The Ladies of Spiti: 3733km

“Be the kind of woman that when your feet hit the floor each morning the devil says “oh crap, she’s up!”

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I hit a low point cycling yesterday as I had eaten too much sugar and not enough real food. I felt tired and slightly sick, and had no desire to go on. Lucky for me, my afternoon got a lot better once a few local ladies in a small village I was passing through invited me for chai, then to spend the night. The women were three sisters (late twenties/early thirties) who lived with their mom, and one of the women’s child, a seven year old boy. Their husbands were drivers, meaning they were normally on the road driving tourists all around northern India. They all had children as well, but besides the one boy left, the children were at private schools in other towns. Many of the children in the area are sponsored to attend these schools with a “hostel” attached, meaning the children live there, often times starting at the young age of six. The women and their mother tended to the house and animals, and also did construction for a road work project nearby, a job which is both strenuous and tedious. They were a lovely and hospitable family, and one of the women spoke decent English which made my life a bit easier.

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All in Your Head

“The advantages? Exercise, no parking problems, gas prices, it’s fun. An automobile is expensive. You have to find a place to park and it’s not fun. So why not ride a bicycle? I recommend it.”

How is it that 20km of flat can be harder than 40km straight uphill? Because cycling is a mental game. Most five year olds can happily ride their bike around the block, and touring really isn’t that different. Sure, you are doing a few more kilometers, and hopefully can cycle a bit faster than them, but it’s the same simple motion. It is always possible to turn your pedals just one more time. Sometimes though, that one push seems much harder than others.

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Sick as a Street Dog: 3380km

“The most poetical thing in the world is not being sick.”

In addition to my lovely pounding headache and fever, I have now acquired a very swollen sore throat and a pretty intense ear ache. After lying in bed withering every time my pain meds started to run low, I figured it was time to check out the Ladakhi medical system. Though the “senior doctor” was out, I was able to see his “junior”, whatever that entitles. In any case, he was a sixty year old manwho knew how to put the batteries in the apparatus to look down my throat, and see that my tonsils were extremely enflamed with white bumps covering them. He proceeded to prescribe me an antibiotic (amoxicillin) and told me not to eat hard foods (even swallowing water at this point is very painful so I will definitely be heeding this piece of advice).

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Books and Bed: 3380km

“Never trust anyone who has not brought a book with them.”

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Well unfortunately my cycling had been postponed a few days because the morning I was set to leave, I came down with a fever. At first I was frustrated, I wanted to be on my bike again, camping, out of the city of Leh which is such a tourist hub. I realized though, that attempting to cycle up a pass with a pounding headache and fever is just about impossible. My health is crucial to this trip as I am relying on myself, and only myself, to get me from place to place, and with three years of open road ahead, I guess taking a few extra days off really isn’t that bad. So I decided to look on the bright side and spend a few solid days reading great books, and listening to interesting podcasts. For the first few days it was nice, like a little vacation in a vacation. I thought I would have ample time to read everyday throughout this trip, but bike touring has turned out to be a full time job (in the best way possible) so it was nice to have a few days to get some reading in. By day three though, I was sick of always being too hot or cold due to my fever, and I wanted nothing more than to get rid of my constant pounding head ache.

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Before the Snow Comes: 3380km

“And then I realized, adventure was the best way to learn.”

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Though I could spend months exploring the mountains and valleys in Ladakh, unfortunately it is time for me to start heading south in order to beat the snow which typically starts near the end of September. To do so, I will be taking the one road that leads down, the Leh to Manali highway (the same road I drove on to get up here), and I will be adding on a large loop detour in order to explore two beautiful lakes. All in all it will be over 700km, and I’m guessing it will take me close to three weeks. I will not have internet (seeing as I will literally be in the middle of nowhere, there is not even electricity or permanent civilization in most parts), so I will continue to write blog entries and post them in a few weeks once I have reached the town of Manali.

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Nubra Valley: 3340km

“May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view.”

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After climbing up and over the highest pass, the English lad I had adopted along for this four day adventure and I rode into what is referred to as Numbra Valley. Because this road approaches both China and Pakistan, the military presence is very heavy, though there are not many other inhabitants. There are few villages between Leh and Tukturk (200km), and Tukturk is the end of the road (unless you are Indian military) north into the Indian Himalayas. Since most of the valley is no higher than 3,300m, there are animals, such as donkeys and large yaks, who roam freely along the river, and where there are people, there are trees and a bit of refreshing green. The rest of the landscape is barren rock with a few sand dunes between the high peaks.

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Up and Over the Highest (Motorable) Pass in the World: 3200km

“I doubt if anyone would claim to enjoy life at high altitudes- enjoy, that is, in the ordinary sense of the word.”

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I just cycled over the highest motorable pass in the world. I never imagined that someday I would cycle up to 5,602m, and I definitely never imagined I would actually enjoy it. I started out late in the morning and had planned to camp at a village about 15km from the top in order to summit the next day. When I arrived, I realized it was a military base with a few tents of soldiers, and a few other tents with Indian men. After sitting in the “village” reading for an hour I realized I did not feel comfortable sleeping there. The guys stared rudely, and the military men kept coming up and taking my picture. Lucky for me, earlier in the day I had met an English fellow who was biking up the pass as well so I decided to ride down with him. Though I turned around before the top that time, it had been an amazing day. The cycling up had been surprisingly fun, and cycling down at 50km an hour while the sun was setting was absolutely unbelievable.

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Into the Unknown: 3080 km

“Two roads diverged in a wood and I – I took the one less traveled by and that has made all the difference.”

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Before arriving in India I had spent a fair amount of time starring at the Himalayas through google maps. After locating Leh, I realized that there was one small road leading to the north, even farther into the mountains. Obviously after noticing it was there I had to cycle it. After a bit of research I figured out that the first part of the road leads over the highest motorable pass in the world, which at 5,600m, would be extremely difficult to bike over. After that, there are very small villages spread out along the road until it end. Literally, it just ends. To the left is Pakistan, to the right is China, and all around are impassable mountains. Sounds appealing right?

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And So it Begins: 3,080 km

“The core of mans’ spirit comes from new experiences.”

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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!

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Ladakh: 2903km

“The mountains are calling and I must go.”

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I am here, in the middle of the Himalayas, surrounded by snow-capped giants on all sides. I am in a place I have dreamed about since I first started to travel, and even more so since I started reading about mountaineering expeditions to this majestic area. It is the mountain lovers heaven to say the least.

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