“Is it hard?” asked Linnet. I answered firmly with conviction:” No!” Thinking back over the 3 years that I have been to Tibet, discovering the routes, riding them as a as a first timer and then repeatedly to scrutinize the route and the logistics with my local team. I knew first hand, in fact I was lying.
Addicted to Altitude - Ken Goh
As a Singaporean, born and raised on an island country, the only mountain I knew
before relocating to Shanghai 14 years ago was Mount Faber, the highest natural
peak standing at 105m above sea level. Since I started road biking, there was an
obsession with adventure, the outdoors and elevation.
Climbing has always played a big part of my adventures, like meditation, I could clear my mind, stay focused and I could cycle to the rhythm of my heartbeat. The euphoria I get at the top is a weird mixture of pain and laughter.
There is always a sense of mystery about Tibet. The landscape's stark and
unforgiving, the warm people and the religion shrouded in a lot of mystic. The more I explore Tibet, the more I ended up learning about myself than about the mountains. I cannot help but appreciate that, when I feel the pain in my legs and the struggle for every breath, I am alive.
Last autumn, together with my teammate Josh Bauer, we led 15 cyclists on an
adventure that is beyond EPIC! 800km of riding with ever-changing weather
conditions. We rode from -5 to 30 degrees Celsius and cycled on roads 5,264m above sea level. The elements were harsh but we were not here to pamper ourselves were we?
“Don't rush, take your time and breath slowly. In 3 hours time, you will experience a lingering headache.” The first thing I told the team when we arrived in Nyingchi, the lowest part of Tibet, 2,800m above sea level.
“Tah-shi de-leh” Lhakpa welcomed us upon arrival, as he placed the khata, a
ceremonial scarf around our necks symbolizing purity and compassion. As we set up the bikes I started handing out Diamox to the crew to reduce the effects of altitude sickness.
The sun didn't rise until 0730hrs, outside temperature was pretty close to 0 degrees Celsius. We were hoping for some sun and then it started to drizzle. The low lying clouds and the dense forestation had everything set up for long lasting rainfall.
After debrief, the support vehicles headed out and our riders were released. First
climb was to the top of Sejila Pass, a 35km ride to the top and an elevation of 1200m which puts us briefly at 4,565m.
At the top we met a few locals who had been cycling for almost two weeks, their
journey to Lhasa was expected to take another two weeks. A group photo for good luck and off we go! The rain stopped as soon as we started our descend to Nyingchi.
The locals wander close and you could hear them saying: “Laowai! Laowai!
(foreigner)” they were wondering what the hell we were doing riding up and down the pass on a bicycle. It was ridiculous to them.
By the 3rd day, the symptoms of altitude sickness subsided. With 20-30% less
oxygen we had to make do with much lower heart rates that we were used to. The
landscapes shifted from dense forest to sparse shrubs. I couldn't have imagined riding here a month early where it was raining all the time. The risk of landslides simply made it too dangerous for such a big group.
Not all meals stops are as planned and during this trip we found a couple of pretty
awesome refueling points. The restaurants at times are makeshift shipping
containers parked by the highway, they don't look pretty but they do serve a very
delicious Niu Rou Pao Mo, dough bread dipped in beef soup.
After leaving the comfort of Lhasa, we departed for more adventure on day 5 with one of the nicest climbs in Tibet, the Khampa La Pass. The ride was 40km to the top but we had to climb close to 1,400m. The switchbacks on this climb were simply amazing.
Not every day is a climbing day and one of the best days for everyone was
descending down 300m over a easy paced 90km ride. This was a well earned recovery ride day.
Some days we get to explore the local towns by foot, visited the temples, watched
the monks debate and Lhakpa would explain to us the Tibetan way of life.
Day 7, Lhatse to Tingri was by far one of the toughest ride to date. An 85km total ride with a 1,400m climb in the first 30km. We were all running out of gears, and average moving speed was going down, down, down. A combination of lactic build up, altitude, or even perhaps - I think - I am out of shape.
It looks all sunny but its -5 degrees Celsius and the wind wasn't giving us any
chance of warming up.
The downhill wasn't easy either as the headwind was hitting us from all angles. The gradient on my wahoo showed -3 but I was struggling to keep up with a cruising speed of 28km/h. It felt like I was pushing harder than I was when going up.
After being on the road for 8 days, this was D Day! We woke up at 4am and set off shortly after breakfast and headed out to the top of Jiawula. A descent with over 108 switchbacks. This is one of those descents where you would wonder if the switchbacks would ever end.
Everest was looking pretty close now, -5 outside and we were waiting for the sunrise for much needed warmth before the descent down 20km and 108 switchbacks. We put on almost all of our clothes to prevent freezing our asses off.
A stop at some prayer wheels offered some good karma as we neared the completion of our journey to Everest Base Camp.
There’s something magical about these mountains. I arrived in awe and
overwhelmed by the majestic view in front of me, for days Everest was a speck in the horizon and finally it’s right in front of me, I could hear the strong gust blowing snow off the tip of the summit, the little cracking sounds now and then, I couldn't hold back my tears.
The clouds entered like the curtains of a performance, as Everest bowed and exited the show. Our journey had come to an end. The friendships forged on this epic adventure will bind the 17 of us for a long time to come.
This is Epic Tibet.
Ken Goh is a Wearwell Seasonnaire and founder of Shanghai based RideNow Cycle Club. The RideNow Cycle Club offer a range of day trips and longer cycling holidays to parts of China and beyond, including their "Epic Tibet" excursions. For more information, head to: www.ridenow.cc/