“The core of mans’ spirit comes from new experiences.”
I decided to do a little 300km trip to a lake and back as a sort of warm-up for cycling in the Himalayas. Little did I know that this “warm-up” actually involved the third highest motorable pass in the world (5,320m). After a 45km excruciatingly slow accent, multiple river crossings (while pushing my bike), and less than perfect road conditions to say the least, I have now officially cycled over one of the highest passes in the world!
This was what much of the accent looked like, zig zags cut out in avalanche and rockslide prone areas, which left the road completely unpaved and rough in many areas.
Here is one of the dozens of streams I had to cross, wadding through the shin deep water while pushing my bike.
Every once and a while there would be a whole convoy of army trucks which forced me to pull over.
I was nervous leaving my guest house the morning I started out since I had no idea if I was going to make it. Though I had talked excitedly about the fact that I was going to cycle in the Himalayas, there is no way to train for cycling at such high altitudes, and I had no idea if I would physically be able to do it. It had been three weeks since I had put my bike in it’s box (for the airplane and buses), and after five minutes back in the saddle, I was happily whistling to myself. The first twenty kilometers were great. It was flat, a rare treat, and as I rode through the villages surrounding Leh the school children yelled “julley” (which can mean hello, goodbye, thank you, and just about whatever else you please) and waved as I passed. Then I saw a tiny hill ahead, the kind you wouldn’t even notice at sea level. Though I was only at 3,500m, that small hill left me gasping for breath, and I realized what a workout my poor lungs were about to endure.
The first part of the ride passed through many villages with monasteries such as these.
The first night I camped right next to a village where a few curious locals starred at me as I set up. I couldn’t tell if it was me or the bike they were watching though. I have had people sit right in front of my bike, crisscross applesauce, in order to stare intently at it. Others have come up to pet it as if it were a dog. When I park my bike somewhere, even if I am right beside it, I often have people taking their picture with it. Though there are other cyclists who ride through this area every year, everywhere I go I am under the impression the locals have never seen a touring bike before.
Here are the two places I camped before reaching the lake, not a bad view right?
On day two I only did 22km. I have ran farther than that in two hours before! After arriving just after one to an army base camp (Ladakh is one of the most densely populated army bases in the world with an outpost every twenty kilometers or so), I took a little break and realized I had no desire to climb any more that day. So I climbed a bit farther around a bend, and set up my tent next to a stream at 5,000m. The next morning I climbed the remaining 13km over the pass, and stood happily at 5,300m, on the third highest pass in the world!
After descending about thirty kilometers I entered into an area with animals and green!
After a much too short downhill, I pedaled another sixty kilometers until I reached Pagong lake, my destination for this warmup. I arrived just before sunset, and the sky had turned a very intense red. After spending the night at the lake I was lucky enough to hitch a ride back with some tourist (who I had actually met previously on my bus ride from Manali) back into Leh so I didn’t have to do that exact same ride all the way back again.
Though I really can’t say it was “fun” biking over such a high pass, for some reason, I am about to head out and do it all again, on an even higher pass. I find that cycling in the mountains is just like mountaineering: you spend hours, even days, struggling to reach the top of some unknown peak, only to turn around and head right back down. You were hungry, too hot or cold, and out of breath the whole time, but somehow, once it’s all said and done, you can’t wait to do it again.