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Article: What was Jean-Jacques and Winfried experience of one of the most dangerous bike rides in the world?

Hoe beleefden Jean-Jacques en Winfried een van de gevaarlijkste fietstochten ter wereld?

What was Jean-Jacques and Winfried experience of one of the most dangerous bike rides in the world?

Jean-Jacques François and Winfried Hoenselaar ventured by bicycle in June on the Manali to Leh Highway tour, which is among the highest and most dangerous routes in the world. In our previous blog you already read how the two cycling friends prepared for this, but now we are of course curious how they ultimately experienced the journey through the Himalayas in India. High time for a double interview!

Tell me gentlemen, what exactly was the Manali to Leh Highway tour like?
Winfried: 'It was an organized bike ride of ten days, which was about six hundred kilometers. Your luggage was taken in a kind of support car and the tents were set up for you in the evening, although we sometimes also slept in guesthouses. In addition, food was cooked for us and breakfast was ready for us in the morning. We then left around nine o'clock to go cycling for about five to seven hours, depending on the difficulty of that day. Afterwards there was a joint meal in a dining tent and you were allowed to take a simple shower. Then you snuggled into your sleeping bag for the night.”
Jean-Jacques: 'The food is indeed arranged for you, but that's about all. You really just want to eat spaghetti, not rice with papadum and lentils. Because of the high altitude, your taste and eating needs also change. You are just not waiting for that stale trade. You could also choose to eat local food on the street, but I had a bit of a hard head about that.'

Did you like that everything was organized, or would you rather drive such a trip on your own in the future?
Winfried: 'You've been quite strenuous all day. If you also have to prepare your own food in the evening… It also gives you a certain freedom, because I like cycling without luggage. Especially with a trip like this, I think it's better if you can just cycle with a backpack. For example, you drink six to eight liters of water per day. When your water bottle was empty, the support car came and it was refilled. I also liked the group aspect, because you start such an adventure together. Within a few days you create a very nice atmosphere within such a group.'
Jean-Jacques: 'I agree with that and I also liked it. The fact that food is available means that you know that you can rely on what is available. The rest, what you see all around you and also looks very tasty, is just not fresh. You just can't afford that. Your intestinal system is already sensitive since you sit all day, you just can't handle it. It also saves you a lot of luggage and therefore time.'

Speaking of that food: how did you handle that?
Winfried: 'Normally I sometimes eat at a roadside stall, because then you can calculate that you will get sick during the holidays. In this case, however, I limited myself to the kitchen of the organization itself and the Kalkman Energy Bites helped us a lot.'
Jean-Jacques: "Help? It was just really important to me! If I eat a lot of sugar on long rides, I get a pop stomach and I bloat all over. Then my appetite gets less and less. However, you put the Kalkman Energy Bites right in the back of your shirt and I ate every three to four hours. The funny thing is that your body stabilizes at some point. It is then used to consumption, which reduces your desire for food. Then you actually have enough with less, because your body adapts. For example, there were evenings when I was already full after some rice and naan bread.'
You were sleeping at a great height all this time. How did you deal with that?
Winfried: 'We slept above 4,000 meters for about four days, two of which were around 4,800. Then you notice that there is less oxygen in the air and you sleep more restlessly. Fortunately, neither of us suffered from altitude sickness, a common problem. For example, two people from our group dropped out after about four days and were taken to the hospital. They both had a much too low saturation value, it was fifty percent or so. They have been on oxygen for almost a day to recover.”
Jean-Jacques: 'The first night we slept at 3300/3400 meters. Then it won't bother you so much and it's still nice to sleep in a tent. That is of course less fun if you are on the road for days. You can't actually wash yourself properly and in the worst case you sleep in your cycling clothes in the sleeping bag. At night you have to get out, because we drank too much, as said. Then you come out in your slippers, you are under the starry sky again - sometimes in the snow - and you have to go back into your tent.
It won't always be easy. Have you ever thought about getting off and going home?

Winfried: ‘Well, I did sleep an average of three hours on average three or four nights. There have been nights when I had to get out of bed about eight times to pee, because you drink six to seven liters a day. Before you lie down again, you are then fifteen minutes further. But I never thought for a moment: I don't want to anymore. I always kept in mind that I really wanted this.”
Jean-Jacques: “I completely agree with that. You do have your lows, but it's not that you say at some point that you don't have to anymore. We all have our own limit, that is very personal. I often thought to myself: if you look at it differently, you might feel like it again. It never occurs to you to stop. As Wilfried says: you want it yourself, it's not that it's imposed on you.'

Driving such a tour naturally entails a lot of experiences. What was the highlight of your trip?
Winfried: 'On the very last day we climbed the Khardung La, the highest accessible mountain pass in the world. After about six hours of cycling you reach the top and then everything comes together. That was also the end of the trip and that was really the highlight for me. You then realise that you have completed the whole journey and that you have succeeded. That evokes a certain sense of pride and joy, also considering the entire preparation. We trained hard and I lost about fourteen kilos for it, after which I also lost another three to four kilos during the trip. When you are there at the top and everything turned out the way you wanted, it gives you enormous satisfaction.'

Jean-Jacques: 'You can't actually see the end point of the Khardung La from the start. When you are at the top, there comes the realisation of what you have done. Then everything comes together and you're standing there being emotional for a while, no matter how tough you want to be. The second highlight was that we were also allowed to descend. That was very rare, because this is actually not allowed due to the narrow roads. People who do this also drive down by car or motorcycle. In India it is really bizarre how people drive cars: the law of the strongest applies. Everyone has to give way, so with very few exceptions we were allowed to descend. That was really bizarre. I have never done such a long descent before.”

Well done, men! What lessons will you take with you into the future?
Winfried: ‘You might learn to put things into perspective a bit more. If you end up in a slum in Delhi, you wonder how you can worry about certain things in the Netherlands. Then you see how it could have been. For example, we sometimes sit here complaining that we have to wait 45 minutes for a doctor or specialist, while they don't even have that option there.'
Jean-Jacques: 'You can push your limits again, which is the case with every trip. I also learned a lot from other cultures: how does a country work, what is the difference between the Netherlands and an Asian country like India? Those differences are very large, then you see that it could all be much worse. I think that will remain anchored for the rest of my life.”

If you want to watch the adventure Jean-Jacques and Winfried in image and sound click here