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Friday, 7 October 2011

Final Post

As Rob says, this ride really exceeded all expectations in every way possible. We’ve ridden 1000kms, most of it at more than 4,000m above sea level and we didn’t miss a kilometre, avoiding the temptation to hop into the Landcruiser accompanying us, and which was never more than a few kms away.  We’ve crossed 6 passes at more than 5,000m and 4 more above 4,000m.  Fortunately, we’ve had no illness, accidents or mishaps.  The dual suspension mountain bikes never missed a beat,  and  demonstrated their worth many times over (one puncture – for me – was the only issue) . We anticipated the gradients, the head winds and the distance but overlooked the terrain.  Cycling at altitude was no trouble but curiously climbing 3 flights of stairs in our hotel still leaves us breathless.  Our biggest climb (Day 2) was over 1,000m but the hardest was no doubt the 23km, 900m climb over Pang La (5050m) on terrible dirt. Our fire trails are in better condition than these “roads”, but the effort was rewarded by the highlight of the trip – the panorama of Everest and her near companion mountains.  I won’t quickly forget eventually arriving at the top, exhausted and cranky (because I wasn’t told about this climb and the state of the road!) but to immediately forget all those feeling as I took in the magical scene in front of me. There is some debate in the group as to whether this scene or the view of Everest coming into Rombuk, (where Everest is only 8km away, dominating the valley) was the highlight of the trip (for Rob, the latter scene coincided with Geelong winning the Grand Final, so we know which was his highlight!)
 We were blessed with incredible weather and a team who produced remarkable food three times a day, critical to keeping us going. As beautiful as the weather was, it was always freezing in the early hours of the morning.  It’s an odd climate when you have to lather sunscreen all day against often fierce sun, but the sunscreen is frozen in the tube when you open it in the morning!
We’ve had 12 nights in a tent, two in “hotels” (using that term loosely) and a “guesthouse” with damp mattresses and mouldy walls (plus  a communal drop toilet and no bathing facilities).
All of us in our group would put up with this many times over to experience again what we have seen. We’ve been privileged to traverse Tibet and meet its remarkable people at such close quarters I now believe that only on a bike can you truly engage with the communities you pass through.  We’ve shared yak milk tea with a family in Gompa, chatted to travellers from all over China (Shanghai, Harbin etc), been photographed and filmed many times over by local and foreign tourists,  and lost count of the farmers, goatherds, children and others who’ve greeted us,  and run out to meet us and talk, even if we could not find any common language.  Visions of small children poking fingers into our spokes as they tried to “high 5” us as we passed did not, fortunately, become reality (although one near miss between a child and a truck coming the other way encouraged us to give the children a wide berth, as friendly as they were).  The agricultural scenes at harvest time, and the frenetic activity from sunrise to sunset, were wonderful. Deliberately or not, our campsites often seemed to be on the “commuting route” as donkeys, goats, yaks, tractors piled high with the harvest, adults and numerous children wandered through as they went about their business.  Camping after Everest, the local goats were herded right through our camp on the way to their corral for the night. At Rombuk Monastery, we literally shared the yak paddock with the yaks, resulting in some strange sights and sounds during the night (from the yaks I mean).
With the friendliness of the people and the glorious weather, it was easy to forget that the Tibetans survive in what must be one of the harshest environments in the world, living higher than almost anyone else (the highest permanent settlement in the world is in Wuhan, China, at 5039m).  Lovely creeks and rivers that we camped by give way for much of the year to ice and snow and then raging torrents as the snow melts, evidenced at this time of year only by the massive infrastructure/engineering designed to prevent everything being washed away every spring. Despite the electrical installation and mobile phone coverage, we saw no evidence of televisions, computers or any other technology.  There was no sign of mechanical harvesting and it was odd to see new, solar powered street lights outside ramshackle, traditional houses.  There is extensive solar and hydro generation across Tibet (but no wind farms, surprisingly).
I have never seen such an openly and genuinely religious people; even goatherds standing all day watching their flock at 5000m were turning prayer wheels constantly (when not spinning wool by hand).  The monasteries we visited are vibrant, living places of worship and not merely reminders of a distant past. Pilgrims always vastly outnumbered tourists, and it was hard not to feel a sense of intrusion. 
It’s impossible to know whether China’s strategy of integrating Tibet through vast investment in infrastructure, moving businesses to Tibet (the names of all the big state-owned enterprises appear on new buildings in Lhasa) and substantial immigration of ethnic Chinese will work, but it is hard to imagine a satisfactory future that does not accommodate the faith of the Tibetan people.
 Sunset on Mt Everest
Geelong recruiting knows no bounds

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Last photos

Last few photos have been posted (apologies that I have not been captioning the photos).  I've also replaced the header photo with one of my own (North face of Everest, viewed from Rombuk, 8km away)

Back in Kathmandu

The first 40km yesterday was amazing. One of the steepest winding roads you can imagine, clinging to the side of the valley as it dropped dramatically. It was made all the more spectacular, sadly, by extensive landslide damage from the recent earthquakes (by Australian standards the road should have been closed).  Small towns cling to the hillside in a way that is reminiscent of the Mediterrean, but much dirtier.  We crossed the China/Nepal border without difficulty but the contrast on the Nepal side (across the Friendship Bridge) is stark.  If the Tibet side is messy and dirty, the Nepal side is a crumbling shambles.  We couldn't ride further unfortunately due to time constraints and we had a 140km+ ride in a Toyota van into Kathmandu over roads that it would be have quicker and safer if we had been riding the dual suspension mountain bikes.  Highlight was a great local lunch - eaten with fingers - at a restaurant overlooking the rushing river that flows from high in Tibet (apparently one of the top 10 rivers in the world for whitewater rafting).

Remarkable how good the Kathmandu hotel seems after 16 days on the road, without showers or toilets.  Today we have to clean the bikes to the standards of Australian Customs (they are carrying unknown Tibetan dirt and germs).  Won't even bother to clean the tyres; just throw them awa,y in light of the things they have run over.  Then we have to organise shipment of the bikes back to Australia.

Will put some final photos uplater today

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Almost done

Finally got the Everest photos up and hopefully there will shortly be a brief video of the magical panorama that greeted us when we crested Padu Pass at 5150m. It had been the most gruelling climb of the ride; 3 hours to cover 23kms and climb 900m over the most terrible dirt road, but all was forgotten when we saw the vista that greeted us. Weather has continued to be beautiful, but for a light snow fall as we crossed yet another high pass the day after leaving Everest. We went up to the North Everest base camp (on the Tibet side rather than the better known south face camp). The ride continues to be hard, lots of climbing and head winds but we completed the last climbs today (Wed) and we have only 30kms or so to the China/Nepal border (but in that 30kms we drop 2700m so it should be fun.

Monday, 3 October 2011

days 11 and 12

Sunday started at minus 4 degrees, but a cloudless day and great sunrise over Everest. 7km ride to the North Face base camp for a closer view. Then back to Rombuk for lunch, followed by great 20k descent down the same road we climbed on Sat, and a campsite by the river. Today had yet another big climb on terrible dirt, and the weather changed, so we had an hour or so of light snow as we crossed the top. The rest of the day would have been fantastic but for the state of he road into Tingri - just loose pebbles! Scenery remains peerless although the terrain today was probably the most barren; hardly any people or animals. One more clime tomorrow then its all downhill. Two more nights (after tonight) on the road. Still having problems uploading photos but will try agaim tonight. Am writing this via Blackberry.

Saturday, 1 October 2011

Three Glorious Days

We've had 3 days of unimaginably good weather, riding  and scenery. Day 8 (Thur) saw a big climb of 1070m to the highest point of our ride, 5248m, rewarded with a great descent through the valley.  Friday started gently at first but when thenleft the Friendship Highway and found oourselves on a poor dirt road (which we are still on 95kms later).  We climbed 900m in a gruelling climb on badly potholed dirt, btu all was forgotten when we crested the pass at 5150m and were greedt by the most extraordinary mystical panorama of Everest and her sister mountains from 45km away.  Words cannot describe the scene.  There was hardly a cloud in the sky..  We then had a fast 25km descent down the samebadly potholed dirt, this time with tight switchbacks most of the way.  Today (Sat) saw us climb slwoly over about 47kms to reach Rombuk, at the foot of Everest (Everest is about 8kmsaway but dominates the valley.  It is truly majestic.  Pictures of the last 3 days wil go up as soon as Flickr comes back up!!   We have only tonight then 4 more nights (and more importanly only one more big pass to cross, then its all down hills

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Days 6 & 7

We're 7 days in, and 500+ kms completed. We've been over 4 passes more than 4000m and one over 5000m. We've had 2 glorious days weather wise, and great riding conditions.  Day 6 was 90+km pretty flat with one small climb and today was shorter but a big climb over Yulong Pass.  The scenery continues to change all the time, and the campsites are special - a few visitors of the human and bovine variety.  Aprt fromthe scenery the best thing about the trip is the interaction with locals.  Almost everyone calls out hello and small children want to hi five as we go past, and we have to avoid both running over a child or getting knocked off the bike!  Met  some Chinese tourists from Shanghai at the monument marking 5000km from Beijing. All the road markers tell you how far you are from Beijing, not how far to your destination.  We passed through Lhatse - the only town so far with an English sign announcing its name. We have a chance to see Everest tomorrow for the first time, on our biggest climb of the ride, up to 5220m. Just hoping the weather holds for a bit longer.  Will write again in a couple of days if computer power and internet capacity hold on.