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Our friend Gage O’Donnell recently went on a bucket list mountain bike trip to Nepal. With soaring mountains, snow covered terrain, high altitudes, and lots of mileage, we wanted to know how she prepared for her trip and how it went for the group of seven lady mountain bikers. Being equally excited and intimidated about doing a trip like this, we wanted to learn more about Gage’s amazing journey.
1. How did this trip come about?
My friend Sue coaches at Ladies Allride Camps and the founder, Lindsay Richer has been to Nepal and Sue heard about the World Ride MTB organization through her. Sue then began reaching out to multiple women to see who was seriously interested in mountain biking the Annapurna circuit. She initially invited me last fall and as soon as I could put a deposit down I was in!
2. What region were you biking in and did you go with a company or a local guide?
The bike route was following the Annapurna Circuit, which historically has been one of the most popular trekking routes in the world, and with the addition of newer jeep roads, it’s become possible to bike most of the route. We worked through World Ride MTB and Himalaya Singletrack who set up our whole trip; basically as soon as we walked out of the airport they picked us up and organized all of our lodging, having our baggage ported and guided us along the route. We had two guides for our 7 person group and it was extremely helpful to have guides as a lot of the towns that you stay in along the way are small and having them organize lodging in advance and the ability to speak Nepalese was extremely helpful.
3. How many miles did you do each day and what was the elevation gain/loss like?
The route was quite variable; basically the first six days were all uphill through Thorong La Pass (17,769 ft) and then generally the last three days were somewhat downhill. The most miles we did in one day was probably 28ish miles and the most feet gained was 5300 ft. But some of the hardest days didn’t necessarily have the most miles or most elevation gain, it was just that being up at a very high elevation made the going slow. The terrain was also variable; the ‘roads’ there are really chunky so a mountain bike was absolutely preferable and a lot of the single track was technical and challenging.
4. How did you prepare for the trip and big days of riding?
I did most of my training on the gravel bike, which I think was the way to go just to be able to put some longer days on roads in, but I also did a few longer mountain bike rides (4-6 hours) as well. For me, since I travel a lot for work, I just wanted to get as many miles in as possible over the summer. I also had some nagging injuries which I wanted to get sorted out, so I started seeing a trainer at VASTA in South Burlington last December. They really taught me how to move better and more efficiently and really helped me improve my core strength which is very important especially for long days. I don’t think I would have survived the hike a bike days without the extra gym training.
5. How do you pack for a trip like this? What did you bring?
I’ll tell you what, packing for this trip was hard! We saw weather from 85 and humid to cold and wintery conditions, so you almost had to pack the kitchen sink. I packed a lot of wool items, knowing that I could wear them multiple days in a row, on or off the bike. I also made sure to bring some good chamois, since some of the days were long days in the saddle. Packing lots of layers was really important too, since the days we climbed it got colder as we went along and as we came down, it warmed up again. I also packed a ton of snacks that I knew I would enjoy eating while biking; it’s hard to anticipate what the food is going to be like in a country you’ve never been to before, so it’s a good idea to have food you know you like. I also brought a plethora of bike parts, just knowing we’d be way up in the mountains, I didn’t want to be left without a crucial part that would keep me from riding. I brought things like, an extra tire, derailleur, derailleur hanger, cables/housing, brake pads, rotor, and extra cleats. I was able to fit everything I needed in a 95L duffle and my bike bag. The hard part was that the bags the guiding company gave us were only 60L so you really had to be smart about what came along during the circuit. We also had to bring sleeping bags, as the teahouses we stay in don’t have heat in the rooms, and the provide one blanket but I was very happy to have my own sleeping bag especially when we were up high.
6. What was the most challenging part of the trip?
It’s quite hard to pick one part that was the most challenging. I got a GI bug the night before we left to drive up to the mountains, so the first day was challenging for me just because I hadn’t eaten much the day prior and was quite dehydrated but I was able to make it through the day and once the antibiotics kicked in, I improved a lot. The day we went through Thorong La pass was also incredibly difficult. It was a 3.5 hour hike a bike starting at around 16,000 ft. It typically doesn’t snow in October in the pass, but it started snowing when we arrived at high camp and continued a few different times overnight. When we started around 5am in the dark, it made the walking/pushing a bike quite challenging and slippery. It was also brutally cold that morning, and I’m usually someone who gets warm when I go uphill but I actually had to stop and put on more layers as we were going up. Once the sun came up it was much more pleasant and the views were stunning. The last bit of the climb was the most mentally challenging just because you couldn’t see the top of the pass and it felt like it was going to go on forever. But there wasn’t an option for turning around, so you just knew you had to keep going, no matter how slowly. I think the group generally feels like that was the most challenging part of the trip, but getting to ride our bikes down the other side was pretty incredible.
7. Did you feel adequately prepared for the terrain and mileage?
I felt pretty good about my training; the one thing that I wish I had forced myself to do was more hike-a-biking. We had almost two full days of pushing bikes uphill, and by the time we go to the top of the pass, my shoulders were completely shot. This also made it hard to go downhill on the other side, with such tired shoulders, but I also think we don’t have a ton of terrain that requires hiking in Vermont, and I think it would have been hard for me to force myself to do it for training.
8. Would you do anything differently next time?
I feel like I should have known better, but I definitely needed warmer gloves in for the pass day and perhaps a little bit more hike-a-bike training but on that side of things I don’t think I would have done anything else differently. I was really happy I brought my own bike and loved everything about the guiding company. We also had an absolutely wonderful and supportive group of women which was the real key to making the trip successful. Throughout a long trip like this, everyone has highs and lows and it’s nice to have support when you need it and give support to those who need it in return.
9. What recommendations would you have for someone who would like to plan a trip like this?
For Nepal at the very least, I would not try and do that trip or really much mountain biking without a guide. Not only for convenience, but also for safety. We had someone in our group experience a serious bout of altitude sickness and we were able to get her help much easier having guides who spoke Nepalese, had contacts to get doctors and transportation organized and keep the rest of the group moving. Perhaps if you did a trip like this somewhere that wasn’t as remote or you spoke the language you could do it all yourself, but it was much easier in Nepal with a guide. Other than that, just lots of hours in the saddle and making sure you are adequately prepared gear wise is the most important.
Have you done a trip like this or are you planning one? We’d love to hear from you about your experiences or the planning process.