First thing that came into my mind when I woke up this morning.
“I’m going riding.”
Second thing that came into my mind;
“My medical insurance probably doesn’t cover this, best not crash!”
I had only made contact with Himalayan Singletrack the day before I left the UK so I was really pleased that they managed to come up with a single day trip for me to get out of the city and see some of Nepal from a bike. Expecting the terrain to be somewhat mountainous I also tentatively asked if it could not be too gnarly as I had a course to teach the following week!
So my guide Ashish comes to meet me at the hotel in full-on DH free ride gear and I instantly playback the “my medical insurance probably doesn’t cover this” in my mind! ….. he must have looked up and seen a full on roadie and thought “there goes my day”
So after initial introductions and pleasantries we set the bike up for me and I made a mental note that the brakes were set up US style (not that I remembered that fact when I actually needed them).
The first 8km were out of Kathmandu were on the hideously busy and chaotic main road that wasn’t helped by the sheer amount of dust being kicked up by roadworks to lay a new water pipe. I stuck to Ashish’s rear wheel like a true roadie, more out of fear of becoming detached and somehow not shepherded through the crazy swarm of vehicles all going in different directions on both sides of the road but all seemingly avoiding hitting each other… it was like being stuck in a human murmuration but no-one had shared the magical key with me to know when and how to make my move.
After what seemed like an age Ashish looked back at me to ask if the pace was OK, I suggested that maybe we could go a bit faster just to get out of the crazy dust bowl and onto the mountain a bit quicker. Coming to the end of the main road it just ended in short footpath that looked like the road probably had gone this way before the earthquake but it just hadn’t yet been repaired. I then made the mistake of looking up!.... I guess I should have known there would be a fair amount if up as we were riding in the Himalaya’s so I dug in, hit the granny ring and set a best tap-tap-tap as I could….. During the road ride section Ashish had asked how old I was… when I replied “48” he looked surprised. I said “yeah I am old enough to know better”…. We then rapidly ascertained that not only was he only 23 but he was an aspiring pro Enduro racer… so I jokingly said “so your male Napali pride is at stake here then if you get whooped up a mountain by a 48 year old white woman from sea level”
As we wound our way up through the jungle we made a brief stop to purchase our entry permits to the Shivapuri Nagarjun National Park we passed several army check points and a rather impressive Staff college. I smiled and said good morning to all of the soldiers but they all looked rather grimly at me so I am not sure if mountain biking is welcome or they were just all really unhappy to be in the army.
We stopped close to the top at a rickety cafe for a ridiculously sweet tea that was almost too sweet even for me and then proceeded on up to the last part of the main ascent. We stopped to take some photos of the view but the valley floor was lurking below in a thick haze of dust and pollution which Ashish told me is a common occurrence with the increasing numbers of cars and motorbike and the lack of a high altitude weather system that brought winds to clear the valley.
We had now been going for nearly 2 hours and I was glad when we stopped and flicked the cans into full bounce mode and adjusted the clutch on the rear mechs.
The descent wasn’t really what I would call singletrack but it was super fast and great fun with plenty to keep you on your toes without worrying you were going to come around a corner to a sheer drop off… Ashish was of course miles ahead at this point showing a good clean pair of heels while I picked my way through unfamiliar terrain coaxing my flow mojo back out of its roadie shell. By the time I caught up with Ashish at the bottom I was sporting a very dusty grin and my chakras were well and truly re-aligned.
We then set off up a bit more climbing and I noticed that Ashish had fallen back so I pedalled on to a fork in the path and sat and waited for him. I was just about to turn around and go back down to look for him thinking he must have had a mechanical and he came into sight. When we pulled up beside me he said he had to stop and sit down as he felt dizzy and faint, so after stuffing him full of bars and a gel we then continued a bit slower up the climb whilst I tried to explain what a ‘bonk’ was… he laughed so hard he nearly bonked again. He admitted he hadn’t eaten breakfast and proclaimed that on the climb I was “killing him”... so that was a nice to know… I wasn’t that bad even if he spends most of his time going downhill!
For the final descent back to the valley floor we once again stopped to adjust the bikes and Ashish said there was a particularly steep and technical part but if I wanted I could walk!!!... Pah!!!!... WALK…. He then disappeared in a puff of dust and I was once again picking my way through boulder fields trying to pick the least rubbish line I could. I was so concentrating on my line choice that I flew right past Ashish who had stopped at a small hut for ‘second tea o’clock’. I hopped off and pushed the bike back up to him and we sat drinking more impossibly sweet tea looking out over the valley while a tiny little lady was pouring wheat into a thrasher in the beginnings of a beer brewing process beside us. I declined the chance to sample the rice beer she had just finished making, mostly because it looked like milk but also because I had seen the lady top the bottle up with stream water so I didn’t want to risk it.
Ashish bought a bottle of rice beer for his dad and stuffed it into his pack while we prepared to continue down into the valley below. More flowy track, not really singletrack but still good fun even with the occasional squeaky moment pulling the wrong brake lever a bit hard and before I knew it we were spat back out into the noise and dust once more. The ride was finished off with lunch in a tiny traditional restaurant for Daal Bhat and a beer before once again chasing Ashish through the streaming torrent of cows, mopeds, taxis and buses back to my hotel.
I could have done without the road section but with only a day to spare in my work schedule unfortunately I couldn’t manage a longer trip but if I ever do come back I will be sure to do the 5 or 10 day supported trip because I know I haven’t yet scratched the surface of the beauty of this country and it deserves so much more than the equivalent of a Saturday club ride.