A Different Kind of Freedom A Different Kind of Freedom: A 3300 Mile Solo Bicycle Trip Across Tibet Tibetan Nomads in Western Tibet

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The Journey Home

Once I reached Gilget in Northern Pakistan the daily temperatures hovered around 95F. With the dramatic increase in temperature and traffic I did not have a great interest in cycling all the way to Islamabad, in central Pakistan. After I spent a few days looking into other possibilities, and cooler routes through Pakistan I came to the realization that it was time to go home. For the equivalent of a couple US dollars I purchased a bus ticket to Islamabad, the capitol city of Pakistan.

Like most cities of the world, Islamabad consists of a mix of the extremely wealthy and the extremely poor. While one group tossed their rubbish in large piles that filled the sides of the city streets the other group combed through the heaps looking for buried treasures or at least some scraps of food. In a well air-conditioned American Express office staffed by sharp-looking Pakistanis I purchased a ticket to Hong Kong, to start the long series of flights back to the USA.Near Mazar, Xinjiang, China

During the course of riding alone for days on end in the desert I acquired a certain type of calmness and tranquillity in my life. All of that collided head on with the round the clock hectic life of Hong Kong when I arrived at the famous Nathan Road in Kowloon. When I staggered out of the taxi, a pack of vultures descended on me, hawking everything from hotel rooms to foreign currency. Everything that I carried had been designed to be transported on my bicycle. With my bike packed up for airplane travel I possessed more equipment than I could possibly carry by myself. I grabbed one of the young Indian men advertising cheap hostel rooms and handed him a few of my bags. The place he showed me looked decent, four bunk beds in a clean room, 10 feet by 15 feet [3 meters by 5 meters]. I just spent the last five months traveling through one of the least densely populated areas of the planet and now I was staying in one of the most densely populated.

After I dropped my gear in the room, I took the elevator down to the street to walk around a bit and find something to eat. As I walked down the wide sidewalks of Nathan Road in the early evening I felt like I moved in super-slow-motion while everyone around me flew passed at light speed. Hong Kongers talked on their ubiquitous cellular phones, answered pages from their electronic pagers and eyed the endless sale items on display in every shop window. The famous enormous neon signs of Hong Kong hung overhead. I continued to move ever so slowly, placing one foot in front of the other moving closer and closer to the harbor, while my peripheral vision blurred with flashing lights and frenzied movement. My harborside seat offered a respite from the activity, as I watched the moon shine down on the placid water before me.

After a week of waiting for an available seat on a flight home, I once again boarded a San Francisco bound China Air flight. During the course of the 13-hour flight, I spied the world out my small airplane window. The figure that I had fallen asleep to for so many nights during the past five months shown above. Orion the Hunter held his position high in the nighttime sky over the tiny Boeing 747 aircraft that carried me home.

My journey started on April 1, 1994 in Dali, Yunnan, China. By the time I reached Gilget in Northern Pakistan at the end of August, I had bicycled 3300 miles [5500 km] and climbed more than 160,000 vertical feet [48,700 meters]. With the exception of the small ferry across the Tsangpo River and a truck ride across a deep part of the Indus River, I completed the entire trip under my own power. By most every measure I exceeded all expectations I had for the trip. In the end my bike continued to work and I remained among the living, the two basic components needed to continue my journey.

Often when I saw another Westerner, they would tell me "O' you must be so strong." I am not so strong. There are plenty of cyclists who are certainly much stronger than I am. This trip at first glance seems like a physical journey across the Tibetan Plateau, but in the end what determined if I completed the trip was not my physical strength but rather my mental strength. A mental strength that enabled me to get up morning after morning and get on my bike to continue on this insane ride.

When people ask me about my trip, I tell them "It was an exercise in learning how to manage pain." That statement often provokes rather strong reactions from people, many of whom think I am somewhat crazy for subjecting myself to such an exercise. I guess I do not see it exactly that way. When the Buddha diagnosed the human condition, he also came to the same conclusion. He put this forth in the First Nobel Truth - "Life is suffering." The difficult part is learning how to manage the situation.

 

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All images and text Copyright © 1996 Ray Kreisel