The 8 day MTB Himalaya in Northern India was the 3rd of 3 stage races scheduled for the month of September. The first two in Mongolia and East Timor had gone really well but it was unsure how long the body would be able to keep firing at full steam. Arriving into New Delhi to start the Indian adventure was a 100% gong show. After 2 weeks here it is pretty clear that gong shows likely originated in India. Right after leaving the airport for a 20 minute taxi ride to the hotel, we came to a parking lot in the middle of the freeway, the taxi driver shut off the car and told me to get comfy as some government VIP’s were moving around the city. I have always disagreed with VIP status as it’s a joke some people think they are more important then others. Anyways we sat in the +35 degree muggy heat for 1.5 hours before continuing our epic 12 km journey to the hotel.
The next two days were spent at a spiffy press conference, a rad Indian style welcome party and riding around the city. Delhi is dead flat so it makes for some fast riding as it is easy to draft between vehicles although the streets are chaos, full of everything imaginable and the noise is unreal with everyone honking every 5 seconds. I made it through some shanty towns which were a shock to the system seeing people taking number 2′s in the middle of the street, loads of street kids begging and the constant smell of sewage e. At one stop light a little 4-5 year old girl walked up to the front of my bike, jumped on the front wheel and hugged it, looking up smiling. When the light changed she just stayed there as traffic was now honking and buzzing bye. I had no idea how to handle this situation so just smiled back at her and asked her to get off. She just smiled more and hugged my wheel tighter. It was a standoff which I was unprepared for. Finally her Mom called her back to the curb, she hopped off my wheel with a friendly smile and continued on her way.
The crazy thing about Delhi is that around the next turn, the shanty towns would often dissapear and fenced off mansions and clean streets would come into view making it feel like a well off North American neighbourhood.
Getting out of the noise and chaos of Delhi was a blessing as we went on a 300 km, 12 hour bus trip up into the foothills of the Himalayas, too a mountain top city called Shimla. The last 5 hours of the bus trip winding around mountain roads nearly killed all us white boys off via motion sickness and noise as the bus driver weaved and honked continously for the entire journey. Shimla is the capital city of the Himachel state and the tourist gateway to Northern Indias grand mountains. The city is perched at 2200 meters and is full of spectacular views and endless twisty little roads reaching all around the mountain slopes. As cool as it is, it was a relief to finally leave the concrete jungle and start the 10th edition of the MTB Himalaya as 80 of us riders took off on an unforgettable week through the Himalayan foothills.
The courses were hard, typically 80-90km a day with 2000-2800 meters of climbing. The climbs were long but generally not too steep while the descents were nerve racking as we would be flying around blind corners dodging trucks, people, and livestock, none of which expected us to be coming. For this reason the lead group of us, with good friends Manual and Anderl from Austria/Germany, would race full gas up the climbs and about 95% speed down the descents to keep ourselves out of trouble. The riding itself was entertaining and kept us engaged every km of the way. The roads were pretty rough and would snake around the mountainsides, over ridge tops and down some amazing canyons. It was some of the funnest bike racing I have ever done as we were getting to see the heart of the lives of the cool Indian culture that lived up there. Compared to the flatlands of India, the population is considered small up in the mountains but there were still people and houses every where. Watching the locals go through the routines of there daily lives was pretty cool pastime while racing each day.
Come the evenings we would arrive at nice campsites in some pretty unique places. The workers at MTB Himalaya worked really hard to have the camps set up and loads of glorious Indian food ready for our consumption. The cold bucket showers and makeshift outhouses were a bit rustic for some of the high maintenance riders but in the big picture they worked just fine and added to the overall experience of racing through such a cool part of the world. There was also the option of warm showers as the Indians would boil huge pots of water everyday for this reason. I sat around 45 minutes with 5 guys from the Indian Army waiting for the water one day. Once the lid came off the boiling pot the Indians went at it, each with 2 bowls in the hands enabling them to double fist the warm water and fill up there shower buckets. Being the amateur at this, I only had one bowl and when the dust settled the Indians had filled there buckets and I had mine about 1/3 full. They laughed at the white boy as I had been dominated at this game and had to wait another 45 minutes for the next bucket of water to boil. Live and learn.
After stage 3 of the race I was looking for some extra saddle time to train for the Munga down in South Africa so opted to go on a ride up a little side valley. It was glorious as the rough road followed a small stream up a tight gorge, passing by temples, prayer sites and the shacks of the hardcore mountain folk. The people acted odd though and just stared as I road by. I would say hello and smile, some of the guys would acknowledge me, but all the woman would act like zombies and as though I didn’t even exist. It was crazy, and a little creepy but it must be part of there culture to not acknowledge white guys.
About 30 minutes up the road I came upon a small village and could see 5 guys come out on the road about 200 m ahead. I was ready to turn around but was intrigued to find out what these guys wanted. When I arrived to them, one of them grabbed my handlebars and asked, “What is your mission?” Huh, um, my mission.? My mission is to ride my bike up this valley. “No, sir, what is your mission!?” Not sure dude, just finished a race and looking for some extra training time. “Where are you from?”, Canada!. “Well Canada isn’t this way, now go back.” Hmm, no sir I believe I want to keep going up this way. “ What is your mission?” I was really confused by this mission question and tried to explain that I was training for this 1000 km race down in South Africa, but they didn’t seem to understand. Eventually I started smiling and chuckling, which got one of them laughing and eased the tension. After some negotiations I was allowed to continue 10 minutes further up the road. I was starting to crack from a long day so this worked out fine. I’m really not sure what the locals were protecting up there but it was likely some sort of stoner weed based on the way they were treating there visitor. On the way back down the 5 road guards were all waving and smiling, a huge contrast from just a few minutes earlier!
The food in camp was glorious for a group of hungry bike racers with endless rice, dal, lentils, chicken, indian curries, popcorn and weird rice deserts. The moms that taught these Indians how to cook really did a good job as we never went to bed hungry. The cow’s walking around the area also got a good fill as they would wander into camp and rummage through the garbages for leftovers and paper plates. Being a protected species, the cows walk around like they own the place and often cause real disturbances in camp, walking through power cables and stumbling around the tents. This would provide the camp entertainment in the afternoons as we would sit back and watch the camp staff run trying to keep the cows at bay.
By the end of the 8 day journey through the mountains we all had our memory banks full of moments both on and off the bikes as every step of the journey was action packed. India truly is an incredible country like there tourism slogan states. After the race I lucked out and was given a ride back to Delhi with Viju, one of the local racers who had his own car. This cut the 12 hour journey down to 7 hours which was a gift and gave me shotgun to firsthand experience driving in India. It is hands down better than any circus I have been too. We stopped at an Indian rest stop along the and ate food set out for 4 kings, packing on any weight we may have lost during the race week.
Back in Delhi was another eventful couple of days as Rajesh (the man from Indian Times who set up my Indian Visa) had lined up a tour with his buddy Pochi and a group ride to Delhis main mountain bike area. The mountain biking trails in Delhi were pretty neat as we went from the gongshow of the city straight into a nature reserve full of foxes and deer, something you would never expect being so close to such a busy city. The dirt tracks we road on were just like the mining trails in the Australian outback at the Croc trophy. The only problem were the thorns which were everywhere. The local riders claim there tubeless tires each have 20-30 thorns in them, and I believe them now after puncturing my back tubed tire and placing two thorns in my front tire in just a 1 hr ride. It would get expensive riding here~!
This trip through India was we capped off with a walk through Old Delhi with fellow Canuck Gerry McCuaig. Old Delhi is the center of all the worlds gongshows and is a real experience to see. Trying to buy a metro train ticket to get back to my hotel was ridiculous as lining up isn’t an option as the locals bud in line and do whatever they can to get to the ticket window ahead of you. It was getting late so I had to toss a good elbow into one guy to finally get my ticket and get on my way to the airport. Getting on the plane that night to take off to Bali was like getting home from a rock concert as all the senses were firing at full tilt and then there was silence…
Arriving in Bali to see good buddy Dave Mcnaught was awesome after being away from Canada for 6 weeks. Dave was our Kona Team mechanic for years and we have a great history on trips from these days. This trip was a little different as it was just a couple buddies meeting up in Bali to have a good time. We had no plan, just a couple bikes and millions of Indonesian dollars to spend. The first couple nights we went to PadangBai as it had a cool name, then we went up to the beach side village of Amed. Jack funk had recommended this place to us and we owe him a couple ciders for this as it is paradise. The next 7 days was spent snorkelling, riding on some nice trails and golf cart like roads, eating a wide selection of fresh fruits, veggies and fish from the ocean and the occasional Arak spirit. It was the holidays of holidays, mixed in with a bit of training to make sure Dave could snag some KOMS back in Canada when he returned and I could remember how to ride my bike for the upcoming Crocodile Trophy. Dave also came over with a bunch of fresh bike parts to freshen up the race rig (Kona King Kahuna), and a bag full of snacks to keep the body firing at the upcoming races. Thanks buddy for the wicked trip and for the reinforcements for the Croc!
After a night at Balis party central in Kuta beach, there was time for one more ocean swim and then Dave took off to Canada and I hopped a flight to Australia. Landing in Darwin I had 40 minutes to make the next flight to Cairns, only problem was customs hauled me over to check through my bike for dirt and bags for drugs. The bike was spotless so this went smooth but explaining all the bags of random powders and seeds was a process. His eyes started to glow when he saw the small zip lock bag full of white l-glutamine powder, but this was eventually ok’d. With 7 minutes left to catch my flight, the officer had an assistant take a swab to test for drugs and then told me I could repack my bags and could leave as soon as the swab test came back. When the results came back they had a small meeting to discuss something as apparently traces of MDA was found. This was foreign language to me but was soon informed it is a type of Meth. Holy f***, a couple four leaf clovers must have been stuck on my shoes for this one as the officers believed my innocence!. I have no idea where these traces of MDA came from but that backpack is getting hucked in the garbage bin. Getting out into the main Darwin airport lobby there was just enough time to hear them closing the gate for my flight to Cairns, getting to the check in desk 1 minute later, I gave them my best smile ever and they opened the gate and off to Cairns it was!
Getting into the backpackers hostel at 12:30 am I layed down on the lawn for 30 minutes to get rid of some serious sickness. After a iffy nights sleep in a tent it was a day of grocery shopping and then hunkering down back at the hostel to eat and sleep the day away. After a glorious sleep in a real bed the systems came back online, just in time to start the 9 stage Crocodile Trophy starting up on saturday. This is one of my favourite race out there and this year the field is stacked which is going to make it one interesting trip through the outback!
Daily Results from the Crocodile Trophy can be found here.. http://www.crocodile-trophy.com/index.php?id=142