Monday, September 24, 2007

September 24th, 2007

We did a 50km + ride to Rombuk today. It was torturous. The whole day was spent not only on unsealed roads but they were graded. In short no amount of speed allowed any kind of smooth feeling. Mental energy was spent trying to avoide the worst parts, and riding in sand which at any other time is dreadful, was actually a moment of comfort.

The ride was a gradual incline, but we were definitely climbing. Rombuk was a monastery at 5000m which was where the camping grounds and guest houses are for those wishing to visit Everest base camp. The final 5km to Rombuk were steep and my legs were shot. Added to this we was altitude. Suddenly there were hikers everywhere, and even they were labouring to walk. Many of the hikers cheered as we slowly pedalled past. It was not until much later that night that I realised just how altitude does affect the brain.

Megan had serious back issues that day and made the last few km's in the truck. SO she had arrived well before I made it to Rombuk. When I came over the final hill I saw a Chinese run hotel, and the thought of sleeping in a warm room filled me with hope. Unfortunately our tour company had not had the foresight to book ahead and we were to camp....not likely. Megan had the same idea as me, and was inside busily negotiating a room. We finally managed to secure a room- no water and no toilets. We did not care. It was warm, and we could stand up to get dressed. That hour when we arrived is really a blur. Altitude ensured that. You really do not think clearly and conversations and thoughts are really scattered.

So on the eve before my 38th birthday we slept inside...bliss. It was freezing and it started to snow. I put on a pair of long pants and they were too big...we were all wearing 4+ layers of clothes. The rest of the group was in a tent...poor buggers.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

The Climbs

The next 2 days were a pass each day...Tsuo La (4500m) and Lhakpo La (5220m). The distances varied from 50-80km's and the climbs were up to 25km long. So they were long steady climbs. The second pass at 5220m was the hardest despite the fact that it was a paved road. The hill did not stop, and as the morning went on I found myself riding alone with a few people in front and behind me. Largely though they were out of sight and the climb took several hours.

The pass was a winding road that climbed to sides of the hills with lots of 4WD's passing. Around each bend I was always hoping to see the top, it just never came. Towards the end I was stopping every few hundred meters for air and to take a drink.

The last 5km's were the most painful.....that was when I started to swear, calling the hill whatever came into my mind. Finally I reached the top only to find it deserted. For good reason no-one was there. It was absolutely freezing and the wind was so icy. So it was down the other side to find the truck 9km away with some hot tea and biscuits (at this stage my feel good food was Oreo's and I think I ate at least 12 per day...)

Climbing these passes was not only a test of legs and lungs it also became a mind game. It was all about talking yourself into keep pedalling and finding a rhythm so that you are not fixated on how you feel. Often the view would inspire me to keep going, then I had my music which was a collection of old favourite songs that I especially picked for climbs. Somehow they made it easier. Then there was the mental calculations. Trying to work out how long it would take to get to the top at my current speed. If I increased that by 1km an hour how much shorter the ride would be. Somehow the kms passed. Often it was sheer determination to get to the top, knowing that walking would be just as tough. Once I reached the pass it was a release of emotion. Knowing that I made it....climbing these passes was always the big question? Would I make it, can I ride for that long on a climb. It was a really great feeling to know the answer.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Shigatse- Sept 17th

Today we arrived in Shigatse the second biggest town in Tibet. Thankfully it is 2 nights in a hotel, so that means running water, showers, a real bed...not tent and no camp food.

We were really making the most of these 2 nights as after this it would be 8 straight nights of camping, with no showers etc. So Megan and I both were bracing ourselves for this.

We spent the morning going to the monastery and walking around the town. There was also the opportunity to stock up on supplies. For Megan and I that means pain killers to assist with Megan's aching back, eye drops for me and toilet paper (there was no way we were going to risk running short). Needless to say we bore the brunt of many jokes from our fellow travellers. We also stocked up on chocolate which was consumed often as a treat after a long day.

The bikes needed some basic maintenance but admittedly not having to see them for a whole 36 hours was actually nice.

So with our last taste of "luxury" completed we headed for the business end of the trip. Big passes day after day and THE TENTS....

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Sunday- The Day After the 5000m pass

We have arrived in Gyantse yesterday afternoon after the first 4 days of cycling, with 3 nights camping. Where to begin I am not really sure. The first 2 days of cycling were mostly flat, and it was hot during the day so we could cycle in shorts and t shirts. We covered around 50km on day 1 and 2. The third day we did 75km and things started to get steep. Long hills, with army trucks whizzing by.

However yesterday was what it was leading up to. Our first 5000 m pass. Everyone was very nervous and to make matters worse it was all dirt track that in many places was muddy. We started at 9am and the first 13km was the lead up. Then we were into it. It was 13km up from 3900m to 5000m. It took me just under 2 hours ( slow by any standard- but can not get enough air and so steep). I have never done anything so difficult in my life. Breathing was hard,peddling was hard. On the way the scenery was spectacular and I herded sheep, goats and yak on my bike to clear a path. But was I glad to see the summit. When I got there I burst into tears it was so hard. It was freezing at the top and we waited for the rest of the group. Then it was downhill for 13km, and 20km into town.

By the the time we arrived into town my body was seriously shutting down. It rained on the way in and I was covered in mud. Thankfully it was a hotel for the next 2 days, so warm showers and bed was heaven.

Total km count to date is 250. Today was spent recovering,visiting a monastery and getting laundry done. Tomorrow we leave for Shigatze a 90km ride. We stay there for 2 nights and then it gets serious. We have 5 more passes like yesterday to make..Lessons learned are, everyone has to go at their own pace and music helps.

Everyone in the group is holding up well, although the 2 Bike Friday riders both had a fall on the muddy down hill track- nothing serious.

The scenery is spectacular, and as we climbed higher whole villages of people would come out of their fields and houses to greet us and look at this strange group of people riding up the mountain. That is a really amazing thing to experience.

More to come...

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

We Start riding..

Today Wednesday we started riding. As you can see here my odometer is set to 0.00 which means over 1000 km ahead of me. Everyone was very nervous and excited as well. This is what we have been waiting for. My eyes were well enough to wear contact lenses much to my relief.

Our first stop was the Potalla Palace where we got photos with our bikes. We received a lot of attention from the Chinese tourists who decided to take photos of us...I think that was my 15 minutes of fame....

We found our riding legs and adjusted to the traffic. In a few hours the traffic had thinned and we were well and truly on the road. Mainly flat. This was it.....

It felt really good riding. I had rested well and got accustomed to the traffic in no time. The heat during the day was really was going to be a test of endurance rather than a sprint to the finish...

Monday, September 10, 2007


Really Amazing!!
It is the only way to describe it. So different from anything I have ever seen. We walked around the Pottala Palace this morning and went to a temple and monastery yesterday. These were truly mind blowing. To see a working monastery was crazy and the temple with all of the pilgrims was so unexpected.

Apart from that we are dealing with the altitude..sore joints and walking up the stairs is really hard. A few headaches.

The biggest shock was that I got conjunctivitis. It started on the day we arrived, and I woke up in the night and it was full blown. Found a pharmacy and after a call home to find the medicine name I located it Phew. It is under control but my eyes are red and swollen...attractive...not!

The worst is I can not wear my contact lenses so need to wear glasses, so no sun glasses which is terrible as it hurts my eyes as it is so bright here. So I made the decision to stay in today and give them a rest. The others are off to either a monastery or a school for the blind being run by a German lady (the incidents of eye disease and blindness is high in Tibet due to harsh conditions).

Apart from that the bikes arrived and we all assembled them yesterday. Very exciting. We start riding on Wed. Not sure if there will be much internet after this time but will update when I can.

Sunday, September 9, 2007


In brief it is very hectic and very dirty!!
The hotel we stayed in only had hot water for a few hours in the evening and the electricity in most of the city went out every night we were there between 7 and 9, so we were walking the streets with torches.

Megan and I met our tour group and tour leaders. I could write forever on this but in short there are 13 of us. The youngest is 29 and the oldest is 62. There are at least 4 people late 50's to 60's. So Megan and I are around median age. Without having seen any one ride there is no doubt mixed abilities and two people (both Yvonne's) who will be riding Bike Friday's (folding bikes). I will let you know as I can not imagine ridding to Base camp on a town bike, but who is to say..

In Kathmandu we visited Broktophor (not sure of spelling) which was really interesting, but mostly just walked around and "enjoyed" the chaos.

On the day we were flying to Lhasa we left the hotel at 7am for a 10.45 flight, and by the time were had passed customs in Tibet in was 3pm. Amazing 8 hours to make a 50 minute flight. It took us 2 hours to check in with all of the bikes. China Air charged through the nose for excess baggage. Funnily enough none of the bikes arrived, except mine (thank god for the hard case).

So finally we were in Tibet.

Friday, September 7, 2007

The Journey Begins

Well Wed came around quickly all of a sudden and I was frantically trying to pack and run last minute errands.Leeanne lent me a hard bike box, but it required a bit of dismantling to get the bike into the box. Finally made it to the airport, only to find out that the bike box was too heavy and I needed to take some items out. Stress levels went through the roof as I had to take pedals, bike shoes and bike tool out of the case and hand carry. Needless to say the bike tool would pose a problem at a later stage (more on that later). So with much negotiation with Thai airlines we were aboard with only minor excess charge.

There was a stop off at Brisbane which we had to go through security checks and the bike tool was found (missed at Sydney- go figure). They would not let me take it aboard. Thankfully one of the ground crew checked it in as a restricted item and said it would miraculously appear at Kathmandu. This would be a test of "the system". I need that tool!!! So we were away. Stop in Bangkok- Megan looses Visa card. Visa can not send replacement...arrive Kathmandu. OH BOY!!! Two hours to get through customs and get our bags/ bikes and after much asking the bike tool appears. Yes the system works!!!

Taxi to hotel and the real journey begins....

Bears held in cages for bile extraction- a cruel and unneccessary prctise

Bear in cage