Blimey. In the last blogs noted that all was about to get bumpy… Well….
We left kathmandu on 9th September – the same day our original world cycle challenge was due to start. Despite being mostly uphill it was an easy ride. A gentle climb as we left the big city we were glad to leave ( very hectic; missing our bikes)- all in all a lovely introduction to our ride around Nepal and the Annapurna circuit.
It was day two when the challenge really became apparent. Two mountain passes, lots of pushing a 36kg bike (39 kg for john) and kit up steep off road/river bed tracks and the first precarious bridge. I crossed that one on my hands and knees much to the amusement of the locals.
While aware our trip was a little early and at the end of the monsoon season it’s fair to say neither of us really understood what this would mean. The paths were muddy, some tracks were closed – I’m not sure how many landslides we saw or carried/ pushed bikes through. Crossing rivers and streams was a daily occurrence though as we got higher and clothes became impossible to dry out, electricity reduced, showers got colder and the dreaded stomach lurgy kicked in – the mental as well as physical motivation became critical. According to our guide he knew of no one else to do this route with heavy touring bikes and panniers. Yep- next time (really!!?.) we would definitely use a mountain bike, walk or start at besi sihar like most sensible people.
It was on our trip to Gorkha that fears of height were truly confronted as we traversed cliff edges. Using local porters to carry our bikes, ducking under rocks in flip flops, and in my case even paying a local to hold my hand we were finally past the river where monsoon had taken out the local bridge. Strangely, given the cliff edge to follow and a fear displacement I was okay on the precariously placed logs on this occasion. This was no trip for the faint hearted.
The early part of our route took us on an old trekking path from Kathmandu and it was day 6 when we hit the main walking trail with a guest hotel in Bhulbhule. Already tired at this point at least now we were in the land of snickers, coffee and a few of those nice things can can become all important. To date we had two home stays – best hospitality though with ply wood beds or earth shelters, gnarling dogs and toilets 5 minutes up the road this was far from a hot bath and sprung mattress following trips back home.
For me it was Bhagarchap where it started to get tough. My arrival at the hotel there saw feet so red raw the hotel owner – former British army guy- prepared a hot salt bath for my tootsies. I actually cried that day as the antiseptic cream was applied and for a girl with a high pain threshold, for 10 minutes it was all too much. River beds, grit, wet socks and pushing my bike uphill certainly takes its toll. Unfortunately rest was not in sight. I spent most of that night nipping outside to the bathroom. The tears for my feet was just the start – it now appeared my stomach was upset too!
While we had used porters to carry our bikes through a steep climb from Chamie ( we took our panniers) I needed a porter again. With no energy, sore feet and a need to nip off frequently our journey the next day was shortened. I could only do a few hours. Why did I leave my hot water bottle in Kathmandu! With an afternoon in bed I felt better the next day. Unfortunately my cycle buddy John now had what I was suffering from. We did the second of our short days finishing in Bardang. This really was the toughest challenge either of us had ever undertaken…. And did I mention the monsoon rains!
The hotel in Bardang lit a fire for us and a great opportunity to try and dry some clothes. Unfortunately I burnt our socks so wet feet were again the order of the day. John was also now a little better and we set out for Manang.
Described a a paradise town for trekkers, a haven of all goods you could possibly want we were excited and according to our itinerary were due a rest day. Hallelujah! If a rest day didn’t include a 900 metre climb, carrying bikes to the next stop then walking back down the hill in the rain to Manang as part of an acclimatisation day then it would have been great. Given rest was not really the order of the day I found this day the hardest. It was day 12. It was no rest. Psychologically that was tough as expectations had been set quite differently. What were we doing?
Sadly news also came in that day of a French traveller who had died from acute altitude sickness and with an update a few days later of an avalanche taking out a group of climbers it was beginning to sink in. Faint hearted or plain stupid. We were no longer sure.
Now at altitude, walking and riding was tough. John, my cycle buddy did amazing. I was so proud on meeting him on the way to phedi. While I used a porter he carried and pushed his bike up steep climbs and muddy tracks. Along with other Trekkers we really didn’t know how. Quite the hero.
Following a chocolate pancake at phedi the last steep climb took us to high camp. A tough walk and sadly one with a brief dash for the tummy upset that still lingered we arrived. It started to snow. The following day we would go over the Thorong-la pass at 5416m.
I went to bed with a slight headache and an overwhelming paranoia of altitude sickness, lack of breath and a fear that during the night we would need to descend. If you fall ill it’s the only thing you can do and this is no risk worth taking. Fortunately, despite a complete lack of sleep we survived the night and at 530am began our ascent. The journey usually takes 3 to 4 hours but with John arriving at 710 and me following 50 minutes later we were so joyous. I undertook the obligatory star jumps at the top of the hill and John too told me that he too did 3 star jumps on arrival – the first time this trip!
It was so cold at the top and following pictures, masala tea and celebration with some of the people we met on the way it was time to head down. With so much energy taken in aiming for the pass neither of us had really considered the other side. We knew it was steep- that’s why most people all walk the Annapurna circuit the same way- and we knew there was a road.
We were expecting an amazing 1900m downhill. Wrong. The gravel and rock covered road was one that even the mules took no passengers and if you think downhill is easy on a bike try holding back up to 40kg from hurtling down a mountain in cycle shoes. We finally arrived in Muktinath around 5 hours later. Gee whizz.
Still. The pride in our accomplishment, the people we met on the way, the scenery, adventure and tales to tell all made this the most incredible journey. It was the cheers from our Israeli pal travellers, local Nepalis and last, but not least, our guide, Roshan who made this possible. That and sheer stubbornness, determination and absolute ambition to reach the top that got us there. Thank you. Never again.
(I’m not able to add pics but given this blog would really benefit from a few photos here’s a link to johns blog on the start of this ride http://johnpchevis.wordpress.com/2012/10/03/cycling-the-annapurna-circuit-part-1-plain-stupid-or-innocent-fool/)
And finally…… While embarking on this trip I’m also trying to raise funds for The Homeless World Cup. Teams for this year are just heading out to Mexico… Give them a boost… Surely cycling Annapurna is a tough enough part of the challenge….. Just go to the fundraising tab on my home page….. thank you!)