Always push your limits. And then go a little further.
Oh shit, no no no no. shit. Fuk. Why does this have to happen to me? Now?Faarrrkkkk. That was about all that was going through my head once I finished skidding, almost sliding out but somehow managing to keep my bike up after running over an innocent (or not so innocent) looking stick that broke off, sliced my rear tyre and got stuck in my wheel and bent my rotor. Not to mention in the first fortyish minutes of the ride. And we left about two hours later than planned.
After faffing about in Kathmandu, Cory (Canadian), Patrick (American), Anoj (Nepalese) and myself (Australian) finally got rolling. My bike was loaded with the bikepacking bags I borrowed from Cory and Patrick. Luckily Patrick had brought an extra handlebar bag and saddle bag for Cory to test out from Blackburn designs. Me and my naivety thought I’d fit what I needed into my CambelBak bag. The pre-race adventure had started and the first day was going to be a big one. Cory rode that same route last year and got in after dark and we were trying to avoid that. There was a slight sense of urgency to keep rolling but the pace was comfortable, and it felt so good to have started riding. Then my tyre issue happened. God damn it. Why am I the only girl on the trip and I am the only one that gets a damn flat (no one else ran over the stick that’s why ha-ha). I changed my flat and patched my tyre and then Anoj straightened my rotor. In my packing super light for the trip I only packed one tube, silly girl I thought, and a slight panic washed over me. Too bad now. Take two, let’s try again.
We were headed to Arughat to meet Saroj (our guide whose trip we were tacking onto) who was also on his way in a jeep with the three Spanish guys who wanted to complete Manaslu Circuit in five days. I’m glad I didn’t know anything about this trip beforehand. I’m also glad I say yes to a lot of things without really thinking them through too much. I trust my intuition and gut feeling and if it feels right and is a hell yes, then the details will workout. After all I was going on a trip with a bunch of guys I didn’t really know, in a country I had never been too. But I felt a strange sense of ease and excitement. Ever since I landed in Kathmandu, I felt safe.
After about three hours of riding Anoj turned off to head back to Kathmandu. We would see him again in Besi Sahar for the start of Yak Attack. We pushed on, only stopping for a water and a snack break. The sun was starting to go down, one benefit of leaving late and my tyre issue was the epic sunset.
I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t excited to see Saroj waiting at the bottom of the descent in Arughat to show us where our hotel was. Wowser, what a day. And it was only day one.
Riding to the start of Manaslu Circuit – Kathmandu to Arughat.
Manaslu Circuit day 1: Arughat to Jagat
Many would argue that the Manaslu Circuit trail is the best general trek in the country, with colourful cultures and dramatic valleys against a back drop of classic Himalayan peaks. –
Robin Boustead,author of The Great Himalaya Trail
More faffing, leaving later than Saroj and the Spanish guys meant more ‘on the gas’, feel the urgency energy today. To make matters worse, I decided to check my tyre pressure just as we were about to leave and boom; tube popping through my slashed tyre. Faaarrrrkkkkkk, why didn’t I check this last night? I can’t ride like this. I don’t have any more tubes with me. Stupid girl. After informing Cory and Patrick, we decided to roll into Arughat and see if we could run into the others there. That would be our last major ‘town’ to stock up on any necessities; i.e. flip flops and snacks (all the important things). A Clif bar wrapper was slipped in to cover up the small slash in my tyre and then full gas to get through the checkpoints with Saroj. If we didn’t make it to the checkpoint with Saroj, who had our permits, we wouldn’t make the trip.
If today was anything to go by, I wouldn’t survive the trip. Every muscle in my body cramped. My fingers were involuntarily curling up every time I tried to pick my bike up, my toes were cramping in my bike shoes. The steps were endless. The hiking of bike was relentless. How was I going to make it through the next five days? It was almost as if my prayers had been heard and a Nepalese guy on the trail offered to carry my bike up yet another ongoing set of rock stairs. I was too tired to reject his offer. He threw my bike over his shoulder and pretty much sprinted off down the trail. I could manage a light jog, in my carbonsoled bike shoes, feeling lighter and had a bit of a spring back in my step without my bike. Once Patrick was back in sight and the questions started coming, are you married? Do you have a boyfriend? Do you have Facebook so we can stay in touch? Give me my bike back! I am strong independent woman (hahaha). I snatched my bike back and tried to march off down the trail with my muscles quivering with each upward step under the load of my bike again. The guy bounced off down the trail out sight. Damn, why did I react like that? Back to the grind, just keep moving forward. One step at a time. You got dis. Despite my physical body wanting to curl up on the side of the track in a pile of rocks, my mind was positive, albeit a little worried for what lay ahead. Funnily enough we ran into him again further down the trail and again, he apologised and took my bike. Too tired to argue I handed it over. I took full advantage of the slight reprieve, had some snacks and got quick shuffle going to keep up. This time I was very thankful to him for helping me. I was also thankful the trail opened up and I could ride for a bit.
Sheer relief came over me when I saw the guys in a little shack on the side of the track eating boiled eggs and salt. Boiled eggs, salt and a glass bottle of coke has never tasted so good. All I could do that night was eat, eat, eat, eat and eat. And then eat and pray that my body would recover for tomorrow. Thank goodness I packed enough of my vital greens and swift high-performance recovery powder to double up each day.
Manaslu Circuit day 2: Jagat to Ghap.
I woke up hungry, which to me is always a good sign. I checked my bike early and the Clif bar wrapper was holding up a treat. I was ready very early and got rolling a bit before the guys. Today, the energy was different. I was stress free and didn’t have a care in the world. I looked around me for the first time and the smile took over my face. I was riding into the mountains of Nepal. I was unstoppable.
Going at my own pace today, nothing mattered. The insane hike a bike was bearable and almost enjoyable in a weird way. I copied Saroj and started carrying my bike on my back and that made it easier. I probably should have mentioned I have never hiked a bike in my life. I kept thinking about it at home and reading Neil’s blog that said make sure you practice hiking a bike. Maybe this trip was my preparation. I appreciated the beauty of nature. I completely accepted and surrendered to what was. I felt an overwhelming sense of peace and freedom.
The crazy pace and franticness of the previous day/s seemed to subside. We all met up for lunch. I felt the complete joy of being on my own but in the safety of having people in front and behind me. I commend the women that do those bikepacking races and go all night in the dark on their own. I’m too much of wussy scaredy cat. A staple diet of rice, potatoes and apple pancakes was starting to form. I was beginning to realise short distances take a long time to cover. It was a process of hike, bike, push, bike, hike, hike, hike.
Tonight we found out the importance of traveling with a guide; you get fed first.
Manaslu Circuit day 3: Ghap to Samagoan.
I rolled out with Spanish guys today. One of them could speak fairly good English, one ok and the other not much. But I would say words in English and he would respond in Spanish or French. We would exchange a smile and an awkward laugh like we had no idea what each other was saying but it worked. I quite enjoy the peace and quiet out on the trail, moving along in my happy bubble.
By this point we had decided it wasn’t the best Yak Attack prep but I didn’t mind. Cory had given us the option of the familiar (somewhere along the Annapurna circuit where we would race and he has been before) or unfamiliar. While it was all unfamiliar to me, we all chose the unfamiliar. I figured while I was in Nepal, I was going to see as much as I could. This trip was definitely not disappointing me there.
Today was slow going and kinda crazy to think it took seven and a half hours to cover not even 30 km. But the moments of turning a corner and mountains peaking over monastery’s, was breathtaking. I can’t put into words the feelings of what my eyes saw and my body felt in these moments. Boiled potatoes with salt and a cup of black tea have never tasted so good.
Lunch stop, boiled potatoes with salt. Sitting around out front of the tea house eating potatoes dipped in salt, sipping tea and sharing laughter is what life is all about.
The diversity of terrain is mind blowing; one moment you are climbing uprock stairs, crossing a single loose rocky trail with a sheer drop on one side and the next you are climbing over gates and walking through a ‘paddock’ of Yaks.
Manaslu Circuit day 4: Sama to Dharmasala.
I had a weird sleep and woke up feeling uneasy. My fingers and toes were a bit puffy and tingling through the night and I didn’t sleep well. I must have been making up stories about getting altitude sickness through my sleepless stupor. My head was in a spin. I climbed on to the roof of our tea house to watch the sunrise kiss the snow-capped mountains to ease my mind. It didn’t work.
Breakfast and time to get rolling. My head eased. The energy of the mountains was indescribable, complete joy and surreal feelings of rolling through the mountains.
Cory went ahead and secured our accommodation. Dharamsala proved to be a busy spot. Cory, Patrick and I had a tent. They were a bit manky and the stinky blankets probably hadn’t been washed in a while. A long while.
The excitement for a short day was real. It meant washing could get done and dried (maybe if didn’t faff so long). An afternoon of sunshine, mountains and thin air.
Saroj said we were leaving at 4:30am to cross the pass. I thought he was joking. He was amazing, doing this ride with a bung knee and never complained (out loud anyway). He was a joker and I never knew if he was being serious and moments later a cheeky grin would creep across his face. But he wasn’t joking this time. But he did end up saying 5am start. Shiiiitttttt. Cory was leaving later when the sun was up. But for me I knew I would be slow and had no idea how my body was going to respond to crossing 5000m.
Manaslu Circuit day 5: Dharmasala to Goa.
I slept in every piece of clothing I took with me (minus my wet knicks and sports bra). There was no need to set an alarm. Hikers are up at 3:30am and talk like everyone else is also getting up at the same time. It was too cold to change any layers or even put my sports bra on. I was going over the pass braless. Even my water bottles were partially frozen. It was shoes on, shoe covers on, load my bike and off we went.
Patrick and I saw other bikes heading off just before us and thought that it was Saroj and the Spanish (but there were other crazy’s out there too). Heading for the trail to catch up with them, we completely missed it and ended up down the hill bit. Whoops. Let’s try again.
It was slow going. One foot in front of the other. Felt some nausea but it passed. Saroj said it would be about 4-4.5 hours. He wasn’t wrong. The 4.5 hours of pushing, lifting, carrying my bike was worth the sunrise. The magic, the deafening silence, the mountains…. The sights are imprinted on my memory. The say travel to inspire and be inspired. That definitely rang true so many times on this trip.
A Mars Bar snack stop part way up was the best thing I had even eaten. It is amazing how good food tastes at altitude. I didn’t feel like eating anything before starting the day. That was bit of a rookie mistake. Finally made the top. A quick photo and keep moving, it was pretty cold. I definitely need to improve my cold weather clothing for these trips.
The descent was crazy steep, loose and lots of it unrideable for me. I had a headache coming off the mountain. Also realised I hadn’t eaten anything or drank anything for 5 hours. The descent was like trying to ride down a river bed with rocks on steroids. I was on and off my bike and getting frustrated at my inability to find any flow in my mind. Bimthang came into sight but seemed like an eternity to get there.
The Spanish guys had been there for a while. I ordered food, coke and a lot of food as soon as I arrived. Again potatoes and rice pudding. I can’t remember exactly at what point that day Saroj said we weren’t staying at Bimthang and riding another 3 hours onto Goa. I was spent. I wanted to curl up and go to sleep. How. Was. I. going. To. Ride. On?
The time came. Get on bike and ride. That I did. The best was, the majority of the 3 hours was riding. My body and mind came alive. The scenery was out of this world. Like we had gone to another planet. Moss covered autumnal trees in a rainforest that made me want to set up tent and camp by the flowing river for an eternity. The beauty of nature revitalised my energy. The 3 hours flew by and the quaint little village of Goa was stunning. The people were beautiful, the food was fresh and flavoursome. A kind of warm shower and a comfy bed.
Somehow my phone started working again. My sim card had stopped working the day we were leaving Kathmandu. Too bad, it was refreshing not having a phone and I had got a message out to Nienke, who we were meeting somewhere after Manaslu circuit. A call came through and we organised to meet to Nienke on the way to Chame.
Manaslu Circuit day 6: Goa to the “finish” in Darapani, then up to Chame for a couple nights.
After some of my favourite apple pancakes of the whole trip, I was set to roll down the hill to Dharapeni. This is where we said our goodbyes to the Spanish and Saroj (who we would see again on Yak Attack) before the climb up to Chame.
This part of the climb was going to be part of stage 2 in the race. I have never appreciated riding my bike more than I did on this day. There was no pushing, no carrying, no hiking. Just the simple, enjoyable action of turning circles. BLISS.
We met Nienke in the town before Chame and arrived at our final destination, well for 2 days anyway, by lunch time. The sun was shining, the mountains were visible and I thoroughly enjoyed a few luxuries in hot showers and Wi-Fi to touch base with the fam. The only thing I really missed was my journal. I packed so light I left it in my big bag. So many thoughts, feelings and emotions floating about with nowhere to go. Such a whirlwind trip, so much packed into such a short time that also felt like an eternity. So much that I have probably missed a lot.
A rest day in Chame was just what the body needed, but also conscious not to slip too far into recovery mode. Race start was 2 days away.
Thank you to Cory and Patrick. Thank you Saroj, you were the best guide.
I loved all the random travellers I got to speak with along the way.
I loved that I found my limits and pushed even further
I loved that I felt the magic of the mountains like never before
I loved that I had no idea what the hell I was doing or what I needed to pack but somehow survived
I loved that I embraced the feralness of bikepacking ha-ha
I love that I learned what I truly appreciate in life
I love that I learned what really matters in life
I love that I experienced the simplicity of riding (and hiking) my bike for days on end
I love that I accepted and surrendered
I love that I experienced the beauty of nature
Stay tuned for part 2…. Yak Attack – the race.