Having met my fellow riders and crew the evening before, the time had come. Get up, pack my bags and head down to meet our Royal Enfield’s, before heading off into the chaos that is Kathmandu. Having only decided to take the trip to Nepal some ten days prior, I was lucky that the sense of dread I now felt hadn’t had long to linger.
Hauling my over-packed bag to the lift, I told myself it would be fine. The tour operator had assured me that no real off-road experience was needed. Hdow wrong that would turn out to be. With our gear crammed into the four-seat support ute, it was time. My bike started with a grumble and it took a few minutes for everyone to get up and running. Ten riders in total, plus our two guides, two mechanics, and the support driver.
After a quick briefing on how to ensure we all made it through the crazy city streets together, it was back to the bikes and time to hit the road. Within five minutes we had lost a member of the group in the maize of broken streets and narrow alleys. The group was now split in half and the lead rider was nowhere to be seen. It wasn’t the best start. The heat was fierce, and I could feel the sweat pouring down my back as my heart raced and I tried to avoid missing the local vendors on the street whilst I kept my fellow riders in sight.
More than two hours later we were once again together as a group and we left the searing hot side of the road for calmer back streets, and a slow wind up into the mountains. Within half an hour the tarmac disappeared, and the dust was so bad it was hard to see. With holes big enough to swallow the bike completely, the sense that it was going to a challenge was starting to sink in.
With a full day’s ride through terrible traffic and even worse road conditions, it was a relief to find some blacktop as we rode the last few miles of switchbacks to our mountain side stop for the night. High up overlooking the stunning Nepalese Himalayas, it was easy to forget all we had endured to get here.
As the sun set, the temperature plummeted and, having had a cold shower, I was absolutely freezing. A quick dinner and back to the room for some much-needed sleep, except I was not in a good way. My body ached, and I was shivering violently. The stress of the ride and the change in temperature along with the realisation of what lay ahead, had overcome me. I cried for a couple of minutes but realised that would only give me a headache to add to my woes. Snuggling into my sleeping bag, I drifted off and hoped tomorrow would be better.
Thankfully the next few days were more manageable. I became comfortable with the bike and the chaos started to seem normal. The roads were intermittently good then terrible, but I had found my groove. With some exceptionally good off-road riders in the group, there was plenty of advice to go around and I listened intently. This was an opportunity to push myself and learn.
Waking every morning was the same. I was nervous, but I told myself I had made it past half way so there was no turning back. The day we were to ride from Tatopani to Kalopani towards the mighty Mustang Valley, I was told I could get off the bike at any time. The road was in terrible shape and it would be far worse than anything we had encountered thus far. Safety was paramount with sheer drop offs the entire way and not a guard rail in sight. I felt determined to get it done, but also comforted to know if I needed to bail, I could.
It started with a deep rocky river crossing and progressively got worse. The fine dust made visibility impossible, and the ability to pick a clean line through the huge holes and massive boulders that jutted out from the surface became a game of Russian Roulette. Do you smash into the rocks or risk slipping out on to one of the loose edges? Neither option was appealing but the rocks were close to the cliff wall and away from certain death. As I bashed my way through, the bike taking endless hits and the already suspect suspension pushed well beyond its limits, I was praying for it to end soon. Unfortunately, that call went unanswered. For more than eight hours, I pushed on, the group far ahead. The sweeper was with me the whole way, giving me advice, there to help pick up the bike on the countless slow speed drops.
As the light faded, we stopped for a rest, exhausted. My guide was an exceptional rider, one of the best I have come across in my travels. There is no way I would have made it this far without him. He asked me one last time, did I want to go in the truck? No, I was adamant, I was going to ride into camp no matter how long it took. With the light almost gone, we made one final push.
The rest of the group was waiting outside as I rounded the final bend and in the dusty gates. I could hear the cheers and clapping from inside my helmet. They knew I had done it tough out there and it was a great way to finish the hardest days ride I had ever had. Straight off the bike and to the makeshift bar for a well-earned drink, I was as proud as myself as I had ever been. I didn’t give up. I don’t know if I would have made it without support, but I had still ridden in on my own and that was a massive achievement.
From there on in, everything seemed almost easy. There were still days of nightmare traffic jams, avalanches and mudslides, but nothing seemed to matter. I had found a resilience that I didn’t know I had. The ride into the Mustang Valley was spectacular. Rutted dirt roads winding down the mountainside towards the valley floor, where we rode through the dry river bed, waiting for the Spring melt to fill it next year. The green of the grass was a welcome sight after so long in the dry dirty conditions.
Reaching the middle of the valley, the low-lying grasslands were flooded and boggy. Not wanting to take the long way round, I followed one of my fellow riders – straight into the mud. With the engine screaming and mud flying there, was no way out of it, I was going down. Thankfully it was a soft landing and of course everyone was there to watch my less than graceful fall. Covered in mud and sinking every time I tried to walk, it made for a funny spectacle.
After once again being rescued, we found solid ground and enjoyed some time to look around. Aptly named the Mustang Valley for the wild horses that call it home, they graced us with their majestic presence. The sun shone down on the horses grazing, completely unperturbed by our presence. It was almost too perfect.
Looking up into the ginormous mountains that surrounded us in every direction, it was easy to see why people are so taken with their mysterious beauty. They truly are breath-taking. I was in awe of just how big they were, almost seeming unreal in the landscape. Back on the bikes and it was yet another bumpy few hours to our highest destination of Muktinath. The engines spluttered and gasped for air as we climbed. It was hard going for both bike and rider.
Once again, the temperature dropped, and it had gone from a beautiful sunny day to freezing in less than an hour. Leaving our bikes, we trekked breathlessly up the last few hundred meters to the sacred temple perched atop the mountain. The views that could be seen from up there were beautiful. The sun was setting, a golden hue breaking through the clouds. I watched it set before slowly walking back to the hotel. It had been a big day.
Although we had been warned about altitude sickness, I felt fine. That was, until sometime in the middle of the night when I woke with a headache like nothing I have ever experienced before. It pounded with such ferocity it felt like my head was in a vice. With nothing more than mild pain killers available, I closed my eyes and hoped it would somehow lift. Morning came and by then my face had begun to swell, there was no way I was going to be able to put my helmet on. With a hard day of riding ahead, I opted to take a few hours in the back up vehicle until we descended low enough for the pain to subside.
As quickly as it had come on, it was gone once the altitude was low enough, it was a huge relief. Back on the bike and this time headed to a remote hilltop retreat known as The Secret Farm. Built by hand, it had been decimated in the devastating earthquake of 2015. It was painstakingly rebuilt and stands as a testament to the Nepalese people and their attitude of making do and getting on with life.
It was a wonderful final evening, looking out at yet another sunset amongst the towering peaks. With only a day to ride back to Kathmandu, I felt this experience had awoken my sense of adventure. I felt braver than I ever had before, like I could conquer the world. On the way back home to Australia I began making my plan. I would finally make my dream a reality, and ride around the world.
Less than five months later that is exactly what I did, I bought a motorcycle in England and rode it across Europe, Russia and the States to New York. No matter what challenges I faced, I had the yardstick of this trip to keep my fears in check. I would often say to myself, you have gone through plenty worse in Nepal, so keep going. And I did.
To check out my adventure on my CB500X, you can read all about it here on my website.