How riding to Everest helped me discover a new cycling nirvana

Story by Shannon Bufton

Photos: Tim Bardsley-Smith & CyclingTips

Feb / 18 / 2018

Shannon Bufton is the designer of the Journey to Everest tour. With his Beijing based company Serk, he has been running cycling trips in Tibet with his Chinese wife Liman since 2014. In this story, he share how climbing above 5,000m on your bike may not just elevate your body, but also your mind.

For me cycling started out as a way to explore beyond my boundaries. I grew up on a farm in Australia and whilst the boundaries of our property were vast I still had a desire to explore beyond it’s frontiers.

My first road bike was my entry ticket to that exploring. First all the roads in the district, then the mountains in the distance and even a few secret dates with girls in the city when I was a teenager. It was a new freedom and this was my first taste of nirvana (I’m talking about the cycling and not the dating!).

As I’ve grown as a rider I’ve discovered a range of joys derived from cycling which I like to call “cycling nirvanas”. Winning my first race, riding my first double century, or making it home after sunset with that inner tube patch I fashioned from a bit of rubber and stuck to my tube with panda shit mixed with a gel. Ok maybe I was hallucinating that day but you get the point - there is plethora of nirvanas to be experienced on two wheels.

Most of these had their genesis in my desire to conquer, to win, to out climb and to suffer till I prevailed. I love these aspects of cycling culture and highs they elicit. However the cycling nirvana I’ve experienced in Tibet was quite different and almost the antithesis of these concepts.

Tibet is a special place and its no wonder that many describe it as one of the world's greatest travel destinations. Combine the highest roads in the world, the ancient cultures of its people, the pristine landscapes of glaciers, crystal blue lakes, the mystique of the Himalayas and you’ve got the recipe for a truly unique experience. Granted there are amazing landscapes all around the world but Tibet inspires something special.

After struggling up a 5,000m pass on my first trip there in 2014 something unusual happened on the descent. I was overcome with emotion, tears welled up under my sunglasses and I had to stop for a few minutes because I couldn’t descend properly through the tears. Stunning landscapes nor hard climbing efforts had ever brought me to tears in the past and I struggled to understand what had come over me.

Above: The cycling version of nirvana

It wasn’t until 2am last October that it finally made sense. We were at Everest Base Camp with CyclingTips to attempt the ultimate Everesting challenge (for those that dont know Everesting is a challenge where you continuously ride up and down a climb till you reach 8848m of vertical ascent). Even at sea level this challenge is extremely hard. To attempt it at an elevation 5000m at the foot of Everest itself was a little crazy. Plenty of crazy things have been achieved at Everest in the past and in the spirit of adventurers before us we thought we could give it a crack.

After 163km and 12 hours of non stop riding I stood alone in the dark staring at Everest shimmering in the moonlight. We’d experienced a howling head wind the whole day. It was like Everest knew we were coming and wanted to throw everything she had at us. We kept at it - staying true to the cycling mantra of suffering till you prevail. Only we didn’t. Our attempt was a failure.

I let out a soft ‘so,so,so’ (a Tibetan chant recited at the top of a pass) and again that same emotion overcame me and tears starting welling up. Instead of a sense of defeat or disappointment those tears came from an unexpected deep feeling of satisfaction and joy. Nature had humbled us I somehow felt enlightened by the process of the journey rather than the result. By riding at one of earth’s extremes you realise that nature is king and you as a cyclist are just a small humble dot riding along a road. It’s no wonder the Tibetan people are so spiritual - out there humans alone can’t conquer everything.

Since my cycling has taken on a new meaning. Whenever I ride I place less relevance on conquering and focus more on the privilege of journeying through nature silently on two wheels. Tibet has opened my eyes to a new cycling nirvana.

Shannon Bufton

Above: Climbing to Everest Base Camp

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