Being honest, I am not very well prepared at all. The trip is short in the tooth, so between conception and take-off I've had about two months to consider and organise everything. This means that I am ok on the theory side but not on the practice side of things. When I thought about it some more I realised that I could never hope to be fully-prepared for this trip as that was the whole point. It's not so much that I enjoy doing things off the cuff, it's more that the trip is really about breaking all ties with the things I'm familiar with. It's about turning my world on its head and putting me in a completely different situation. It's about getting out of Dublin, off the road-bike, away from a desk, away from other people's perceptions of me, away from my own perceptions of myself and so on. Thus, if I was experienced at this stuff then it wouldn't be the challenge that I wanted it to be in the first place.
The cycling is the least of my worries. I am a roadie at heart which means that I prefer to drop a gear and chew up the tarmac Tour de France style as opposed to drop a chain and eat dirt mountain-bike style. I admit not having brilliant technical skills on a mountain-bike. Having said that, the very technical uphill rock sections in Three-Rock are not exactly a fair assessment of skill since those sections are hard for most experienced mountain-bikers too.
In terms of fitness, I am in good shape coming off a reasonable road-season. Due to reasons beyond my control I was unable to race for the three prior seasons, so it was great to be back in the mix of competition this year. I was hoping success would come easy but of course it never does and only starting winter training in January was never going to be the platform for the kind of racing fitness I wanted. Regardless, I managed a number of aggressive racing days this year and rode the Donegal 3-day and the Suir Valley 3-day. Bad fortune on stage one in both events put paid to any GC credibility but I enjoyed the toughness of these two events. They hurt a lot.
I did manage to have great fun on the less competitive side this year too. I rode the Tour of Flanders sportive as well as L'Etape du Tour (stage 20 of this year's Tour de France up the infamous Mont Ventoux) with OnYourBike.ie whom I help out. Learning how to handle the cobbles in Flanders will help me handle the rigid fork of my mountain-bike on the Ripio (rocky roads in Andes). L'Etape represented my longest time in the saddle non-stop. I completed the 172k lumpy stage in 6hrs15mins. I didn't stop all day which helped me place 311th out of 9500 people. Not bad for someone who had to cycle from the back of the field due to a late start number as opposed to up-the front in the draft of the racing pack with a good start number. Facing Mont Ventoux in thirty five degrees of heat without any air in the forest was hard mentally but I always seem to be able to hang tough. I even managed to sneak home ahead of Tour de France legend Erik Zabel, although I'm sure he was going a little more socially than I was. Three days before L'Etape I joined the merry band; 'Club des Cingles du Mont Ventoux' (translates to Crazies of the Ventoux). This means I am the second Irish person ever to officially complete all three road ascents of Mont Ventoux in one day. This is the same climb that killed Tom Simpson in the 1967 Tour de France (nothing to do with amphetamines of course). The ascent of Mont Ventoux represents a vertical mile so I cycled three vertical miles in what was a 160k day. For the non-cyclists, this would be the equivalent of going to the gym and doing three sets of 2hr reps of single-leg squats. The testing parcours of the Wicklow 200 was also a challenge and this was the first year where I felt the course didn't hurt me.
I did some spring training over the hills of Provence and Cannes, a week in the French Alps in May, a week in Provence in July in the run up to L'Etape and I also managed to sneak in a little mountain-biking of the Swiss Alps in August. I have plenty of miles in the legs so riding the heavy Kona up and over the trails in the last while has added to my leg-strength. Of course, I don't think anything can prepare one for cycling up Himalayan passes with 25 kilos of luggage on the back of the bike. It is what it is, I can't do any more for now. I reckon six steady weeks on the bike will have me up to the requisite strength and fitness for what I want to do.
Very little experience to speak of ... does Electric Picnic count?
Hmmm ... nope, not much experience here either. The Galibier in the French Alps at 2645ms is likely as high as I have ever been on or off a bike.
It is worth saying that my original plan was to join a tour to mountain-bike across the Tibetan Plateau of the Himalaya as the first leg of this trip. Being with an experienced guide would allow me the chance to work things out on the camping and altitude side ahead of time on my own. However, the Lhasa-Kathmandu tour may not go-ahead so I will have to try and figure something else out when I get to Kathmandu. I am trying to be sensible!