I was alone. Really alone. I was in a valley camping next to a river and the air was rapidly cooling. I was wearing a thick red woolen jumper and my exposed wrists were brown against it. I had filled up two aluminum water bottles from the torrent next to me but the glacial waters were too aggressive and the water was cloudy and gloopy; filled with silt and other things. I realized this, emptied them, then walked over to a smaller stream that cascaded down from the high peaks on my left, and filled them up there as the water was clear as crystal.

I won’t go into the exact specifics of the valley. It was a valley. It had long tapering pine trees that reached up to the sky and twinkling stars. I had seen many valleys in the country before this one and I would see more (and more spectacular ones at that too) when I did some climbing, but it was a good one and I was happy I had chosen to camp there. I had pitched my slim tent in the lee of a large boulder, away down off the track that people and horses use.

As the light was fading I remember looking up the steep grassy bank to way up high where I saw five young goats bouncing around. I remember thinking it strange for them to be left unaccompanied and was only too happy to help their shepherd whom I met on the track the next morning. He had a big hat on with long earflaps and a shining Mongol face. He asked me in Russian and mime if I had seen them and I answered that I had in mime and that there had been five of them.

I was boiling the water to cook macaroni and I had tomato sauce and hot sauce and thick big fatty sausage that I cut big chunks from with an army knife. I had walked for twelve hours that day to visit a glacier and my body was humming. The water took a long time to boil and I focused on breathing in the chill air and watching the stars slowly come out. The few free-roaming horses I had seen had disappeared from the valley now it was almost dark. Some where white and some were brown and they are the healthiest looking horses I’ve ever seen.

Time stopped and my mind stopped and I breathed in the chill air and seemed to be experiencing the country for the first time. The last wisps of cloud went purple. A lot of things happened before this and a lot of things after this in the Tian Shan, with its ice and fields of yellow, but that one right there was the moment. That was the one alright.

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