We did not plan on going up Khardung La again after yesterday but the weather looked really good this morning. We will never know what the weather brings the next day so even feeling super tired from the day before, we just had to do it.
We also did not realize that after a nice paved road up to South Pullu, it was all dirt all the way up to the pass. Snow melt, lots of creeks flowing, rocky, sandy, muddy and landslides along the way. We stopped at South Pullu and handed our copy of the Inner Line permit to the check point officers. It was pretty quick. We then rode down a bit to the end of the village at a tea stall. We had some milk tea, potato chips and bread omelette. It was really good. South Pullu is at 15,300 ft so we had another 3,000 ft to climb to Khardung La.
South Pullu had Yaks by the creek. It was a warm day so the creek was flowing really good. We saw lots of donkeys with little ones. Donkeys usually hangout on the side of the road, it’s very common in Leh. We continued our ride with a full belly. Riding on dirt, it will take us longer than riding on smooth pavement. Trucks, taxis, motorcycles and cyclists on their way to Khardung La pass.
We rode long switchbacks and we kept getting higher and higher. I can really feel the altitude or the pressure at about 16,500 ft. My legs muscles were working hard. It’s really weird that my heart rate is okay at that height but the muscles, dang it just hurt. Everything started to slow down. I told myself that if I can keep going at around 3-3.5 mph, I am happy with that. At that altitude, slow is better. VO2 max goes out the window and it’s the neuromuscular that takes over. Yup, it hurt. I hurt to see my pace get slower and I can’t spin as fast.
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What makes it worse is the pot holes, creeks raging, sand and rocks that makes it much more slower. So, we continued to pedal and amazingly I can pedal at 17,000 ft! Many motorbikes passed us giving us thumbs up and cheering us on. A few trucks coming by to slow down and taking a photo of us, probably for their Facebook friends showing how crazy we are. Too funny.
The endless switchbacks that goes inside the mountains it’s hard to see where the road goes. We just kept our heads down and kept pedaling. We saw prayer flags but no, that is not the top. It’s a teaser. So, we kept on pedaling as our breathing is now labored. Going over each rocky section and pot holes required some short quick spins to get over it. Even on running creeks. Anaerobic type at 17,000 ft, took a lot and took time to recover. This went on for a bit then finally, the real prayer flags!
We didn’t cry each other out when we reached the top unlike other times when summiting passes in Nepal. We casually rode in because everyone was cheering and congratulating us – strangers! This is really cool. We thanked everyone and the Indian tourists took pictures. I don’t know how many pictures Indian tourists have taken of us since we got to Leh, not sure where it goes!
We were hungry and tired so we went to the highest cafe in the world, Rinchen Cafe and the only thing that’s left is Maggi noodles. We ordered two Maggi noodles which were recalled a month ago in India because of the amount of lead in the noodles. We were freakin’ hungry, we ordered Maggi noodles and devoured it. The cafe is known also for Maggi noodles!
A group of young Indian men with their leather jackets and motorcycle gadgets came to us while we were slurping our Maggi noodles wanting a group picture. We chatted after that and more photo sessions while we were sitting at 18,000 ft eating noodles. It was great! Doug said, he can’t think of any other place to be right then but at the cafe. We all shook hands and the Indian men left on their way as we felt really great about the conversations we had. They were so gentlemen and offered us more tea. It was really fun.
The downhill was super fun…seriously on the dirt and on the pavement. The more I ride on Khardung La road, my downhill is improving! Also, I never really felt threatened by vehicles going downhill. Every single driver shared the road with us and wave at us as we go by. I got all muddy and wet but since it was a really nice warm day, no problem! I had a blast!