Our last challenge for 2017 has taken us to rural Nepal for the first time. Working in collaboration with Bath based charity YYY Foundation, we gathered together a team of 15 cyclists – all professionals who enjoy recreational cycling, mostly on roads – to take part in e2eChallenge17. Tackling 400km of rural routes and tracks between the two major epicentres of 2015 earthquakes, each rider funded their own trip and pledged to raise £2,000 for YYY Foundation to continue to build schools in Nepal.
Setting out from Kathmandu at the end of October, we travelled for 2 days by road to the start point at Singati. An air of quiet settled over the riders as the reality of the task ahead began to dawn on them. With soaring mountains either side, steep climbs and sharp descents along the route, questions were circulating the vehicles about adequate preparation for such a challenge.
Expertly guided by local bikers, with the unswerving local logistical organisation from Sarah Gurung of YYY Foundation and Nepalese NGO the Mandala Organisation, we embarked on one of the most taxing challenges ever.
The route swiftly and mercilessly exposed the ill prepared from the off. Riders fell and bikes broke but we patched them up on the road and had them quickly on their way again. Local traffic does not distinguish between tarmac and rubble routes. Overburdened vehicles jostle for space with free range livestock meaning the cycle team had to remain alert at all times to the possibility of rounding a corner and finding themselves heading straight into the path of an oncoming vehicle (or cow).
Rivers are still swollen following this year’s monsoons, which only finished weeks before our arrival. On occasions our riders were forced to traverse rope bridges where the rivers were too deep to ride through. Where the routes had been ravaged by the rains, riders were forced to pick their way through soft sand, stones, rocks, deep grooves – all hazards for bikers whether going up or down.
Covering an average distance of 40km per day, we arrived at camp each night for rest and regrouping for the following day. We stayed in a combination of permanent camps, hotels and wild camps, all prepared in advance of arrival by the local crew. Cooks worked around the clock to keep us all fuelled with porridge and cooked breakfasts, snacks and packed lunches on the road and afternoon tea and delicious local dishes for dinner. Water was the primary concern daily – ensuring we carried sufficient stocks each day – bottled mineral water for riders and crew, spring water from source for cooking & washing. All vegetables were soaked in iodine water for safety.
Wilderness camping under the stars on the edge of the jungle was an unforgettable experience and gave this expedition yet another edge to the adventure. Yet the defining memory for the riders and crew will inevitably be seeing first hand the massive destructive power the earthquakes wrought on rural Nepal, seeing the destroyed homes and demolished schools. It was profoundly moving to visit a school that had been completely destroyed but is in the throws being rebuilt.
Visiting Shree Mahendra School in Likhu, we received a rapturous welcome on arrival and the cyclists were able to really acknowledge why they have endured hours of pedalling through searing heat, burning climbs and battering descents. The steel work, roof and walls were constructed before monsoon and the remaining structure will be completed by the time we touchdown in the UK. Furthermore, another school has been found on the route, which will be rebuilt thanks to the fundraising efforts of this challenge.
While the riders have now completed the arduous e2eChallenge17, it will take a few days for them to unravel their emotions and, to a certain extent, make sense of their achievement and what they have witnessed. We will return to them for their feedback in due course.
Fundraising is on going and your support can enable YYY Foundation to continue to build schools and work with communities to educate their children and enable them to prosper.