Back in September we crossed the border over the ‘Friendship Bridge’ from Tibet into Nepal at Kodari.
I remember the chaos, friendly smiling faces and warmth (both physical from the humid air and emotional from the people) of this little one street town. It was quite a contrast to the authoritarian atmosphere we’d just experienced at the Tibetan border.
Kodari clings to the mountainside between shear cliffs and a roaring river.
The images bellow are from a BBC news report tonight (05/17/2015). Kodari was near the centre of the quake aftershock and has been destroyed. It is abandoned, as the threat from damaged buildings and unstable hills is just too great. They said the Chinese Army had crossed the border to help with the recovery, then showed diggers attempting to move rocks the size of buildings.
I can’t imagine what it would have been like to be there during this, nowhere to run, and how many were injured or killed. There was no mention of that — just that many had fled to the hills — and no reports at all how Zhangmu, a similar town over the border in Tibet, had fared. Horrific.
The DUAL, officially “2015 Partners Life DUAL Motutapu - Rangitoto Traverse”, has been run a few times but this is the first time I’ve had a suitable bike.
I’ve been to both islands before, by ferry and yacht, and walked some parts but the chance to bike around them is unique, otherwise not allowed.
As a first timer I was impressed with the event organisation. Bikes had to be dropped off on Thursday. They were checked clean (both Islands are nature reserves) and tyres run through bleach on the way into a secure storage area.
On Friday they were ferried to the island ready for us to collect on Saturday.
(click any photo to see full res version on Flickr)
The week had been wet — on & off — and the forecast was for the same. Heavy rain overnight wasn’t encouraging so I had a rain shell and (thanks B!) SealSkin waterproof socks packed.
I knew there isn’t much shelter on Motutapu and would be there until the afternoon so took much more gear — thermal & proper raincoat — than I would for a day ride. Not quite as much as the Tibet ride but close!
It is not like me to be in the city early enough to see a Cruise liner’s morning arrival!
First task on arrival at Motutapu was to collect the bike. They’d been racked up in number grouping in a nearby paddock so it didn’t take long to find.
I joined the start at the back of the pack as had no intention of ‘racing’. There were about 420 cyclists evenly split between the 26 km and 42 km course options.
The 42 I did was a ‘lap’ of both islands nicely arranged so only a short section near the causeway was repeated. The riding was a mix of gravel road, farm track and a fair bit across grass paddocks and cattle paths.
From the start at Home Bay, Motutapu, it was a climb on farm roads to the ridge. Pace was slow, penalty of being at the back, but then I was stopping occasionally to take photos!
From there it was downhill to the causeway and very different riding conditions. Rangitoto is new, erupted about 600 years ago, so the terrain is pretty ‘raw’. Although we were still riding on formed roads the scoria rock is pretty harsh, saw quite a few punctures being repaired roadside. I have walked up Rangitoto before but wasn’t familiar with the road.
The climb was 1st gear steep but not as long as I imagined. One benefit of the rain was a nicely compacted gravel and probably much less dust. That said I did have to clean quite a lot of Rangitoto grit out of the chain and derailleur when I got home! There were frequent drink stops, water & electrolytes on offer, with this one at the summit being rather well placed.
This was the start of the descent, a fun downhill ride on scoria road.
The later part was a fast, rough — more punctures for some — downhill to the lighthouse you see from Auckland’s North Shore.
The road follows the coast through bush and open areas with great views back towards Auckland.
After passing the tourist wharf we retraced our tracks over the causeway to Motutapu.
Then it was back to the top of the ridge before heading towards Motutapu’s East Coast.
Looking back towards Rangitoto summit
Flattened grass shows the way across the farm paddocks towards some fun downhills
Back to sea level but there is another ridge looming.
There were some challenging climbs out of the bays. I rode the whole way except for a couple of places where I had to walk/push a hundred metres or so as it was just too steep. There were some great views to compensate for the effort.
Then it was back towards Rangitoto before turning back for the last few climbs.
The top of Motutapu looking back to the Rangitoto summit.
The last couple of kilometres are a long steep descent to the Home Bay finish.
And finally, some fool on the downhill to the finish (purchased from the official event photos).
The weather was perfect, warm but overcast for the race and getting fine towards the finish and post race. It would have been too hot otherwise!
Full ferry for the trip back to Auckland, bikes would follow later.
Given the rain leading up to the event, torrential overnight, this weather was amazing.
I went back into town that evening to collect my bike to avoid the city Triathlon road closures on Sunday. The setting sun, cloud and occasional rain created some interesting lighting around the viaduct basin.
Also saw the liner which I watched dock that morning set sail.
Provisional Result: Race No 26 – Time 3:30:07 – Position 173/213.
According to my GPS (which nearly matched the official race time) I was stationary for about 23 minutes taking photos, all of which are on Flickr.
Today I rode Ruakaka to Wellsford for the Pedal For Plunket 2015 ride and it went well.
Although State Highway One is busy we had a support car & van following warning of cyclists ahead. The traffic was great, quite a few supportive toots and waves as they went past.
The climb up the Brynderwyn Hills, a first for me, was fine. Road works meant the passing lane most the way up the hill was closed to traffic but ok for me to ride. It was great having a lane to myself. I thought I knew this road but was rather surprised to see the old “Skyline Café”, which marks the top, appear sooner than expected.
I did the 53.1 km in 02:38:00 which was ok given there was 952 m climbing (about 300 m of it on one hill!). I haven’t ridden over the Brynderwyns before but had the gentler northern slope to climb. The downhill was fun, twisty with nice cambered curves so I still managed to max 71.8 km/h!
(Photos by the awesome Plunket & The Warehouse support crew)
I decided to take the coastal route back to Ruakaka (and my car!). It is a bit longer but avoided having to climb the Brynderwyn Hills again, has some nice scenery and much less traffic than the main highway. That was the prime motive as I was riding solo for the return leg.
At one stage that stupid looking rear view mirror I wear proved its worth again. I was on a narrow slightly downhill section when a van caught me. There was no verge to ride on so I was maybe 0.5 m inside the white side line.
As I was doing about 50 km/h and thought they’d wait until past the approaching corner, no visibility to see if clear, before passing. I watched them start to overtake in the mirror and pulled over as close to the broken seal edge as possible.
Then another van came around the corner from the opposite direction. They both had to swerve quite violently, to their respective lefts, to miss each other.
About 5 minutes later a Police vehicle went flying past, lights ablaze.
Karma? What odds that the vehicle coming the other way would be a Police van.
Another couple of kilometres down the road I caught up to them talking to the eager overtaker. I stopped and the Policeman said “You’re brave, risking your life out here”. I should have mentioned I carry my Drivers license when cycling as I.D. and because it has the word “Donor” on it!
He said his colleague was “Having a chat” but it looked like a ticket was being issued to me.
About 10 km up the road, one of those share the road signs which I hope someone will pay more attention to in future.
The road joins the coast at Langs Beach (below) and it looked lovely. I did the 63.5 km in 4:00:00 as stopped at Langs Beach (munched a healthy apple and protein bar) and Waipu Cove (not so healthy Kapiti ice-cream!).
Bizarrely the route I took to avoid the big hill actually had 962 m (+10 more) climbing! Lots more smaller hills which added up.
Langs Beach towards Ruakaka (below)
Waipu Cove (below)
All donations greatly appreciated!
Back in the day I would have stayed around home all day to see Bathurst. Today I went for a bike ride and watched all of Bathurst!
I went into the city to check out the Grafton Gully cycle path which opened while I was away. It threads through Spaghetti Junction and under Grafton Bridge connecting the North Western cycle path to the waterfront. It is great that I can now go from near home to the waterfront (about 20km one way) without riding on the road.
When I got home I fired up the MySky and watched all of Bathurst (albeit sped up 30x unless it looked like something interesting was happening) and caught up with the live broadcast. Isn't technology wonderful!
Now to watch the last bit of a very interesting race!
(A mix of travel notes and comments added later)
23-09-2014 – Tuesday.
Back at the Radisson, Kathmandu. Last time I was here Kathmandu seemed rather strange, chaotic and exotic. The chaotic bit hasn’t changed but now it now seems reassuringly familiar and (almost) civilised.
Perhaps some of that was the rather westernised ‘bubble’ that the Radisson represents but a glance out the window soon reminded you where you were. I had a room with a very Kathmandu view.
24-09-2014 – Wednesday.
After breakfast—a leisurely and delicious breakfast—it was time to pack up the bike. My bike box had survived the overland journey from Lhasa so I just had to scrub off the mud, pull it apart and pack it.
I must have done a good cleaning job. The customs inspector at Auckland said: “Are you sure this bike has been across Tibet, it looks brand new!”
I guess a cycle workshop in the Radisson car park isn’t an everyday occurrence. We had a few local observers watching us work!
Our Kathmandu cycle workshop, photo by Helen
After packing it was time for lunch. Although we were going there for dinner Nic, Tim & I decided it was a good idea to check Fire & Ice standards hadn’t slipped while we were away.
Besides, for the last week or so of the trip I’d been craving that salty No. 25. La Marinaro anchovy and olive pizza enjoyed on the previous visit. The pizza was divine, even better accompanied with chilled beer and followed with gelato!
I didn’t really need another Kathmandu traffic photo but had to capture the astonishing sight of a man in a wheelchair (middle of photo below) negotiating this busy intersection. He was about halfway across when I arrived, traffic dodging around him.
Might seem crazy but with no crossing, no wheelchair friendly footpaths and no hope of the traffic stopping for long there was no alternative.
Even though it wasn’t raining a close encounter with bat guano, earlier in the day, prompted Nic to deploy her umbrella walking under the ‘bat trees’ on the way to dinner.
Thought it looked cool against the traffic headlights but was amazed how well my phone (a Lumia 1520) captured it. Just had to turn the flash off (compare flash on) to get one of my favourite photos from the trip
It was great they could come, a considerable journey for some, as we celebrated an awesome trip and Jan’s birthday!
Jan in her party hat, Photo by Kirsten.
It was a great dinner and, perhaps no surprise, I had yet another No. 25. La Marinaro anchovy and olive pizza!
I was flying out mid afternoon with Bas, Eric & Kirsten and B was leaving a bit later (headed for Aus.) so we shared a shuttle bus. My day began with soft alarm coos from the pigeons perching on the ledge outside my window.
We met for a last breakfast before heading our separate ways. A year or more in the planning, a few weeks in the living and now it was over.
Our trip to the airport was uneventful until we hit gridlock traffic. It wasn’t far from the Pashupatinath Temple we visited earlier in the trip. The Kathmandu traffic management response seemed to consist of several Policeman giving conflicting hand signal directions at each intersection.
Apparently a VIP visiting to the temple meant they’d completely stopped traffic on the main ring road off which the airport access runs. In this case that V.I.P made for Very Immobile People!
Although we had allowed, normally, ample time at one stage wondered if we would even get to the flight. It worked out OK in the end, must add the Lady running the Malaysia Airlines check-in desk at Kathmandu was awesome.
By the time we got to Kathmandu it appeared I was one of the lucky few avoid the “Survivor Tibet” lurgi. I still maintained that until I stepped of the plane at home in New Zealand feeling OK I couldn’t regard it as a victory.
My sister met me at the airport and seemed a bit flustered. I thought it was just because the parking monitors were hustling her out of the short term pick-up area (had taken me a while to get the bike out to the kerb) but not so.
While I was doing the dangerous stuff in Tibet, safely, at home my Mum had fallen—hanging out washing—and smashed her shoulder. It happened the previous evening, about the time I was leaving Kathmandu, and she was in Hospital awaiting surgery.
After a brief pit stop at home I was off to hospital, visiting!
As I write this in Jan 2015 Mum is recovering OK. The surgery went well and she is adjusting to her shiny new replacement shoulder!
(A mix of travel notes and comments added later)
22-09-2014 – Monday afternoon.
Such an action packed day I made it two posts
(Monday morning is here)
You can certainly see the difference between Nepalese and Tibetan (OK, Chinese) infrastructure. That nine hundred kilometres of sealed concrete edged Tibetan highway we rode becomes this in Nepal:
Leaving Kodari on the Arniko Highway, yes Highway!
The Arniko Highway follows the river down a valley. Great for us as mostly downhill riding and bizarrely, considering it is THE highway, ideal for my hardtail mountain bike.
The lush green foliage and humid dense air was contrast after several weeks on the Tibetan Plateau. It really was noticeable how different the oxygen rich moist air made you feel and how different it felt. I had never thought of air as ‘thick’ before.
Does rocks on the roof suggest it sometimes gets draffy here?
Noticed further down the road that flasher houses have bricks, not rocks, holding down the roof.
Before going to Nepal I’d watched this BBC Documentary:
“Comedians Rhod Gilbert and Greg Davies attempt to drive through the mountainous, landlocked nation of Nepal. Starting from the chaotic border with India, they travel across the country's most important roads”
The last 15 minutes showed their attempt to get from Kathmandu to Kodari, the Tibetan Border. They found the road blocked, impassable, by a landslide. It was not dissimilar to what lay ahead of us.
They abandoned their 4WD vehicle and tiptoed across the slip, still on the move, to catch a bus on the other side to the border. It was filmed in 2011, three years before I travelled. I was amazed to find the slip, although somewhat restrained and the road reformed, still there.
This house, the occupants they talked to—as rocks rolled down the hillside—were still living beneath it. A rock wall is their only protection from a vast loose looking slope above.
The trip notes recommended waterproof socks. I’d never heard of Seal Skinz and couldn’t find them in NZ. I’d left it too late to order them on-line but B kindly offered to bring me some from Australia.
I found they were brilliant in the cold, kept wind chill out even when it was dry, and ideal for roads with fords (as Kirsten & Eric are crossing below). Bike shoes are ventilated and overshoes (which I also had) are a real pain, both to fit and wear. I found waterproof socks just brilliant.
I was especially happy to catch B at one ford and shout as I passed:
“Seal Skinz rule!”
The road sweeps down the valley, it got even hotter as we descended.
Helen riding the decade old Warehouse bike.
X marks the B!
A terraced food supply system, rather lovely.
Barhabise Village/Town on the Arniko Highway.
Stopped to take a photo of it and a couple of guys walking past were interested in what I was doing.
Showed them my phone (admittedly an unusually large 6 inch screen Nokia 1520) , the GPS map that showed our location and that it was also a camera.
They were intrigued, especially when they saw our selfie shot (below). One of several occasions I’d like to have had a portable instant photo printer in my backpack!
A photo of Craig stationary at a drink stop because he’s too damn fast for me to catch and photograph riding!
This was the first sign of the devastation ahead of us. A muddy plateau with the remains of buildings. In early August a massive landslide created a natural dam which then burst.
KATHMANDU, Nepal — A major landslide early Saturday morning near Nepal’s border with China killed at least eight people and left hundreds missing, officials in Nepal said. It also washed out part of a crucial highway and blocked a river, leading to a dangerous build-up of water...
The death toll was later reported to be 156
The landslide was enormous, you could see why it had such a devastating impact. 156 had died as an entire village was wiped out. The aftermath also will impact the lives of many beyond the local area this is Nepal’s only overland trade route with China. For Kiwis imagine this is SH1, and there is no alternative route…
We rode, pushed, walked over it and it was a mission on a mountain bike. They had carved this ‘road’ to try and make a navigable route for vehicles but it really was tough going. The hot sun and humid air meant our altitude training over the past few weeks got a good test.
B contemplates the climb so far, from only about halfway up !
Up, up, up, up it goes
The muddy bush line above the current river in the photos below shows the height of the flooding created by the natural dam.
Heavy rain in the days before we had arrived had washed out the temporary road. Excavators were still trying to bridge the stream.
Nic pointed out I was actually standing on a bit of an overhang to take this photo. Perhaps just as well I was several kg lighter than usual.
This photo below, and the deliberately angled one below it, was an attempt to capture the scale of the landslide. Even a wide format photo couldn’t get the extents without cropping off the top. Hard to give a sense of scale but I’d guess that hillside was at least 300-400 metres high.
There were people dotted around the landslide constantly watching the hillside above. They appeared to have phone, or walkie talkie, in hand to warn those working below of further movement.
I rode down from here, challenging with the soft dirt and ruts.
The tiny red dots in the photos (below) are porters carrying our kit bags. The 20x digital zoom of my IXUS camera just got them in frame.
Compare the rocks to this stranded truck for scale!
I watched this heavily laden truck attempt to drive up here. It was futile as it got stuck soon after and the road just led to that traffic jam further up the hill.
I found this report on Disaster-Report.com while writing this post. The first time I’d seen a before/after photo of the area.
Quote from www.disaster-report.com/2014/08
Massive landslide in Barhabise area of Sindhupalchowk region of Nepal has blocked the Sunkoshi river. Disaster area lies 1.5 km below the meeting point of Sunkoshi and Bhotekoshi river.
Death toll from landslide at Mankha VDC in Sindhupalchok district has risen to 156. The District Administration Office Sindhupalchowk today declared those missing as dead as there was no possibility of recovering the bodies alive from the debris, ekantipur reported. Rescue workers have only found 33 bodies from the landslide area.
They also had this news report from the time:
In the small village a kilometre or so after the landslide I stopped for a drink from my water bottle. Noticed a small boy, maybe 7 or 8, playing with a Tonka Toy type excavator. He was digging a road into the face of roadside berm, a miniature version of the one up the road.
It reminded me of my childhood. We had a dirt bank a metre or two high. I used to build ‘dangerous roads’ into it for my own toy vehicles. I would liked to take a photo but asked his mother, or perhaps much older sister, supervising him. I couldn’t work out if the response was a yes or no, so didn’t. It was sad to think, on reflection, he could have been emulating rescue workers digging for his relatives as many people were still missing.
Sobering to think we had been riding over them.
In spite of the chaos around them I was impressed to see a temporary school in session. Amazing the value placed on education here, something too many Kiwi’s take for granted.
Our ride ended soon after. I’m not certain how far I rode—my odometer was a bit out due to varying tyre pressure from 30-50 PSI—but it was about 920km over 16 days riding.
The Nepal crew had two buses (due to shortage of trucks!) to take us to Kathmandu. With all the camping and cooking gear, kit bags, bikes and bike boxes it was a full load.
The drive back to Kathmandu was interesting. I was quite glad we didn’t ride this bit as the road was narrow, hilly and busy. After the relative isolation of Tibet, and the almost closed highway section we rode in Nepal it was a bit of a shock.
We stopped for lunch at a ‘café’ on the riverside. Although they had been advised we were coming it was amazing to see a wonderful meal appear in minutes in a place with few facilities.
I thought our bus driver was great but the passing traffic was amazing to watch. Probably better not to think about possible consequences! There were trucks overtaking on blind corners, cars overtaking trucks themselves overtaking mopeds which were passing pedestrians. I was amazed when our bus passed a car, itself not going slow only to have a fully laden truck following pass us!
There was one severe looking accident, a truck on its side in the deep ditch with a tarp covering the wrecked cab. Suspect, on a fine day, it wasn’t there to keep the rain out.
Some of the architecture as we approached Kathmandu was… um interesting.
I was surprised how far the agricultural land extended into the city.
We arrived in the middle of the afternoon/evening rush. It was nice to get back to the Radisson hotel, the prospect of a nice hot shower and a soft bed
After helping unload, my bike (on the bus roof) had collected a nice chunk of foliage from an overhanging tree on-route, it was nice to collapse.
I don’t recall going to dinner that night, think I just went to sleep!
Lots was said, lots more unsaid after today’s experience. It was a rollercoaster of highs and lows, adventure and reflection but the only one I can reliably remember was:
Seal Skinz rule! – Me & B
Post 22. Farewell to Kathmandu
(A mix of travel notes and comments added later)
22-09-2014 – Monday morning.
Such an action packed day I made it two posts
After a forgettable hotel breakfast—really can’t remember what they had but when peanuts are the most viable breakfast buffet choice it wasn’t much—it was time for the final stuff gear into bag battle.
Today we didn’t have the luxury of extra space on the bus as our bags would be portered several times between here & Kathmandu. If it didn’t fit in the red bag had to stuff into our riding bag, carry some other way or leave it behind. I didn’t have much trouble but donated my remaining snacks (sweets, chocolate & nuts mostly) to the crew and left a rather worn pair of beach shoes in the hotel bin.
I suspect beach shoes are not exactly common footwear in the Himalayas. The trip notes suggested sandals, thongs to Aussie readers, to wear around camp. I get blisters from them so took some Body Glove beach shoes instead. They were great for camp, easy to get on/off and fast drying if got wet. Photographed at our closest camp to Everest, 4480m above sea level, about as far as you can get from a beach!
Having packed the bus it was on to the bike for the last day riding. We descended 470m from the Zhangmu down to the Tibetan border. It was about 8km of zigzag road lined with waiting trucks as a landslide in Nepal has closed the highway.
We’ll ride to, and over, the slip but heavy vehicles can't pass. The plan is to have a bus at the border to run our gear & luggage to the slip. Porters will then carry it across to two buses (for one for gear/bikes, one for us) for the drive to Kathmandu. It gives us about 30km cycling from the border with little traffic, avoids riding into Kathmandu on a narrow busy highway.
Trucks waiting on the Nepalese border (below)
Bas had planned an early breakfast so we wouldn’t have to wait in a long line at the border. We were among the first to arrive, below, something which would become an issue for some later on.
There was some entertainment while we waited for the office to open. Monkeys playing, scrapping and, um, loving on the roof of a nearby building. They must give the wiring a tough time, but seemed to be quite happy up there.
There was some sort of morning parade, ceremony, on the bridge. I wonder if unusual as they had a professional crew filming it. The border didn’t open until it finished (about an hour later than ‘advertised’ from memory).
Morning parade on the bridge? Photo by Helen
It was farewell to the Tibetan crew and Tashi. He’d been an excellent guide, a lovely man and it was sad to think he can’t do what we were about to: Leave Tibet.
Sujan (l) & Tashi (r), Photo by Helen
The last bit of our time in Tibet was spoiled by a bolshie Chinese pair who kicked up a fuss about not being in front of the queue.
I was down the back, away from the front line, but they got quite worked up. Seemed to think that being Chinese gave them priority. There was only one line, no separate queue for citizens as some countries have, so it was tough luck they arrived late.
It got a bit heated until they finally calmed down, if I remember correctly, after an intervention from Bas. I suspect the orange helmeted yellow & black lycra clad giant (he’s tall, as seen in the photo earlier in this post) made an impression!
The border kerfuffle seems to amuse Andy , Photo by Helen
I must say the officials at the Chinese border were actually pretty good and the whole process (once the office finally opened) was far less hassle than I expected. I thought they'd go through bags but apart from the usual run through the x-ray there was nothing.
Don't know what the porters who were transporting the kit bags experienced. It did seem odd that you didn’t have to accompany your luggage through a border, just had the bike & day pack.
Bizarre border art as we left Tibet, photo by braver than me Kirsten
Once across friendship bridge we had to re-enter Nepal. The contrast was immediately apparent. From the controlled organised, albeit illogical, cold authoritarian feeling of the Chinese border you stepped into chaotic unorganized friendly Nepal.
A last look at Tibet, over the Nepalese border gate (above) & Kodari main street (below)
Tourist Visa time, Sujan sorted the paperwork for those who needed it, Photo by Helen
While we waited for the formalities (visa paper work and our kit to come over the border) had a chance to watch some of the street life.
Another small cycle tour came through the border when we did. Didn’t seem very interested in talking beyond the usual acknowledgements as they passed. Think they were the grumpy looking lot we passed on the way back from Everest.
Took this photo of them and to remind me, never ever ever buy/wear white lycra leggings…
One thing I noticed as soon as we entered Nepal was branding, on vehicles and apparel, largely absent in Tibet. Lots of U.K. & European Football (soccer for Kiwis) team kit!
Old Corolla gets the Chelsea fan treatment, chrome wheels and big exhaust. Those accessories probably cost more than the car!
However, I suspect the bus which took our kit to the slip was probably not an official Facebook licensed one!
Six on to one does go, Photo by Helen
“It’s just how it was 20 years ago!” – Bas remarking how Kodari, unlike Tibet, hadn’t changed since he last cycled through here.
Post 21. Kodari to Kathmandu, Nepal