The mission of four Swiss students was to raise funds for the construction of an elementary school for nomad children in the Tibetan Highlands. As if there was not enough challenge to this, they decided to cross the Himalayan Mountains with their fully-packed bicycles. After 11 weeks in beautiful but tough outdoors, having pedaled 3394km and over 30’000 meters of ascents over countless passes, they finally arrived at their destination with a collection of roughly 30’000 US Dollars for charity.
Bikeventure 2002 started with a dream. In August 2001, the four Swiss students, Marc Huber, Martin Jeker, Padi Jeannerat and Stephan Ramseyer, decided to cross the Himalaya with their bicycles, starting in Kathmandu, Nepal, visiting the city of Lhasa, Tibet Autonomous Region, and ending in the little town of Tongren in the north-east of the Chinese Province of Qinghai. At least three motivations for this time- and energy consuming journey were pushing their dream to come true: The sense of a unique outdoor adventure in a highly spiritual environment, the fundraising for an action of charity, and the search of the own physical limits. The combination of extreme biking and venturing for charity brought out Bikeventure. 2002, the year of the horse and UN year of the mountains seemed a good time to realize the journey.
It took the guys an entire year to prepare Bikeventure 2002. They had to win sponsors and donators for their project. The right equipment had to be chosen, and a lot of paper work had to be done. The huge efforts resulted in the contribution of more than 42’000 Swiss Francs towards the construction of a primary school in a nomadic area in the Province of Qinghai.
The charitable bike expedition started in August 2002 in Kathmandu, Nepal. Having the longest ascent in the world ahead, the team spent one week in Kathmandu in their “base camp” in order to locally check out the safety situation and prepare every detail concerning travel permits, food, equipment and press work. On August 6th they set off with their fully packed bikes, and for almost a week climbed up from 500 meters above sea level to as high as 5220 meters. To prevent symptoms of the high altitude sickness they had a couple of whole-day breaks. This way they easily got used to the thin air in extreme altitudes. Over the following 10 weeks of the journey, they constantly stayed between levels of 3500m and 5000m above sea and never suffered serious altitude problems any more, in contrary to various digestion and knee problems. After 17 days and one third of the entire route, they reached Lhasa where they relaxed and wrote postcards to all the supporters and donators at home. Thanks to five nights in a comfortable guest house, they then left the bustling city with new motivation and force.
Martin, Padi, Marc and Stephan went on riding their bikes heading north-east through the Tibetan Highlands. In those regions, weather situation changes very rapidly. Heavy rain and snow falls cause landslides and muddy roads, strong winds and cold temperatures raise the challenge of the bike adventurers to the extreme. Towards the end, temperatures fell well under 10 degrees below zero. To keep their bodies warm and recover, the four boys spent more than 12 hours per day inside their wind-shielding tents and warm down-sleeping bags. The equipment turned out to be one of the most important success factors beside mental strength and a strong friendship among the four team-members. After another 40 days of pilgrimage-like, hard but unforgettably great cycling, they finally arrived in Tongren. Looking a bit dirty, but very happy about this extraordinary moment, the team enjoyed the warm welcome in the streets of Tongren.
Next day, Stephan, Marc, Martin and Padi were invited to visit the local Tibetan Abbot Kunga Thubten. He was in charge of lending his valuable support in co-ordinating the efforts of the various parties involved, like the local government, the education bureau, the Tibetan population and of course the support group of Bikeventure 2002. Up to now, the areas of Tongren and Ceku have received much aid by various other Swiss support groups. It started in 1988, when a few Swiss, who were living in Beijing, initiated modest private aid program for the community around Tongren. The strong relationships between Kunga Thubten and the Swiss community lasts until today and resulted in a wide range of programmes undertaken by the Swiss community and other organizations, also in other remote areas of China.
For the Bikeventure 2002 group, Kunga Thubten proposed to transfer the funds to the commune of Gartse in order to realize the construction of a Primary school. Marc, Martin, Padi, and Stephan agreed after having visited the children, parents, monks and authorities of the village and talked to the important leaders of the local government and the education bureau in Tongren.
The main problems in Gartse are that many nomadic people do not want to send their children to school due to the dangers on their way to school, the risk of diseases in the winter passed around from child to child, and the lack of money. The new school will provide simple dormitories and medical support, therefore the children can avoid the long walks to school during the week.
The implementation of the construction project will be monitored by the Bikeventure 2002 team thanks to staying in contact with Kunga Thubten and other Swiss groups who will visit the sites. They will help to ensure that the donations are exclusively used for the schools, without any deductions for administration, banquets, travel or printing costs. The authorities at all levels have clearly understood the purely humanitarian ideal of the Bikeventure 2002 program and hence fully support it with the same spirit. The contribution of Bikeventure 2002 to the school in Gartse has been roughly 30’000 US Dollars. The other part of the financing will be carried out by the regional government of the Province of Qinghai that manages the contacts with various international development foundations.
The team of Bikeventure 2002 considered the Buddhist area of Tongren to be one of the most promising to support. Bikeventure contributed to leveraging the possibilities of a community that has strong confidence in preserving their cultural heritage. Having done the journey, the adventurers discovered happily that it is well worth it to combine travels into completely different cultures with a humanitarian gesture of friendship towards the local community. Having made this experience on their very own, they will now be able to pass over this message to other people effectively. Therefore, they have specially prepared a multi-media slide show, besides countless articles in various media and a great website fully dedicated to Bikeventure. If you want to further find out how Marc, Martin, Padi and Stephan made their dream come true, do not hesitate to contact them by email (just append “@bikeventure.info” to their first names).