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Not only was it a triumphant African first when media personality, Liezel van der Westhuizensuccessfully piloted blind fellow cyclist Cindy Jacobs on a tandem bicycle over the famous Himalayas from Mandali to Khardung La in India last month, but the pair also had to battle the elements of wind, rain, sleet and sub-zero temperatures whilst being severely challenged by every imaginable technical problem. 

They covered the mean distance of 550km in 10 days at altitudes of up to 18 330 feet.

Liezel describes it as that ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ event that cyclists around the world dream of. The  expedition starts at Manali, which is known as the door to the heaven of the Himalayas and has ironically become a honeymoon spot! It makes you cross five passes with a maximum altitude of 5602 metres reached at Khardung La.

Both being extremely passionate about philanthropy, the two had decided to use the event to raise funds for two medical charities namely Operation Smile South Africa and OneSight. The former is dedicated to providing free surgery to children and adults born with cleft lip and/or cleft palate, while the latter provides refractive error services and prescription spectacles  to people without access to affordable vision care. 

“Cycling this distance on some of the highest roads in the world, is a daunting challenge, especially because the roads are non-existent at some places, and you have to be physically and mentally prepared to complete it,” said Van der Westhuizen. What further sets the event aside, is the fact that it allows for participation of visually impaired and other physically challenged athletes.

They stayed in tents along the way with limited access to water for showers and wore a proudly South African sports wool brand (CORE MERINO) that protected them against all the elements. 

Some of the technical problems the women had to endure included Liezel’s ‘camelback’ (water backpack she carries for nutrition) breaking, her left-hand cycling glove being blown away and everything getting wet – all on day one.

On the second day Cindy contracted a bad eye infection, followed by the tandem’s left crank breaking on day 3 which meant they had to walk a far distance before they had access to technical assistance.  A crank from a spare bicycle that was fitted to their tandem to aid them with their finish.

On subsequent days Liezel battled a stomach bug, their bicycle brakes stopped working due to the altitude , and on the final day of cycling the screw on Liezel’s seat post that held Cindy’s handlebar to the tandem broke off. They had to walk the final two kilometers to the top of Khardung La on the highest motorable road in the world.

People can still make donations to their fundraising efforts  by SMS'ing the word "tandem" to 42030 and donate R30 

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