Cyclists killed in Tajikistan described 'dream' trip

A man signs a book of condolences at the US Embassy in Dushanbe, on July 31, 2018, in tribute to the victims of the deadly attack.
A man signs a book of condolences at the US Embassy in Dushanbe, on July 31, 2018, in tribute to the victims of the deadly attack. PHOTO: AFP

DUSHANBE, TAJIKISTAN (AFP) - Cyclists from Europe and the US who were killed in an attack claimed by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group in Tajikistan had described their trip as a "dream come true".

The victims were Mr Jay Austin and Ms Lauren Geoghegan from the US, Mr Rene Wokke from the Netherlands and Mr Markus Hummel from Switzerland, according to Tajik authorities.

Each of the travellers had a blog to document journeys that took them to the Pamir Highway, a Soviet-era road that stretches across 2,000 kilometres near the border with Afghanistan and has spectacular views.

The Americans explained on their blog SimplyCycling that they had "decided to quit our jobs and bike around the world".

The pair had travelled through Africa and Europe before flying to Kazakhstan in May.

The posts on the site and on their Instagram account broke off as they ventured into mountainous Tajikistan, the poorest of the former Soviet states.

"Tajikistan is a tough place to cycle. It is cold and windy and mountainous and, most of all, very, very high," Mr Austin wrote a week ago.

"Really glad I did it. No need to ever do it again," he said of crossing a Tajik mountain pass at a height of 4,655 metres with thin air and intermittent snow.

Mr Austin had been featured in The Washington Post in 2015 as one of those following a "tiny house" trend and downsizing his daily life to essentials.

On Sunday, a car mowed into the group of seven cyclists, two of whom were injured while another was left unscathed.

The riders were attacked by a gang armed with knives and guns in a highly unusual incident that Tajikistan has said was organised by a member of an opposition Islamist party.

 
 

The parents of Ms Geoghegan, 29, released a statement on Tuesday saying the trip that their daughter and her partner Mr Austin were enjoying was typical of Ms Geoghegan's "enthusiastic embrace of life's opportunities, her openness to new people and places, and her quest for a better understanding of the world".

They had set out on their adventure in July 2017.

Dutch victim Wokke, a 56-year-old psychologist, was cycling with his partner Kim Postma, a 58-year-old hospital administrator who was injured in the incident.

The website of Dutch newspaper NRC said the couple were travelling from Bangkok to Teheran and chose to go through Tajikistan to avoid the dangers of Afghanistan.

Mr Wokke was a very experienced traveller and had visited more than 130 countries, according to his brother, Erik.

The pair, from Amsterdam, had left Thailand in February and planned to arrive in Teheran in September before flying back to the Netherlands.

Mr Wokke and Ms Postma described the Pamir Highway on their blog as "the ultimate challenge of this trip".

Swiss cyclist Hummel also kept an online record of the journey with another Swiss national, Ms Marie-Claire Diemand, who was injured in the attack.

In a blog entry entitled, "A dream comes true," they explained that they were travelling along the Silk Road from Xi'an in China to Kyrgyzstan.

"Since we are already on the road, we definitely don't want to miss the Pamir Highway in Tajikistan," the pair said.

Their last entry was on July 25, when the whole group was staying in the Tajik town of Khorugh, after adventures including their tent filling with drifts of sand.

They said that on the highway, "we enjoy the silence, the dreamlike landscape and look at the Pamir River and the Afghan side of the valley all day long."

Friends and well-wishers posted messages of condolences on the American victims' SimplyCyling Instagram page.

One, Mr Robert Renner, wrote: "My condolences to the family and friends of Jay and Lauren."

Another, Ms Angela Wuerth, wrote: "I'm so sad that something so tragic could happen to such beautiful, kind people."