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Hi All,

I just returned from a trip in northern india with my bike. Left manali on June 22nd, arrived in leh on July 26th.

I rode the classic route from manali, over rhotang, over shingo la, down lungnak valley to padum, down zanskar valley to hanumir, over parfila to lingshed, murghum la to gongma, kiupa la, sengge la, barmi la to photoksar, sirshi la down to hanupatta and finally to indus. Mostly I was travelling with intent to spend time with the locals, so not in a hurry. Could have easily done the trip in less than half the time. There were 6 days where I had no road and had to travel the old horse trails. 5 of those days were pretty tough, with thousands of bike lifts. This isn't a trip I'd recommend, some days aren't fun, its something you'll do if you want to. The morning after my hardest day (hanuma la in the pouring rain) I met a german hiker who said that he was in the same spot 2 years ago and met a kiwi splayed out exhausted, muttering about how difficult the previous day had been. So there's plenty before me that had the will to do the same trip. Just don't expect its going to be all great. I don't think my memory is ever going make that day seem better - it really sucked. This was the trip I wanted and I got to see the areas I wanted to see before the road really changed the areas I love the most.

I'm 6' 1", 180. Bike was XL Ibis Tranny 29, which has a frame that can be disassembled. With frame apart I was able to pack all my bike and gear into two smallish cardboard boxes. I constructed the boxes out of a double-cardboarded refrigerator box and a bunch of gorilla tape. While the boxes were technically oversized, air canada had no extra fees for me to bring those two bags. The boxes fit easily into all the transportation I encountered: standard delhi airport taxi, hptdc bus, I was even able to bring them with me in a manali tuk tuk! Flying US to india the boxes and all my gear totalled about 28kg.

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I fitted bike with maxxis dhf 2.35 DD in front, and maxxis minion ss 2.35 DD in back. The DD tires are their downhill casing and each weighed 500g more than the standard casing tire. Perhaps because I was prepared with needle and thread, spare tube, spare sealant... I had absolutely no tire or wheel issues. The DHF in the front was the star of the show. It might have never lost grip ever, oh, except for in the snow. Was absolutely fantastic to be able to trust the front tire to grip. It gripped in every riding condition, it gripped even when loaded with an inch of clay. The rear tire was frequently not gripping.

I spent quite a few days pushing the bike on extremely narrow trails. Frequently the trails were as wide as my shoe across steep slopes. There was no room for bike on the trail so I pushed with bike above me. The 29er rollover really helped here. The DHF's amazing grip really really helped here. The minion ss's rear grip was not so good and frequently the rear of the bike would fall onto me. If I did it again I'd use a grippier tire in the back and NOT use the DD casing. For me rolling resistance wasn't so important, frequently I would find myself travelling much faster than I intended. Uphill pushing was always slow, and downhill was always too fast to properly enjoy the place.

bike components: fox float 32 110mm fork. shimano xt 2x11 speed. xt brakes and derailleurs and shifters. I did spend several days in the large ring. I spent weeks in the small ring. Loaded bike above 15k feet and muddy road required me to be in a very low gear. My low gear was 26x47 with is approximately 16 gear inches. Yes I spent several half days huffing in that ratio. I wouldn't go lower but I also wouldn't go higher. At that ratio I controlled my breath with cadence.

Front bags were revelate pronghorn and revelate egress. The pronghorn held my feathered friends snow bunting sleeping bag, a nemo half length inflatible pad, a zpacks pocket tarp and my feathered friends down vest. The pronghorn was quite difficult to pack, I had to iterate iwth my full body weight until the bag was hard as rock. If I didn't do this the bag would sag and contact the front tire if fork fully compressed. Despite my precautions I managed to wear a pinhole through the pronghorns dyneema bag.

The revelate egress attached easily to the pronghorn and held my 1.3kg nikon d800 + 20mm 2.8 lens. It was the only bag that could comfortably carry that large dslr. I was willing to buy a different camera but found no solution that would work. I needed to go 6 days without charging my camera battery and everything on the market required too many batteries to be able to go that distance. I brought 3 batteries for the d800 but never needed the third battery before charging was available to me.

Rear bag was a revelate terrapin 14L. Despite receiving a safety recall a few days before I left, and another notice about possible hook failure, I had no problems at all with this bag... until literally the last time I rode the bike on the trip, transiting to a different hotel in leh... I tightened a rear strap and the hook shattered. Karma? The bag worked for me.

I had a custom rockgeist bag. It was fine. I wasn't so happy with how little it could hold. The custom bag was as large as the frame allowed, but wasn't big enough.

My favorite bag was the wolftooth b-rad pump bag. It velcroed onto my down tube. Held pump, chain lube, blue rag, sealant. Out of site, out of mind.

For backpack a friend loaned me a cilogear 30L worksack. This is the most perfect backpack I've ever used. Hip belt stowed out of the way when not needed. Weighed 500g. I carried my 3L osprey bladder, my zip-locked stash of usa toilet paper, money, passport, documents, photos to share, and the nemo foam pad when going was tough. Except for water it was just for bulky stuff, but I used it for a few overnights.

I brought a friend's nemo "tensor" half length inflato pad and it was terrific. I brought my own nemo foam pad too. I had two nights sleeping in the snow above 15.5k feet. For those nights I was warm enough, but just barely. Warmth definitely required the tarp for wind protection and both sleeping pads and all my warm clothes, and sleeping bag pulled into warmest mummy mode. I'm really glad I had the inflato pad, and almost as glad it never punctured. One night I couldn't stop shivering until I deployed that inflato pad. Inflato was also very comfortable on top of traditional hard zanskar bed.

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Clothes:
patagonia stretch rainshadow
or helios rain pants
patagonia capilene air hoody
or echo sun hoody
2 bib shorts (gaurnier and castelli)
brooks running shorts
marmot lycra underwear
or ferosi pants
2 pair smartwool socks
1 pair of other wool socks
or balaclava
feathered friends down vest
shoes: la sportiva spire. These are expensive. They really are waterproof. They have great tread and are stiff enough for cycling. Absolutely no regrets, these are great shoes.

Best clothes item was that OR echo shirt. Wore it almost every day and it protected me from the sun without being too warm. Perfect piece of clothes for sunny warm altitude. The patagonia air hoody was light and packed small, made a very good pillow. I didn't feel like it was warm enough though. I should have brought something warmer like my old heavyweight capilene shirt.

Had a small selection of tools and parts. Biggest heaviest tool was a leatherman cinch (vice grip multi-tool.) The Cinch was really useful helping to repair all sorts of stuff in the villages I visited. Electrical, irrigation, fixing all sorts of really crappy broken stuff. It was also my only knife.

I had no stove, no way to cook. Reality is the weight is just too high and benefit too low, especially because cooking whole grains requires a pressure cooker. Can eat cold food just fine. I had several lighters to make a fire if I needed to, never did.

Bike with tires and bags weighed just under 28 pounds. My gear but no food or water drove that up to just over 42 pounds.

My biggest issue was access to protein. The local diet is tsampa, roasted barley flour. They make soup and pasta from it. It is a good source of carbs but not protein. I was really hurting for protein towards the end of the trip.

An interesting thing... my hydration needs change massively when I'm in the area. I would frequently drink 2 liters per day while on the bike. Maybe 3L total for a full day biking above 14k feet. I think the dry air massively helps cooling so sweat is reduced. I tried to drink more at the start and it just made me pee lots. A few days I knew that water was scarce I would fill my hydration bladder but most days I'd start with 1.5L. Never ran out of water. 3 days I ran out of food, was sad when I got to leh and found a fruit-filled clif bar sitting in the bottom of my frame bag. 50g carried all the way from the us of a. Several times I would have really liked to eat that.

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I'd been thinking about doing this on bicycle for at least 10 years. I suspect this is the only bikepacking trip I'll ever want to do. Probably will sell the bike and bags now.

In the next few months I'll try and put more writing and photos up on some sort of blog.
 

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I'd been thinking about doing this on bicycle for at least 10 years. I suspect this is the only bikepacking trip I'll ever want to do. Probably will sell the bike and bags now.
There are lots of places to ride your bike and camp that are fun with minimal suffering. You might want to keep the bike/gear and explore some other routes.

Congrats on getting your trip done. Sounds like it was an accomplishment. :thumbsup:
 

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Discussion Starter #3
I forgot something I brought that was impossibly good, a real huge help.

I brought Showers Pass Waterproof socks.

Wore them for 3 days while post-holing hip deep, often into flowing ice water. Shoes full of water but feet stayed dry and warm. Pretty amazing. They're 150g, only wore them those 3 days, but were essential.

I was planning to use them for water crossings but the few deep unridable crossings I encountered were on hot days and I just stomped through. Dumped water out of shoes on the far side, twisted my wool socks semi-dry and my shoes and feet dried while I was riding.
 

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Discussion Starter #4
There are lots of places to ride your bike and camp that are fun with minimal suffering. You might want to keep the bike/gear and explore some other routes.
Yeah... but I most enjoy going to places where a bike can't go. I needed to visit zanskar people again seem as it has just been inundated by roads. Bike was a pretty good choice, otherwise I'd have just hired jeeps for the road sections because I'm not the sort that will walk on a road.
 

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Discussion Starter #5
I am working on my trip blog at:

http://zanskar.travel.blog

Mostly its about the place, not much about bikepacking. Looks like I might run out of free hosted space before I get to the good part.
 
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