Posts tagged ‘cycling’

The Great Climb. Tagalang La- 5330m, the world’s second ( some say) highest road.

Ode to a big hill – “Ahh Taglang La, you painful, frightening beast of a pass, Even now i can feel the pain you put through my legs and my head, but we beat you and it will always be one of the best things I ever do”.

On the climb up Taglang La

On the climb up Taglang La

Today was to turn out to be  not only one of the biggest challenges of the trip but of our lives. You could almost taste the trepidation as we broke camp and wandered over to the local 0.0005 star restaurant for the obligatory omlette and chipatti. Away by 7.30, we started at a slow pace but none of us could stop thinking about the enormity of the day ahead. Although the climb looked deceptively mundane on the map, when you think about it,  we had a 29 km climb, ascending through serious altitude nearly 1.2 km from 4200m up to 5330m. Even just thinking about those numbers still makes me shudder, but sitting here now supping a clod beer reminiscing, I can’t begin to tell you how proud i am to be able to say that we all did this beast of a climb unassisted, fully loaded and better than any of us thought possible.

The easy bit-

The first 5 km was relatively easy over a 200m climb,  but things started to get tough when we came across a sign saying ” You are only 24 km from the Tagalan La”. What a truly cruel sign. To not also tell us that it was to be another 8 hours of steep, steep, switchbacks with the last 15km on truly appalling gravel roads and landslides, was almost criminal. Add to that scorching heat, Tata trucks and army convoys. You know what- it really did turn out to be one of the greatest challenges and most satisfying days of my life.

The first 10 switchbacks-

As the switchbacks started, we all dropped into our own pace and it soon became apparent that the way to beat this monster was to go at your own pace, empty your mind of what was coming up and just start spinning the peddles for hour after hour. At times we managed to spread out over about a kilometre and that sometimes translates into two or three switchbacks, but by waiting for each other, drinking loads of water, occasionally looking back and using common sense we began to tick off the kms.

These were the easy ones

These were the easy ones

The hard bit-

No matter how hard we thought the first bit was, nothing could prepare us for what was coming next. Actually we were prepared a little bit by a  constant tide of cyclists coming the other way telling us just how crap the road was and how long we still had to go. Their departing cries of “good luck” and “your doing great” followed by a shake of the head and the “thank god i am not going that way” look really started to wear thin about 12 minutes  after lunch. Things really got hard when the road turned from passable blacktop, to bone jarring, teeth rattling, boulder sized gravel. Throw in more and more traffic, roadworks and roads turning to rivers from glaiciers melting and the afternoon became  quite interesting. Oh yeh and a landslide that held us up for about 45 mins we could ill afford to lose.

45 min Landslide - not today!!!!

45 min Landslide - not today!!!!

This might not seem like a problem but as the day wore on we were down to about 3 km an hour and getting back down to a reasonable altitude after climbing that far can be a life and death consideration. The shadows were sarting to get long and i couldnt  shake a growing sense of urgency as the pass seemed to be getting further away rather than closer. As we got into the last 3 kilometres it started to become real that we would make it over the top, but like xmas, you know it would come but it seemed to take for ever. It was astonishing to discover that after all that climbing the last 500 metres would be the toughest. Axle deep in black sand we had to dismount and push, but at last at 4.40 we finally reached the top to be greeted by a howling wind,  20 Royal Enfields and the realisation that we really couldnt stay long and needed to start the 20 km descent before it got dark.

We made it - Taglang La 5330m, What a feeling!

We made it - Taglang La 5330m, What a feeling!

The descent and the arrival of an Angel

As we started our descent the fatigue kicked in and in many ways the ride down was shaping up to be as challenging as the ride up. Ten minutes in though we had an almost crash worthy surprise when around the corner came Tashi from WWF on a motorbike. I can’t even tell you how happy we were and our joy turned to elation when he said he had food and hot tea in his bag. A boiled egg has never tasted so good.  I cant remember being as revitalised by anything so much as that brief 20 min break by the side of the road, with Tashi’s little stash of gold.

From then on it was all down hill ( in a good way) but with Tashi as a guide and the promise of a warm welcome and hot food ahead of us  with the WWF team, an unscheduled extra 15km’s in the dark seemed  a small price to pay. Little did we know just how great our time would be at Tso Kar.

More photos from the taming of the Taglang la beast


September 5, 2009 at 10:22 pm 4 comments

Cycle for Change back in Kathmandu

Just a quick update to let you know that we are back in Kathmandu after a fantastic trip through northern India and southern Nepal.

Now as we have been told in no uncertain terms by some of you, we have been behind in our posting. In our defence we were away from anything remotely resembling a working computer with an internet connection for most of the time. Since back here we have been spending most of our time in interviews with the Nepali media with one appearance in the Kathmandu post last Thursday and plenty more to come. We also did a radio interview with a freelance journo for NPR in the States, so we have been non stop.

The big news and sad news it is, Amanda my dear little sister, was on the plane back to Sydney yesterday. Alas work calls but I must say we are very appreciative to her boss’ for giving her the time off to come for as long as she did.Thanks kiddo it was absolutely fantastic having you along for the ride and we look forward to the films when you can get them done. It’s weird not having you here.

Upcoming plans

1. Blog as much as possible.

2. Go trekking in the Imja region to look at Glacier lakes in the Everest area.

3. Get ready for the ride out of Nepal and into new adventures in Sikkim, Bhutan and Bangladesh.

4. Continue to lose weight – I have lost about 10kg so far and more to go. Can’t tell you how good riding over the worlds highest roads on a fully loaded bike is for wiehg loss. Stay away from fad diets, get yourself on a bike.

Anyway am off to write a newspaper article for one of the local papers, so keep checking back for updates over the next few weeks.

Stay tuned i promise we will be posting more often when things slow down a bit.

Read Kathmandu Post article here

September 5, 2009 at 7:39 pm Leave a comment

More cycling, creaky bearings and ‘open’ toilets with cows.

Thikse to Rhumsie.

Leaving Thikse

Leaving Thikse

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.

Creak or no creak, Manali here we come

Creak or no creak, Manali here we come

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.

Lunch at Lato

Lunch at Lato

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.

Kids waiting for Eri

Kids waiting for Eri

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.

Tents successfully up

September 2, 2009 at 6:12 pm Leave a comment

Acclimatisation in Leh and the Dalai Lama

Our days in Leh introduced us to the altitude, the Ladak food and hospitality and one  happy world spiritual leader.

view from our room

view from our room

We all felt a little light headed when we arrived, and  the scenery around us did nothing to help bring is back down to earth. The mountains were made of rock and in the distance a few had glaciers sitting on top of them. We were told  that they were usually bigger and that the mountains were usually covered in snow at this time. The enormity of the glaciers made it difficult to comprehend that they should have been much bigger and the snow abundent.

fixong up the bikes

fixing up the bikes

Our hotel was a little haven on the hill.  Cooking dinner each night with the food grown in the front garden. The grandmother of our host family watched us as we built our bikes and there was a friendly greeting of jollay nearly every 15 minutes.

The first night was a test of our acclimatisation. I woke early in the morning with a head that was on the verge of exploding, I tried sitting up, lying down, standing on one  leg but nothing seemed to tell the jackhammer in my head to disappear. Soon Gavin was awake, I think because he could hear the pounding in my head. We went walking down the hill to try and drop the altitude. The morning was gorgeous and really it was quite spectacular to see the mountains light up and the local people, donkeys, goats and cows start their day. Except for the pounding head and nausea. Eventually we made our way to the hospital at the bottom of the hill, and for the grand price of 2 rupee (approximately nothing in any other currency) a lovely man told me to  poke my tongue out, drink lots of water, take some pills and rest. When we walked out Gav said he wasn’t worried, except maybe when my lips turned blue. I spent the rest of the day asleep and woke the next day feeling human again.

A wave from the Dalai Lama

A wave from the Dalai Lama

Which was good, because as soon as we woke the next day we walked towards the the airport road with nearly everybody else in Leh. The local men and women were dressed in traditional clothes, bright colours, tall hats and proud faces. We lined the street on either side and soon a calvacade of cars came crawling up the road. In the the shiniest one sat the smiliest person ever. The Dalai Lama was greeting everybody with his friendly smile and loving presence. He drove by us and our although our moment with him was fleeting we all felt like it was a special morning and hopefully a good omen for the rest of our journey.

Tomorrow we were starting the riding, FINALLY!! We had eaten well, acclimatised and got the nod from the worlds spiritual leader. Anything we else we had forgotten to do didn’t matter.

Locals waiting to greet the Dalai Lama

Locals waiting to greet the Dalai Lama

locals and the Dalai Lama

Locals and the Dalai Lama

August 30, 2009 at 8:56 pm 2 comments

Cycling down the mtn with landslides and traffic

After making it to the top of the hill, we were treated to a delicious local meal of dahl baht. We were relaxed and chatted to our hosts, who rarely saw foreigners roll up on bicycles. All was well until we asked how far it was to Bataar, our destination. “45 km” easy we thought, we’ll be enjoying a shower in no time. “All down hill”, oh, that made it a bit different. Eri was especially none too pleased. Lesson #2, what goes down must come back up.

Feeling confident, at the top of the mountain

Amanda feeling confident, at the top of the mountain

So off we went, down the hill. With an extra 20-30kgs we quickly gained momentum. Pot holes took some clever work to get around, but they were nothing compared to the rivers that flowed across the road in some sections. Our bikes got a clean and our feet were soaked. The recent rain had also created another challenge for us, landslides. In some sections the tarmac disappeared underneath us and we were riding across a muddy path of freshly fallen dirt. We did our best to ignore the rocks and boulders sitting precariously on the hill above and below us.

Huge landslide put some of the dangers of the road into perspective

Huge landslide put some of the dangers of the road into perspective

This was all tricky enough, but we were still sharing the road with trucks, motorbikes, kids, cows and buses. We soon figured out that communication would keep us safe, so our conversation for the next few hours consisted of us yelling out “bus”, “truck” and “motorbike”. All those that passed us seem to find the three foreigners scrambling to the edge of the road with bike and bags hilarious. It was rare if a bus went by and we received less than 15 “Namaste” greetings followed by insane giggling.

Unlike the melodic air horns on the buses and trucks, we had no way of warning any oncoming traffic of our existence. It took careful concentration to maintain a safe position on the road, particularly when coming around the blind corners on the switchbacks.  As the day went on, our energy levels began to drop as did our concentration. I would gasp every now and then because  I could see Gavin choosing to sit in the middle of the road when coming to one of these scary corners. That’s when one of us would suggest we rest, which was usually happily agreed to because it gave us a chance to look around and see where we were.

The scenery was amazing. The edges of the mountains were carved into hundreds of rice paddies. Below us we could make out farmers in their fields, they looked like ants in the distance.

Terraced rice paddies on our descent

Terraced rice paddies on our descent

Finally we came to the bottom of the hill. We were relived to see the land flatten out and town we were heading to sitting before us. We stopped and took pictures of a little valley, and admired the river flowing below us.  What we didn’t realise was that the road we were on would drop down to the river and then climb back up the hill to our destination. By this time we had been descending for nearly four hours. Our hands were almost melded to our brakes, our bodies were frozen into shape for going down hill. The climb out of the valley to the town felt like the most excruciating 20 kms we had ever ridden. We were exhausted, hot, smelly and hungry.The short climb was so steep that even the buses coming towards us were creeping down bit by bit.

Our final destination, the one horse and three bike town of Bataar

Our final destination, the one horse and three bike town of Bataar

After some quiet cursing and walking our bikes up the hill, we rode into town.  We felt like freaks riding in to the one street town. Every man, woman and child stopped what they were doing and stared as we slowly rolled by. Finally we found a hotel. We congratulated each other on surviving the day. Noticeably, none of us mentioned the fact that we would have to climb that 45kms to get back to Kathmandu. That was a challenge for another day. Right now, we needed a shower, food and a whole lot of sleep.

August 6, 2009 at 2:03 pm Leave a comment

Kathmandu Traffic

Today we hit the streets of Kathmandu on the bikes. After one or two minor hiccups at the start, the magic of the allen key solved all our problems and we were away.

Road rules are a little different to Tokyo and Sydney, but we did ok. We quickly realised that the locals are not shy about using their horns. Whether they were showing support, frustration or telling us that they were there, we peddled along to a car horn symphony. Our mini pelaton saw Gavin at the front, Eri in the middle and me (Amanda) at the back. Despite one or two taxis making urgent stops in front of Eri, we were able to work together and make our way to the WWF office and back home again. It was just a short spin of the legs, in crazy traffic but great to finally get out on the bikes. Bring on the mountains!

Team support from hotel security

Team support from hotel security

we made it

we made it

July 30, 2009 at 7:53 pm 2 comments

Cycle for Change Press conference – Tokyo

With the departure date only a few days away, we have been busy this week taking advantage of as many press opportunities as possible. On Wednesday the 22nd we had a meeting with Bicycle Club one of Japan’s biggest cycling magazines, care of our great sponsors at Nichinao. After a great discussion they let us now that we will be featured in the August 20 edition of Bicycle Club.

Following our success with Bicycle Club, yesterday we had a full press conference at the Ministry of the Environment in Central Tokyo, attended by reporters from all the main media outlets in Japan including, NHK the national broadcaster, Nikkei, Asahi Shinbun, Kyodo news service and Sankei Shinbun.  We were able to present the project to the asssembled media for over forty minutes and after a lengthy presentation took a wide variety of questions about our partnership with WWF, the goals of the project and fine details of the trip itself. From discussions with a number of the journalists, Cycle for Change will be getting significant ongoing coverage in the Japanese press our trip.

Gavin and Eri speaking at the Tokyo press conference

Gavin and Eri speaking at the Tokyo press conference

To be fair it was a fairly daunting prospect to be sat in front all those journalists but through a combination of English and Japanese I think we left a great impression and now we are looking forward to alot of great coverage over the next few months.

With that we are only two days away now from getting on the plane at Narita and starting the real journey itself. After two years of thinking and planning it is all finally coming together, and now we just cant wait to get started. – Bring on the Himalayas.

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July 24, 2009 at 4:28 pm Leave a comment

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