How to Train for the Trans Himalaya Cycling Expedition
“Once a year, go somewhere you’ve never been before.” – Dalai Lama
I am an expert on everything I know nothing about. This expertise has grown longer as I age. Keep that in mind as you read this blog on training for the Trans-Himalaya cycling tour, in which if you choose to go, you will cycle at a low gradient, slowly but surely to altitudes of 5,000m and plus. If you do decide, then you will be rewarded in many ways – more on that later.
This minor accomplishment I managed to do at a tender age of 67, though if you think that this would get me into the Guinness World Record book, let me tell you, there were older people cycling in the group of adventurers who reached those 16,000 plus ft peaks with much more gusto, flair and speed that I could muster. But sadly – neither the flair nor the gusto helped them to get into the Guinness World Record book either.
Struggling up those mountains which I described in a blog called Cycling Over 5000 meters ‘Passes on The Trans Himalaya Tour’, I kept asking myself, Henry why didn’t you do those dammed breathing exercises. It could have been at least 6% easier. Now my dear reader, you may ask yourself ‘breathing exercises’ for altitude climbing? ‘What are you smoking, Henry?’ Just for the record I don’t smoke not even that funny stuff.
So here is the thing. In 2010 fourteen members of a British army climbing expedition to the world 5th highest peak in Nepal, took part in a fascinating experiment. Chosen randomly, for four weeks half of the members were assigned exercises to strengthen the muscles involved in breathing. Apparently, these exercises are called inspiratory muscles training. And just in case you are wondering, according to an old article I read in Outside Magazine, we have between seven to eleven pounds (3kg to 5kg) of breathing muscles that consume energy like any other muscles in our body. Let me tell you that is a lot of kilograms to drag up the mountain.
Because we are mere humans no matter the age, the level of oxygen in our blood system drops as we climb higher in altitude. When the army boys reached 16,000 ft or about 4,000 meters altitude, their arterial oxygen dropped by 20%. Not for all of them. The ones who practiced the breathing exercises, the oxygen level dropped only 14%.
Can you imagine? You can sit at home watching your favoured TV show while training for those high peaks. And it is reaching those peaks that will provide you the rewards. You, like me, may struggle for each breath getting to those peaks, but a minute at most two after you get there, you will have on your face the biggest grin you ever had. You will already forget the discomfort. You will ooze joy, pride, confidence. You will see panoramas you have never seen before. You may even think you are invincible. And you will have downhill rides that will go on and on and on as you smile and say to yourself, this is what I was born for. THIS IS MY LIFE. This is me. I am on top of the world.
Talking about rewards, there is a reason I quoted Dalai Lama at the beginning of this blog. Much of the area you will be cycling those magnificent passes, is called the Little Tibet of India. Dalai Lama himself is a frequent visitor and along the way you will see and be able to visit magnificent Buddhist monasteries, meet monks and perhaps even someone who can enlighten you a bit. Afterall, who among us doesn’t need some more enlightenments.
I started this blog with a suggestion from Dalai Lama to go somewhere where you have not been before. I will end it by referring to a quote from my previous blog on the Trans Himalaya Tour, there I started with a quote from George Mallory, who may or may not been the first human being that stood at the top of the world. “The greatest danger in life is not to take the adventure.” I couldn’t agree more.
Limited spaces remain on the 2023 Trans-Himalaya. Follow the link below for more info.
This ride will take cyclists from Kashmir to Kathmandu. Along the way they will pedal over passes as high as 5,000m, spin past remote forts and Gompas...