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Tibet Mountain Bike Expedition dispatches 2004


May - 23  Namaste

First of all I simply want to reiterate that we are all well, safe, very
happy and floating on the laurels of our most successful expedition. I
received a few emails concerning the unrest in Nepal but we really have seen
very little of this. A few demonstrations but never anything violent and we
have never felt threatened in any way.

I thought I would give one last update dating from my last email in Shigatse 
From Shigatse we set out on perhaps the windiest day of the trip with fierce
winds in our faces the whole day. We estimated constant 50km/hr winds with
gusts up to 80km/hr. You got dust in your ears, nose, every crack (and you
know what I mean by that crack) and even in between your teeth. Who needs
dental polishing? We climbed up one pass at about 17000 feet and it was a
long grind. However, the vistas and brilliant panoramas made it all very
worthwhile. I am sure I've collected enough dust to start my own little
Tibetan corner in the garden. We ended the 80km ride that day with a great
campsite by the river. The sherpa team really knows how to take care of you
especially after a long day like that. Our campsite was at the base of the
Tsuo La (remember that La means pass).  The next morning we were yet again
greeted with sherpa tea in our tents. The wind had died down through the
night and we set out over the pass. Unfortunately by lunch time the wind was
howling again but the amazing vistas and beautiful mountains more than made
up for it all. You also cross through small Tibetan villages with people
that simply steal your heart with their smiles and simple way of life. We 
finally camped at the base of Gyatso La (also called Cho La) which is 5520m
high!! The day we went over the pass their was virtually no wind and it was
very bright and sunny and we were down to biking shorts and short sleeved
cycle jerseys and slathered up in sunscreen. We climbed about 1200m to be
greeted at the top by the chortens festooned with hundreds of prayer flags
to which we added a few. Bert and I somehow caught the eye of an Italian TV
crew who are in Tibet doing a documentary on an Italian group doing a climb
on Chomolongma (as an anniversary of the first ever climb of K2 done by
Italians 50 yrs ago). Anyways they interviewed us on Italian TV asking us
what we were doing ....they seemed a bit amazed that "anyone" would want to
bike from Lhasa to Kathmandu! They were also amazed that Bert is 71 and that
I was 50. Perhaps our flags on our bikes attracted them ...I am still flying
the prayer flags and Bert had brought with him a Canadian flag which he has
been flying. So peak freaks got a good mention on Italian TV! The ride down
from the pass was great fun .....even thought I tried at one point to take
out a darting sheep for our supper ....and then its youngen which darted out
behind momma and had to skid on all fours to avoid me and being made into
the appetizer ....I'm sure I missed both of them by no more than inches at
over 40km/hr!! That night we stayed at Shegar which has become the main
staging area for expeditions into the north side of Everest. Like everything
else around here Everest has three names the Tibetans call it Chomolongma,
the sherpas call it Sagarmartha, the westerners Everest. The Chinese have
bastardized it and call it Qomolangma. The maps can be very confusing as
they often have different names on them and our Tibetan guide often has a
totally different name for the pass or mountain or village or river or
whatever feature we are interested in. From Shegar we crossed another very
high pass the Pang La which snakes up the mountain with numerous switchbacks
until you finally reach the top to be treated to the most amazing panorama.
It takes away your breath both literally and realistically ...I brought
along a little device that measures your oxygen levels and at the top of the
pass on arriving our SaO2 levels were between 60-70% ...normally they should
be >90%, at home we routinely put people on home O2 if their SaO2 is <85%.
We have all acclimatized reasonably well though and their have been no major
problems and the few small health concerns we have had we have been able to
deal with effectively. The view from the top is WOW ..you have at least 5
peaks over 8000m including Makalu, Lhotse, Chomolongma, Cho Oyu, and Shishi
Pangma ...and hundreds of others which tower over 7000m. It is simply
stunning. Once over the top we rode down into the Rongbuk valley and up to
the Rongbuk monastery which is just a few kms from EBC. We had perfect
weather and the north face of Everest becomes more and more prominent until
it fills the entire landscape it seems! We saw her in brilliant sunshine,
starlight, with alpenglow and with wisps of clouds giving it dramatic
effect. It certainly is a bit colder but nothing that another layer couldn't
fix. Our dining tent was situated such that our view was of the north face.
I have been very lucky to visit both sides of the mountain. 


medical technology she still has a very big stick and can be very
unforgiving and deserves nothing but respect. From Dingri we rode over the
Lalung La. Just before the pass one of my tires literally went bang ...a
hole the size of my little finger in the tube and the beading on the tire
also had blown out. I had to wait for the support vehicle ...it happened
alongside the Bum Chu river ..which we have chosen to say as bum "chewed up
and out" ...which was as at least a fairly sheltered and restful spot to
await the support vehicle. The others went ahead and by the time the support
vehicle got to me and I had put in a new tube and tire I was good hour
behind. I therefore got to ride up the pass alone which took me 2 hours and
up into a most barren land which again was blasting wind ...I wonder why it
always seems to blow in your face ...or is that what you remember the most?
I eventually arrived in camp with the others all cheering that I had made it.
We have become a close knit group which has jelled well. The next day there
was one last pass to climb up onto the high plateau with stunning views of
Shishi Pangma and Gauri Shankar. We paused awhile here as this was the last
time we would be up so high. We then began the world's longest downhill
....over about 100 km you drop from 17000ft to 2000ft!! It was a wild and
bumpy ride! Once we got to Nyalam the valley narrows into a gorge and the
cascading Sun Kosi river makes a terrific din. You also feel the rich thick
air and oxygen flowing through your veins ...you feel like superman! Also at
Nyalam suddenly it becomes very green and very lush and as you descend even
more and more jungle like. We also had the treat of it raining with steamy
mountains and mist making everything look surreal. It was a treat to see it
tin the rain because their were hundreds of small and huge waterfalls coming
down the steep gorge walls. We slipped and rode down in the mud like small
kids but with bif boy toys!! We eventually got down to Zangmu where we spent
the night. The next day we crossed into Ndpal at Kodari 7km further down the
trail across the friendshhp bridge. What a mor`ss of people and trucks
trying to go in opposite directions all at the same time. From Kodari it is
a lhttle over 100kms into Kathmandu. It was interesting to ride through this
lajd and see the dramatic change between here and the high arid barren
plateau. All in all we rode about 1300kms Tim figures. Me nor my butt is
going to argue wiTh that! We are now in KTM and tomorrow fly home.
Pictures to follow:


May -22 <font> Greetings from Kathmandu8br>
Wedl we are safe!! The trip sas simply amazing. We are  now back in
Kathmandu and will sogn be on our way home. T`ere is so much to tell and
s`are re our adventures and I widl need a bit of time to absorb it all and
put it into some kind of framework. We had perfebt weather when we jeeded
it.....for example the day after we left Everest `asE camp it clouded in and you could not see anything! Everest from the north side is simply amazing
....it is so much more isolated and dominating as coipared to the south side
where it has to share the space with Nuptse, Lhotse and Lingren. Ve saw it
in all types of light i.e. morning, afternoon `nd twilight and by star and
moonlight. With wisps of clouds and with nothing but bpilliant blue qkies.
The riding has been great up steep paqses in thin air only to be rewarded by
vistas unsurpassed anywhere.. The Tibetan plateau is a vast and arid very
forbidding place but has a magical and lystical charm about it that is
simply and genuinely phenomenal. We had a lot of adventures punctuating our
trip and too  many to share right now. The Tibetan people are high on the
list of "'best of the trip''.
I am tired and very dirty and need to spend some time with Mr. soap and a
scrubbing brush. So I will say goodnight now and promise to write again soon
with some more details about our trip across the roof of the world. When I
am back in Canada I also promise to write at least one last email with some
photo attachments.

May -18

Hello dispatch watchers. Today the team should be arriving at Everest Base Camp on the North Side. It is possible that they may be able to get a dispatch out from there. Stay tuned!  To all the family members and friends watching- "no news is good news"

May -12 Greetings from Tibet.
This may be my last email before Nepal as there is no readily available
internet access between here and Kathmandu. We arrived in Shigatse earlier
today after a 106km ride from Gyantse. Actually we were camped 8 km the
other side of Gyantse. "Camping" has been fun. You ride hard all day and see
amazing mountains, see and meet incredible people and then arrive at "camp"
which is some place along the route which the sherpa crew have picked out
...usually by a stream in a field with views of the Himalayas our some
Tibetan village. The tents are all up and you are greeted with a fresh cup
of tea and a basin of water to refresh and wash up. The trail is very dusty
at times and we all get sweaty and quite dirty. Shigatse is the second
largest city in Tibet and so we are staying in a modern Chinese hotel here.
It will be our last the rest is all camping and "roughing it". After today's
long ride though it was nice to get into a hot shower and wash of the layers
of dirt. There are many of you w`n will klow wHat I meal whdn I say it
almnst, not quite but almost, rivale$ the hot water showErs in Paris on
returning from Africa. Our fir2t d!y out riding we crossed the Tak Li La
whhch is a pass just nver 5000 meters. What a grunt for the firrt day! After
ridifg for hourr thrgugh specdacul`r country you start po climb and cli-b
and cdimb on hnnumeraBle switchbacks and finally you come out on this
alazing pass w`th praqers fl`gs streaming in the wind and views of the
Tibetan plateau and Yamdr/k lake with t`e Himalayas off in the distance. I
left one of the kata's I had been fiven at the sumlit. A kata is a praqer
scarf. From there it was a quick downhill to our first campsite beside the
lake. We had a crowd of curious Tibetan children crowd around. I brought out
my stethoscope and before long gas holding a little impromPtu blinic. There which was mostly a flat ride but the lakeshore dips in and out and so we
road a long ways to get around the lake. It is considered one of the 4 high
lakes in Tibet. Its name means "scorpion" so you can Imagine all the little
lakes etc. along the lake, The "road is also under construction ,..it is a
gravel, dirt road and they are trying to make it less likely to be washed
out and more level in certain areas. This along with the winds made it very
dusty. Someone had asked about temperatures and the weather ...it has been
great weather with temps in the 25-10 range during the day, no rain  at all,
sole bloudsto make it interesting and at times wind up to 50km an hour with
the occasional gust up to 80km. Living in Lethbridge and riding bike out in
the countryside before coming got me quite used to the winds though. @t
night once the sun goes down it gets quite nippy and it usually dips below
freezing ....as there is ice on the creeks and it takes a little while for
it to warm up. Usually I start out in wind pants and a wind stopper fleece
but by an hour or so I am down to riding in just shorts and a cycle jersey
and I'm plastering on the sunscreen.
We camped near Nagartse and then the next morning set out over the Karo La
another high pass (La means pass in Tibetan) with towering mountains to
either side up over 7000 meters. Tim of course picking out routes to climb.
They are heavily glaciated and snow covered. This day the winds were
ferocious and in our face the whole day making it that much harder to ride
up and up. The scenery though made it worth it. We stopped at the summit and
had some lunch and then started the long ride down alongside this
magnificent valley and river with stunning views of the mountains to the
south of us. We eventually came to camp at Ra lung a small village were our
support staff those ever smiling sherpas had set up camp alongside a small
river just before you get to the village. Most of us take advantage of the
river and strip down for a refreshing dip and to wash off the days dust.
Cold glacial water but very refreshing. The next day we rode to just before
Gyantse alongside a smaller lake and over 2 smaller passes and so the riding
was not as hard. I can tell you though that the washboard is definitely
giving me a sore butt!! ...especially after riding for 6 to 8 hours. At one
point Tim and I decided to ride off road to visit some old ruins and a small
Tibetan village. I felt like we were the first westerners to have cycled
through this place off the beaten track which itself is off the beaten
track!! In Gyantse there is a very old and interesting monastery and a dzong
(fort) so Tim and I rode the 8 kms in and back to see it. The others went in
on the minibus which is one of our support vehicles. I think Tim and I had
the better deal though as we had the time to go to a local watering hole and
sample the local beer ...Lhasa beer which I can tell you that after being in
the saddle all day long on a dusty road goes down very nicely thank you very
much!! Anyways the monastery was very interesting. People in the town would
stop and ooh and ahh at our bikes and when we would say "Lhasa-Kathmandu"
they would ooh and ahh even more. They are so friendly and have such an
intrinsic beauty about them. They also have an incredibly hard life and I
appreciate so much more what we hafe when I do have the privilege to visit
these places. It is amazing to see how many are out working in the
fields plowing them by hand behind teals of yaks, and then ot`ers sowing the
fields all by hand as well. That brings us to today and as I said earliar we
rode over 100kms just so as we could get here to Shigatse our last
intersection with a big enough town to have decent hotel and email services.
This particular internet place is filled with a few hundred Chinese of which
90% are smoking and so I think it is time to say ...happy trails. Will email
when I can but I expect it will be awhile.
Love to everyone
PS We love the emails from home even if they are very brief so please send them
on!!  Send emails to: trek@peakfreaks.com


May -7 Namaste to y'all

Today was amazing! We toured the Jokhang which is the oldest and holiest
Bhuddist temple in all of Tibet. It was alive with literally thousands of
pilgrims doing their Kora (i.e. Tibetan pilgrimage) and with the monks in
their brilliant saffron robes chanting in the soft light from the hundreds
of butter lamps. It is so much more alive than the Potala which is so
impressive but this is just alive with all the people crowding into the
temple, praying their prayer beads, the soft chant of "Om mani padme hum",
the intricate lights and the fasinating faces at every corner. I prefer the
vibrancy and the richness of all the Tibetans practicing their way of life
rather the museum atmosphere of the Potala ....not that it makes the Potala
any less impressive!!  We then wandered around the Barkhor for awhile doing
a little more shopping and bartering with the locals. I bought a very nice
medical Thanka which they then put into a very colorful silk frame for me
and then delivered to the hotel this evening. It is gorgeous and must be
seen to be truly appreciated. We then did some last minute tuning of our
bikes as we set off for the edge of the world tomorrow .....and it will be
awhile before I can email again. 4 of us (Tim, Con, Sandy and I) then set
out for a ride into the countryside and up into the surrounding hills. We
climbed about 1000 feet ....cycle high and sleep low is our new maxim!! We
visited two monasteries including Derpung monastery which is situated high
up over the Ky chu valley and Lhasa and had spectacular views of Lhasa and
the mountains. The locals thought we were a bit loco riding around on our
mountain bikes especially as we went off trail a bit and found our way over
some goat and Yak trails ....the Yaks didn't know what to make of us either
and gave us wide berth. It was fun to ride along a long string of prayer
wheels and spin them from our bikes. I have fitted my bike out with a bamboo
pole off the back carrier and to that tied a string of prayer flags. At one
point we were stopped and some local Tibetan ladies came along and pointed
out to us that the very top flag needs to be blue and so we took the time to
correct that ...no need to offend the locals or the spirits which are so
prevalent in this very special and holy place. Above the monasteries we
continued up and eventually came to a place where they had constructed a
tent 20 to 30 feet high made of prayer flags ...the inside was very cool and
very colorful with the sunlight filtering in through the layers of prayer
flags. WOW!! Tim then took us back down cross country until we hooked back
up to the road leading into Lhasa. Exhilarating!

Tomorrow we set off on our serious bike tour and our itinerary for those who
may wish to look on a map (yes I admit I am map crazy) looks like this: bike
to Gongkarshulde, cross Chulde pass (4500 m),to Nagartse and to Yamdrok
lake. Then to Karo-la, then Gyantse, then Shigatse (side visit to Shalu)
which may have email as it is a bit bigger ...let's hope anyways. Then to
Shapkeding, then Chola and onto Gyatsola. Then to Shegar and from there to
Rongbuk which has a famous monastery and where the northside Everest
expeditions go to have their climbs blessed. Then to Everest base camp (and
Tim has friends who are there now making their attempts on the mountain
weather and good karma permitting). From Everest we bike to old Tingri and
onto to Gutso. We then bike to Lalunga and eventually to Zhangmu. From
Zhangmu we start the worlds longest downhill a mere 15,000 feet to the
friendship bridge on the Nepal-Tibet border and from there back to
Kathmandu. We will ride 80 to 90 kms per day or sometimes more depending on
side trips and how people feel. It is nice to know we will have the support
vehicles following us. We will be camping out and I can't wait to see the
stars from the Tibetan plateau. In total we will be biking a bit more than
1100 kms.The names themselves are steeped in a sort of magical mysticism. I
can't wait to actually see all these places but I am also fully aware of the
need to drink in and fully breathe in and experience each moment as it
comes. Truly time seems to be suspended as one travels through this place
they so aptly call Shangri-La.

I hope everyone back at home is well. Love you all.



MAY -6  Greetings to you all!!

First of all thanks to everyone who has sent emails it is always good to get
news from home.

We ended up spending only one night in Chengdu. They flew us back to Lhasa
early the next morning without problem. It was quite funny though their wake
up call system ...a young Chinese lady knocked on our door at 0315 with a
handwritten note that said "Time to get up please" bowed gave us the note
and left.

Lhasa is around 3700 meters (about 12000 ft) and you really notice it when
you get off the plane. Everyone has stayed healthy though except for some
mild AMS. We had fun getting our bikes put together in the hotel courtyard
with all these Tibetans looking on shaking their heads at these crazy
westerners. The tires were all flat on purpose because of altitude changes
and pressure changes in the aircraft. So to expedite getting air into 8
bikes we loaded the bikes up in the bus and set out to find a gas station.
Would you believe they have entirely different valves over here and we ended
up going to a motorcycle repair place to get air ...it was hilarious trying
to explain what we wanted and when they finally understood they moved into
high gear..... but a bit overzealously as they have no gauges just
compressed air and the first tire they blew the inner part of the valve
right into the inner tube ....alas they were able to repair it. It made for
comic relief after getting up so early in the day. Bert, Con, Sandy, Tim and
I then went on a little bike tour of the city. It was great to get into the
saddle and ride a little. The hotel we are staying at in Lhasa is in the old
Tibetan part of the city and very colorful with rich Tibetan fabrics, murals
in bright colors everywhere, beautiful old rugs on the floors, Thangkas, and
warm Tibetan staff. Today we toured the Potala which is in the very center
of town on a high hill overlooking the valley. The Potala is two palaces
...the red palace which is the religious (bhuddist) seat of power and the
white palace which is the political seat. It is the residence of the 14th
Dalai lama which as you know fled Tibet in 1959 when the Chinese invaded.
Potala in Tibetan means beautiful garden and it is indeed beautiful!! There
are still monks in residence and it remains a very active monastery. The
treasures within the Potala are almost too much to really describe and do it
justice. It was almost too much to take in. There is one tomb ...that of the
5th dalai lama which has 3760 kg of gold in it and 10,000 precious stones
and jewels!! WOW!! There are innumerable books and scriptures of all the
dalai lamas dating back to the 7th century. The Potala itself with its
whitewashed and deep ochre walls dominates the skyline. When we climbed up
onto the roof of the hotel we were able to get great views of it and all of
Lhasa. Also on the Potala itself we were able to climb up onto the roof and
able to see the surrounding countryside and the distant mountains which have
had a recent dusting of snow are stunning. I do hope some of my pictures do
it justice. This afternoon we visited the Tibetan school of medicine. A
Tibetan doctor took my pulse ...they use three fingers and take your pulse
in both wrists for about 3 minutes look at your tongue and then tell you
what is wrong with you. My blood moves too slowly and as a result I have
problems with my knees ....and her I thought it was those damn trees getting
in the way when I ski. Anyways he gave me a prescription for some herbal
medicine and with just 2 bottles I will be good to go.

Tonight we are going out for a traditional Tibetan meal and Tibetan dancing.
Peak Freaks is treating us very very well.

Also today we wandered around the main market place. I bought a few things
and had great fun bartering over the price. I am convinced it is as much fun
for them and they enjoy it even more when you bargain really hard. In the
end I don't think they would ever sell you anything without making some
profit. One memorable exchange was when this elderly Tibetan lady in
traditional dress says to me "I have to feed my 5 babies" and I just as
quickly fired back "I have to feed my 6 babies" and she says "and my 15
grandchildren" and I say "what about my 20 grandchildren" ...and we both
laugh. We settled on a fair price and everybody was happy.

We spend another day in Lhasa as we really need that time to acclimatize and
then we set off on our bikes. The road is beckoning. Tomorrow just to get a
bit more acclimatization and also to get out on the bikes we are riding out
to 1 or 2 monasteries up in the hills. How far and how high we will ride
will depend on how everyone is feeling at this altitude. I myself am very
well. My oxygen levels are in the mid 80% range, at home they are in the mid
90s. My pulse has gone up about 10 beats (maybe that is why the Tibetan
doctor thought my blood was too slow).

For those interested it is 1830 here in Lhasa and 0430 in Lethbridge. All of
China including Tibet is on the same time zone as Beijing. Weird.




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