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Skiing and Snowboarding : Travel

Mountain Biking the Himalayas: The Annapurna Circuit

The hill just kept on going, and going, and going. Because that’s what hills do in the Himalaya. And the hill was headed my direction—down—through one of the deepest canyons in Nepal and some of the most extravagantly beautiful vistas in the world. And I was ripping through the landscape fast enough to make my eyes water.

An hour-and-a-half downhill mountain bike ride sounded unbelievable after more than a week of solo hiking, tethered to a backpack, on the Marsyangdi River portion of the Annapurna Circuit and across the 18,000-foot Thorung La Pass. And so there I was, flying down the Himalaya, dirt and a smile plastered to my face.

For purists at least, the completion in the past few years of a “jeepable” road from Pokhara to Muktinath, Nepal, has spoiled what some call the greatest trek in the world. But for mountain bikers, the new road can only be one thing: an increasingly massive draw. And for me, with an injured knee, the ride down the Kali Gandaki river valley was a no brainer.

Mountain biking is only a recent option for hikers trekking the Annapurna Circuit. Although small numbers of visitors have ridden the whole route on their own, outfitters have only recently begun to crop up. In 2011, Jurriaan Prakke and Tenzin Thakali started Muktinath-based Mustang Mountain Bikes. Situated at more than 12,000 feet, Muktinath is one of the holiest pilgrimage sites in the world for both Hindus and Buddhists.

Conveniently, you can rent Giants, Treks, and Montras with both front and dual suspension for the two- to three-day ride from Muktinath to Tatopani, or an epic five-day ride down to Pokhara. The outfit even transports your pack and gear from Muktinath down to your destination and supplies you with a helmet and a daypack.

In short, if you’re not worried about the speed, or of the drop-offs, or of feeling like you’re cheating the Annapurna Circuit by not trekking the whole thing, then this is the freest you’re going to feel during your trip. 

Because this is a relatively new option, here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Don’t forget to set aside the essentials for your daypack when preparing your main backpack for shipment down the mountain: windbreaker, hydration pack, passport, money, socks, underwear, toothbrush, silk sleeping bag liner, fleece (it gets cold at night), and sunglasses.
  • Check your bike over before setting out and ask for a repair kit and extra break pads. Some of the down hills are decently serious and, although it’s not exactly a technical ride, there are steep bits.
  • Leave Muktinath early. The wind seems to be on a timer and starts really blowing at 9 a.m. Though the guidebooks warn of this, it’s a different animal on a bike. Bring along a bandana or something to cover your mouth and nose.
  • The road from Muktinath to Marpha takes about six hours, including a nice long lunch in the medieval fortress town of Kagbeni. From here, you can either do the steep ride back up to the main road and follow the busses (and dust) up over the steep, high bluffs, or ride down on the riverbed and be sandblasted when it turns into a wind tunnel at 9 each morning.
  • Hold out for Marpha. After more than an hour of wind in your face, you might be tempted to stay in the large town of Jomsom because you’ll have to stop here anyway to get your trekking passes stamped. But the much better choice is the small, pretty village of Marpha—about two more hours down a rocky road past some incredible peaks and valleys.
  • The second day of the ride to the hot springs at Tatopani is truly epic—and much more fun.You’ll pass from arid country, to high alpine, to dense forest, to jungle in the course of the day’s six-hour ride—much of it on fun down hills.
  • Leave around 6:30 a.m. and you’ll miss the wind and have time to stop for breakfast at a small roadhouse just past a beautiful pine forest around 9 a.m. Here you can watch as tired trekkers crammed into jouncing, beat up local busses pile out for fresh air and a bite to eat. That could have been you!
  • Get in touch with these guides. You can contact Jurriaan Prakke and Tenzin Thakali of Mustang Mountain Bikes at jurriaan.prakke@yahoo.co.uk or tzthakali@yahoo.com or by phone on +9779817196197, +9779846585755, +9779857650143, or +9779756703013.
  • Or try other guides. Tsheten and his brother Ganesh run a second outfit that opened last season. They can be reached by email at at tshetengurung@hotmail.com or by phone at +9779841259360+9779808654082, or +977014373152. Both shops are on Muktinath’s main drag, are near each other and hard to miss. A third bike rental shop is set to open in the 2014 trekking season.
  • A two-day ride from Muktinath to Tatopani will cost somewhere around $70, but it is money very well spent. Other options are available—such as Muktinath to Pokhara, and with or without a guide. 

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Active Cities: Seattle

Join Seattle’s active set for runs, rides, paddles, and more in one of North America’s most scenic cities. 

Trail Run

Discovery Park: Just ten minutes northwest from downtown, Discovery Park’s 534 acres make you feel like you’re tucked away in the mountains. The 11-mile trail system passes through pine forest, rainforest, and a grassy meadow overlooking Puget Sound and Seattle itself.

Run

Washington Park Arboretum: For runs of a few miles, you’d be hard-pressed to beat the Arboretum, with its mix of paved and dirt paths that wind from E Madison to Foster Island in Lake Washington. Need more mileage? Head across the Montlake Cut and hook up with the Burke Gilman Trail, a 27-mile paved bike and pedestrian trail that runs west, along Lake Union and the Shipping Canal, or north, toward Kenmore. 

Road Bike

Mercer Island Loop: This classic ride for downtown cyclists begins by pedaling about three miles out to Mercer Island on the I-90 Trail bike path. Once you reach the end, turn left or right to follow the smooth, rolling road that circumnavigates the island for roughly 13.5 miles.

Kayak or SUP

Lake Union: Bordered by Gas Works Park on the north, downtown Seattle on the south, and large steel bridges to the west and east, Lake Union is the city’s protected watersports pool. Rent paddleboards or kayaks by the hour at Moss Bay, on the south end of Lake Union (it’s closest to downtown). If you want to fuel up on one of the best breakfast burritos in town, rent from Agua Verde Paddle Club and Café, near the University of Washington.

Explore

Cougar Mountain Regional Wildland Park: It’s only a 20-minute drive east of downtown, but this 3,100-acre park, which tops out at 1,595 feet, offers sweeping views of Seattle to the west, and of the Cascade Mountains to the east. It also offers more than 38 miles of trails leading to creeks, waterfalls, mountaintops, and marshes.

Work Out

Seattle Athletic Club: This downtown gym doesn’t go in for the most cutting-edge equipment and expensive decor. It just aims to give you what you need for a solid session on the machines or some serious laps in the pool. Day passes can be had for as little as $15.

Gear Up

REI: The company’s flagship store, just north of downtown Seattle, is where the outdoor industry giant got its start. This is a tourist attraction in its own right as well. If you’re using the city as a launching point for adventures throughout the northwest, you’ll find what you need here. And don’t forget to visit REI’s basement level for killer deals on gently used merchandise.

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Active Cities: New York City

It's a concrete jungle, but sneaking in a workout is easier than you think. Here's an athlete's guide to the Big Apple. 

Trail Run

Central Park: Yes, it's cliché. But the 1.5-mile cinder track around the reservoir is arguably the greatest urban run in the world, with majestic skyscraper views at every step.

Road Run

Hudson River Greenway: The five-mile stretch of smooth asphalt from Battery Park to 59th Street offers incredible people watching and a light breeze off the water to keep you cool.

Swim

The Sports Center at Chelsea Piers: The 25-yard pool has a wall of windows that look out on the World Trade Center. $50 per day for pool and gym access; chelseapiers.com

Road Ride

Palisades Parkway: Starting just south of the George Washington Bridge, the 36-mile out-and-back through Fort Lee Historic Park up to the artsy suburb of Nyack is a rolling, tree-lined ride that climbs 1,400 feet.

Explore

Governors Island: Run or bike the 2.2-mile waterfront around the 172-acre former military base and take in views of New York Harbor. Bike rentals from $15; bikenewyorkcity.com

Stay

Element Times Square by Westin: Take advantage of discounted parking for hybrid and electric vehicles at this modern hotel. Once settled, you can head out on one of the hotel's free loaner bikes. From $134; elementtimessquare.com

Work Out

Circuit of Change: This catchall fitness studio near Union Square starts its workouts with yoga, then transitions into a full-body cardio circuit, abdominal exercises, and kickboxing. From $20 per session.

Gear Up

Paragon Sports: Whether you want to scale a mountain, train for an Ironman, or find a surfboard, this is the one place that has everything—and has for decades.

Citi Bike: With 332 stations and more than 6,000 bikes spread across Manhattan and Brooklyn, the city's bike-share program is the largest and most convenient in the country. $10 per day, $25 per week; citibikenyc.com

What the Locals Have to Say

Local Pros: Rebeccah and Laurel Wassner, triathletes, Manhattan

"In the summer, we head to the Red Hook pool in Brooklyn—a ten-minute taxi ride from the financial district. It's a huge 40-meter outdoor pool with lane lines, a rarity in the city. For long runs, we'll start at city hall and link the Brooklyn, Manhattan, and Williamsburg Bridges. As a nine-plus-mile out-and-back, it's a killer."

Local Joe: Rufus Lusk, film producer and director, Brooklyn 

"I literally moved to be closer to Brooklyn Boulders climbing gym. At night there are really good climbers, and it's fun to work on hard routes. On Tuesday and Thursday mornings, the gym opens at seven, and there's hardly anyone there."

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Active Cities: Denver

As you’d expect from one of the fittest states in the nation, Colorado’s capital has everything you need to get—and stay—in shape for any adventure.

Run

Washington Park: “Wash Park” is metropolitan Denver’s outdoor gym. The 2.25-mile road that circumnavigates the park is closed to cars (with the exception of two short sections) throughout the year, which makes its undulating terrain ideal for speed work. The 2.75-mile shaded gravel track around the perimeter attracts hundreds of runners a day. Use one of the city’s B-Cycle bike share rigs to ride to the park and back: there are stations on both the north and south sides of the park.

Road Bike

Cherry Creek Trail: Where else can you hop on a bike downtown and go for a near-30-mile out-and-back ride without dealing with any cars, stoplights, or stop signs? That’s the beauty of this route. It ends at Cherry Creek State Park, where a pleasant 9.5-mile loop around the reservoir exposes you only to two stoplights and roads with 25-mile-an-hour speed limits.

Kayak

Clear Creek White Water Park: Smack-dab in the middle of Golden, there’s a quarter-mile of drops, surf waves, and fast eddies that make up this urban kayaking park. Leave your car at the put-in at Lions Park, or downstream at the takeout near Vanover Park. Rent a kayak, paddle, and all your other gear at Golden River Sports, located three blocks north of the whitewater area.

Explore

Red Rocks Amphitheater: One of America’s most scenic concert venues is also one of Denver’s top escapes for killer workouts or for beautiful trail runs, hikes, and mountain-bike rides. On weekend mornings, you might rub elbows with a local pro athlete—and several dozen other supremely fit individuals—jumping up (and back down) all 69 rows of the amphitheater.

Work Out

Pura Vida: Call it the city gym that looks and feels like a high-end destination spa. This is where Denver’s beautiful people go to get, well, beautiful. Located in the heart of the Cherry Creek shopping district, Pura Vida has classes for fitness junkies of every stripe, from the mellow program called Thai Chi to the superintense all-around strength and conditioning classes held in the Underground. Each visit costs $20.

Gear Up

REI: The gear nirvana’s gigantic downtown-Denver store sits at the junction of three choice running and biking escapes—the Cherry Creek Trail, the South Platte River Trail, and West 23rd Avenue. This makes REI a popular meeting place for recreational athletes of every kind. Find all you need—including a canoe to float the adjacent South Platte River in proper style—within the retailer’s walls. Its proximity to hip restaurants in the Highlands area is another big plus.

 

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