"Stay safe", everyone said. "Be careful". Their fear and concern were infectious, by the time we left for Colombia I had to keep myself away from the internet, stop searching for tales of mayhem and terror there. Four weeks later, this picture records the reality we encountered - welcoming, helpful with not a hint of danger.
If you like a challenge, mountain biking and big, big mountains, Nepal is the right place for you. We decided it was the right place for us, as we bikepacked a loop from Kathmandu, around the famed Annapurna Circuit trekking route, and back to Kathmandu via the Chitwan National Park jungle.
With a clearing southerly forecast on the West Coast, we knocked off work early at Ground Effect last Friday and hung up the “Gone Whitebaiting” sign on the front door. Our destination was Barn Bay - a remote fisherman’s cottage - 50km by gravel road, a river crossing and a half day’s ride south of Haast.
Cycle touring always seemed like an invitation to meander through the countryside on a bike loaded to the gills with stuff slung on racks over front and rear wheels, map in hand, punctuated with leisurely picnic and ice cream stops planned well in advance.
Some smart-arse once muttered, "it's not the things you do in life that you come to regret but the things you don't". So I quickly say "Yes" to John Etherington when he invites me on one of his Escape Adventure trips through East Africa.
'The Only Risk is Wanting to Stay', promises Colombia's latest tourist advertising slogan, printed over glossy photos of idyllic Caribbean coastlines, perfectly preserved colonial towns, rolling, lush coffee plantations and a Latin couple dancing hot cumbia.
Picture yourself on an empty mountain road. Limestone peaks stretch all the way to the horizon. The sun is shining. There are villages every fifty kilometres, where you can refuel on tasty noodle soup for less than a dollar. As you cycle through villages, kids run out and cheer you like a Tour de France rider with a hearty "Sabaidee!"
The first thing you notice about Tibet is its assault on all previous conceptions of scale. The plateau is endless, the mountains massive, and it's capped by a piercing, limitless sky that by 9am has bleached every colour out of the landscape.
Me, my bike and an empty mountain road. I was seduced by the idea of cycling across the Indian Himalaya back in 1992 when I took a two-day bus trip from Leh to Manali. Eight years later my dream came true. As the locals say, "shanti, shanti" - slowly, slowly.