Jacob and I had been cycling through central Asia for over 4,000 kilometres. It had been a relatively comfortable existence thus far, I had not suffered from injury, experienced discomfort or saddle sores until the ride from Agra to the Nepali border. During this period, due to our Kathmandu Christmas deadline, I had very little down time for my raw cheeks to rejuvenate, I had no choice but to adopted a rigorous cream routine. Mornings, I lathered chamois cream into my tender regions to reduce friction during the days ride, occasionally this process had to be repeated at lunch times. Evenings, I would don my aptly named “cream pants” then apply an ample dose of Sudacrem that was jovially donated as a send off gift from my boss on my last day at work. Cream pants: most tattered pair of underwear of which the crotch that had worn through before the transition to commando, underwear-free cycling. This pair, that was once my most favoured pair of underwear, perhaps 18 months ago, were patch repaired at a Pakistani tailors, who did an exemplary job. It is perhaps important to note that they were freshly cleaned when handed to the tailors.
After a generous pre-ride application, Jacob and I cycled out of Tansen. We were reluctant to leave the comfortable guest house and balcony with spectacular sunrise views but we couldn’t resist the lure of Pokhara. We were excited to put our feet up and relax by Phewa Lake and enjoy some scheduled down time. The next 127 kilometres flew by through a series of fantastic layered landscapes and rolling hills.
We were gradually gaining on the Himalayas. It had been quite some time since we were last acquainted with the mighty, majestic peaks. As we rolled out of one valley I was hit with a tidal wave of awe as Machapuchare suddenly appeared in the distance, it was so unexpected that I was overwhelmed with emotion, I almost shed a tear. Machapuchare, at 6,993 metres, is the epitome of a mountain. Its steep sided, snow capped pinnacle is absolute, mountainous perfection.
We continued on and were met with distant views of Pokhara. As we descended, a flock of about 20, what I believed to be, eagles of some kind or another large wing-spanned bird of prey, circled above, what a regal welcome. Unfortunately, my mood and excitement was somewhat tainted by the return of persistent squeaking sounds emanating from my rear frame, it was time to seek out another trusty welder.
The succeeding three days were spent splashing out on the usual respite necessities. For those who have followed previous blogs know exactly what this consisted of, and for those who haven’t; excessive eating followed by endless hours sipping coffee, sampling numerous bakery items, namely; chocolate brownie with ice cream and apple cinnamon tart.
The inevitable end to the Woods-Browning cycling partnership was looming. With only 200 kilometres left to cycle between Pokhara and Kathmandu we mutually agreed to let our hair down and enjoy a couple of well earned locally brewed beers. Gorka was the pick of the bunch. Unfortunately, it quickly became apparent that a classic, thick, black British stout is difficult to come by in Nepal, the lager had to suffice. We found the most festive looking establishment and prematurely toasted the incredible journey and the previous unforgettable 129 days that we had shared together. We laughed about the mishaps we had gotten ourselves into and reminisced over our fondest memories. This was only the second alcohol infused evening since departing Osh, Kygyzstan, I certainly felt merry.
Not only was our time in Pokhara spent wandering between cafes and restaurants, I managed to hunt down a welder who, heroically and substantially, repaired my debilitated frame. We also enjoyed a 24 kilometre hike to the World Peace Pagoda and a circumnavigation of Phewar Lake.
We departed Pokhara with our sights set firmly on Kathmandu. We were aware that the road linking the two largest cities of Nepal was a major tourist route and would be busy with buses, taxis and the like, though each day, once the chilly morning mist had lifted, we relished the pleasant, insouciant cycling, as we wound through deep valleys along the highway perched precariously above the Marsyangdi and Trisuli rivers.
December 23rd marked the final day of our cycle tour with only 39 kilometres to the capital and a warm, friendly Eliza welcome. We had compiled a playlist of our most favoured cycle touring songs that we had danced, sung and air guitared to over the previous 135 days, these tracks were interspersed with sing along Christmas classics to spread festive cheer to the people of Nepal. I mounted our portable speaker to my bike, cranked the volume to maximum and we were off, grinning wildly and singing at the top of our voices. I had expected this to be a solemn day though I soaked up and savored every joyful kilometre. We never got bored of noting that everything we did was “the final” thing; the final boiled egg chapati breakfast, the final time loading our bikes, the final morning stretch break, the final packet of Parle-G biscuits and eventually, after a three hour, tough yet masochistic climb, with some of the steepest gradients we had experienced since the steep roads of India, resulting in burning quadriceps and calves, we had completed “the final major climb.” We felt on top of the world, unstoppable and triumphant. We had made it. Kathmandu for Christmas. The point on the map that had marked the finish line for such a long time now materialised, the vast expanse of the Kathmandu valley appeared before us, nestled amongst the surrounding foothills. We had agreed to avoid major cities at all costs but with thanks to Eliza, Kathmandu meant a friendly face, mince pies, a cheese board, ale and a Christmas dinner.
We rode past a series of security checkpoints blasting out ‘Santa Baby‘ before battling endless traffic on terrible dusty, rocky roads and navigating the narrow windy streets of Patan in search of the agreed meeting point, Cafe Soma. Not only was this our agreed meeting point, it was appropriate that we ended our tour with not one but two cups of americano and two portions of cake. Grinning from ear to ear, Jacob and I dismounted, congratulated one another and hugged it out in a wholesome embrace. 4,170 kilometres, five countries, four hundred selfies with strangers, three blowouts, two collisions and a bromance and love for roti.
Sadly, it was all over…
Eliza arrived and welcomed us with open arms, it was so nice to be greeted by a familiar, friendly face and shortly, we were reunited with a long-lost cycle touring companion, the much adored, Rocky loving Chinaman, Mario. I was elated to have completed the journey that we had planned for so long. The dream of a long distance cycle tour had finally become a reality and was now an unforgettable memory.
It hit me many times throughout this trip, how fortunate I am to have been born into the first world, into a developed country and to have the opportunity to stare longingly at a map of the world, to dream and travel to almost any country I choose. To cycle, not only in the shadows of towering mountain peaks, through impossibly steep sided valleys and along side sacred rivers but also through tiny villages where individuals are most likely to live out their entire existence, working 365 days a year, struggling to make ends meet, where my daily budget, in some cases, would perhaps exceeded their entire monthly income. My deepest respect and sincere gratitude goes out to these individuals who never failed to welcome us into their homeland, who smiled and waved us onward through our journey, spreading joy as a reminder that happiness can be experienced at all times, everywhere, despite what little one may posses. We may have only shared an afternoon or spent a few minutes in each others company or even a few seconds as we trundled on by, though I hope that the memories of these encounters last a lifetime.
My future plans are uncertain. I have not decided whether I will continue on a solitary cycle tour or whether my travel plans with follow a different but an undoubtedly, adventurous path, but I must sign off this chapter of this adventure with a huge thank you to Jacob, whom without, I perhaps wouldn’t have committed to such a journey. I thoroughly enjoyed spending the last 19 weeks together. Not once did we lose our temper or argue with each other, we enjoyed a mutually affable and harmonious experience, one that I will never forget.
In writing this blog I hope to inspire others to follow their dreams, to leave the repetitive normality of a comfortable life, of commutes, bills and routine, to take that risk, enrich your life and have a great, unforgettable adventure. Life is too short to live the same week every week, where weeks blur into one and time is wished away waiting for the next pay day. Time is precious. Time is the one thing that we can never get back, anyone who is in their old age will affirm this fact. I once read that the enemy of time is routine and these words have stuck with me for a decade. The hardest part of any great adventure is breaking free from ‘normality’ leaving your front door and taking that first, anxious step. But committing to taking that first step will undoubtedly and unequivocally, be the best decision you could possibly make. In the words of my idol and primary source of inspiration, Alastair Humphreys, “Life is too brief and too rich to tiptoe through half-heartedly, rather than galloping at it with whooping excitement and ambition.“
“Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail”
– Ralph Waldo Emerson