September 19th-20th; 13,550km-13,816km; Old Tigri to Everest Base Camp to Lazi
We were a bit lax with our preparation to get on the road today because we knew we only had 70-80km of driving to do. It was going to be all dirt and gravel road (or “bumpy road” as our guide likes to call it), but if it was anything like the 70km we did yesterday, everything should be ok even if we were a bit slower.
Rock Fields and Sand Pits
The dirt roads of today made yesterday seem like pure asphalt. The biggest problem was that for the first half we were dealing with either sand (which our road tires can’t grip onto) or long expanses of rock fields which were extremely treacherous going over on two wheels. For some parts there didn’t even seem to be an actual road but rather just different tracks through the rock fields and sand worn down by four wheelers finding their way towards a common goal. The second half of the day got marginally better as we were on what seemed to at least be an officially marked road but we still had giant rocks, deep potholes, and overly aggressive drivers to contend with.
In the end it took around 7 hours before we finally arrived at the “tent city” where we would spend the night 4km from Everest base camp. The camp was an assortment of makeshift guesthouses made out of tents arranged around what was essentially a parking lot for all of the visitors and there were a lot of them. Some foreigners there and a lot of Chinese who were on holiday for the national mid-Autumn Festival break. The tent we stayed in was packed. The main area already had a group of 8 Hong Kong tourists so we got a spot in the back where the cooking and staff sleeping areas were.
Visit To Base Camp
After unpacking our stuff, it was time to visit the base camp. RMB25/person later we were on the bumpy shuttle bus up to the actual camp. Unfortunately, the actual mountain was completely covered in clouds so we couldn’t get a good view of Everest but our guide assured us that if the clouds cleared up we would be able to see it from tent city, and if not then, the road tomorrow would have a view. So we headed back down for dinner and bed.
The Tibetan Dance Party
At night we ended up having a pretty cool experience. I was up because of a headache (partly altitude induced and partly soreness from the day on the bike) and went out of the tent to go to the bathroom. Outside of our tent, where I had been hearing some music and occasional “whooping, it seemed as if a small Tibetan dance party had formed during the night. Enhancing the experience was that the moon was nearly full, lighting up the whole valley and surrounding mountains in a silver glow.
Unfortunately though it wasn’t the best night’s sleep as the music went on for a while and afterwards we were woken up when our host and one of the staff from another of the tents came into the communal staff bed in the back of our guesthouse tent along with one other guest (wasn’t as fun as it sounds).
Getting Our View Of Everest
We were awoken at 7:30 in the morning by our guide, Cirang, coming into the back of the tent announcing “Mr. Buck, Mr. Buck! There’s view now. You can come see.” It took a while before Amy and I realized through our early morning haze, that he was talking about the view of Everest. So we hopped out of bed and, along with about half of the camp, went out to catch a glimpse of the snow covered mountain.
It was a while before we were out of camp. The whole area was surrounded by high mountains and so it took some time for the sun to actually reach us in the valley below. Until it did reach us though the whole area was freezing and the bike was covered in a layer of ice from the frost and light rain during the night and wasn’t thawed completely until 10:30.
Another Tough Day
We were on the road by 11. We knew we had another 90-100km of “bumpy road” to go, leaving Everest behind, but Cirang told us that the roads wouldn’t be quite as bad as yesterday. Well… it was and it wasn’t. There weren’t any sand or rock fields today, but there were still large rocks and frequent potholes. We also went over a very high pass, 20m shy of the altitude of base camp, which took 20km for both the ascent and the descent. It took most of my energy navigating the deep grooves ground into the dirt track of the curving switchbacks.
Through all of the semi off-roading, the 650-TR held up admirably considering it is actually a road bike. The bumps were hard on the suspension though and it took its toll on both us riders and the bike. Luckily nothing serious happened through the day though. For the bike, a bolt in the left side case had shook loose and the stress on one of the remaining bolts started to crack the inside of the case causing it to come loose a bit. I tightened the bolts back on and we emptied the carrying cases into the support vehicle to lighten the weight.
As for those of us sitting on the bike, our backs and my arms and neck were starting to feel the pressure of the bumps, but overall we made it out ok. Amy seemed to be having a harder time of it than I was. The last stretch of 100km on nicely paved roads seemed to cure all woes though as we drove through a beautiful and slightly more densely populated valley dotted with small villages and farm land.
Lazi, where we stayed, was the most developed town we had seen since leaving Ali with more than just a single main, paved street and a couple of proper hotels. We stayed at one that was arranged around a courtyard and was nicely decorated in what seemed to be Tibetan style.
The delays of the day though meant that we were farther than we would have liked from Lhasa which we wanted to arrive at the next day. 500km in a day would be rough, but with no more dirt roads, it should be doable!