Can I make it?

I’ve ridden some pretty hair-raising tracks on my travels including some in northern Pakistan, Mozambique, Ethiopia, Sudan and Bolivia to name just some of the places where I’ve thought “Oh no, this really isn’t going to look pretty if I get it wrong”.

I’ve also ridden at high altitudes, passes over 5000m in South America amongst others. However, Tibet is in a class of its own. Dodgy tracks combined with extreme altitude for day after day. It’s the ultimate in adventure riding, pushing me to the limit in my riding skills and endurance. Just putting my boots on in the mornings was taking its toll and leaving me breathless, let alone then trying to handle a 250Kg bike on the sand and dirt that we encountered when every breath is a battle for oxygen.

I was riding on my own a lot or pottering along behind our riders who were in twos and threes. Everyone was helping each other and there was lot of camaraderie. Our toughest day took us along one of the bleakest tracks I’ve ever been on and encountering not just one but four snowstorms in the space of six hours, during which the bitterly cold temperatures plunged even further. The area is so remote that there’s nowhere to stop and get shelter, it was a case of battling on and hoping that you don’t stray off the track in the snow.  Mile point 150 had been highlighted in our briefing as a possible food and fuel stop –a wooden shack in the middle of nowhere with a few ramshackle outbuildings beside it, the dead goat lying on the ground outside didn’t bode well (it was still tethered). I only knew I was in the right place by the GS’s parked outside. First I got my fuel – out of a jerry can and at an exorbitant price – but hey, the complete lack of competition keeps the price up and they’ve got to transport it a long way to reach them. My hands were frozen by the time re-fuelling was completed and I pushed open the door of the shack; I stepped inside to a wall of heat emanating from the yak dung burner. Various members of our group were sitting slurping noodles and soup, I ordered the same and collapsed onto the nearest bunk feeling utterly drained and exhausted, in typical Tibetan style, it’s a cafe that doubles as accommodation, seating was on bunk beds or stools. There was little conversation except for enquiries about the rest of the group – who had seen whom etc and how far back.

I stayed on in the shack, counting off our riders as they came and departed getting concerned about two of them, who eventually turned up having dropped their bike whilst at a standstill and then  having to wait 45 minutes before a truck had lumbered into view and they got the driver to give them a hand. I was dozing on and off at times until the final rider appeared, but it wasn’t great news as he was riding pillion on Mark’s bike – he’d had a fall and his bike was too damaged to ride, they’d had to wait for the support van and put it in there.

Time to get going – I thought longingly of the warmth of the cab on the van and stepped out – straight into another snowstorm. My reserves of energy were at an all-time low, I turned on my heated clothing – Gerbing Heated clothing...what can I say? It’s beyond heated comfort at these sorts of altitudes, it’s about survival and I know I would not have made it through without my heated jacket, gloves and trousers. I headed east and, tucking my head down to reduce snow build up on my visor mentally geared myself up for the final 70 miles of the day.