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Himalaya Expedition 2017 Chapter One

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Dispatch from Evan Firstman

Expedition Rules I like to follow are:

1.  Get home safe

2.  Stay friends

3.  Achieve the goal

Well, as we close in on Day 30, so far so good. 

Riding outside of the U.S. presents a multitude of unique, interesting and truly baffling challenges and scenarios. What’s considered normal everyday driving to the citizens of China, Nepal, India and Bhutan are a wild contrast to the orderly, law abiding folks back home. Lanes are shared and as our teammate Curtis put it, “There is a feeling of Common Collective Conscious” that exists, Everyone is going somewhere at the same time and we all will get there working together. Pick your line, get in the flow and “don’t do anything the Chinese aren’t doing,” to quote Alexis Coulter, Curtis’ daughter and 2 1/2 year Chengdu ex-pat resident.

Bicycles, tricycle taxis, tuk tuks scooters, 150cc motorcycles, cars, vans, trucks, busses and semi trucks normally share the roads everyday with 2, 3 and 4 legged pedestrians. In what may amount to no more than the width of a narrow lonely county road, busses make way for cows while on-coming semi trucks loaded with colorful plastic chairs avoid a parked car on (plug in scenario) a busy city street, twisty mountain road going up or down hill, a small village anywhere. Horns are a way of life. Some even sound like elephants and are used frequently. Coming around the thousands of hairpin turns in the mountains, it is customary to warn others of your approach. Sometimes the horn is used as a greeting and not so much a means of expressing rage and displeasure as we are so accustomed in the “Civilized World.” 

What we view as scenic “Get Away” or rural or mountain roads at home are major trade routes here complete with numerous police and military checkpoints. The people are more often than not friendly and curious. This has usually been my experience while traveling internationally by motorcycle. 

In addition to being friendly and curious, the people go out of their way to be helpful and generous. We were invited to lunch by a family we met who were harvesting wheat. How could we say “no”?! After a bottomless bowl of rice topped with stewed yak meat, green peppers and onions and steaming cup after cup of yak butter tea, we rolled on humbled and amazed at the kindness brought to bear by our hosts.


What a country!!!!! What a trip! What a world we live in!




Dispatch from Windsor C Ford

Don’t Let that American Die on Our Mountain:
A Brief Encounter with the Nepalese Military


Helge pushed for an early start since the rains had been particularly dense in the days that preceded our first footsteps in Nepal: a 6AM clutch-out in the border town of Syabrubesi began an approximately 130-kilometer trek to the Kathmandu.  I wasn’t worried in the slightest; we had covered well over 400 kilometers in a day while in China and Tibet with relative ease.  There had been a few bouts of mud, gravel, and uneven terrain leading up to Nepal, but by and large the roads through China were made well and maintained regularly.  By the time reached Nepal I was used to handling the weight of the BMW HP2 on the road (I am riding one of Dan’s many bikes).  Of course, this newfound comfort had been achieved through long and in-depth conversations with the bike for the first 20 or so days of riding.  She and I had set a personal record of 115 miles/hour while in a long flat stretch of the Tibetan plateau.  Not too bad!


As we started the ride to Kathmandu, Helge explained that this next stretch was going to be particularly rough: deep mud and slippery rocks leading up and down the mountains.  Still, I felt confident that I would be able to manage.  As we started down the road, Evan pulled up next to me and offered some of his classic road advice: “Hey man,” He paused, smiling and nodding in his purple-tinted round glasses, “just remember that the throttle is on the right, brother.”  Those were the words that I would cling to as we ascended one muddy hill after the next.


Fast forward about four hours into the ride: I was sticking to Evan’s sage wisdom and throttling through each slippery slope.  When going uphill in deep mud, it is so important to maintain momentum and to pick your path without hesitation.  At this point, I had dropped the bike twice already due to hesitating and not keeping enough momentum.  The third time, however, would become a matter of national concern.

I was going up a steep slope with a series of deep ruts that caused the front end of the bike to jump all over the place.  Just as I reached the crest of a hill, I felt the bike sliding, so I punched it to regain my momentum.  When I did, the last of the many mud-filled moguls hit my front wheel at an angle and sent the bike into a two-and-a-half-foot deep muddy ditch on the left side of the road.


When you find yourself in this sort of situation, it’s often bitter sweet – for example, the bike and I were still in working order, I could move all my fingers and toes, and I am thankful that I fell into the mountain and not down the side of it.  Still, within a moment it became evident to me that I would not be able to get out of this myself.  Would today be the day that the rookie rider had to wait by the side of the road for the rest of the group to pull him out of a ditch?  The mere thought of the jokes that would ensue was painful enough.


Almost as quickly and gracefully as I had flown into the ditch, did a vehicle covered in camouflage stop on the road ahead of me.  Out of a van that looked like it could only hold about six of seven people poured somewhere between 15 and 20 Nepali soldiers.  With the organization that only a South-Eastern Asian country can truly display, one decorated soldier stepped up and began shouting orders at his regiment.  I sat on the bike with a healthy mixture of fear and astonishment as two soldiers began pushing the rear end, one pulled the front, and two began digging a small trench in the mud for me to follow.  One was even trying to explain to me in broken English that it sure would be nice to put the bike in gear and start rolling out of the ditch.  It was a perfectly orchestrated maneuver; and as I picked up the momentum to climb out, the soldiers that were standing at the ready began clapping and cheering.


Once I cleared the ditch and made it up the last 15 feet to the top of the hill, I stopped the bike and looked back to my esteemed rescuers.  With the same mechanical efficiency, they piled back into the van and with a salute they sped off down the hill just as quickly as they had arrived.  I sat still on the bike for a minute and reflected on the strange experience that had just occurred.  Did that really just happen? More importantly, had I actually gotten away with crashing into a ditch without anyone knowing?  I looked over my shoulder again to see if the others had caught up yet – I couldn’t even hear the sound of an engine.  Oh ya, I’m totally in the clear.  The bike started right up and with a smile I brushed off the mud and headed around the next turn. 


Standing just around the bend was Helge laughing and asking me if I was alright.  He had seen the entire situation unfold (more or less) and thought it would be more interesting to see what would happen with the troops dragging me out of the ditch rather than coming back to help.  The many soldiers worked with such severe efficiency that it seemed that they were addressing a matter of national security.  I am eternally grateful for their help and can only imagine what was going through the commander’s head: “Don’t let that American die on our mountain!”



Dispatch from Curtis Coulter

Excitement and anticipation awaited us when we collected our bikes in Chengdu. We connected the batteries to our bikes, got fuel and meandered through traffic in a city of 14 million inhabitants. Motorcycles were not allowed within the 3d ring road of Chengdu (There are at least 5 ring roads),in other words we violated the law by riding our bikes to our hotel.  The following day we packed our bikes and set out at 6 am to get ahead of the traffic molasses.

An hour and a half out of Chengdu we saw blue sky for the first time since we arrived several days earlier. While in Chengdu we saw the Panda Research Facility and explored the city. Though there was a lot of traffic, the city was very clean.

We headed west across Sichuan Provenance toward Tibet.  It was amazing! We traveled on endless, winding roads and stayed in villages where westerners are unseen. Every time we stopped, a crowd gathered around us. Not only did the locals want to look at us, but they also wanted to see our bikes. Through our travels in China and Tibet the typical bike ranges from a 125cc to 250cc. A 1200cc bike was not only a fun sight for the people whose paths we crossed, but it is also the best way to travel.

The roads, patches of pavement, dirt, dusting clay, or rock field, were congested.  Do what ever it takes, just keep going. Shift down one or two gears and open your throttle when an opening appears. Honk your horn and don't worry if you are in the middle of the road with a car coming in your "shared lane."

Rural western Sichuan was beautiful. The mountains are steep and tall and the locals are very nice.

After about a week we made it to Tibet, "an autonomous" region occupied and controlled by China. We got a new guide to assist us and run the chase car. Every couple of hours there was a police "check point we were allowed on the road.

In Tibet, to get fuel you don't pull up to the pump, you pay for the amount of fuel you want, after you have shown your ID and are qualified to get fuel. Your fuel is then put into a can and then you pour it into your bike. Another opportunity for locals to look at us and examine our bikes.

Noodles: yes, the meal of choice in China and Tibet. Breakfast noodles, lunch noodles and dinner noodles. If you like spicy food (noodles) you will love Sichuan and Tibet!

We rode into Lhasa in the dark. Some route logistic challenges and a flat tire put us a few hours behind schedule. We rode about 200k (120 miles) in 7 hours. The Roads?  Dirt, gravel, rock, pot holes and of course choking dust - hours of dust. Perhaps the dust was caused by the 2000 semi- trucks, buses, cars, scooters and our bikes, all trying to get somewhere on the same "dirt" road.

Lhasa is an ancient city and the heart of the Buddhist pilgrimage. We rested in Lhasa for 3 days before we continued west along Highway 318A, also known as the Friendship Highway.

We rode to Mt. Everest Base Camp. I was interested in the view and the elevation which is 16,680ft. Along the route and before we rode to base camp, we rode over 17,000 feet a few times. We rode over a pass,17,350ft at 6 am! 

Mt. Everest is more magnificent than any picture could depict and beyond any description I can state here.
Our route to Kathmandu, Nepal required us to cross the Himalaya Mountains. The Tibetan side of the range is dry. I love the  picture of a  glacier with a sand dune in the foreground.

We entered Nepal after hours of waiting for the paperwork to allow us to leave Tibet (China) and enter Nepal.

On the Nepal side of the mountains everything turned green and brown. The green is from the endless lush mountains and the brown came from the miles of mud: lots of mud! Many of the roads became narrow, due to recent landslides. We traveled 80k (56 miles) in 8 hours! Of course the bikes were covered in mud, so were we, sometimes, from being abruptly discharged from the bike into the mud.

Finally, we made it to Kathmandu. Traffic jams were backed up for miles. Just drive on the other side of the road, split lanes, use the throttle and "ride your ride."

Great adventure with happy trails.





Curtis' Gallery






Dispatch from Helge Pedersen

Getting ready for a new journey we all have our check lists I assume? In my life I live by lists, some are in form of a spreadsheet others are in form of a mental rolodex that keeps me awake at night. On top of the list, we have everyone deliver their bikes in Seattle, next we ship bikes to China and on it goes with bullet points.


Bikes were sent from Seattle in a container and had arrived in Chengdu in good time before 5 eager riders were to arrive in Chengdu. But before we would get our hands on the bikes we had a full day to discover our starting city, Chengdu. So, what is Chengdu know for, you might not know, but everyone in China knows that this is where the iconic Panda comes from.

Pandas were taken off the Endangered Species list not long ago, quite an achievement for China. With this in mind we had to visit the Panda Park in Chengdu. This park has been instrumental in this great achievement of increasing the population of Pandas in China.


Personally, I were quite surprised by what I had assumed would look more like an amusement park with a few Pandas. What we soon saw was that the park had actually had a great presentation of the Pandas and plenty of chances for us visitors to see the animals.


The following day we were finally brought to the warehouse where our bikes were patiently awaiting to be picked up and set free to roam around the country. Not that easy though, and we knew that, we ended up waiting for the correct paperwork, having to go through a technical inspection and various brake and light tests of the bikes. Quite interesting, but tedious. While we were waiting we had plenty of time to observe an impressive collection of high end and very expensive cars that were going through the registration process. No doubt that there are serious money floating around the city when a “kid” accompanied by his mother is driving away in a Ferrari.

Finally, as workers leave for the day, we are the only customers left at the facility and it still took a couple of hours before we were free to ride our bikes in China. A long day at “DMW”, but if that is what we needed to do I am sure it will be worth the hassle.


Riding to Tibet we start in Sichuan Province and follow the main highway West. The road is good, all sealed, for the most part, but it can be kind of narrow at times and traffic definitely keeps you on alert at all times.


Even days before we get to the provincial border to Tibet it feels like we already have arrived as Tibetan people are herding Yaks along the main road and living in their traditional tents on the grassland. We have some interesting and very friendly encounters with this, to us, new culture. The mood in the group is great and we all enjoy the nature and cultural experiences that keeps surprising us at every turn and mountain pass. We even run in to a large group of mostly BMW GS riders also on their way to Lhasa.

Unfortunately, I have to turn around just before the official border crossing to Tibet. The reason be that I am traveling on a Norwegian passport and for the last 5-6 years Norwegians have been banned to enter Tibet.

I return to Chengdu to fly to Kathmandu, Nepal. This way I am separated from the group for almost 2 weeks. We keep in contact by phone and texting, but I will leave it to the group to write about their own experience in Tibet.


While I wait I am lucky enough to go for a wonderful and adventures ride to “The Lost Kingdom of Mustang”. My host is Himalayan Bike Travel & Adventure based in Kathmandu. With a fleet of BMW F700 and 800GS bikes you should consider this company for your next ride in Nepal. I ride with Saurav and Goofy for 5 days through some spectacular terrain. We are escorted by a support vehicle where a dedicated Drone video guy is recording promotional material for this new company.

I am so excited by their prospect as a motorcycle touring company that GlobeRiders has decided to get involved in their business and we are looking forward to coordinating Nepal/Tibet Rides in the near future. Stay tuned.

After having been on the road for almost a week riding a BMW F800GSA, it felt awkward getting back on my own BMW R1200GSA when I met the group on the Tibet to Nepal border. I actually found myself struggling with my own self confidence for the first days ride from the border into Kathmandu. The 800 had no luggage and felt so nimble and easy to handle, it was a blast. In the Mustang valley, we ford deep rivers, mud and rocky roads with our bikes and all we had was fun. I cannot thank Himalayan Bike Travel & Adventure enough for sharing this Adventure with me, I will be back for more as soon as an opportunity comes.


This is all I can muster up for a road report for this time. The journey goes on and we will soon be back with another report.


Ride Far- Ride Safe!


Helge Pedersen



Helge's Photo Gallery



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