Saturday, February 29, 2020

A Texan in Tibet - Reader Humor

Thanks T.R.!

A Texan in Tibet - Food

"I am not a picky eater. I just prefer pleasing my taste buds first."
-Yuno Mi

I'm not what most would call a picky eater, although I certainly have my preferences.  I avoid all organ meat and generally don't like fish, but I'll eat most any vegetable except mushrooms.  One could best describe my palate as...unsophisticated.

By the time I depart, I will have spent spent January through April eating a strictly low-carb/keto diet and I will have avoided alcohol and processed sugars altogether.  GOD I miss bread!  Judith Viorst once wrote"Strength is the capacity to break a chocolate bar into four pieces with your bare hands - and then eat just one of the pieces."  I can honestly claim that since December, I've had the strength and capacity to avoid chocolate bars altogether.  But I digress.  I would like to be able to proclaim a new lifelong lease on healthy eating, but the truth is my recent dietary discipline has merely been a part of my resolute conditioning for this trip.  I've been fat and then dropped weight as a means to achieving a goal more times than Hillary has had opposition witnesses suicided.

For this trip, I'll gladly suspend any dietary resolve and just eat what's available.  After all, it's not like I'll have a choice.  One thing is for sure.  I'll bring a fork!  I never understood why anyone would eat food with sticks when forks exist. Again I digress.

I've read up on Nepalese and Tibetan foods and learned that the locals' diets are primarily comprised of lentils, rice, and breads and tend to be influenced by both ethnicity and locale.  That makes sense given that Nepal and Tibet don't exactly have the culinary distribution infrastructure that we enjoy in the States.  Nevertheless, it appears to me to be a bit of a mix of Asian and Indian cuisines, both of which I generally long as it's cooked.  Yak seems to be on the menu everywhere.  I love beef and have eaten venison, horse, lion, ostrich, rattlesnake, alligator, kangaroo, camel, and something furry and ugly that was killed and grilled by an Aboriginal guide in the Outback.  But I've never eaten yak, which looks like a cow with a Rastafarian hairdo.  Apparently, yak is as versatile to the Tibetans as shrimp was to Benjamin Buford Blue.  Did I mention that I generally don't like shrimp?

Home of the Big Yak?
I'm a diehard carnivore (gasp) who loves his meat, but I love my meat unspoiled.  I admit that I harbor concerns about refrigeration and perishable freshness over there.  I prefer my yak-burger fresh, but for this trip will settle for just not rancid!  I've read that the locals have  developed their intestinal constitution over time to be able to tolerate meat that would have me and most westerners throwing up our toenails.  I can't ride for hours on end battling the high altitudes while simultaneously clamping my sphincter shut and trying not to barf in my helmet.  With that pleasant thought in mind, I suspect that unless I'm in a fairly modern restaurant, I'll stick to rice, veggies, eggs, and bread; BREAD!  Bread in any form will be a welcome change.  Maybe even on a yak-burger.

Yakity Yak. Don't Talk Back.

Monday, February 24, 2020

A Texan in Tibet - Hoping History Doesn't Repeat Itself

"The scientific theory I like best is that the rings of Saturn are composed entirely of lost airline luggage." 
- Mark Russell

When I flew to Australia in 2016, I redeemed AAdvantage miles on Qantas, which is an American Airlines code share partner.  When you cash in miles for international travel, it's common to get stuck with connections.  Instead of a direct flight out of DFW, I had to connect through LAX, but I saw it as a small price to pay for round trip first class seats.  The connection included hours of layover time, which I used to ensure my luggage made it into the Qantas baggage system.  I'll explain.

The Delta Baggage Solution
Just prior to that Oz trip, I spent 18 months developing and deploying a first-of-its-kind global baggage tracking solution for Delta Air Lines.  Anyone who flies frequently has experienced lost checked bags; as if flying in a post-911 world isn't stressful enough.  During that Delta engagement, I was exposed to all levels of the airline baggage handling beast and I found it fascinating.  The system is so convoluted and complex that the fact that our bags actually make it anywhere truly amazes me.  I was well aware that Qantas did not have a sophisticated baggage tracking system like Delta's and armed with my newfound knowledge of the risks for baggage loss, I was inspired to take matters into my own hands in an attempt to mitigate the risk of my bags getting lost during the transfer from a domestic American Airlines flight over to the international terminal and into the Qantas baggage system.  At DFW, I checked my bags to LAX, retrieved them there, carried them to the Qantas ticket counter in the international terminal, personally checked them in there, and then patted myself on the back.  The baggage transfer loss risk was mitigated to the greatest possible extent to which I could contribute.

My Ride to Brisbane
Fast forward a few hours and I'm in the boarding line for my flight.  When the gate agent scanned my boarding pass, I got the buzz-of-death alert and a flashing red light on the podium.  Yeah, I was that guy in the line at whom other passengers impatiently rolled their eyes and sighed aloud.  I had to step out of the line, go the gate counter, and try to have whatever it was resolved.  The gate agent had a confused, but not overly concerned expression as he furiously typed away at the keyboard.  I admit I felt a bit helpless and somewhat angry, yet all I could do was stand there and try not to piss off the one guy who stood between me and my dream trip to Australia. A few minutes later, I was back in the boarding lane, but my seat assignment had changed again.  I was too relieved to complain or even comment and as luck would have it, when I boarded, I discovered that I was one of only two passengers in the entire first class cabin.  So why the seat change?  My ADD mind quickly diverted attention from the seat assignment and focused on all the buttons, storage compartments, and amenities that my micro apartment-sized first class seat had to offer.  I was on my way and kicked back to enjoy my flight, confident that I had taken steps to ensure nothing could go wrong.
I landed in Brisbane 14 hours later, having gotten just enough sleep while flying to awaken on Australian morning time, thus avoiding having to deal with jet lag.  Another part of the plan successfully executed.  I cleared customs, headed to the baggage claim carousel, and waited.

And waited.

Eventually, having stood alone at the carousel for almost an hour after the rest of my flight's passengers had dispersed, I found myself being surrounded by hundreds of Asians whose flight from Japan had recently landed and were waiting for their baggage to arrive.  18 hours prior, I was patting myself on the back.  Now I was kicking myself in the butt.  I wandered over to the Qantas baggage office and once again, got in a line.  Once I was able to talk with an agent, I learned that my bags were never loaded onto the plane at LAX.  The agent explained that this is not uncommon when bags have to be transferred from one airline to another.  I calmly and politely replied that I retrieved my bags from American Airlines at LAX and then personally checked them in at the Qantas counter.  She then said that the other time this sometimes happens is when bags are checked-in too close to an international flight's departure.  I pointed to the hours-before-departure check in time printed on the baggage receipts and (once again) calmly shook my head.  After feverishly clicking the keys on her terminal, she finally told me that the real reason this happened was because my reservation had somehow been canceled between the time I checked my bags and attempted to board hours later.  My mind was spinning.  This explained the gate agent's confusion back at LAX.  How he was able to resolve the issue and get me onboard an international flight still escapes me. "No problem", the Qantas baggage agent said.  "We'll have it loaded on the next flight from LAX and forwarded to you."  I was relieved until she frowned and said that the next flight had already departed.

Spirit of Texas Skid Lid
It's just luggage, right?  WRONG!  My rolling gear bag held all my riding gear for the Outback crossing, the departure for which was supposed to commence in just two days.  My custom-fit knee braces and my one-of-a-kind Texas flag-wrapped helmet were among the other necessities in that bag.  As tough as it was, I remained calm and polite, spoke softly, and even forced a smile because I knew this woman was the only person who could help me.  My mind continued to spin as I began to mentally explore the possibility of purchasing the minimum amount of gear that I could get by with in country.  With nothing else I could accomplish at the baggage office, I left my Air B&B address and host's contact info with the Qantas agent who advised me to also fill out the Customs paperwork for my bags so they could be claimed in my absence and forwarded to the nearest airport served by Qantas.  I did so and headed to the gate for my connecting flight to Mackay where upon landing, I would pick up a rental car and drive two hours to Airlie Beach in Queensland.  I hated the idea of leaving the fate of this trip in the hands of total strangers who were probably overworked and whose concern for my predicament could likely be measured in micro give-a-shits.

While I sat waiting for my connection, I decided to throw a hail Mary pass and reached out to an Australian in Sydney (Mick) with whom I had corresponded via email in the preceding months about the trip.  I figured he might know where riding gear might be available between Mackay and Airlie Beach.  Mick said there wasn't anything but kangaroos and skinks on that trip, but then added that his ex-wife worked in IT for Qantas in Sydney and that he would seek her help applying some insider pressure to locating my gear.  I had no phone, so all this was happening by email and instant messaging on my laptop as the minutes till my departure to Mackay seemed to fly by.  Under any other circumstance, time would have seemed to creep.  The last message I received on my laptop was "I'll phone you."  How? I have no phone!  Shit.

Moments later, over the paging system, I heard "Shrug the Texan, please pick up the courtesy paging phone."  I had to hear it twice because it didn't register the first time.  It occurred to me then that Mick never knew my real name.  To him, I was Shrug, the Texan.  Maybe my luck was turning.  "Hey mate. Mick here."  After exchanging pleasantries, giving my real name so his ex could investigate, and my explaining the meaning behind Shrug, Mick explained to me that someone on his wife's staff was working a project at the Brisbane airport and might be able to help with Customs and the local baggage crew.  Not only was this guy able to confirm my bags were loaded for a flight out of LAX, but he would also be able to retrieve them in Brisbane and arrange to have them forwarded via Virgin Air to Proserpine airport, only 30 minutes away from Airlie Beach.  I was expecting to use up all my free decompression time with a little sightseeing before hitting the Outback.  A four-hour round trip to/from Mackay was not on my agenda, but I would do whatever it took.  Mick's news seemed too good to be true.  The tide (and my mood) and turned 180 degrees in only a few hours.  I hung up the phone, walked outside, and boarded my connection to Mackay.  I managed to dodge the kangaroos and skinks (lizards) and navigated the traffic circles (from the left lane, no less) as I made my way to the Air B&B house that would be my accommodation for the next two nights.  The next afternoon, my host told me that he received the call I had been waiting for.  My bags had made it!  After a short drive, I finally had my gear, only twelve hours before my scheduled departure into the Outback.

So, while I feel confident that I've taken all the steps I can to alleviate the unexpected from this upcoming adventure, I am fully aware that the universe will do to me whatever it wants with/to me.  All I can do is plan, hope for the best, and if necessary, count on the kindness of strangers.

Friday, February 21, 2020

A Texan in Tibet - Unexpected Flight Changes

“Plans are of little importance, but planning is essential.”  
- Winston Churchill 

Qatar Economy Cattle Car

I secured my flights for this adventure with AAdvantage miles I've earned from my work travel.  Flying 16 hours and 8,200 miles each way is not a coach-friendly flight and would be about as comfortable and relaxing as a prostate exam.  I managed to secure first and business class seats for every leg of the trip and booked them at the earliest possible date, which is 335 days prior to the flight.  Redeeming miles nearly a year early was a risky commitment, but Qatar Airways (American's code share partner) is known to offer the best business/first class experiences in international air travel and if I waited too late, the forward cabins would be full and I would be stuck in coach on an airline with whom I have no frequent flier status.  The aforementioned prostate exam would be more appealing by comparison.

Previous trip experiences have taught me to expect unsolicited changes to my reservations when I book so far in advance.  There are many reasons for this such as the airline reassigning aircraft with different seating layouts, changes in routes and schedules, etc.  Sometimes it's just a seat change to a new row.  Other times it's an hour or two difference in departure time.  I accept these facts a part of international travel.  Still, people who know me know I don't like travel surprises and those who have actually flown with me are painfully aware that I am anal about my itineraries.  The trick is to stay on top of it and check on the reservation occasionally, because the airlines typically don't proactively notify passengers when they make changes such as these to their flights.

Qsuite Couple Comfort
During a routine review of my reservation, I saw that the seats I had selected months ago had been changed from window to aisle.  This happened on my Qantas flight to Brisbane, the explanation for which was that another frequent flyer with actual Qantas status outranked my American Airlines AAdvantage status and thus, his seat selection took priority over mine. I can accept that, but some notice would have been nice. On both my overseas flights, there is a center column of two seats, but there are no middle seats in the forward cabins.  There are no bad seats in the forward cabin.  Still, I particularly prefer window seats on overseas flights not only for the view, but for the added privacy and also so my GPS tracker can "see" the satellites and plot my position in near real-time to my blog.  Leaving nothing to chance, I clicked on the seat selection link in hope of reclaiming a window assignment.  To my surprise, the entire layout of the forward cabin had changed dramatically.  With a little more research, I found out that the forward aircraft cabins for both my overseas flights had been upgraded with Qatar's Qsuites!  Major score!

My Qsuite - Solo Style (model not included)

I got lucky and managed to snag the last rear-facing window seats away from the galley and restrooms for both overseas legs of the trip and proceeded to research my airborne accommodations.  The online photos and videos look amazing and now I'm actually looking forward to the long flight.  The dual sleeping arrangement in the above photo is an example of how the center column suites can be configured for couples.  In fact, the center column is arranged in clusters of four suites with partitions that can be opened to allow for face-to-face conferences among all four seats.  This would be great for families, business groups, and I suppose for aspiring mile-high club members.  While my window suite is pretty posh, it's definitely not conducive to mile-high club activities.

The travel review site videos and descriptions I've surfed all illustrate five-star quality dining and cabin services; probably far more sophisticated than my palate will appreciate.  I've also read conflicting reports about the bar service and alcohol.  Qatar Airways adheres to Islamic law in their meal services, so I'm betting pork chops are off the menu.  I saw one video that illustrated a bar menu full of non-alcoholic "mocktails" and another that listed top shelf spirits, wine, and champagne.  I've never been much of a drinker and as part of my conditioning regimen, will have had no alcohol whatsoever since December, 2019 when I embark on this trip.  A good stiff drink (or ten) at 37,000 feet might be just what I need to decompress for a long flight.  I guess I'll see if that's available when I'm on board.

I'm feeling pretty good about my travel itinerary and how I've been able to wrangle things in my favor.  That said, rest assured I will be keeping tabs on "my" seats until my departure because (quoting Rick Derringer) "The airport giveth.  The airport taketh away."

Here's a short online review of Qatar's Qsuite cabin. 

Thursday, February 20, 2020

When Loving Them Enough to Let Them Hate You...Fails

"Hatred is an affair of the heart; contempt that of the head."
 -Arthur Schopenhauer

Carol Burnett once said "you do have to love your kids enough to let them hate you." Sage words from a mother who went through hell with a drug-addicted child and came out the other side. But where does a parent or other loved one draw the line?  How much genuine hate is a person supposed to endure? How much can one endure?  If a fleeting statement of hatred is spoken in haste during an outburst that stems from an addiction or some significant emotional event, I would say the answer to how long is as long as it takes.  The relationship rewards on the other side are worth it.

But what if that hatred is genuine, heartfelt; indeed a deep-seeded belief?  I don't know what Carol would say, but I say that twenty years of consistent outbursts, insults, and genuine contempt is more than enough.  The question then becomes one of how to respond.   The best response is no response.  I believe hatred feeds not only upon itself, but upon the returned emotion generated from the reaction of the hated target.  I refuse to feed.

The worst one could do is to return any emotion.  Expressing remorse in an attempt to turn the hatred around only feeds and emboldens the hater's chosen mindset.  Even worse is attempting to return the hatred.  Trying to "hate back" simply lowers oneself to the doltish immaturity of the hater.  It serves no purpose.  It  achieves no goal.  After all, I suppose a hater can't be blamed for that which they truly believe.  So to me, the only response, is no response.  Simply check out and walk away.  Emotionally, intellectually, and permanently disconnect.  To do so is quite liberating; especially when the hatred is and always was unjust.  Focusing love and appreciation on those worthy of it and feeling its return is the ultimate reward.

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

A Texan in Tibet - Day 10 Riding Plan - "Back to K-K-K-K-K-K Kathmandu"

"A clear vision, backed by definite plans, gives you a tremendous feeling of confidence and personal power."
- Brian Tracey

That's why I'm going to Kathmandu
Up to the mountain's where I'm going to
And if I ever get out of here
That's what I'm gonna do 
K-K-K-K-K-K Kathmandu
Really, really where I'm going to
If I ever get out of here
I'm going to Kathmandu - Bob Seger

Kyirong Town to Kathmandu

If all goes to plan, this day will start with a short 24 kilometer down to the Tibet-Nepal border.  Here, I'll repeat (in reverse) the immigration process of crossing the Friendship Bridge, bid farewell to my Tibetan escort, and complete the Nepali Customs process.  The rest of the day will be consumed by riding back into civilization and down to Kathmandu where traffic signals, lanes painted on the roads, and signs are mere suggestions that are pretty much ignored by the locals.  I will have negotiated some of Earth's highest mountain passes and some over-the-top crazy terrain, yet riding out of and back into Kathmandu will probably prove to be most dangerous parts of the trip.

Depending on my arrival time in Kathmandu, I'll return the Himalayan and check into my hotel to decompress and prepare for my return to the States on May 20th.

Monday, February 17, 2020

Addressing The (Sick) Elephant in the Room

"You can't put a price tag on preparation for a pandemic."
- Richard E. Besser

I've received a ton of comments about the Wuhan flu and its potential impact on my trip.  Believe me, I'm keeping a watchful eye on the the spread and for any progress (or lack of) for a treatment as the days tick by.  The truth is it could completely shut me down and there's nothing I can do about it.  It's especially frustrating because I have trained hard and painstakingly planned every detail and yet I'm potentially shut down by a germ.

Everest from South Base Camp 1
From a travel perspective, I can still fly because I am not flying into or out of China.  However, upon return, I will have a Chinese stamp from Tibet in my passport and as such, could potentially find myself being denied entry back into the U.S. and quarantined in Philadelphia.   Worse than that would be my being prohibited to leave Kathmandu for Doha.  The absolute worst case would be my being denied entry back into Nepal and finding myself stuck at the Nepali/Tibetan border in the middle of nowhere.  I am relying on my Nepali contact for advice because he has to deal with bike rental availability and the approved Tibetan escorts.  Indeed, he has more as stake than I do and has been very forthcoming.  One option we have discussed is keeping the trip confined to Nepal or perhaps riding into India.  The India option would require some State Department hoop-jumping for a visa, but it could be done.  Truth is, there is plenty of challenging terrain and interesting culture in Nepal and the south Mount Everest base camp is accessible without entering Tibet.

Part of me says, screw it. Just go.  I'm healthy and being aware of the environment and of the symptoms is a key to staying that way.  But the primary Coronavirus symptoms are headaches and dizziness, which happen to be the same as altitude sickness.  If I'm taking my Diamox prescription and have sufficiently conditioned with my training mask, I shouldn't face those symptoms.  But what if I do?  Did I not train enough?  Is mine one of the body types for which Diamox doesn't work?  Or have I been infected.  Even if I were infected, rapid recognition and immediate treatment have proven to be effective.  But that's in the States and other modernized countries.  I will be spending three weeks in the third and fourth world.  Thanks, China.  This really blows.

I believe that by May, we will either have an inoculation and treatment, or we'll all be infected and those of us who are not will be in hiding; staying off of airplanes and other confined mass transit.  Whatever the case, my plan is to continue to train and work as if there's no threat whatsoever and try not to lose sleep over it.

A Texan in Tibet - Riding Day 9 Plan

"It takes as much energy to wish as it does to plan."
- Elenor Roosevelt

Rongbuk/Everest Base Camp - Kyirong Town

This day is kind of up for grabs and really depends on how Riding Day 8 goes.  If I didn't hit the Everest Base Camp on Day 8, I will do so on day 9.  If this is the case, it could make for a very long riding day heading down from the Rongbuk Monastery to Everest Base Camp with all its traffic and then backtracking up again.  From Base camp, I'll ride back through Rongbuk, through Tingri across what is described as the highest plateau in the world (4,384 meters/14,380 feet), and then northwest to Kyirong Town at a mere 2,700 meters/8,900 feet elevation.  The interactive map can be viewed here.  Unless something unplanned happens, the night spent in Kyirong will be my last in Tibet.

Saturday, February 15, 2020

A Texan in Tibet - Riding Day 8 Plan

"To wear your heart on your sleeve isn't a very good plan; you should wear it inside, where it functions best."
- Margaret Thatcher

Sakya to Rongbuk - Everest, Baby!

The plan is to ride out from Sakya early and ascend the Gyatso la mountain pass.  At 5,248 meters/17,217 feet, this is the highest pass on this section of my trip and is said to be one of the nine most treacherous roads.  I think this is due to its altitude more than the actual surface conditions.  From there, I will descend back down to Shegar where I will have stopped on riding day three and then ride out towards the main road to the Qomolongma (Everest) National park.

I will be arriving in the Everest National Park area during the peak climbing season and as such, I anticipate pretty rough environmental conditions and really dusty air on the dirt road leading to the Rongbuk Monastery. The road from the monastery to the town of Rongbuk is said to be well-maintained blacktop.  Traffic will probably be a nightmare, but at least the road is paved.  The whole day's riding should only be about 255km/158 miles.  It's the traffic and repeated switchbacks that tend to lull riders into a sense of complaisance.  This grasshopper will have to focus.

Check out the interactive map and zoom in on the twisties just south of Tingri.

Rongbuk & Everest

Depending on traffic and the time of day that I arrive, I will try to hit the Everest Base Camp on this day.  If not, I will ride there on Riding Day 9 before heading back to Kyirong Town.  My night's accommodation will be at a basic monastery guest house at 4,980 meters/16,340 feet.

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

A Texan in Tibet - Riding Day 7 Plan

"If you've got a plan, it's not just like a pipe dream. You have a step-by-step list of things to do to get to your goal."
-Nipsey Hussle

Lhasa to Sakya

Currently, my plan is to backtrack towards Shigatse, but skip the Simi La and Karo La passes and traverse a northern route.  This route from Lhasa to Shigatse City is roughly 280km/174 miles, but I plan to bypass the city premises and continue on the outskirts, heading another 110km/68 miles southwest towards Sakya, which sits at 4,025 meters/13,200 feet elevation.  The entire day will only be about 255 miles.  I'll find my lodging and see how much time I have left to see the local sights.  The interactive map can be found here.

Monday, February 10, 2020

A Texan in Tibet - Riding Day 6 Plan

"Reduce your plan to writing. The moment you complete this, you will have definitely given concrete form to the intangible desire."
- Napoleon Hill

Gyantse to Lhasa
This should be an interesting route with plenty of remote back roads and a particularly tricky mountain passage.  Fuel management and awareness will be paramount.  If my plans hold, I should ride about 350km/217 miles to Nagartse via the primitive, rocky Simi La pass at 4,200 meters/13,780 feet and then over the newly-paved Karo La pass at 5,010 meters/16,400 feet.  Temperatures at both passes are said to be cold, even in the summer.  Cold temperatures and thin air should make for a challenging, yet interesting day of riding.  The interactive map can be seen here.

Lhasa is a cultural center of Tibet and having ridden six days straight, I plan to take a day off for some rest.  A day off the bike in Alaska and Australia was a welcome respite on those trips.  It will also afford me the opportunity to sort through my videos and images and maybe do a little writing.  I expect decent Internet access, so I hope to update this blog.

Saturday, February 8, 2020

A Texan in Tibet - Riding Day 5 Plan

“Life is what happens to us while we are making other plans.”
- Allen Saunders

Shigatse to Gyantse

Depending on how my Day 4 plan went, I will either head for Gyantse first thing in the morning, or I will spend the morning at the local police station jumping through hoops to get my temporary driving license.  If the latter proves to be the case, I will make the short 90km/56 mile ride to Gyantse after lunch.  If that red tape shakedown was not enough, the short ride will probably seem like eternity because of the 40km/h (25mph) speed limit imposed by the traffic police.  I'm told there are regular speed traps and patrol cars to strictly enforce the speed limit and that simply paying the fine is not an option.  I have no plan to find out that the acceptable option might be.  I've waited years to make this trip.  A couple of slow roll hours will not kill me.  the interactive map can be found here.
In contrast to Shigatse, Gyantse is said to be a pastoral town that remains untouched by modern expansion.  This could be a quaint good thing, or it could really suck.  Either way, I'll spend the night at a comfortable 3,900 meters/12,800 feet.

Friday, February 7, 2020

A Texan in Tibet - Conditioning Continued

"What oxygen is to the lungs, such is hope to the meaning of life."
- Emil Brunner

Analyzing that quote made me realize that this trip means a great deal to my life at the moment and I hope I will have conditioned properly to see it through without incident.  I figured I would have a week of riding to acclimatize before hitting any substantial elevations.  Since I've been working on my daily routes and itineraries, it occurred to me that I'll be above 17,900 feet on my second riding day.  If I'm to avoid an epic third world failure, I need to stick to my original plan and vigorously prepare for 18,000 feet while I'm home at 531 feet.

Bane Has Entered the Cabin
I wrote in a previous entry about a training device I acquired in hope that it would help prepare me physically for navigating the high altitude Nepalese and Tibetan terrain.  I've been using the mask now for a few weeks on my rower and on my elliptical and I can tell you that it most definitely adds substantial strain and effort to my workouts.  In fact, when I started wearing it, I couldn't last five minutes before doffing it, gasping for air.  Now, three weeks later and after consistent workouts every day, I can climb three miles and row three miles in thirty minutes each without losing the mask or consciousness (added bonus).  While this is encouraging, there is a caveat.  I have been using the mask with minimal restriction.  Even so, my blood oxygen saturation level typically drops to 88%, which is getting in the range of where I need to be capable of confidently riding at altitude.  Baby steps.

Just for grins, I decided to configure the mask for maximum restriction and see how long I could go and how low it would drop my O2 saturation.  Just like three weeks ago, I flung the mask off in about five minutes, but this time, I had severe tunnel vision, was literally seeing stars, and my pulse Ox meter measured 84%.  After the room stopped spinning and I had a chance to collect and reflect, I was simultaneously encouraged and alarmed.  I know I need to be able to clearly function at 85%.  The alarming part is that at only 1% below that and after only five minutes, I was dizzy, had blurred tunnel vision, a throbbing headache, and I wanted to barf.  The encouraging part is that I still have 85 days to get there by staying my course and gradually increasing the breathing restriction in the mask to steadily lower my O2 saturation.

Reflecting back on my Outback trip, I know that I would have had to been airlifted out of the bush when I got hurt on day three had I not been properly conditioned.  That memory motivates me to drive myself to be physically ready for this adventure.  Now I know what it takes and now that I have a taste of what not measuring up feels like, I know I'll be ready.

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

A Texan in Tibet - Riding Day 4 Plan

"No battle plan survives contact with the enemy."
-Colin Powell

Shegar to Shegatse

This will be another red tape day that includes motorcycle inspection for a temporary license plate and a vision test in order to get my Tibetan temporary motorcycle license.  At only 240km/150 miles, this will be another short day in terms of terrain traversed.  The first leg will be a scenic, albeit flat stretch of 150km/93 miles, followed by another 90km/56 miles over a small 4,300 meter/14,100 foot mountain pass into Shigatse.  The interactive map is here.
The second largest city in Tibet, Shigatse is described as a fairly modern city with a population of over 100,000 and sits at an elevation of 3,845 meters/12,615 feet.  Since I can't predict the amount of time I'll spend getting my license and plates, I'll make this my fourth day's stop and see the sights.  In fact, the delays cound be substantial enough that I won't get my license until the next day.  If that proves to be the case, I will rise and shine and be the first in line at the police station on day 5.

The main attraction in Shigatse is the Tashilhunpo Monastery, which was founded in 1447.  I suspect I will get my fill of monasteries before this trip is over.  Shigatse is a primary gathering place for tourists heading to Everest, so I anticipate having the opportunity to meet ans talk with plenty of people.

Monday, February 3, 2020

A Texan in Tibet - Riding Day 3 Plan

"Stop setting goals. Goals are pure fantasy unless you have a specific plan to achieve them."
- Stephen Covey

Kyirong to Shegar

Satellite views and written reports lead me to believe that this 340km/211mile leg could be among the most scenic of the entire trip.  I am planning to ride from Kyirong to Shegar with numerous high-altitude mountain passes, including Kungthang La pass, which rises to 5,236 meters/17,200 feet.  Interactive link here.
The route should take me past Lake Peigu Tso, which sits at over 15,000 feet elevation (swimming is not on my agenda) and through the Tibetan town of Old Tingri that reportedly offers an amazing view of the Himalayas, Everest, and few other mountains rising above 8,000 meters.  There should be lots of photo ops, which translates in lots of stops, which explains a seven hour riding day for only 211 miles.  I can't blame the terrain, because the Chinese take really good care of the roads in Tibet.

The elevation at Shegar is 4,330 meters/14,200 feet.  I'll bask in the thick air and should sleep well that night.