Before this trip, whenever I could, I would get someone else to read a map if there was a map to be read. I do not like reading maps. I am the type of person who will shamelessly turn a map upside down if necessary, and follow anyone who takes responsibility for map-reading over a cliff. But now too much energy rides on reading a map incorrectly (dying is one thing...suffering is quite another). Every kilometre you get wrong on a bicycle, you pay with sweat. Especially in the mountains. And if the map-makers get it wrong? Annoying is an understatement!
In India, the German map knocked off about 35kms of steady climbing to a little town called Bilaspur. As we inched up the mountain towards Bilaspur, I dreamed about what I would like to do to the person who had made that mistake. Even though the signs gave random kilometres - at one stage Bilaspur was 30kms away, then the next sign said that it was 45kms away - it was the mapmaker who I held responsible. Let's face it: Germans have a much greater reputation for precision than the Indians do.
Back to Iran. We are riding from a town called Kaleybar towards the Aras Valley. On the map there is a river and a dirt road which runs along the river. Turn right at a little village called Oskelu and follow the valley. Was the person who drew the map bored? Did s/he have a river quota that s/he had to fill? THERE WAS NO RIVER!! Turning right at Oskelu is only possible if you are a mountain goat. The hills we are climbing are so steep that my front wheel is lifting and sliding on the dirt and small rocks.
We try to ask passing cars how far it is to the top - knowing exactly how many kilometres you have to do at a thigh-crunching angle is motivational for some reason. I am not sure why, but it helps to know. Effective communication with the friendly Iranians, as usual, proves to be difficult. Iranians have a very blurry hand movement to show you the way, and no amount of repetition makes the movement clearer. One man says 'follow me'. He is with his family in a car, so perhaps this is all he can say in English and wants to say something. At any rate, he chugs off. Another man having as much trouble getting his little car up the hill as we are having (we catch him reversing back down to get a better run-up) indicates the steep slope is almost over. It isn't. We camp, despondent.
In the morning, when we finally reach the top of who-knows-what mountain, and the Aras Valley is spread out far far below us, the feeling of elation is overwhelming. We do a little 'top' dance, and then enjoy a very very long downhill.
To all you shonky mapmakers out there: Your job is extremely important you bastards!! Some of us are riding bicycles and mistakes hurt... Being able to mentally steel yourself for a day of agony is a small mercy of well-drawn maps! So a big thank you to precision map-makers. You are not bastards, you are beautiful people for whom I have the greatest respect.