Ricardo, with his partner Eszter, was already underway on the Annapurna Circuit, when Guido and I gathered enough courage to start the loop ourselves. It took us two days to catch up with them. Before meeting them in the town of Jagat, we already knew Eszter would head back to Pokhara: unfortunately she suffered from an illness that prevented her from having a chance to complete the loop around the Annapurna mountain range with at least a little comfort. Surely, it must have been a difficult decision, yet a wise one, I think: the Thorong La pass at around 5400 meters, and also the stages before reaching that altitude are, even in good health, not an easy obstacle.
Upon meeting them and their bicycles, I learned that Guido had met Ricardo and Eszter earlier. How could I tell? Well, right from the introduction they talked Dutch among one another. That makes me think… Oelala, it was a long time ago. It must have been the brave Eelke whom we met in Turkey, who was the last Dutch soul we saw on a bicycle. Guido had seen Richard (actual name) and Eszter in Islamabad, Pakistan, where they all were applying for an Indian visa. And now, two months later, their paths crossed again.
Before I continue, besides that they spoke Dutch, another thing struck me: the two bicycles belonging to Ricardo and Eszter were from the same brand and manufacturer as I was. Ha, not one but two bicycles that were like me! How wonderful, the prospect of riding and talking to at least one like minded bicycle for a week or more – a bicycle who had seen probably other things, who would be able to tell me extensively about his rider, and in doing so, would, maybe, teach me how to make Guido a better rider…
This and cycling a daunting route, I was, as one can expect, in a very good mood.
The following day, our third day on the Circuit, we said ‘until we meet again’ in the morning to Eszter who headed back and the four of us started cycling. Until that moment, the route had been bumpy with steep parts. However, it was nothing new under the sun: there was enough time while pedaling to observe the mighty Manaslu on our right hand side, enough space for our attention to see the subtropical environment characterized by rice paddies and banana trees slowly change into mountain slopes covered with bamboo, rhododendron, grass, and moss.
Yet, this was about to change. The jeep road, heavily impacted by the many waterfalls and sipping streams that were trying to find their way down, began looking like a riverbed. Also the landslides that occur during the monsoon period had here and there left gigantic scars in the mountainsides. The poor state of the road, or track / wide trail I should say, consumed a lot of our attention. Furthermore, we needed to figure out who Ricardo and his bicycle were because, although dancing the tango with Annapurna by bicycle in duo is something we can recommend, still, you have to find a rhythm and an understanding between you and your partner. Especially when you’re going up that high and the challenges ahead will push you to the very limits of what you are capable of.
So less focus on the scenery, more focus on Ricardo and his bicycle. After some initial chit chatting we found out Ricardo was a traffic engineer. Instantly, many questions popped up. How does a traffic engineer from the Netherlands perceive the traffic abroad? I mean, already in some parts of Europe, it seemed strange traffic rules were applied, if there were any rules applied at all. And the further we moved east, the fewer traffic signs and other facilities to guide the user of the road were visible, the less tangible the rules became, and the more the road was being used by what I would call ‘unconventional users’ like chickens, donkeys, horses, cows, and dogs. For a traffic engineer, such abnormal circumstances on the road couldn’t be anything other than eye opening, perhaps even mind blowing.
Ricardo, however, was pretty laid back under it. He and Eszter had started in Hungary and he must, just as we, have seen many strange things happening, he couldn’t be easily impressed anymore. Or maybe he, as a professional, saw some kind of order in the heavily and diversified way of using the roads, something which, and I speak for myself, is difficult to see for the untrained eye.
Anyhow, kilometer by kilometer we learned more about him and his bicycle, which was a slightly older model. Ricardo seemed to me less of a dreamer who, when he had set his mind on a goal, calmly and thoughtfully worked on achieving it – leaving less to fate and more to proper preparation. This was unmistakably true for his bicycle, who had seen not only the cultures and scenery we had seen (we both traveled more or less the same route east), it also had ridden through Latin America. This had made the bicycle a practiced veteran.
We found the rhythm, we understood one another after a day or two and climbed above the clouds, into the realm of the blue sheep, eagles, yaks, snow leopard and the mountain people. Eventually, the four of us would make it across Thorong La and safely back to Pokhara. Here’s what we learned from them:
- Apparently, when you focus on your breathing (keep it in a regulatory pace), an ice cold shower is only a cold shower according to Ricardo. And when you decide to go up yourself one day in the Himalaya, a place where the running water (if there’s any) is just above freezing point, this method might come in handy.
- Guido didn’t learn that much from the Arlberg day, since he rode at the end of the afternoon on day four through the Manang valley (above 4000 meters) in the same outfit as almost nine months ago: only a t-shirt and shorts. Ricardo, however, dressed up with the changing climate and increasing altitude. It didn’t prevent Guido from getting over the pass, but it was a close call: the cold he suffered in high camp which kept him most of the night awake could have had serious consequences.
- Both Ricardo and his bicycle (I never found out its name) were, besides being thoughtful, though: there were moments where Guido and I saw no cyclable road in front of us, but our temporary traveling partners showed us the way. Indeed, they gave us a new pair of eyes for riding uninhabitable terrain.