The Road to Manali

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Very proud of this photo of  Kate Leeming and me just before descending down Rhotong Pass

Last year, I finished up where I had worked for over twenty years. It had been a hard decision, but there was an opportunity to take a voluntary redundancy which I just couldn’t refuse. Being in the IT field, the chances of me getting another job locally was possible, but more than likely I knew my opportunities would need to lay elsewhere.

My kids are pretty grown, so I could take a chance, and I needed the change.

What I would end up doing, I really didn’t know, and I only had vague notions of what I wanted to do anyway.

Whilst I was sorting this out, I booked in for a trip to India to ride the famous Leh to Manali highway (look it up on YouTube – you’ll find it under ‘Worlds most Dangerous Highway’) just before the monsoon was to hit in June.

What really drew me to this ride were two things. I had always wanted to ride in India, including up to the highest motorable road in the world  – Khardung La (although I think this is under dispute), but there was also the opportunity to ride with Kate Leeming.

I had read a number of books by Kate, and heard her speak about her adventures riding around Australia, being the first person to ride across Africa, as well as the enormous trip she is planning, which is to ride across Antarctica (yes, you read that right).

Kate is just downright inspirational…I know this is an overused word, but you don’t meet people very often (at least I don’t) who really get out there and just make things happen, and raise money and awareness around things that matter (in Kate’s situation this includes riding 22,000 km, providing support for initiatives to assist in improving health and education,  including the empowerment of women – and ‘breaking the cycle’ of poverty in Africa).

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At the top of Khardung La – Highest motorable road in the world

Meeting Kate and the other riders in Delhi in June (coming from winter to 30+ C was a challenge in its own right!), the next day we flew to Leh, a high desert city (3,524 m elevation) in Ladakh, and the start of our trip.

On the first day, our bikes had gone missing in action, but it was a great chance to stretch our legs, walking to the local temples, and acclimatizing to the altitude, which was something I had never really experienced before, excepting one ride I did up Mauna Kea in Hawaii, where I had gone from sea level to over 3,000 m in a day, and suffered!

When our bikes arrived, and we had put everything together, we climbed Khardung La, the highest point we would reach for the whole trip, and spent the rest of the day, apart from dodging trucks, motorbikes, people and cows, descended back down to Leh. It was just awesome, and this was just the start of the trip!

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It was just like I had hoped it would be…riding doesn’t get any better

From Leh, our ride proceeded south, through small villages such as Pang, camping in the middle of vast plains and valleys in tents, all the time supported by our guides. It was dusty, dirty, hot, cold, windy, sunny, rainy…and fantastic.

Two weeks later, we reached Manali, after coming down Rhotong pass. To describe the last day is very difficult. Just imagine that you have spent the previous number of days in dry, dusty desert, with a very thing atmosphere going over some of the highest passes in the world. Then you start descending, where everything becomes green…there are actually waterfalls, and trees, and for every kilometer you travel, you can feel the humidity growing, and the oxygen flowing again through your body…oh, the oxygen!

For me, the road to Manali was a very significant one. It signified something very important to me. I loved cycling. I loved travelling. This is something I knew I wanted more of, and was something I knew I had to do again. It provided a clear break from my old world of work, and my job I had been in for so long, and was a path to a new start, and hopefully a new set of experiences.

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Me, Kate and others on the trip looking over the Himalaya

Nearly a year on now, I look back with a sense of gratitude in being able to do this trip. When I came back, I got the job I’m now in just a couple of weeks later. This wasn’t an easy decision either, as I really thought I might take an extended work hiatus, and perhaps study, but it was a good opportunity.

Since this trip I have also been to the Cook Islands for a holiday with my wife (there was a spot of cycling involved there as well, but as it was our 25th wedding anniversary, I had to keep this at a minimum, oh, other than cycling in the NZ Cycle Challenge for 320 km around Taupo 🙂 )

I wanted to include this post, well, because I am proud of it, but also to provide a little more perspective and context on why I am doing what I am doing, and where I have come from.

I really believe that you get to do things, really cool things, with really cool, inspirational people if you prepare, and give yourself over to a goal…it doesn’t matter what. Now, it goes without saying,  I’m certainly no great cyclist (surprise?). But I train and prepare as well as I can.

That’s not to say that I don’t get stuck in the everyday stuff like everyone else (I think one of my other posts was called the ‘Daily Grind’, or something like that for goodness sake), but these trips and challenges give a bigger picture and context.

Tomorrow I’m planning to ride with a mate for the morning. It will be a great ride. I can only do that because I’m prepared. I’m prepared, only because I have a goal.

That’s what I got from the road to Manali.

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