DISPATCH: Notes from the Annapurna Circuit
by Julie Cornelius, World Ride
It is a welcome respite to leave the smoggy air of Kathmandu. As we traveled to the village of Besisahar, we got our first views of the towering peaks of the Himalayas. The anticipation of being in those mountains for the next 10 days made all of us excited and anxious to start our journey.
The journey began with a solid day of climbing mixed with “Nepali flat” (a little up and a little down). We all settled in to our pace and marveled at the waterfalls and small villages that we passed. At the end of our first long day of pedaling, the sight of the gorgous town of Tal was very welcome. Set alongside a river, with a cascading waterfall behind town, it would have been a great site even if we had not been exhausted! Our stomachs full of daal baht and brownie (happy birthday Ashley!), we all slept well our first night.
Day two meant more elevation gain to the small village of Chamje. We pedaled through the canyon, looking down at the crystal clear water of the river below us. We were treated to more waterfalls along the way as we climbed higher into the Himalayas. The second of two hard days of riding finished off with a warm shower, more delicious food and an early bed time.
Day three was more “Nepali flat” and uphill to start. We climbed up to a point overlooking one of the most beautiful valleys I have ever seen. We paused to take in the view and witness an eagle soaring above the prayer flags. We dropped down some singletrack into the valley and stopped for some egg fried rice for lunch. Another hour of pedaling brought us to the village of Manang, sitting at 11,600 ft, we were all excited to arrive knowing we would have a rest day the following day to help acclimatize to the elevation.
Our rest day started with a short hike up above town. We stopped at a gorgeous glacial lake and hiked above it to where we got our first view of Thorong La pass (5416m, 17,769 ft). We were all a little nervous for the day we would cross the pass, not knowing how we would each handle the extreme altitude of the highest point on the circuit. The afternoon of our rest day included some entertainment in town with a traditional horse race. The horses were not close to being thoroughbred racing horses and many of the riders did not seem like they were fit to be racing either. It made for quite the spectacle and a good laugh for us.
We woke up the next morning to a dusting of snow. We took a long breakfast and by the time we got on our bikes to head out of town, most of the snow had cleared. We pedaled and pushed our way up to our next stop, our highest tea house at Thorong Phedi, 4450m. Here, we would try to get a few hours of sleep before getting up well before dark to begin our journey up and over Thorong La. The common room of the tea house was teaming with nervous excitement from all of the trekkers staying the night there as well. We drank our share of ginger honey tea, ate what we could and turned in early.
We began the task of pushing our bikes up and over the pass a couple hours before the sun rose. It was better to start in the dark, not only to try to beat the possible wind up high, but also so that we did not see the extremely steep trail ahead of us. The 3 mile hike-a-bike over the pass was one of the hardest things I have ever done. The lack of oxygen meant stopping to catch my breath every few steps. I would push my bike up in front of me, hold my breaks and pull myself up to meet it. Even if we had not been above 15,000 ft, the trail would have been too steep to ride. We made it up to High Camp just around sunrise and the golden light on the mountains surrounding us made the surroundings seem surreal. I kept moving to keep warm and slowly made my way up higher and higher. I was really thankful to have Kelley to keep me company and we kept each other going, pacing our way up to the pass. When we finally saw the huge mass of prayer flags in the distance that signaled the pass, we both started crying from happiness, exhaustion and a lack of oxygen. Only 15 more minutes of walking brought us to the pass, and the feeling of accomplishment and joy is one that I don’t know if I will ever be able to describe.
We celebrated with a warm cup of tea and many photos with huge grins on our faces! Once the whole group made it to the top, we dropped our seats and began the descent of some pretty epic singletrack on the other side of the pass. I had to stop at one point, sit and take it all in, knowing just how much effort I had put in to make it to that point. I looked around at all of the towering mountains around me and just smiled.
The singletrack took us down to the town of Muktinath, a great little village in the dry, Mustang region of Nepal. We celebrated our accomplishment with beers and some Nepali whiskey and all slept very well that night.
The following morning included some more amazing singletrack, dropping us down to the river valley. There, we were greeted with the winds we would battle all the way to Tukuche. The tea house in Tukuche served up some great food, apple brandy and a nice warm fire to sit next to.
The following day began with some nice singletrack and finished with fun downhills down to the village of Tatopani, where we got to soak in the hot springs. We had time to wander through the village and see the last little bit of the towering peaks of the high mountains as we dropped further down the next day. Our ride finished with mixed emotions the following day in the town of Beni. As we drove off toward Pokhara, we all had a feeling a great sense of accomplishment, but also a hint of sadness that our epic journey had finished.
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