One such delay means we end up riding the route’s highest pass, 12,309-foot Thrumshing La, late in the night in icy rain and fog. Patchy pavement gives way to snot-slick mud that occasionally forms ruts taller than our tailpipes. We fishtail and swerve at slow speed at the edge of dark maws that tumble thousands of feet to the valleys below. A few days later, to avoid such a late night, we leave the hotel at 4 a.m. and spend the first few dark hours negotiating thrashing rain in near-freezing temperatures. Every 20 or 30 minutes, we’re forced to pull over and warm our hands on the steaming tailpipes.
Whereas most tour operators would do everything they could to avoid such hardships—missed turns, late departures, road delays—Prior seems to relish them. “If you never intentionally make yourself uncomfortable in life, you miss the opportunity to expand and grow,” he says.
Of course, it’s not all hardship. Our penultimate night is in the hills west of Thimpu, where there’s a seven-course dinner and rounds of beer and K5 Himalayan whiskey. Over drinks, we start talking about our trip. “There are areas that have been uncomfortable,” says Tony. “But it’s those moments that make things fun.” Scott Thompson, who owns a home hospice care business in D.C., concurs and adds that the physical demands made it clear he needs to take better care of himself. “It hit me in the gut,” he says. “It’s time to make a move, time to make a transformation.”
Prior lets us sleep in till 7 the next morning, our final full day in Bhutan. After breakfast, we make the 2,000-vertical-foot hike to Paro Taktsang, the 17th-century Buddhist temple carved into a cliff face. It’s Bhutan’s best-known site, and despite the crowds and the heat, it’s a marvel. Afterward, we ride up Chele La, the highest motorable point in the country, at 13,084 feet. At the top, the clouds clamp down, and heavy wet snow begins to fall. We plunge off the other side, and by midway through the 12 hairpins on the slippery descent, my eyes are iced over and stinging and my hands feel like throbbing meat hooks on my brake levers.