Around 10 months ago I quit my jobs and left home, just a young man on a vision quest. First stop, 24 Hours in the Old Pueblo. This is a huge 24-hour mountain bike race held between Phoenix and Tucson in the desert, not far off from the AZT…(Oracle Ridge looms overhead from the coarse. I just look that way and little pee escapes in my shorts.)

I was invited down through some of my ‘Back Of the Pack Racing’ crew. I was gifted a spot on Chris Reichel’s 4-man klunker team along with some other BPR talent. How’s that for a list of excuses…1. Rides for a team call Back of the Pack. 2. Endorsed by Drunkcyclist 3. Riding SS klunkerz. With that many excuses, one lap would seem like a victory.

nepal bikepackingLong story short, late night goings-on had Chris Reichel (dirty_biker) and I exchanging Nepal stories and making an intoxicated commitment to going back to Nepal.

Fast Forward to October 2015 and the Single Speed World Champs in Japan. Awesome time. Chris, myself and Endless Bike Girl, Shanna Powell, had tickets from Tokyo to Nepal to bikepack the largest mountains in the world…because that’s what you propose to do when you are talking shit around a bonfire at a 24-hour race.

Chris had been two years prior on a trip funded by passion and a small bike company called Yeti in the form of an SB66. Myself, four years prior on a two month trip, riding the motorbike, hiking and riding bikes as well. Shanna, was on her first trip to Nepal and was about to fall head over heels for this little country situated between the two largest countries in the world.

While Chris and Shanna explored the Kathmandu Valley I decided to get out of town and ride to Pokhara with Beth Puliti and Justin Klein. Beth was a pro-blogger and freelance bike-travel writer, and Justin was somehow still employed as Mr. international sales for Princeton Tec. They are a couple of digital nomads balancing some semblance of work while traveling the world on bike.

nepal bikepackingTheir last stop had them somewhere in the ‘stans – Tajikistan, Turkmenastan…this turkey couldn’t tell which ‘stan exactly.

We were all kitted like modern day bikepacking superstars. Salsa had just given Beth and Justin matching Salsa Fargos with full Revelate luggage based on their MTB semi-celebrity status I suppose. They literally looked like a rolling Salsa ad…but hey, smoke it if you got it, right? I was riding my own custom steel Mone bike, 29+, Lefty Supermax blah blah dream machine. It’s sufficient to say that it was neither Beth, Justin or I’s first rodeo.

nepal bikepackingWe had a late start which I blame on Justin, but I can’t say I minded the relaxed take-off. Climbing straight north out of Kathmandu one immediately notices all of the damage caused by the enormous 7-something earthquake that struck here in April.  There are many temporary corrugated steel structures. A large number of mud/brick/stone buildings that lay totally on the ground in a pile of rubble, or some with a few walls caved in and abandoned. It’s not ‘flattened’ but it’s not good.

We had spent most of the first day climbing out of the Kathmandu Valley. Awesome to escape the gray cloud that hangs over the city. The rough road was only traveled by a few personal cars and a fair bit of public transit. We were smack dab in the middle of Nepali Dashain, a 15-day festival where Hindus and Buddhists celebrate the victory of good over evil.  The festival also calls for the reunion of families which has quite a number of Nepalis from Kathmandu getting into the back of dumptrucks to go kick it with their family back in the villages.

During this particular day of Dashain the festivals rule books call for everyone to ‘leave this earth.’ Sweet. Method: A giant swing constructed of hemp rope and bamboo poles. Popular with kids, adults, and bikepackers alike.

nepal bikepacking
nepal bikepackingThe first night had us descending down the mountain pass we had spent all morning climbing. Justin and Beth were without tents as they planned on getting away without them as they had the beta on the guesthouse locations. Dusk turned to night and we realized we were way under-gunned in the light category. Most of the lumens we were relying on were coming from a big $10 Chinese LED, plugged into a aux USB charger (not too shabby, albeit of questionable reliability.) Justin was borrowing a Princeton Tec headlamp from me (a headlamp on permanent loan from JayP…thanks Jay) funny I thought.

We popped into a restaurant to grab some food and sniff out a roof to lay our bedrolls under. The patrons of the restaurant included four Nepali guys, one restaurant owner, one lawyer from Kathmandu, his chicken farming buddy and one drunk. We ended up getting invited down the hill to stay with the chicken farmer and lawyer’s family.

Our new lawyer friend, Bishnu, was home with his family in the village for Dashain. Traditional Nepali dinner was served. We had a tour of the chicken farm. A pretty remarkable evening and turn of events. From homelessness to super VIP guest of this humble home, half damaged from the earthquake, providing the most amazing hospitality for some privileged wondering westerners and asking nothing in return.

nepal bikepacking The following day the road conditions became really challenging. I was rolling on a super plush 130mm Supermax Lefty, 29+, Mone AM hardtail…pretty much a magic carpet that runs on babyheads (Nepal’s primary road paving material.) Beth and Justin were running full rigid Salsa Fargo’s. The right machine when considering their trip on a macro level, but on these loose descents and climbs, the singlespeed belt drive 29+ all mountain hardtail is the king of comfort and champion of reliability, save maybe the belt drive, not the biggest fan here. Disclaimer: belts are sweet for people who;  A. don’t need to carry a spare belt, or  B. have bikes with very stiff rear ends…which is not the case with my 4lb uber light custom frame.

Steep switchbacked climbs and full on 4-wheeling tracks pushed Beth to flex her loaded rigid skills. Justin flexed his cassette muscle enough for me to be impressed with his apparent rigid 1×1 pedigree, cleaning everything as a matter of pride and sport.

nepal bikepacking
nepal bikepacking
Towards the end of the day the mighty 8000m snowcapped peak of Manaslu came into view. Boom! Himalaya. We have arrived.

nepal bikepackingWe once again came short of a destination that had a guesthouse of any kind. The village we descended upon as the sun set was called Charange. This village appeared to be manufacturing your adolescent males in high numbers. Hipster looking boys with fledgling fuzzy black mustaches, cheap plaid Chinese shirts and skinny jeans.

Any guesthouse? Nope. Fell down in the earthquake, along with most other structures in the small village. Argh.. how inconvenient for our plans of cushy bike touring recreation. But, these struggles were real. We needed a place to sleep and stealth camping within any modest distance of the Nepali version of the Jets and Sharks was bound to be inconvenient.

We started descending off the mountain step where Charange sat. Pretty damn tech and pretty dark. Hold on, let’s reassess. Back to the village of drunk teen Dashain celebrators. Enter our Nepali guardian angel, Ratna. The village shop owner/principal of the village school. Ratna was doing a better job of holding his drink than the rest of the adolescent boys and stepped in offering us a place to sleep in the school. Boom. Buddha bless you Ratna. Ratna only asked in return that we tell everyone we know that Charange is in need of help. Deal.

nepal bikepackingBeth took charge and set up a direct donation to Ratna and the village of Charange after the tour ended. She and Justin have already sent some money via Western Union for help rebuilding the small earthquake rocked hill station.

nepal bikepackingThe school offered us a very comfortable place to sleep and Ratna prepared multiple servings of instant noodles. Once again, our comfort was saved on account of blind Nepali hospitality.

The following day we descended down into Arughat Bazar. Fully leaving jeep track and riding walking paths that pass through some seriously remote villages. Goats, cows, shacks and babies. We stared at the people as they stared back at us…each party not really believing what they were seeing. “Damn, sweet Salsa Fargo, I love drop bars…” said no villager, ever. “Woah, nice root veg, mommy…” I said to every fine Nepali lady.

Arughat Bazar was approaching the epicenter of the earthquake. Damage was evident. The riding was amazingly technical surrounding the village. Veritable baby head ball bearings. Nepal, I love you.

nepal bikepackingAt this point I had split from Beth and Justin as Chris and Shanna would be waiting on me in Pokhara. Stopped for a quick lunch and was on the gas up the monster climb out of Arughat. Every climb in the Himalaya is monster but this one was proving quite formidable. The switchbacks traversed many ecosystems on it’s rise to the foot of the Himalaya.

‘Nepali Flat’ is the term people over here use for a road or trail that isn’t a monster climb. Seemingly flat, but undulating up and down. The rest of the day after the mother of a climb was Nepali flat.

I thought of Beth and Justin on their full rigid bikes a fair amount over the day. The ‘road’ was challenging to say the least. A large amount of climbing combined with loose rock made going up or down a fully engaged activity. Deep powder dirt covered the road in many sections. I would estimate up to 4 inches deep in some places.  I was lucky that traffic was relatively low on account of the Indian blockade and lack of petrol in the country. Any time a vehicle did pass it kicked up enough dust to discourage progress until it settled.

nepal bikepackingThe Nepalis were still celebrating Dashain and the road was full of families in their finest clothing walking to holiday gatherings. It was fun to see everyone out despite all the adversity Nepal is facing today.

Towards the end of the day I reached the famous Nepali hill station of Gorkha. The name is synonymous with the Nepali fighting regiments that have been utilized all over the world from Great Britain to Singapore. The village of Gorkha had sustained major damage from the earthquake. I didn’t stick around long enough to gather any more info than that.

nepal bikepackingFrom Gorkha I decided I should make haste to Nepal’s second largest city, Pokhara, where Chris and Shanna would be waiting for me to take off into the heart of the Annapurna Region for some big mountain riding.

The road down from Gorkha was nice! Paved. Smooth. I was now racing the setting sun down the hill.  In the tucked position for as long as my legs would handle it I ate up the remaining 20 miles down to the main road. It must have been a 6000’ decent. Forever. Part of me was bummed to be wasting all the vertical I had earned that day on a paved descent, but part of me was so happy not to be thinking anymore.

At one point I was racing a local dude on the Indian one-speed bike which he had set up as an ice cream truck…minus the catchy ice cream truck music. Ended the high-speed contest by purchasing a cone off the dude. I also ran into a four-man wooden ferris wheel. Another method to ‘leaving the earth’ I imagined. When the kid running the show cranked it up to 10 I thought I might see one of the participants actually leaving the earth, as in falling off and ceasing to live – I had to watch.

nepal bikepacking nepal bikepackingRight as pink went to black in the sky I arrived down at the main road to Pokhara. Checked a guesthouse but opted to grab the last bus. The roof was freezing cold, but I had it to myself and I got to keep a close eye on my steed. I didn’t see any others on the roof which had me fearing decapitation from the endless rogue electric and water lines. Needless to say, I survived.

nepal bikepacking I made it to Pokhara and met with Chris and Shanna. We booked plane tickets to the heart of the Annapurna region.

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