Day 1: Bagarchhap to Chame

After three long days of travel, we were anxious to start riding. We had a good, hearty breakfast at the tea house (traditionally, travelers eat breakfast and dinner at the tea house where they’re sleeping), had a briefing about the day’s ride, and put the unis together.

Our Nepali porters and guides were mostly Sherpas (Sherpa is an ethnic group within Nepal: not all porters are Sherpas), and it was fun to see them react to the unicycles. They prize athletic adventures, so several of them immediately started to work on riding. After seeing us mount, a couple started jumping directly on, and they learned the freemount incredibly quickly. (I could ride for six months before I could freemount). It was fun to get to connect with them in that way; the lead guides spoke good English, but we had pretty limited ability to communicate with some of the porters. Smiles are universal.

The plan for the day was to ride about 18km to Chame. The first half of that would climb about 600 meters, and then we have another 9km of “Nepali flat” (meaning, all up and down). The road was the same one we’d been on in the jeeps last night, rough and rocky, but on one wheel it’s a lot less technical. There’s almost always a clean line.

The altitude would be a factor. We were starting at over 2100 meters (6900′), which is high enough to notice when you’re just snowboarding, let alone doing uphill MUni. By the end of the day we’d be at 2800 meters.

That first 9km was quite challenging. All of it was rideable, but the altitude meant that I couldn’t recover once I started breathing hard. No matter how slowly I rode (and I’m a champ at riding slowly), there just wasn’t enough oxygen to keep propelling me forward. So, lots of stopping to look at the scenery, which was increasingly spectacular as we climbed.

Coming around a switchback, we had an interesting micro-climate transition; from rocky and alpine, we switched into a much wetter, warmer, subtropical forest. The road turned from rocky to muddy, and we saw a bunch of different plant species, including really cool-looking carnivorous pitcher plants.

We had lunch at a tea house near the top of the sustained climb. It was a beautiful afternoon to sit out on the warm deck, and we learned that the rest of the day would be much easier riding; not only flatter, but on a smoother road as well. There was some weather coming in, a few drops of rain as we started off, so we got to rolling down the road. Sure enough, the afternoon was much more rideable, and we made good time heading into Chame.

Just short of town, I had an unfortunate situation. I’d stopped to take pictures and give Shot Blocks to two children who were at the town entrance begging for sweets (which is a common sight as a tourist in Nepal), and I must have forgotten to put the camera back in my bag. It was only 500 meters to the nearby village, and I quickly noticed my camera was missing, but when I went back to retrieve it, it was gone. Our Nepali guides spoke with the locals, but the camera was not forthcoming.

As we entered Chame, we saw our first set of Buddhist prayer wheels. I turned the wheels and reflected on the wealth disparity between me and whomever had picked up the camera. It was my MUni camera, a compact portable I’d bought used for $150, and I still had my DSLR on the trip. It wasn’t that big a deal, except for losing a day of pictures.

The mantra traditionally chanted when turning prayer wheels is six syllables, Om mani padme hum, and the paramitas (virtues) related to those syllables are:

  • Om: Generosity
  • Ma: Ethics
  • Ni: Patience
  • Pad: Diligence
  • Me: Renunciation
  • Hum: Wisdom

Deep breath. Find your balance. You’re still in this amazing place. Let it go.

Reaching Chame, the sky was cloudy and the wind was coming down the gorge; it was chilly. We lit a fire in the dining hall, wolfed down dinner, and then pretty much everyone crawled off into their sleeping bags. The tea house rooms are not heated, so on a chilly night (which all of them would be as we headed up the valley) you are either by the fire or in your bed.

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