More cycling, creaky bearings and ‘open’ toilets with cows.
Thikse to Rhumsie.
After leaving Thikse I had just one question… is repetitive creaking a bad thing when you’re setting out on riding over the second highest road in the world?’
Naturally my first reaction was to panic, the sound suggested to me that something was wrong with my bottom bracket bearings. I don’t know a whole lot about bike mechanics but I do know that, like in life, if my bearings disappeared then that was the end of my adventure. I tried to twist and turn my feet, hoping that the sound would stop. How could my bike do this to me now? Gavin and Eri had ridden ahead and I cursed them for having perfectly new bikes. Within a couple of moments, the tool set was out and the pedals were off my bike. I was imagining myself having to throw it away and sit out the trip on a bumpy, crowded bus. Gavin interrupted my thoughts by discovering that it was just a dodgey pedal, not the bottom bracket.
Relief is an understatement. We rode on, my consistent creak letting everyone know that we were coming well before we were in sight.
The heat was rising very quickly, and we were hoping to get as many kms under the belt before the sun really kicked in. It was very dry, dusty and bare. I half expected Mad Max to coming driving by. The mountains around us were becoming higher and it felt like we were entering a completely different world.
Our next port of call was breakfast in a small town. Eri and I went in search of a bathroom and we were directed down a little side street. The only building that we could find was a tiny shack. Unfortunately the front door was obstructed by a whole lot of wood and mess. We went back to the ladies who had helped us before to tell them it wasn’t open. One of them looked at us as if we were the most stupid people in the world. She quickly led us down the street again, and stopped at a paddock that had a small brick wall and cows lazily standing around. On the ground were little mounds of surprises. The toilet was indeed open. We took it in turns to keep watch for people, but it wasn’t people that were the problem. After speedily doing my business I turned to find that the cows had blocked me in and the only way out was through a minefield of pooh. The smell of the paddock was making me wretch and the huge cows just stared as I danced around the mounds. It was the quickest toilet escape ever.
Soon we were back on the bikes and getting through our first big day of riding. The hills started to appear and they didn’t seem to end. By the time we reached Lato for lunch we had done about 60km and climbed about 800m and we were really feeling it. Maybe we had enjoyed the cuisine of Leh a little too much over the past few days. A little man in a parachute tent cooked us up some delicious dahl baht, and we sat in the heat amazed at the riding we had done. The nutritional value of lunch and in particular dahl baht was really proven. Within an hour we all felt human again and jumped back on the bikes to find that we had the energy that we needed to keep climbing.
We didn’t see many people while riding today. The obligatory trucks rolled by as well as some army trucks and tourist jeeps. Most people honked their horns and the truck drivers waved while laughing insanely at us. We came across a couple of schools and the kids came running out to meet us after hearing my creaking bike.
When we reached Rhumsie, our home for the night, the Leh WWF team were there waiting for us. They were on their way to Thsokar, on the other side of the mountain for their research. It was so nice to see familiar faces after a big day of riding. As soon as we stopped they plied us with milk tea and helped us set up camp. They had great fun in figuring out the engineering of our tents, and laughing at our sighs of exhaustion.
We were camping at 4200m above sea level, and that made us very slow while moving around and concentrating on putting up tents. We had to take it easy and be aware of altitude sickness, particularly as the next day would require us to climb to 5330m above sea level over the Taglong La pass.
After bidding farewell to the WWF team we snuggled up in our tents and I think all of us lay awake for a little while, conetmplating our first and highest pass crossing tomorrow.