19th January - Bostanabad to Miyaneh - distance 107km - descent 600m - av speed 25km/hr - current position 47,45E 37,25N
A few pre-conceived ideas of Iran have been shattered in the last few days. My understanding was that we would be cycling along hot dusty desert roads. However, another night where the temperature plummeted below minus 20 has made the conditions pretty demanding. The worse victim of course has been the van (yes the same van that is formerly known as Martha). Unable to handle the freezing temperatures and out of desperation we decided to run the engine all night so that we wouldn't have problems this morning. This may seem like an extravagance but in Iran it costs about 8000 rials or 70p to fill the tank from empty! The plan worked and with the van ticking over nicely we packed quickly and hit the road. We were by now desperate to leave the town of Bostanabad, reputedly the coldest in place in Iran and our home for the last four nights. We were rapidly becoming permanent residents in our little hotel by the roadside. Such was Pauline's frustration, that last night even saw her help the locals wash up in the kitchen after dinner.
Our pace was gentle with Sarah still feeling fragile and running on empty after three days of next to no food. We climbed gently for the first 20km, the hill helping to warm us in the sub-zero conditions. Mt. Sahand (3710m) looked immense in the background and gave the scenery a Himalyan feel. Water bottles froze within a few minutes of setting off and we all suffered with cold extremities - Jamie has employed a new use for his Buff glove (S) to protect one particular extremity that he obviously cherishes. We stopped briefly to drink from the flask of tea and team chocolate that Nic was carrying. We then began the long awaited descent that we had been relishing having heard that the next 140km could be gently downhill. By 60km the van had caught us up and we enjoyed a 'Dickie and Ro pasta special'. No sooner had Ro cooked and she was on the bike with us for the afternoon leg.
Iranian roads are superbly made with gentle gradients and usually a generous hard shoulder. For descents the slope is perfect allowing us to reach a steady speed of about 32kmh (20mph) with ease. Of more dubious quality is the standard of Iranian driving. Truck drivers seem to enjoy a modern day version of medieval jousting, waiting to the last possible moment to swerve out of the way, while smaller vehicles are left to their peril. Overtaking into oncoming traffic is the norm, Iranians convinced that a two lane highway is more than sufficient for several vehicles to travel side by side. We hugged the edge of the road and dashed through a succession of tunnels with the scenery getting more dramatic with every turn. We followed a river valley down through rocky crags on either side while snow covered peaks dominated the horizon all the way into Miyaneh our destination. Dickie had located our cheapest hotel to date, simple but cheerful and less than £10 for all of us. Overall it has been one of out best days yet and certainly the most scenic. Conditions have warmed a little and thankfully the roads are at least clear of snow. Due to our delay we've decided to give Tehran a miss by heading to the south of the city over the next few days. Our next major stop will be in the ancient city of Esfahan in about 8 days time. You may be interested to know that over 250 people are following our progress daily on the web and we hope this will increase still further over the coming weeks. Furthermore many of you have contributed online through our supporters page. Thanks for being with us every step of the way!