Pedr managing a smile after 1000km of monotonous desert riding in Uzbekistan. Until the sandstorm arrived...
My introduction to cycling was far more utilitarian than fanatical; no posters of Fausto Coppi or Eddy Merckx adorned my walls during my teenage years. ‘The Tour’ meant visiting all the local watering holes in one night, whilst leg hair was to be cherished not culled. Besides harbouring a sound ignorance of the cycling world, my part-time job delivering parcels for the local pharmacy was slowly introducing me to the joys of riding a bike. Sun-drenched afternoons spent exploring the local hills in search of new delivery addresses and small-change tips. My intrigue in unearthing new roads now led to the odd expedition outside my known small-town peripheries and the purchase of my first cycling cap.
Like all schoolboys of the area, I was sporting a long fringe of messy brown hair – akin to that of a bad Noel Gallagher double. When combined with bike riding, this presented a severe off-bike aesthetic hindrance of severe consequences. The magnitude of which, can all only be captured through the warped lens of an adolescent mind. The solution: a black Campagnolo bike cap from Prendas.
I was unaware of the brand's history or the relevance of a cap, with respect to the identity of the greats. Snapshots of their grimacing faces taken whilst attacking the steep slopes of Alpe d’Huez, later to be idolised then referenced. These caps were iconic.
Unfortunately, with my progression through education, consequent moving from home and leaving behind the old job, my cap initially saw more use as a strange accessory at parties than a cycling companion. Over time, however, I began venturing out for exploration rides of a whole new nature and scale. I’d been swept away by the wave of cycle touring. Popular adventure books like that of Alastair Humphrey’s had encapsulated my mind and motivation for two-wheeled exploration. Rides now lasted weeks at a time, consisting of 10-hour days in the saddle cruising through swathes of a mosquito-infested Swedish forest.
Wherever I cycled, the cap came with me. After surviving an escapade being left on the streets of central Stockholm, it tagged along for the remainder of the trip. Fond memories riding through fresh countryside and cityscapes, meeting new people as I worked my way across northern Europe’s network of rural roads for two consecutive summers. Once back home, the chain of events was unstoppable. Two years spent dreaming over world maps, then travel blogs, then back to small-scale maps culminated in me embarking on a world tour. As I apprehensively rolled out of my garage on the 20th of January 2018, that same battered cap rolled out with me for what adventures awaited.
Caught in the crossfire of the Siberian winds - Pedr pushing out some snowy miles on Hungarian backroads.
I had attempted a Spartan packing arrangement, which obviously included extra caps in case the first perished en route. A special San Pellegrino cap had been designated the celebratory role of being worn on the first day of warm weather. As frigid Siberian winds swept across Europe, it became obvious that this wouldn’t be for some time. For now, the temperatures on the Hungarian roads were as low as -20°C, with an equally gloomy forecast predicted for coming weeks. It took several more months riding until the fateful day finally came. Camped up at 2000m in north-eastern reaches of Turkey’s Caucus mountains, a warm yellow sphere surfaced over a nearby crag. I rejoiced with my new-found touring friends, Molly and Hayden, donned the fresh cotton cap before setting off for a new stage of this adventure.
By now I was well acquainted with the touring community, its special messenger groups, couch surfing platforms and unique personalities who were all bound on eastward adventures like mine. Lines of communication between people and groups at various stages had been established, warning others of hazards ahead, or simply the finest watering holes and touring gossip (which usually involves discussing the road surface…). Unbeknownst to the riders themselves, those with distinctive setups or character traits will acquire a nickname identity in the community.
One particularly memorable dinner culminated with a grand reveal, whereby each separate group of riders knew the nickname of a particular personality who, they didn’t realise, was actually there eating with them: ‘the hammock man’. Having relinquished the shackles of a transporting a tent, Tim had instead opted solely for a hammock. A sensational choice for cycling the desert plains of Uzbekistan and the barren high-altitude mountains of Tajikistan... A choice which elevated him to the upper echelons of touring legend. Rightfully he claimed his place next to the couple carrying a dog, and the man who solo cycled the Pamirs on a tandem. Which, was to be the next topic of conversation – the touring cyclists ‘Mecca’: The Pamir highway.
Aboard his Surly bike, Pedr with that San Pellegrino cap!
1250 kilometres in length, the road is usually ridden from Dushanbe in Tajikistan, to Osh in Kyrgyzstan. The track takes on tarmac, dirt and gravel forms as it winds through valleys, plateaus and the high mountain passes that link them all together. For those on long distance tours across the globe, this is often the crown jewel of their journey in terms of pure physical challenge and scenery. The harsh ‘lunar’ landscape providing a unique backdrop to days of cycling solitude, as you fully engage with these mountainous gauntlets.
It wasn’t long before I found myself in a battle of my own. An intense afternoon heat was making hard work of climbing out from the luscious green ‘low-lands’ that flank the highway’s ‘north-route’ out of Dushanbe. The smooth tarmac road had long since given way to a loose gravel track cut into the mountainside. This weaved across canyons in the form of severely decrepit bridges before progressing to some severe rock-laden gradients. At 2000 m the locals consider this area to be low, yet having reached this altitude with 1200 m left to climb that day, I was getting giddy already. Despite being the lowest pass of the Pamirs, the Saghirdasht had been tipped as the toughest by previous cyclists. Five sweaty hours already spent attacking the tough terrain could attest to that. As could a pair of seriously protesting legs - the screams of which were only dampened by the welcome distraction of the gorgeous surrounding scenery.
Ped's trusty fully loaded Surly Bike.
Keen to reach the only village before nightfall, I needed an injection of pace. That motivation came along in the form of a large group of livestock being herded up the single track behind me. Prudently not wanting to explore the dynamics of a stampede, I eagerly obliged in hauling my 50kg steed that little bit faster. Despite being wide open to attack from an over-zealous goat, at least I was partially protected from the searing heat. Eyes enjoying the shade provided by the proudly worn San Pellegrino cap, I could take in every peak as I finally breached my first summit of the highway. Now only for the descent.
Loose dirt combined with rocky outcrops that wouldn’t be out of place on a downhill circuit, made for some exciting back-wheel lockups around precarious switchbacks. This was a technical cyclist’s nirvana. Smiles all round were mandatory attire suitable for this unreal road overlooking that vista, all topped off by a setting sun. Snaking switchbacks eventually morphed into a valley road, giving my aching hands a rest from hours of constant brake work. The road now followed the raging Obikhumbod river, leading down to the small village of Qulai-Khumb – another hub of touring activity.
That evening, talk around the table soon turned to our routes taken to get here before switching to funny stories from the road. I had just started recounting a particularly ‘interesting’ couch surfing experience before smiles broke out among the two couples there.
“We’ve heard about you, the British guy. You must be San Pellegrino.”
My cycling cap – now my identity.
Two weeks later I departed Kyrgyzstan’s Osh with a new one, let’s see where Bianchi ends up.
Pedr Charlesworth with his now-famous San Pellegrino cap
Prendas customer Pedr Charlesworth recently graduated from university and took the decision to take an alternate path for a year, riding self-supported from east to west on his bike.
Our suggestion is to follow Ped on Instagram where you can see more of his fabulous photographs from his immense rides across the globe. Alternatively, Ped's blog is updated frequently when connectivity allows.