Gosia: The short movie ‘Journey’ features your bike tour from Lhasa in Tibet to Kathmandu in Nepal. You have vast experience as a climber so no surprise you longed to go to the mountains but what made you choose Tibet?
Paul Pritchard: One simple word: Everest. All the climbing I’d done in the Himalayas and I’d never even seen Mount Everest, or Chomolongma as it is known in Tibet. I had to make the pilgrimage to the highest mountain on earth and being disabled cycling a specially built trike was the only way to accomplish this. Also as I’d never been to Tibet I was very interested to see Tibetan Buddhist culture and what the reality of Chinese occupation means.
The landscapes, encounters with local people and culture in Tibet must have been rewarding, but let’s admit it, the conditions of cycling in Tibet are very tough: dirt roads, freezing temperatures, high altitude and thin air. How did you cope with that?
The Chinese have completed an amazing feat of engineering metalling the whole of the Friendship Highway between Lhasa and Zhongmu (the border town with Nepal) so it is literally a thousand kilometres of brand new road. However, the eight-day dog-leg up to Mt Everest and back to the highway was a very tough dirt roads and stream beds. And cycling at an altitude of 5300 metres leaves you gasping for breath if you push too hard. So my motto was “slow and steady”, we weren’t racing!
Your journey was all the more special as you undertook it by trike. How did you fit and prepare your three-wheeled bicycle for this adventure?
I knew it was going to be tough on the trike so chose the most robust machine I could find – the Greenspeed Magnum which has a beefier frame . The crucial thing for me was to have very low gears as I am essentially pedalling with one leg – so I had Schlumpf Mountain Drive crank and a Rohloff hub which gives me a 2.6 to 1 ratio!
Travelling by bicycle gives an entirely new perspective of a place, doesn’t it?
Yes, travelling slow lets you experience the landscape and culture much more readily than if you were passing by in a bus. And travelling low to the ground on a trike you’re at eye level to kids – and unfortunately vicious Tibetan Mastiffs!
What is the most precious memory from your journey?
After I had sold all my climbing gear after my accident I never thought I would see the highest mountain on earth. Reaching my goal of Everest Base Camp was one of the greatest moments of my life.
What’s next on the horizon?
I plan to ride from the lowest point in Australia (Lake Eyre) to the highest point (Mount Kosciusko) in 2015.
We wish you good luck with this project. Thank you very much for the interview.
Paul Pritchard has published three books: ‘Deep Play’ won the prestigious Boardman/Tasker Award for mountain literature in 1997, the ‘Totem Pole’ won both the 1999 Boardman/Tasker Award and the 1999 Banff Mountain Book Festival Grand Prize and ‘The Longest Climb’.