Preparing for India

As I type this now I am travelling to India to embark on what is the biggest physical challenge of my life. In my previous post ‘Five Hundred and Twenty One Days’ I very briefly highlighted this adventure that was fast coming my way, and with the hours counting down very quickly, now is a good time to type the next adventure up!

It started around August 2015 when a cycling trip was mentioned to me in discussion with my close friend, Liam, that really intrigued me. He told me he had read a book about two guys who cycled across the Himalayas, entirely self-supported, and said book has some incredible pictures with detailed information on how they undertook their journey. We decided to meet in the pub to talk shop, but I had pretty much decided at this point that I was 90% ‘in’, even based on the very brief information, and I was simply intrigued to hear about all the details. The trip was spoken about with many questions and not too many answers, but I was gripped. There was no way I was going to watch two other friends (Tom, another friend, had also signed himself up around this point) complete this journey, for me to just watch from afar with envy. No chance. It was too unique an opportunity, and I know no others in my friendship groups who would take the plunge to do something like this – it was, and is, a one chance opportunity.

So on the back of the three of us concluding this was going ahead, we bought the flights in October. This was our buy in, if you like. A way to cement our place and to ensure we wouldn’t drop out last minute. Especially when 3 could become 2 or 2 could become 1 – it changes the dynamics of the trip entirely. Luckily there has never been any doubt from the three of us, regardless of paying for the flights or not. Some early delegation occurred around what we need to do, and one of my roles was to create and manage social media which is easy enough for me as I use it all the time and I enjoy creating different things when I have the chance. We also needed a trip name, and after a couple of suggestions, ‘Riding on Thin Air’ was created – great, now I can create my accounts on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter and we could title up our donation page too. Nice and consistent across the board – something I am sure I have subconsciously picked up or learnt from Dad in regards to branding etc – thanks Dad.

The purpose for the social media accounts was also part of a bigger plan, to get companies on board to help us in our preparations. Liam works for Amazon Logistics and knew the branding of Amazon would help us a long way in getting other companies to join us. They donated 2 kindles to our trip, and with this small backing from Amazon we started to approach other companies to try and help us, starting with Highway Cycles, an independent bike shop in Hertford, who have truly been fantastic in the build up to this. They have provided us with bike servicing and products, as well as a workshop to teach Liam, Tom and I about the things we need to know in regards to fixing problems. Snugpak provided us with brand new sleeping bags (Chrysalis 3), camping mats (Travelite Self Inflating Travel Mat) and a fantastic gilet too (the Adventure Racing Vest). Visijax also joined the party, with one of their Highlight jackets and two of their City Ace jackets – these things are seriously cool. They all have ridiculously bright LEDs in the front and rear of the jacket, are waterproof, comfortable and have really kept me warm on my rides. The City Ace also had indicators too! It recognises when you lift your arm up as a turn signal and flashes the appropriate signalling lights in the arm. Amazing. Gadget wise we had Revolights provide us with their innovative bike light system, they look incredible and bring great functionality and safety. Check them out, I just find them fascinating. Then, at the last minute, Lazy Bag contacted us and provided us with their new air-sofa-bed type things. Looking forward to testing them!

The final company worth talking about is Bambike. During Liam’s time away on his honeymoon he met Brian Mclleland, owner of Bambike. His company create bike frames made entirely of bamboo and they are as strong as steel but as light as carbon, whilst being incredibly ecological. If you have the time, check out his website, they are fantastic. Anyway, Liam will ride this journey on a bamboo framed bike which is quite remarkable in itself, and now the bike is completed with all of the wheels, gears, handlebars etc, it looks incredible!

So there is some background information, but now the main details. Liam, Tom and I are heading to the Indian Himalayas today, Saturday 16th July, flying to Dubai, then Delhi, then in a car journey for around 12 hours before we arrive in Manali. This is a journey in itself, but the adventure begins the following Tuesday, where we will cycle 500km across the Manali to Leh highway through the Indian Himalayas, eventually ending up at the Shey Lamden school where we are sending our much appreciated donations. The cycling will take around eight or nine days, and we are completely self supported – carrying our food, drink, bike and camping equipment with us as we travel along the highway. Oof!

The distance itself is not too much of an issue. The weight of the bike, coupled with the steepness of the climbs, and the altitude we will ride at, is an issue. This is super tough – make no mistake. Manali, our starting point, is at 6000ft altitude and we will climb 4000ft in day one but climb to a peak of 17650ft during our time on the highway (people skydive at 10000ft). We spend around four days at an average altitude of 14000ft, and that is both cycling and camping. Altitude / altitude sickness is the one thing that we have not been able to physically prepare for. We managed to get a great cycling stint in Nice a few months ago now, which was fantastic, and endured a number of great hills to climb, but the altitude was still very low. Im not sure how any of us will react, and we have our precautionary Diamox, but still, it’s big unknown.

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The Manali to Leh highway, with altitudes and day by day breakdown

We will see some incredible views on this trip though. Go and google the highway yourself, there are quite amazing views from rocky, to snowy, to watery settings. All picturesque. All demanding. And I can’t wait to capture it all with my own eyes, let alone my Go Pro.

The planning for this trip has been pretty immense though. And on-going for a long period of time. As tech geezer I have bought a solar panel, batteries, cables, chargers and explored every possible option for ensuring we are tracked or have a way of communicating home. That’s been a huge challenge as it is either not possible or way out of my budget. Funnily enough we have also had discussions about what is not needed, technology speaking, for our trip and it lead to quite a lot of humour. Thinking about the most unnecessary objects to bring – hair dryers, electric toothbrush, trimmers or a foot spar. Non electrical things also included fold-down picnic tables, deck chairs, or a spiralizer. What the trip has been interesting for is the fact that we had to nail what we do and do not need, because if we forget something we need there is nowhere to pick up a new one, if we don’t need it but bring it then that is weight we carry unnecessarily, and deciding how ruthless to be has been a challenge. I even ditched a few things I had packed before we went to the airport. No surprise as I usually over pack! But it was nice to go through the airport feeling very content that everything is covered. And it’s no surprise it’s been like a military operation, with Liam as Head of Logistics (Tom – Head of Mechanics & Medicine; and myself, Head of Social Media & Technology).

What started off as a personal challenge (and still very much is and will be a huge accomplishment), we opted to take the opportunity to raise money for charity. We chose the Himalayan Children and are helping to raise money for the Shey Lamden school. They need extensions built on to their facilities, to allow for outside work and play for the children whilst protecting them from the harsh Himalayan weather conditions. We have already sent over one installment and within six weeks they had built the first (of four) extensions! Huge motivator for us, and to further that we have raised £5830 (over £7000 with gift aid). We are so delighted with this. Our target was £5000 but we only expected a max of £2000-3000. If you have donated to our cause we cannot thank you enough. If you haven’t, and are compelled by our challenge, please donate – there’s still plenty of time.

So that’s our journey. I have probably missed out so many things. I have definitely not covered intricate details but I can entertain you with them in person should you want to ask and listen. For now though, as I sit here on this flight to Delhi, we are all relaxed, in good spirits and very keen to get going. We had a small hiccup this morning at the airport but got through that fine. We pray for our bike boxes to arrive safely, on time, and in good condition when we land. It is crazy to think we have put so much time, money and effort in to this trip to then have things like the transportation of our bikes are entirely out of our hands!

We will land and jump straight in the car to get across to Manali. We will unpack, build, pack again and rest on Sunday, then start cycling on Monday. I will hopefully hand write whilst I am away but look to post on my return. With some incredible pictures I hope.

I’ll catch you in a fortnight!

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