With the flight finally completed we had only the relatively minor task of getting to the hotel with our bikes. The first stage of this was the bus from the airport to town, which went without a hitch and no complaints about the size of our luggage. Passing over the opportunity for a double-entente comment we met Helen on the bus, a fellow traveller we were to follow all the way to Kathmandu. Once in town it seemed like an easy task to procure some taxis to get us to the hotel - easy that is until it became apparent that no taxi was prepared to carry a bike box. Thus ensued a game of flagging down a taxi driver, only for them to spot the boxes and waving goodbye as they drove off. Mystified we played this game for quite a while, even chancing our arm with a minibus taxi but with no luck. What happened to the tradition of fleecing tourists at the bus stop who clearly have no idea of the value of the local currency? With the prospect of having to unpack the bikes and getting some early training in looming a cycle rickshaw gamely pulled up. When we pointed out our boxes we prepared to wave goodbye to a slim chance of locomotion, only for the driver to leap off his seat with a large tip running round the back of his mind. Even a land cruiser trying to park didn't dent his enthusiasm to bag our business. With minimal fuss three bike boxes were loaded up and we jumped on the back while one guy powered a collective 300kg's down the road, with an occasional push from us.
Notes on Lhasa itself. The first thing to notice is the altitude, 3700m, more than high enough to wonder where the other half of your lungs have gone. We went from the modern smart Chinese district (now about two thirds of Lhasa and growing exponentially) to the Tibetan quarter (third perhaps), a much less homogeneous affair. Finally, it became obvious that the potential of tourists hasn't been fully mined as we were blissfully hassle free as we strolled around the streets.
The Patala palace is the most obvious landmark in Lhasa, the seat of the Dali Lama at times when China was just an aggressive neighbour, and a suitably impressive place to live for the spiritual leader of a country. As such we thought we have a look round, perhaps offer a little advice changing rooms style, so I was tasked with securing some tickets. After an hour in a queue all I�d managed to secure was a ticket giving me permission to buy a ticket the following day, and I thought British rail could be slow!
One worry which we were determined to address in Lhasa was hunting dogs with a taste for lean bikers. It seemed optimistic to eradicate Tibet of this particular type of dog but we could at the very least defend ourselves and after considering some walking sticks, a serviceable crossbow we settled on three hefty pick axe handles. Weighing in at a few kilos each we felt, and Steve "dog hater" Wyatt in particular, this was luggage allowance well spent. We noted that two between us was probably sufficient but when asking for who wanted to be without a stick, even with the weight saving, volunteers were thin on the ground.
Another shopping trip revolved around my eye wear, having neglected to bring sunnies from Blighty I was worried about any passes covered in snow and bathed in sunshine. I had several ideas and not being able to choose between them I stood accused of perhaps over compensating, but at least I had options. Another job which was arguably a little late arose from Andy 'faff black belt' Cross, who decided that his front rim didn't have the required depth of metal left to last the trip; this in addition to getting distracted by sheep skin waist coats. Recall our planning evening a few weeks ago when we all admired Andy's newly built bike, after such a thorough inspection from two bike fanatics the casual observer would be forgiven for wondering how such an obvious technical flaw had been missed. Readers you massively underestimate our desire for faffing around and this presented such an obvious golden opportunity we just couldn't resist.
Our accommodation in Lhasa had one consistent theme: we could only get a room for a single night before having to move on. If we hit it lucky it would be in the same hotel but our last night we were on the move. This presented no problems until we had finished breakfast, and with Andy missing building a wheel still, Steve and I realised that we had no money to pay. And so began a Benny Hill style moving of piles of bags while we took turns emptying the room and eventually checking out to get the deposit to pay.
After a debate on how fast the human body can gain altitude we decided to take an extra day in Lhasa and go for shake down ride up to 4500 meters and back down again to gently ease ourselves up to the dizzy heights. At this stage, a day before the final off, it would have been reassuring if we had a flawless ride without issues. But this is us right? We had a few tasks to tick off in the morning, none of which in themselves were going to take much time and each of which required only one of us to get it done, but true to form we discovered that if you line up all the tasks in a row and tackle them in a serial fashion with no more than one person occupied at a time you get extra faff reward point. As such we set out, got lost looking for a bridge over the river and managed 15km before settling down for lunch. The first section of the day was flat and it was with some jealously that we watched little tractors easing past us. Jealously that is until we saw the opportunity to claw back some of that lost time by hanging onto the back of the trailer. Disregarding any kind of risk assessment this made for good sport and wasn't quite as effortless as it first appears, with the inherent dangers of pot holes, on coming traffic, Andy and Steve etc. That said we felt we had an easier time than the monks we spied about 10km from Lhasa whose chosen form of locomotion I would volunteer to be the least efficient that the human body is capable of. Start laying face down arms out towards Lhasa, bring hands together above head, put hands on the floor, drag yourself upright so that your feet are where your shoulders were, hands above head, crouch down, slide hands along the floor in front of you to return to position one. Repeat. Endlessly.
A 10km steep uphill section to the Gandon monastery was the challenge that remained and the lack of oxygen began to kick in. Being at rest was no problem but peddling up a 1 in 10 slope does not in my book count as being at rest, and my body was voting with it's lungs and agreed with me. Endless switch backs ensured that we couldn't quite see the final destination until we were almost there. Andy 'Lance Armstrong' cross and Steve 'Lance Armstrong wannabe' Wyatt set a good pace which I neglected to follow. At this point I'd like to mentioned a topic very dear to my heart: my lion teddy. My sister cursed me, sorry gave me, a teddy before coming away and made me promise to take it everywhere (I was lucky it was going to be a cow until she realised that some might think I was taking piss in Nepal). My traveling companions being the testosterone fueled males that they are saw something sentimental and couldn't help themselves; I soon caught them playing baseball with poor Fred and a dog beater. My lack of pace up the hill therefore gave Andy the opportunity to lion-nap my mascot and sprint up the hill. Later he realised that he wasn't man enough to carry such symbol of might and power and he humbly gave it back. Later I saw the error of my ways and fastened it to my front pannier with some more robust strappings which was lucky as children didn't have Andy's sense to realise that this wasn't a toy that had traveled half way around the world just to land in their pockets.
At about 9km into the climb to the top I had a moment of immense satisfaction. Having commented all the way up that the frequency of suitable vehicles to hitch a ride with had flat lined I was just catching up with Andy and Steve when a perfect example came past, soon to be with me hanging on the back of it, made all the better because the other two were taking a break and couldn't jump on their bikes and catch it in time. With the exception of the parts where the road was missing the tarmac I had a smooth ride to the top.
With three people only recently arriving at 3700m, who have then biked to 4500m altitude must have been rubbing his hands with glee and indeed Andy started to feel ropey. Ibuprofen and Chinese medicine soon slapped his hands a little and recovery seemed to be on the horizon, just in time to get lunch part II in. We ate with the monks and had a meal of noodles, pasta, soup and yak gristle. At the time we weren't overly impressed with the standard of the food, little did we know that we would cheerfully sell our souls for this sort of tucker later on in the trip....
Now a 10km steep uphill not only implied exhaustion and altitude sickness, more importantly it implies a 10km steepdownhillon the way home. Littered with hairpin bends which were dull on the way up, became much more fun. Throw in the odd section of missing tarmac to keep you firmly awake and the race was on. Well boys will be boys.
Our last night in Lhasa was spent moving hotel as ours was full, proving that you really can't find a hotel which is both cheap and clean in this town - we opted for the former. Obviously we weren't inspired by our trepidation of setting out in the morning; a poor meal and a rock and roll hot chocolate later we hit the sack early