In January of 2011, one of my dearest friends and wild-woman adventurer, Kate Harris, took off with her friend Mel Yule on their custom titanium Seven touring bikes to ride from Istanbul across Turkey, the “stans” and into China and India along the Silk Road. Their expedition, Cycling Silk, was supported by a whole group of their friends (including myself) and several corporate sponsors.
That is Mel on the left and Kate on the right (photo shamelessly lifted from their website)
About the same time that I crashed my bike in Thailand, Kate asked if I might not want to join the expedition to ride across the Tibetan Plateau, joining them somewhere around Lhasa and then flying home after cycling to Kathmandu. Although this would have been the fulfillment of one of my lifelong dreams, with two broken ribs, two broken bones in my hand and almost three months off of my training due to injuries, the likelihood that I would be ready to ride more than 700 km at between 3,000 and 5,500 meters at the end of August was not good. Also, due to the travel restrictions in the region, it would have been difficult for me to have gotten into China and then out on my bike without the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR) permit, which would have required an accompanying guide.
So, my plan was to meet up with Kate and Mel at the Friendship Bridge, just as they exited Tibet at the Chinese border and ride with them back to Kathmandu. The plan had a requisite logistical difficulties of getting myself and a bicycle up in the Himalayas and timing things out so that I would arrive just as they finished their daring twenty-nine day mad dash (totally under the radar) across the top of the world.
Luckily, the International Center for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) in Nepal announced in July that they were going to host a big meeting on Mountains in the Rio +20 process at the beginning of September and we were able to use some existing funding to offer ICIMOD our conference reporting services. The timing couldn’t have been better, since it meant that our arrival in Kathmandu would perfectly coincide with the meeting and Kate could join the team as our Digital Editor (and two of Kate’s friends, Kate Neville and Tanya Rosen, would be able to join us as writers on the team.) So, all the stars were coming together for a border crossing, a bike ride into Kathmandu and several days of meetings on sustainable mountain development with some of the world’s experts in the field.
On 31 August 2011 I arrived in Kathmandu and immediately met up with Raj Gyawali (above), Founder and Director of Social Tours, a socially responsible tourism company in Nepal. Raj had come recommended by friends who work at ICIMOD and he had arranged everything so that by the end of the day I had a very nice mountain bike, gear and transport up to the border between China and Nepal, where I would meet Kate and Mel.
It was about a four-hour trip up to Kodari along a one-lane mud/gravel road full of three lanes worth of trucks.
This is the Google Earth view of the Friendship Bridge location and the towering mountains surrounding it.
With the Friendship Bridge behind them, I found Kate and Mel looking surprisingly fresh despite having just survived the most daring ride across Tibet, disguised as Chinese cyclists. Their book and documentary will be published at some point with all of the details that they might choose to reveal. But the hour I spent with them in a half-star trekker and truck driver hotel at the border having breakfast while they told the story of their ordeal was one of the greatest adventure travel moments of my life. I only wish that I had turned on the video recorder to have gotten the tale on tape.
My job, as I saw it, was to get these two as quickly as possible to somewhere with lots of good food, fresh water, hot showers, beer, massage and comfortable bedding. Neither of them had bathed or slept indoors for 29 days while they pedaled across Tibet.
They packed up their stuff, all of which was wet and dirty and we loaded up the bikes for the ride to The Last Resort, a trekker camp nearby.
Loaded and ready to roll.
This is Kate’s photo of me, playing the role of “White Knight” for the Cycling Silk team.
We stopped along the way and took photos.
The Last Resort is a delightful trekker camp, perched on the side of a ravine above a raging river at the end of a long suspension bridge.
For some reason the suspension bridge access was closed on the “road” side and so we had to take off all the gear, bring the bikes up separately and then reload the bikes for the walk across the bridge. None of us were brave enough to try and ride our bikes on the bridge.
After several weeks eating packaged noodles and Chinese junk food, Mel was thrilled to be eating real food at last.
Kate was full of stories and greatly relieved to be out of China and safely landed in the relative lap of luxury at the Last Resort.
After showering off the several layers of grime, it was impossible to figure out which calf was which… Kimo or Mel’s?? (Hint: One of us does not shave our legs.)
We spent three lovely days at the Last Resort, just lazing on the cushions in the common veranda, getting massages, telling good life adventure stories and eating enormous amounts of food for breakfast, lunch and dinner, while chasing down the food with bottles of “Everest” beer.
The Last Resort is a tented camp, but the tents were modern and dry and the beds were very comfortable.
We finished up the week in Kathmandu at the ICIMOD meeting.
Here is a picture of the whole team: (from left) Kate Harris, Kate Neville, me, Tanya Rosen and Mel Yule.