A biking trip to the Nepali Himalayas, with a race thrown in for good measure? Sounds like an adventure not to be missed! We had three weeks to explore, starting with the Yakru Enduro race – dubbed the highest enduro race in the world – followed by bikepacking part of the Annapurna circuit. It was a trip to explore a new part of the world, experience a completely different culture and do something a bit out of the norm.
Four-Wheel-Driving Into the Adventure: The road into the Manang region of the Annapurnas was completed in 2011 by the Nepalese army; connecting Manang to the lower valley by 13+plus hours of 4wd action, instead of the traditional seven day hike. The road has encroached on the beauty and isolation of the Marsyandi Gorge so loved by tourists, but no one can deny the benefits motorised transport brings to these mountain communities. Photo: Dane Cronin
Learning the art of Nepali Time: we quickly established there was little point in expecting to be anywhere at a certain time. We went with the tide, and some of our best cultural immersion was done waiting for the truck to be fixed or a guide to arrive. Here, we tested out the gym set of our young Nepalese host, on the roof of his teahouse. Photo: Ben Gibson
The typical view of a village in the Marsyandi Valley. Most buildings were multistorey, with unusual colour schemes and barely-straight beams. Roof tops often doubled as café terraces, giving 360 panoramic views of the surrounds. Picturesque and cosy, they were a welcome sight at the end of a day’s pedalling. Photo: Ben Gibson.
This lodge was home for the duration of the race - and was luxurious by Nepalese standards, with flush toilets and wild card hot showers. Behind the lodge is Annapurna III, towering another 4500m above us. By night, these peaks seemed even more enormous. It was pretty special to be able to relax, unwind and reflect in the evening below these beauties, with a cup of Masala tea or hot lemon in hand. Photo: Dane Cronin
Into the Race Stages: Hiking trails and donkey tracks became nduro stages for the day, borrowing ancient paths of transport through the mountains and valleys. Racing blind in foreign terrain felt very non-racey and was always a balance between grip and speed, as we came to terms with moon-like dry dust. Photo: Dane Cronin
The race stages took us through a cultural slideshow, through ruins, shrines, villages and monasteries. Racing here was a stark contrast to the lives, culture and religion of the Nepalese. I felt very privileged to be able to have the choice to ride my mountain bike through these places and wonder about the thousands of years of change these ruins have seen. Photo: Dane Cronin
Swapping out timing chips for front rolls, we left our newfound friends from the Yakru race and pedalled up-valley to begin the second part of the trip. We were blessed with sunny days pedalling amongst mountains, and without a race team to support us; we felt much closer to people and the place. We all embraced the change in pace as we enjoyed and appreciated the scenery, with nowhere to be but in the moment. Photo: Ben Gibson
Off, up and Away: This is what most of our hill climbing looked like. None of us had done anything at altitude before and it was a whole new experience and pace working with what our lungs and heart could pull out of the oxygen-thin air. We didn’t mind too much, it was all part of the trip and gave us plenty of opportunity to take in the scenery and surrounds. Photo: Ben Gibson
Risk vs Reward: We spotted a side trail on the map, offering an alternative route to the road to our lunch destination. It certainly was an alternative, coming across this landslip with a small path leading a