Week Twenty-Seven: Good News & Bad News

04/10/18-10/10/18

Country: Nepal

Distance: 110.8km / 68.8mi
Elevation: 2,356m / 7,730ft

How in the world did I forget to tell you in last week’s blog? We finally got some news from New Zealand. If you remember a month back, we applied for our NZ Working Holiday Visa and had to explain our Russian visa scandal on the application. Well, after an anxious three and a half week wait (I’m sure Google blocked us refreshing our emails...), we were told that our visa had been granted. What a relief – pass us a stiff drink. That’s the next two years sorted, and more importantly, our cycling finish line remains.

So that’s the good news, now back to this week – and the bad news.

As you know, we planned to cycle the Annapurna Circuit, which is a loop around one of the main Himalayan ranges in Nepal. The majority of the route follows a jeep track, which is what makes it cyclable. Although, there are odd occasions when you join the trekkers and hike-ya-bike.

Besides arranging the permits to enter Annapurna – which was super easy – we shed most of our weight, so we can actually cycle the impending monstrous inclines. We’re now only carrying about 10kg each. It’s lovely. If only every ride was this light.

 Day #2. Dan looking smug because we managed gravel inclines we would never of been able to do fully-loaded. The joys of light-packing.

Day #2. Dan looking smug because we managed gravel inclines we would never of been able to do fully-loaded. The joys of light-packing.

 We each needed four passport pictures for our Annapurna permits. Here’s a nifty trick Dan did, before we left, to avoid the insanely high cost of getting some printed in those tiny booths. In Photoshop, simply create a file the size of a standard photograph, then drop in eight passport size photos (you can find the standard sizing online). Then just pop to your local Snappy Snaps and get several copies of your ‘photo’ printed. We ended up with something crazy like sixty-four passport pictures each for about 50p.

We each needed four passport pictures for our Annapurna permits. Here’s a nifty trick Dan did, before we left, to avoid the insanely high cost of getting some printed in those tiny booths. In Photoshop, simply create a file the size of a standard photograph, then drop in eight passport size photos (you can find the standard sizing online). Then just pop to your local Snappy Snaps and get several copies of your ‘photo’ printed. We ended up with something crazy like sixty-four passport pictures each for about 50p.

We decided to start the loop from Pokhara, which is the main city in the region. Our hotel owner said this was actually the old start line, before they built a highway between Pokhara and Besisahar – the last main town before you enter the Annapurna Conservation Area. Most people start in Besisahar now, to save time and money. Thankfully our route completely avoided this highway, taking us through smaller, mountain villages instead. (Above is a breakdown of our twelve-day riding itinerary).

We thought getting to Besisahar would be the easy part. We expected it to take us three days. It took us five. The first two rides were a doddle. A short 16k and 20km to ease us back into the saddle, since we’ve had two-months off. Day three, things got tricky.

 I wasn’t kidding when I said we’ve had two-months off. Russia and Everest really knocked us for six. Don’t worry if you can see the distances, just note green is a ride day and yellow is a rest day. Yes, I know I’m a nerd. I drive Dan batty.

I wasn’t kidding when I said we’ve had two-months off. Russia and Everest really knocked us for six. Don’t worry if you can see the distances, just note green is a ride day and yellow is a rest day. Yes, I know I’m a nerd. I drive Dan batty.

 Lake Begnas. 16km outside of Pokhara. This was our first destination on the APC.

Lake Begnas. 16km outside of Pokhara. This was our first destination on the APC.

 Papped hanging out at Begnas Lake. These birds of prey are all over Nepal. We reckon they’re Black Kites.

Papped hanging out at Begnas Lake. These birds of prey are all over Nepal. We reckon they’re Black Kites.

 First peak at the Annapurna Region. No pun intended.

First peak at the Annapurna Region. No pun intended.

 This was our cheapest lunch so far. In a village just outside of Karputar, we paid just 38p for two noodle soups and a coke. (Yes. I was so hungry I forgot to take my helmet off).

This was our cheapest lunch so far. In a village just outside of Karputar, we paid just 38p for two noodle soups and a coke. (Yes. I was so hungry I forgot to take my helmet off).

The owner of the hotel we stayed at in Karputar said, in broken English, that our route to Besisahar was bad. As she didn’t give much else away, we assumed she just meant the road was poor quality. We don’t mind rocky riding, so we ignored her suggestion of an alternative route.

10km in, we had a problem. It wasn’t that the road was poor quality, well, it was, but that wasn’t the problem. The problem was that we needed to cross a river and the bridge had collapsed. Damn it. Only a foot bridge existed. With little choice, we decided to give that a go.

We guided the bikes down some steep steps to reach the skinny suspension bridge, then wheeled them across. Back up some steep steps the other side, we went to suss out the road we would have joined, had the bridge been intact. It had clearly collapsed a long time ago, as the road was covered in grass. No vehicle had been here for a wee while. The bikes seemed to cope – at least at the start.

The wide, grassy road quickly turned into a walking trail through over-grown bushes. A further 1km and the walking trail disappeared completely. We stared at solid jungle. There was no way we could push through it, especially as this was the beginning of a 1,400m climb. It was now 2pm. We had to make a call. Risk it for a biscuit, or turn back to Karputar? With vivid images of bivvying in the bush and being eaten by tigers, we decided to turn back.

 We’ve pushed the bikes up hiking trails before, how hard could this one be?

We’ve pushed the bikes up hiking trails before, how hard could this one be?

 To be fair, we gave the no-bridge-route a good go.

To be fair, we gave the no-bridge-route a good go.

 ...but we pretty much cycled into a wall of green.

...but we pretty much cycled into a wall of green.

Back through the bushes, along the grassy road, down some steep steps, across the suspension bridge, up some steep steps, and we were back on route. We followed our tracks all the way back to Karputar. Everyone found it hilarious when we turned up again. After they’d all had a good giggle at our expense, we got them to help us reroute onto better roads.

The second attempt was a success in so much that we didn’t back track this time, but we still didn’t make it to Besisahar. We stopped in Siundibar, 13km away. Our excuse this time? We just hadn’t anticipated how bad the roads would be. Dirt track. Mud. Streams. River. Boulders. Rocks. 43km was just too much in one day.

 We keep seeing goats being transported on the top of buses. Tashi, the guy who gave us the filter masks, just sent us a message saying it’s for an upcoming goat-eating festival.

We keep seeing goats being transported on the top of buses. Tashi, the guy who gave us the filter masks, just sent us a message saying it’s for an upcoming goat-eating festival.

 And to think we felt sorry for our  bikes  travelling on top of a coach...

And to think we felt sorry for our bikes travelling on top of a coach...

The third time, we got lucky. We had found tarmac again and the ride from Siundibar to Besisahar was an easy 13km. There was 360m of climbing, but that’s nothing in comparison to what’s coming. If we hadn’t of made it on the third attempt, I’d of questioned our Annapurna plan. But we did, so all’s well that ends well. Well, not quite…

Here comes the bad news. Brace yourself; it’s not pretty.

While giving my bike a good scrub in the shower, I noticed that my rear rim had one crack…two cracks, three, four... [This section has been removed, so as not to offend the grandparents]. We were so mad. We just couldn’t believe it. This is the second Halo Vapour rim that’s cracked on the trip. Second. Last time, the wheel actually blew when Dan was riding, So, of course it could have been worse – it could have blown while I was cruising along a cliff edge in the mountains. But that’s beside the point, the wheels have only done 5,500km, for god’s sake, that’s pathetic.

With little option of help in Besisahar, we’ve got to head back to Pokhara. We’ll work out a plan and go from there. Before we left, Dan’s Uncle Terry gave us some great advice, “Any problem, just throw money at it”. I suppose this is one of those situations again. Where’s that stiff drink?