is the highest elevation roadway in the world. Winding through the Western Himalayan range from Southern Tajikistan to Osh, Kyrgyzstan, the road takes one through some of the highest elevation passes traversible by vehicle (4,655m/13,965ft). This was one of the things we had been waiting to do the entire trip.
We got in touch with Imomdad again and went searching for a hose to replace the busted one connected to our radiator. The first two shops were out, and the third one had something that resembled what we needed but was a bit too big. We bought it just in case and decided to use our Rescue Tape (one of our sponsors) on the existing hose to repair the hole. It was pretty amazing how good of a seal we were able to create with the tape, which creates a chemical bond when stretched and wrapped around itself. Next we needed to find a place to exchange money as we were out of somoni. The first three places were closed or on lunch so we ended up going to an individual at the local bazaar to exchange our funds. After that we went to fill up on gas. By the time we finished everything, dropped Imomdad off at his family’s shop, and headed out on the highway it was already after 3:00PM.
Once we were out of the city we came upon yet another police checkpoint. We grabbed our papers and went inside the command post to do the same rigmarole we had been through many times before. The commander here wasn’t too happy about us not having a front plate though, and wouldn’t give up the issue. He demanded that we pay a $20 fee because of not having a front plate, to which I replied that I would not pay as in Michigan we only had one. He insisted that he had seen every rally car that passed and that they all had two plates. We went back and forth, and eventually ended up getting off without paying the fine.
Not far passed the checkpoint our engine overheated yet again. I was noticing a strange sound coming from the bottom of the car and thought it was the exhaust system hitting the gas tank again. I didn’t stop until I noticed that the engine was losing power and it seemed like we had lost second gear. Opening up the hood we saw that the hose (or fluid in the hose) had gotten so hot that it melted the Rescue Tape right off of the hose and onto the engine block. The plastic hood to the side of the engine had gotten so hot that the plasti was meting and it was peeling away from the engine. It didn’t look good. We thought that the rally was over for us right then. I waited a while and opened the radiator. Filling up a water bottle in a nearby stream I poured the contents into the radiator and was greeted by a huge blast of water and steam bursting out of the top. Nope, definitely didn’t look good.
First we waited until the engine cooled a bit and then we took my knife and cut off the remnants of the hose that were still attached to the engine block and radiator. Then we grabbed the hose we had purchased earlier in the day and tried to get it to fit the way we needed. It was larger than we needed, and was bent the wrong way, but we achieved a pretty tight seal by using four screw clamps to attach it. It looked like we were back in business!
The scenery got progressively more dramatic as we climbed through the mountain valleys and up into the Pamir mountains. The road was surprisingly good for the first hour and a half or so, much better than one would expect. After that it started getting pretty rough though–large rocks, huge dips and ruts, and lots of bumps. I noticed that we were losing a bit of steering control on our left-front tire, but just figured it was from our control arm being repaired without re-aligning the wheel. It was something we could fix once we reached civilization again in Osh, Kyrgyzstan. We were about 100 miles outside of Khorog and had just gotten up a steep pass when I tried to pull around a couple of semis. Moving off to the side of the road I revved up and got about halfway past the first truck when a horrible noise started coming from our right-front tire. I had lost pretty much all steering control. We stopped the car and got out to check the wheel. It looked like the wheel was touching the wheel well and that our body had actually cracked in a heavily-rusted place near the steering linkage. Crap. Well, we were in the middle of nowhere and would have to go on until we reached at least the next settlement–maybe we could find help there. We got back into the car, started it, and put it in gear. Nothing. Reverse. Nothing. 2nd gear. Nothing. Looks like we had lost our transmission as well. Not good, not good.
Pictures have been posted in the gallery.