the dan milner photography blog: tales of an adventuring photo chimp

October 18, 2010

Nepal rematch: Hardened bike adventurers 1 : Bed bugs 2

Filed under: bike, photography — Tags: , , , — danmilner @ 2:58 pm

“In all my time hiking in the Himalayas, I have never seen people riding bikes,” says the surprised looking Indian trekker, through a broad smile. I’m about to say that I’ve not seen too many 60 year old Indian trekkers either, but I decide to save my breath. Halfway up our final 4230-metre (13,877 ft) pass on our way to the northern Nepalese town of Lo Manthang, I need to save as much breath as I can.

If you’ve noticed a gap in my blog lately, Nepal is the reason. I just got back from 3 weeks there, where accompanied by US journalist legend Rob Story  and Chamonix local Swede biker Seb Liljeberg we scratched an itch that I have had for the last year: to traverse the remote northern ‘forbidden kingdom’ of Upper Mustang by singletrack trails all the way to the Tibetan border.

Right from the off when last year I gazed forlornly into the Upper Mustang from outside its restricted border and my over ambitious mind began its craving for the tsunami of endorphins this kind of physical challenge seems to unleash I  knew the assignment wasn’t going to be an easy one. And it wasn’t. 13 days riding shoehorned some 15,000 metres of climbing into the equation, most of it above 3500 m/11,500 ft. In fact, combined with basic tea house accommodation in villages en route, an incessant afternoon wind that at times tried to knock us clean off the suspension bridges that hang precipitously above churning Himalayan rivers, several huge passes and five days and nights hovering around 4000m, I can safely say that I think this was the most challenging bike adventure I’ve shot to date. And thats not mentioning the bed bugs. Or the fact that I was nursing a cracked sacrum delivered by a fall only two weeks earlier. Ouch.

My excuse to try to ride and shoot this challenge came in learning that the Chinese have begun to construct a road through the region development that normally spells not only a change to the local way of life but the disappearance of mile upon mile of singletrack trail. The price of progress. ‘Best ride it before it disappears’ I decided. Mountain Bike magazine in the US picked up the commission and duly assigned and permits applied for, we headed for the Upper Mustang, an area of Nepal that has only been open to foreigners since 1992.  Twenty hours of journeying from Europe, a day picking up permits in the smog and chaos filled Kathmandu, an 8 hour bus ride to Pokhara and a half hour ridge-hopping flight in an aging propellor plane got us to the small town of Jomsom, nestled at the foot of the 7000 m Annapurna range: adventure enough for any sane person, but merely the start of our riding. Ahead lay 3-hour long climbs, rocky staircases both up and down, regular goat gridlock, endless swooping descents, and vertical 700 m bike shouldering escapades. By the time we reached Lo Manthang the Tibetan Lhasa beers were well earnt.

The story will appear in Mountain Bike magazine in the spring, and I’ll be presenting a slideshow of the ordeal at the Kendal Mountain Film Festival’s bike night on Nov 19th.

Thanks for help with this trip go to Mountain Bike magazine, The North Face, Helly Hansen, powertraveller.com, Osprey packs, Mavic, Giro, Bell and Gore.

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