Annapurna: Not as Planned (Video)
Featuring his usual stunning cinematography, Mick Turnbull’s latest video chronicles his bikepacking trip around Nepal with partner Danielle O’Hara, following the renowned Annapurna Circuit. Watch their misadventure unfold in “Annapurna: Not as Planned” here, accompanied by a collection of photos and a written introduction to the trip…
Words by Danielle O’Hara, photos and video by Mick Turnbull
We’d pedalled gratefully in Australia during the height of COVID, including the Munda Biddi Trail and Central Australia. Raucous cockatoos, the smell of eucalyptus, bogans trying to run us off the road, strangers offering us a beer—mostly wonderful, but a little too familiar at the same time. We were psyched for something new.
The plan: a jeep from Kathmandu to Pokhara, pedal to Besisahar in one long push, and then ride the Annapurna Circuit onward and upward toward Manang. Over Thorong La Pass and back via Jonsom to Pokhara. Follow the BIKEPACKING.com’s GPX file, we headed out with our Surly ECRs and 2.8-inch tyres. No tents or cooking gear. Clothing for terrain from steamy forest hills to alpine passes. Four pairs of gloves each. Two pairs of undies. Tools. Mick’s camera gear.
For quality write-ups on riding the Annapurna Circuit, read Colt Fetters or Robin & Sabina’s articles here on the site and browse the feature on the route itself. To learn a little about Nepal, try Munjushree Thapa’s Forget Kathmandu: An Elegy for Democracy. The book spans the beginning of the monarchy through to the present, a combination of history, memoir, travelogue, and political analysis.
Focusing on “things not going to plan” (the topic of Mick’s film) might seem like a whinge-fest. But really, it’s a celebration of the unexpected. Every change is a chance to grin, to cackle, to be thankful for the help or company of strangers. Every pause is an opportunity to cloud-watch. Every mishap is a memory or a tale to share.
Mick’s film documents the most significant not-to-plan experience of our journey on the Annapurna Circuit, a post-monsoon “weather event” with 48 hours of solid snow wreaking havoc on roads, infrastructure, and comms. Most other not-to-plans were typical, minor inconveniences: a broken spoke and roadside repair. Momos taking longer than desired to be cooked. Extended monologues delivered by the hiker from the room next door. A lost buff. We share a few of our more notable favourites below.
Knowing there’d be some decent hike-a-bike involved, we trained by loading our bikes with 10L of water and pushing them up the quiet hilly streets behind our house. Not-to-plan training: we were the weirdo neighbours taking our bikes for a walk under the light of our headtorches.
An international vaccination certificate was required to board our flight, something we had yet to download onto our phones. After being thwarted by an online system that disliked the apostrophe in my name, the phone hotline we needed was closed due to a public holiday to mourn the Queen. Persuading the flight attendants to let us board, we assured them we wouldn’t be pissed (or hold them responsible) if we refused entry to Nepal. We solved the problem during our layover in Singapore, but a cancelled trip would have been a rather significant not-to-plan.
Baffling and hilarious, we arrived at Kathmandu airport, asked where oversized luggage was, and were told our boxes would arrive on the luggage conveyer belt. Sure enough, our they awkwardly lurched around the first bend as Mick leapt across the other luggage and onto the conveyor belt to intercept, helped by numerous amused bystanders. Not-to-plan reunification with our bikes.
As two Tasmanians, we adjusted to the humidity during the ride from Pokhara to Besisahar, consumed more water than expected, and had to purify a cow-dung-infested trickle running alongside the road. Thankfully, our stomachs were fine. We also stupidly ran out of food, thinking we’d pick something up along the way. Our heat-induced slow progress meant we missed lunch in town, instead devouring cupcakes and Snickers bars and arrived in Besisahar after eight hours of pedalling, not-to-plan hangry and drenched with sweat, unsure whether we’d be allowed into the guest house in our shabby, sodden state.
A nasty chest infection is an unfortunately regular not-to-plan event for me, and I felt the first scratches as we rode out of Besisahar. By Manang, I sounded like a chronic smoker, probably not helped by the altitude and punchy hills. I started the antibiotics prescribed by our travel doctor, did my best to ignore the burning lungs, and tried to reassure anyone near me that I didn’t have COVID.
Arriving earlier in Pokhara than intended, our final not-to-plan was an extra overnighter out to Thulo Kharka/Australian Camp. Jagan from Pokhara Mountain Bike Adventure helped us craft another short ride (and some obligatory hike-a-bike) to venerate the Annapurna range from another angle and give the legs one last outing before the journey home. Jagan, like so many Nepali folk we met, was generous with his time, provided apt descriptions of local conditions, made us laugh, and kept the tea offers constantly flowing.
There are, of course, less desirable not-to-plans possible on a bike trip, such as an injury, an accident, a stolen bike. But the small not-to-plans are an inherent part of bikepacking. They are the stories we tell about the places we saw and the people we met. And they’re worth celebrating.
You can find the complete Annapurna Circuit route guide here.
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