Epic challenge for Angel's Orphanage
That’s Everest in the background as Brian Mildenhall gets a bird’s eye view of the world’s highest mountain during his marathon cycle ride from Tibet to Nepal
IT was tough – sometimes unbearably so. But there was always the dazzling scenery including the world’s highest mountain to gawp at, which momentarily took his mind off the searing pain in his thighs and a stifling lack of oxygen.
Then there was the thought of those smiling faces at the orphanage. If Brian Mildenhall could complete his lung bursting marathon he would raise enough cash to feed the children for the next six months.
Now back in Swindon after one of the world’s most punishing cycle rides – across the Himalayas from Tibet to Nepal – Brian, 58, said: “It was billed as the ultimate bike ride challenge and they weren’t wrong.
“Without doubt it was physically the hardest thing I have ever done. At times it was totally exhausting and above 15,000 feet it was so hard to breathe and cycle at the same time.”
Retired financial services worker Brian continued: “At night, you awake breathless after just a few hours’ sleep and then you can’t get back to sleep because there’s a pack of stray dogs barking wildly not too far away.”
In total he cycled just over 600 miles during 12 days from Lhasa to Kathmandu. “We cycled up 31,416 feet and down 39,606 feet – that’s 5.95 miles up and 7.5 miles down.
“Putting it into perspective, the next time you see an aeroplane flying high above, that’s about the total height gain we cycled.”
Father-of-two Brian, chairman of governors at Gorse Hill School, experienced the agony and the ecstasy of a bike ride across the roof of the world to raise almost £3,000 for Angel’s Orphanage in Kathmandu.
A grandfather who only took up cycling five years ago, he became aware of Angel’s Orphanage due to his friendship with retired Highworth GP Ian Matheson.
Ian and wife Rosa, an author and historian, visited Nepal in 2009 when they were touched by the extreme poverty of around 20 children living in a ramshackle orphanage run by a man called Angel.
Back home they launched the Friends of Angel’s Orphanage which has raised more than £40,000 to re-house, feed, clothe and educate the youngsters; but they face an ongoing battle to meet running costs.
Brian, a divorced man of Taw Hill, became an official “friend” of the charity and has visited the orphanage on several occasions, getting to know the children well. He was among ten cyclists who took part in the rigorous, stamina-testing ride – organised by a specialist adventure tours company – but was the only one doing it for charity and was by far the oldest cyclist of the pack. “For all the hard work it was the most fantastic, awesome trip,” he said.
Cycling through sweeping valleys where villagers harvested crops of barley by hand; riding alongside vast lakes fed by tumbling, glacial water and pedalling across arid plateaus passing lone nomads and small herds of goat and cattle… every day was different, he said.
“All the while the mountains were our backdrop. Lower down they were covered with vegetation but further up they were snow-capped. It was very cold with strong winds, snow and hailstorms.”
Towering above everything around them for a glorious few days was the mother of all mountains, the mighty Everest; at first enshrouded in mist but later revealed in all of its stately grandeur.
Said Brian: “We turned a corner along a gravel, potholed, rock strewn track and there it was filling our entire view – majestic, huge, and dominating everything around.
“Soon afterwards we were sitting on a pile of rocks drinking a well-earned bottle of beer, just looking at the mountain. At that point no one cared about the cold.”
Bizarrely, they enjoyed a hot spa “in the middle of nowhere” courtesy of a natural spring. “We hadn’t showered for days,” he said.
With Everest disappearing behind them, Brian and fellow cyclists hit the world’s longest downhill track – a breathless descent of almost 16,000 feet over 90 or so miles.
“The only problem was a 40 mph headwind – for 40 miles,” he said.
He went on: “Eventually the wind blew itself out, and we almost free-wheeled all the way down to the Nepalese border through a huge gorge, towering cliffs, waterfalls and rock overhangs.
“It was absolutely amazing and it felt great – especially as the air returned to normal and we could breathe easily again, the altitude behind us.”
There were cheers from the youngsters at Angel’s Orphanage as Brian, exhausted and battered by the elements, cycled home in triumph.
He said: “The children were really happy to see me and asked lots of questions. It was difficult for them to have fully grasped the scale of the trip and the idea of people sponsoring me to do it.
“It was so great to see them all.” And on top of that, an unexpected bonus. “Despite eating well, with loads of carbs, I lost around 10lbs,” he grinned.
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