Serk Cycling Beijing
It is that time of the year where you set your goals for the year. Perhaps they are sporting, fitness, weight, nutrition or career goals for 2018. Personally I get excited about setting adventure goals.
There is nothing like exploring new roads, cultures and cuisines to nourish the body, mind and soul. It’s especially so when exploring new frontiers and laying fresh bike tracks where not that many others have ventured before. In 2017 we were blown away by the amazing offerings in Xinjiang. To find another distinct set of landscapes in China was invigorating. Xinjiang has some of the landscapes of Switzerland combined with aspects of middle eastern culture. Think snow capped mountains, geometric architectural patterns, the morning call to prayer and the best fresh breads and chuar in China. Xinjiang seems more a part of Central Asia than China. Thankfully it is within China so that means amazing new tarmac, decent hotels and great mobile coverage.
On many of our trips to Xinjiang we’ve skirted the border with Kazakhstan where the heart of central asia lies. The border is another huge range of snow peaked mountains which keep whispering to me to come and explore. Now that our Ti Adventure bike is rolling we are ready to start exploring this part of the world unsupported in 2018. This time we wont be looking for hotels and new tarmac instead seeking out unpaved roads and remote locations. If you are interested in the story of our last bike packing adventure in remote Sichuan check out this excellent account by Tom Grimmer. On that trip we weren’t sure we’d make it out alive after we climbed a crazy high altitude gravel road late in the afternoon and ran out of supplies.
These adventures certainly have their fair share of challenge. High altitude, consecutive days in the saddle, long kms, early mornings, difficult weather conditions to name a few. Training throughout the year to ensure I’m in the best shape to tackle these challenges keeps me focused and motivated. As a consequence my weight and nutrition goals are ticked off in the process without too much extra effort. Luckily as 2017 was a big year for challenges and I needed to loose some weight early in the season.
The biggest challenge for 2017 was attempting to Everest Everest. It was a crazy idea that started way back in 2015 when we discovered the newly opened road almost by accident on our trip in Tibet. Unfortunately our bikes were securely packed up ready for our return journey so all we could do was vow to come back and ride it the following year. In 2016 we did that and our group was the first to do it on road bikes (plenty of more hard core riders had conquered the road on mountain bikes before us). Man what a road it is. We started riding before dawn in the pissing rain with the hope of reaching the top of the pass and seeing the first light shine on Everest. Only it was a shitty day and the weather wasn’t on our side. It still made for an excellent adventure - check out the short doco from Frederico Henriques here and an interview with one of the riders Chas Pope here.
In May 2017 we tried again and succeeded. We reached the top of the pass and the whole Himalayan range was stretched out before us as sun comes up. That view (and the effort required to summit) almost brings you to tears. If it doesn’t the mind audacious descent of 50 plus switchbacks will extract a tear from under your sunglasses. High altitude descending with lower air resistance from altitude is seriously fun. Being inspired by the sight of Everest again and full of adrenaline from the descent I fired off one of those spontaneous emails that you are only ever stupid enough to send at such moments. And with that the biggest challenge for 2017 was born - Everesting this road to Everest.
I knew there was probably only one person in the world who’d be stupid enough to reply instantly with a yes. That person was Andy van Bergen - the custodian of the Everesting concept, founder of Hells 500 and one of the main guys behind Cyclingtips. I was right - the reply came back pretty quickly and he was in. It took me a whole week to even mention the idea to Liman and over 3 months to get her on board. The hard part was completed and the easy part of the actual Everesting was next up. I won’t write too much about it as Andy has written an amazing piece about it over at CyclingTips which you should definitely check out (Tim’s pictures and Mal’s video are also absolutely amazing).
I wrote the short version a couple of days after the attempt ;
To attempt to complete our own arduous challenge in the spirit of Everest adventurers before us was a dream come. At the same time the physical / logistical & health risks kept me awake at night.
On Thursday we started in perfect conditions. It wasn’t long before a howling wind straight off the face of Everest started to push against us. Our progress slowed considerably but we battled against it for some 8 hours. It was like Everest knew we what we were up to and she wasn’t letting us first timers have it easy.
By dinner it was obvious the 30 hour window in our itinerary to complete the 8848m goal was unattainable so we started to reassess.
At 8pm it was just Matilda and myself and every piece of kit we had to combat the freezing temps. The setting sun illuminated Everest in gorgeous pink and red hues until the darkness enveloped her. Just a patch of illuminated road accompanied me as the laps ticked over. The cold started creeping into my body and by 1am I had to stop and regenerate body warmth. After a chat with the team I shifted my focus away from a solo attempt towards a team Everesting (8848m total between the three of us). We just needed 2 more laps to achieve that goal.
I completed those laps and stood and stared at Everest in the darkness. I let out a soft ‘so-so,so’ (a Tibetan chant you recite at the top of a pass). I turned my light off and retired to the van. Strangely I didn’t feel defeated. Instead I felt enlightened by the arduous personal journey I had just undertaken in the company of the the worlds greatest mountain. This enlightenment was far more important to me than achieving any physical goal. Massive respect to Everest.
Final stats - 163.1km 3232m of climbing at 5000m altitude.
At the time of writing the above I was happy to walk away from the challenge content that I’d given it a crack. That only lasted about a week and every day since I’ve been thinking about going back and knocking it off. In my mind our attempt proved it possible with the right conditions and better preparation. As every adventurer knows once you understand its possible it is difficult to walk away from the challenge - all just because it is there.
Its looking increasingly likely that I’ll attempt the challenge again in 2018. A group of friends have come forward and expressed a desire to have a crack as well. All of them are riders that inspire me with their tenacity and endurance capabilities and I’m very much looking forward to being humbled by Everest with them again in 2018.
So with 2018 on the horizon I wish everyone luck pushing your own frontiers and adventuring on your bike. If you are looking for some inspiration check out our 2018 tours or reach out to us here at Serk if you are after advice on your own adventure planning.
Happy Adventuring in 2018 !