Monday, 4 July 2011

7 days in Tibet,

I had an enjoyable run to Mendoza it was nice to see such a change in scenery, I was now traveling through vineyards. Finding campsites was impossible they are all shut and it's a bit more tricky to hide up. I had pitched in a field when two lady's walked passed they just said good evening and ignored me. The ride into Mendoza was slow it was busy and typical city riding. I got to the center, abstained from getting either a hotel or Mac Donald’s truth is I didn't want to leave my bike outside. This was the same for the bank, Ahh sod it I though there is a campsite listed 6km northwest go and pitch there and then come back later. By the time I found the campsite it was getting late, it had also closed down ages ago, I was in a bit of a bad mood by now I had a rear tire that was slowly deflating but I didn't want to change it so I had to keep pumping it up. I had a look at my map and guide book I could go back into Mendoza and pick up route 7 (motorway, everyone rides down the hard shoulder in fact I passed a woman pushing a pram down the hard shoulder) or take the high mountain pass to the north, this looked more fun it was full of natural springs and some thermal ones said the guide book plus it’s the area where they filmed most of '7 years in Tibet', It’s got to be I thought.

On the way i kept stopping at small shops to get some water none had any bottles and they refused to fill my bottles instead trying to sell me coke, I refused and just carried on I had a small amount of water and would find some from somewhere. As it was late I got about 20 km north and found somewhere to camp the next morning it wasn't as cold as normal I had dropped considerably into Mendoza. I set off without breakfast I hadn't had dinner the night before either but I was confident something would come up, soon I was climbing I came across a park rangers office and filled up with 2 and a half liters of water plus as much as I could drink as I filled them I was now in a national park camping and fires was strictly prohibited, I thought I'll just get out of sight of here and then cook some pasta. I was confident I would reach the town I was heading to that evening. A few miles later just as I was about to stop I came across a restaurant I had 20 pesos (about £3) I asked the lady if I could have a sandwich for that, she did me two massive ham sandwiches I stood outside and stuffed them both down. Back on my way, I was climbing, really climbing hairpin after hairpin I switched the Garmin on I had climbed almost 1000 meters (I was now at about 1800 meters) I didn't stop climbing all day, I was exhausted 2 ham sandwiches in 24 hours and this climbing was killing me I had to push my bike in the steeper parts I was also getting through my water. Don't worry I was thinking I'll summit soon and then it's all downhill. It was at 6 pm at 2890 meters I realized there was no way I could summit, the sun had dropped below the tops of the mountains and the last of my water had frozen solid hours before. The temperature plunges when the light starts to go and it was already well below freezing I knew I had to get my tent up and get in it. The big problem was where? It was just sheer drops and cliff faces soon I came to a small area that had been carved by a river in years gone by I could be seen but at this point I almost wanted to be found by the rangers and taken somewhere warm. I had long ago lost feeling in my fingers even with ski gloves and liners on. It took all my concentration just to open the pannier clips I was getting into trouble, getting that tent up was one of the hardest things I have done on this trip, just hooking a bit of elastic around a tent peg was a huge task. When I finally got in I just got straight into my two sleeping bags fully clothed. I don’t think I got more than a few hours’ sleep and it defiantly goes down as one of the worst nights ever, I have no idea what the temperature dropped to, I was just curled up shivering the whole time.

The next morning was a struggle to get packed up I hadn't fully regained feeling in my fingers, I set off and was immediately struggling I could only push the bike about 10 meters before I was completely out of breath (like I had just sprinted as hard as I could) and I felt sick and kept feeling like I was going to faint. I put it down to lack of food and exhaustion, I was also getting dehydrated as well. It crossed my mind it could be altitude sickness, nah I thought, that's stupid people go skiing higher than this. After hours of struggling I summited at 3000 meters and started the descent it was hard, there were no safety barriers and the road just crumbled at the edges with drops that would kill me if I went over. With frozen hands I made my way down slowly, eventually I got to the town (upsalata). I have no feeling in the tips of my fingers yet even though my hands are warm and two of my toes are really hurting. The sickness has gone, I don't know if the half kilo of biscuits and pasta cured it. I later found out altitude sickness can affect people climbing up to and over 2500 meters in a fast ascent, especially those under stress. Hungry, dehydrated and pushing a 60 kilo bike would tick all the boxes!

I'm going to have a day or two off and stay at the campsite here before I attempt the big pass into Chile. Though I have been warned it can close for weeks at a time in the winter with the snow.