Expedition of a lifetime

GLENGARRY mountain biker Lenny Van Berkel recently experienced a different side to cycling.

While he can usually be found shredding the technical tracks of Gippsland with the Gippsland Mountainbike Club, he recently took part in a 1000 kilometre cycling expedition from Lhasa in Tibet, to Khatmandu in Nepal.

“My brother organised it… and when he started describing the trip, I thought ‘gee, I’d love to do that’,” Van Berkel said.

“You only live once.”

Riding at altitudes of up to 5400 metres, Van Berkel said the group took a few days to acclimatise.

“We started out at about 3400 metres, and slowly moved up,” he said.

“At that elevation, even a small incline that would be nothing here really takes it out of you.”

While most riders used mountain bikes with gears to navigate the hilly terrain, Van Berkel, a passionate bike builder, took a recently home-built single-speed bike.

For Van Berkel, who had always been interested in the Himalayan region, he found cycling enhanced his experience in a way he did not expect.

“There were 101 different experiences… that I would not have had if I was in a tour bus or on a train,” he said.

“Cycling was unique in that you got to absorb the sites, the smells, the noises, the sounds of where you were travelling through.

“You also get the eye-to-eye contact and interaction with the locals that was definitely enhanced by riding the bike.”

Even choosing the more simple bike affected his experience.

“People said I’d regret it (a bike with no gears) and along the journey I might have, in parts,” he said.

“But riding a simple bike in a country where there were no luxuries; it was something the locals could relate to.

“It was like walking a mile in their shoes, in a way.”

Van Berkel said he “deeply appreciated” the experience, but was not looking at taking on anything of that magnitude in the near future.