This morning Nienke and Karin have started their attempt. They left Hilsa in the direction they came. This post is a short story about the highlights of the last week before today. Since the communication is limited to satelite messages I can only tell you what I learned through these messages. The full story will most likely follow later.
At the end of Monday both Nienke and Karin arrived in Kathmandu. Nienke landed on the international airport returning to Nepal after 1 year, Karin arrived with a jeep and her boyfriend and guide after a 17 day trekking through Rolwaling and Everest region. After a good night of sleep the plans for the next days was discussed over breakfast. They had one and a half day to get ready before they had to go to the airport. In this time they met up with Raj, bought the last necessities and prepared the bikes.
Raj is the man of the travel agency that takes care of the safe passage in and out of the different restricted regions of the country and of course the trip to the start and from the finish (where ever it will be). He showed them the maps, the different options and how much time they had to inform him ahead at which check point they were going to enter the next region.
In the touristic Thamel district of Kathmandu they bought amongst other things traditional Nepali clothing that should make it easier for them to blend in at the more remote regions of the country and to cover their tight cycling clothing what is not appropriate in the Nepali culture for women. From all the shopping they were quite tired and it was nice to finish the first day meeting up with old friends and have dinner.
The next morning they started with packing the bags and loading them on the bikes. After loading they tested the porter system that Karin had seen during her trekking and she figured it was the best way to do the larger hike-your-bike sections. After the first try they were both convinced it was a very good idea. Finally the bikes were unloaded again and turned into packages as good as possible to fit in the airplane.
After lunch it was time to get to the airport for the first flight to Surket Airport near Birendrnagar where they had a over night stay before the flight to Simikot. Already at the Kathmandu airport the first difficulty was faced. The first flight had a delay and airport personnel did not agree with how the bikes were packed. They argued that the wheel had to be seperated from the frames and bags. Then arriving in Surket the fixing of the bags to the bikes appeared not sufficient and it had to be done again before the next flight. For the last time they stayed in the luxury of a hotel and turned to bed directly to get a good rest.
The next morning they got up early to return to the airport and face more trouble. The bikes were not allowed on the plane. There was simply no space in the cargo bay and the flight was fully booked. The travel agency had sent a guide with them to garantee their arrival in Hilsa. The guide did what he could and was convincing enough to trade his place for the bikes. For some time it was assumed they would have to go into the remote and non-touristic mountains between Simikot and Hilsa without local assistance. However just before they left they were informed that the guide was allowed on the plane as well. The bike were traveling first class behind the cockpit!
Since they arrived in Simikot at the end of the morning they were ready to drop down into the valley after lunch. However not before they did their first emergency fix to the bike of Karin. A spacer of the rear wheel was missing after the hassle of the flights. Therefore the brake disc was running against the housing of the brake pads. Together with locals they made a rubber replacement. Down the mountain they were much faster then the guide in his vehicle and they stopped at the first possibility. The locals at the teahouse did not understand their level of Nepali or maybe they did not speak Nepali at all. Some awkward minutes past before the guide showed up and he made sure they were allowed to stay their. The region and people are very poor and the teahouse was the most sober any of them had ever seen.
The next morning they left early to have most of the light of the day. In Nepal it is early light and since there is only 11/12 hours of light on a day it is dark early as well. The day was difficult. They constantly have to change between more distance over the easier jeep track and the shorter more difficult old foot path system. The distances Nienke calculated before the trip were therefore irrelevant. In one of the old foot path sections they even found themselves crossing a waterfall climb which was secured by a fixed rope. The porter system they have with them proved its worth immediately. This way they had two hands to climb along the rope. On the way back down they will most likely have to do it in pieces to be more safe. Or if the road makers are fast enough the road will be finished and they can pass safely, you never know in Nepal the machines were already therea anyway.
Especially for Karin this was a hard day. She felt the weight of her bike was too much and the brake was still rubbing; it took a toll on her. They arrived after dark and things had to change. So far taking it easy before the start. That evening she looked at her kit and decided to sent some stuff back to Kathmandu with the guide. For the brake she increased the thickness of the spacer with some spare parts. This night they stayed in a truckstop with a truck load of people in a small room. The food is very sober which is troubling them since they need good nutrion to keep their level of fitness up. There is no reason for the teahouses to change that because the past days they haven’t seen any tourists and the only contact they have with the locals are curious glances. It is good they have had the guide for this part including that he taught them many things about the local culture.
Yesterday they did the big climb to arrive in Hilsa. It was for Nienke the first time to go to 4500m and she did not feel very well and lacked some power. Luckily for her Karin had a much better day after the adjustments of the day before and was there to support her. What goes up must come down so the last part to Hilsa was a treat for both of them and they arrived happy and ready at the Tibetan border.