Season Preps in Guatemala

Marathon Mountain Bike racing is similar to being a smart investor as it requires a pile of time invested into training during the offseason to prepare for the payoff later in the season when the big races come around.  It can be easy to lose your focus in the middle of Winter when the weather is challenging and there’s no real immediate pay off for the hard work but this is when seasons are made and lost.  It’s common to be putting in 25 hours + per week on the bike so its nice to have accommodating weather!  

Having raced for 15 years it can get monopolous putting this time in every winter so I’ve found it beneficial to mix things up to keep the motivation high and mind and body raring to go year after year!  Travelling so much I sometimes get asked if I don’t like Canada or if I’m not close to my family and friends there.  It’s actually the opposite as Canada is my favourite place in the World as the more I travel the more I appreciate it.  I’m lucky to have a very solid and supportive group of family and friends and a team in Kona which gives me a home base stronger then can be imagined.  This gives me the courage and ability to ante up and explore the farthest corners of this earth, knowing theres always a safe and welcoming home base to return to.  It’s an important to tool in being able to let go and roll with the ups and downs that come with exploring this World.

Having spent parts of 8 winter training on the West Coast of Canada in Victoria BC it’s created an amazing training grounds with endless trails, plenty of road options and always a group to ride with.  The weather is even alright most days, averaging between 6 & 8 degrees, cloudy with possible rain but the air is always clean and fresh.   Its no surprise many of Canada’s top athletes call this place home.  It’s a gratifying place to train but there comes a point in which you stop really expanding your mind and the spirit starts to dwindle a bit.  Thus I’ve opted to mix things up and have spent past winters training in Australia, Asia, Central America and Indonesia.  

This winter Guatemala was chosen, partly to take part in the El Reto de Quetzal race, partly to study spanish,  and partly to try out an experiment and to see how training at altitude would payoff.  Having good succese riding at altitude in India and Nepal last fall and the amazing feeling of having 3 lungs after returning to lower altitudes it gave me the inspiration to explore this avenue a little further.  Doing a bit of research and with past experiences  I’ve come to my own conclusions to what should work and it seems living and training at altitudes between 2200 M and 2600 M seem ideal Anything lower and the concentration of oxygen in the air is still high enough that it may limit adaptations, while any higher and there is not enough oxygen to be able to push yourself hard enoughto keep your muscles strong.  

 

The idea is that the body will increase the volume of oxygen carrying red blood cells, become more efficient at using oxygen, and due to the lack of oxygen both the lungs and heart will have to work at an elevated intensity.  It also seems to be important to brake up the altitude training with retreats to lower elevations to help with recovery, to put in some strong efforts in oxygen rich air and once you return to altitude the body re-kickstarts the adaptations.  Time will tell but things are on track right now with the body showing nice improvements every week.

Guatemala itself is a compelling country shaking with the action associated with  being a developing 3rd World Country.  At first it can be a bit overwhelming but after awhile it all starts to feel pretty normal and you learn what is actually risky, and what just seems risky.  At first glance the traffic seems chaotic, which it is, but with all the dogs, chickens, people and other objects all over he roads the traffic is generally slow and everyone is aware.  Personally I’ve had more troubles in 1st world countries like Australia and America in which the traffic is travelling at high speeds on standardized highways and the drivers get complacent and often get distracted by there phones or have some issues with themselves and hate cyclists for some personal reason. 

There is a certain edge in Guatemala and some precaution is required, although 95% of the problems seem to be around tourist heavy areas and occur after dark.  Thus far this trip I’ve had a couple incidents with drunks while walking home at night through the backstreets of Xela.  We all get warned not to walk home alone after dark but often I get a false sense of security as I believe in the good  of the human race and am pretty trusting.  Drunks are drunks and can be losers all over this World thus should be watched out for wherever you are!

Riding bikes over the course of 5 years in Central America I’ve never had a problem (knock on wood) down here  except with the dogs.  Overtime it seems that 9 out of 10 aggressive dogs are found near there homes as they can be overprotective.  The thousands of sketchy wild dogs wandering around the countryside rarely cause any issues as they’re typically occupied searching for food or just hanging out with there buddies.  The moutainous topography and rough roads in the country are ideal for a mountain biking and require a bit of time to figure out but little by little it’s possible.   Up to now the locals have all been very welcoming when I come across them in the middle of the countryside which is a relief as it can be intimidating seeing them with there guns and machetes.

As beautiful as the countryside is with volcanos, lakes and pine forests, it is also pretty disgusting how poorly the locals treat there country by tossing litter all over the place.  In such a poor nation there aren’t alot of options to dispose of rubbish and the locals are often so engaged in just trying to get by day to day that garbage is the least of there concerns.  It is a big turnoff for everyone, a health hazard, and is hopefully something the government can start to find a solution for in the years to come as it would certainly help attract more tourists and make the country more appealing for everyone.    

Every day its intriguing to go out on training rides as you never know what you might come across.  Some days random street lights blow up, other days vehicles roll by that are falling apart, and sometimes roads are blocked due to random markets or parades which are a spectacle in themselves.  On days that I feel a bit slow or in need of some security I’ll ride a route I know from before, on other days in which I wake up in need of adventure I’ll ride off into a new frontier.  The local riders are great to ride with as they know the area and have been welcoming and ready to show off there countryside.  On occasions when I want to put in some big miles I’ll put on my Apidura bike packing bags and head off into the countryside. It’s easy to put in 4-6 hour days when your in in route to a destination exploring the lands of a new country. These tours are generally done solo but back at basecamp in Xela there are always riders to go with as cycling is the 2nd biggest sport in the country after Soccer and the growth of the support seems to be taking off here!  The crew at Xelas top bike shop, Bici Casa have taken me in as one of there own and have given me a home away from home and an in road into the local Guatemalan culture.  Pictures are one thing on these trips but its the new friendships that one will never forget.

As the weeks roll by down here life is getting easier as I get accustomed to the surroundings and grow more confident and courageous.  Every day there are opportunities to get into trouble but it’s also easy to avoid.  You start to learn that cars rarely use there signals, and that chicken buses and microbuses don’t give a damn about cyclists or pedestrians, and thus you adapt to it.  Getting lost in black clouds of smoke from unmaintained chicken buses is a low point but with a MTB it’s easy to find alternate routes off the main highways.   

After yesterdays big ride to the top of Central America on Volcan Tajumulco (4220M) it is a rest day in Xela.  These days are generally filled by studying Spanish, organizing travel and race plans for the year,  buying fresh veggies and fruits at the local market and checking out tourist sites in the surrounding area.  One of the biggest problems is sitting still and properly recovering as there is an endless supply of things to do. I nearly burnt myself out a few weeks back but am slowly learning to manage the energy levels better and to save it for events and adventures that really matter!

Heading home on April 20th after 8 weeks down here I will certainly miss the energy and excitement of day to day life but Canada and its natural beauty and fresh air will be a welcome sight.

Off to the market to reload on fresh fruits and veg for the next round of training days! 

 

 

 

 

El Reto del Quetzal

Every day at the El Reto del Quetzal stage race across central Guatemala had a memorable theme to it.  Guatemala is a special country and the event is a top tier race with its organization, challenging courses and amazing topography.  Its pretty rad they can link together so many cool trails, dirt roads and random steps through villages to show us some hidden gems of this vibrating country.  

Stage 1 “The Night Time Trial”, started with a short 12 km night time trial, it was a rude awakening to the 2017 race season with a 6 km climb straight out of the gate with the Latino mountains goats sprinting up there like immortals.  2015 BC Bike Race winner, Tristan Uhl and I hit the dusty single-track descent back to the finish line pretty much together and passed a pile of riders.  This was abruptly stopped upon hitting the gnarly sections which were lined up with 15-20 riders walking there way down.  “This is a bike race amigos!, not a walking race..”   This ate up our only chance to close the gap on the leaders as we shook our heads to why 150 racers were started ahead of us on this short stage as it basically just neutralized the decent portion of the race.  Nonetheless it was a good kick in the head to ignite the body for the racing week ahead as Tristan and I would roll in 4-5th overall.

Stage 2 “The Trails in the Jungles of Volcano Agua” started with a 1 hour bus ride to the slopes of Volcan Agua in which we’d climb 8 km up its spine before hitting a sweet 14 km enduro single track decent to the finish.  It was a tough day as my body had a full meltdown climbing up through the steamy jungle, eventually leading to a puke session just 20 minutes into the race.  Feeling a bit ill off the bus ride, things just got worse and pretty soon I was walking up anything partially steep and really on a survival mission.  

Eventually hitting the single track decent a fair bit down from the leaders I tried to open it up to limit the losses. Pretty dizzy I rolled around one corner a bit hot and hit a rock ledge in the middle of the trail, stopping dead in my tracks, losing my balance and falling off the side of the trail 8-10 ft down into a pile of trees and bushes.   It was shocking my Kona Hei Hei didn’t brake with the impact, although the seat, brake levers and stem were all twisted in all sorts of directions and needed some adjustments.  The rest of the descent was rad, cruising through the thick green foliage on some great man made trails and across some sketchy bridges.  Even having a tough day it was an awesome ride.  On the way back to basecamp in Antigua we witnessed Volcano Fuego erupt huge steams of thick gas, it was amazing to see this first hand and made the bike race a distant memory.

The rest of the day was a struggle, only managing to down a small bowl of miso soup before laying in bed for the evening in a state of anguish with a rumbling stomach.  I’m pretty sure the dodgy stomach came from drinking water from the rock filter in our 4 star hotel room.  It claimed to remove 100% of the sketchy bacteria from the water.  Seems a bit far fetched for a rock to be that smart and I payed for it.   After a rough sleep it was up at 5am  to tackle the Queen stage of the race, 86 km and 2500 M of climbing through the heart of the Guatemalan countryside across to Lago Atitlan.  Heading to the start line I quickly had to pul a u-turn back to the hotel as the stomach was ready to explode and needed a Toilet ASAP!  I got there just in time, destroyed it, then started thinking, “holy shit, i’m not in a good shape to ride today.”  

Already missing the 7am start I questioned taking a bus to the finish line but opted to try and get there by bike as it’s always better to be pedaling then in any other sort of transit.    The first 1.5 hours actually felt ok once moving but then all hell hit the fan as the stomach expanded to a pregnant state and energy levels went to zero.  Riding with my buddy Simon got me within 20 km of the finishing before a top 5 meltdown of all time hit.  Between naps in the ditch, stops at Tiendas and a couple bano breaks I’d eventually make it to the finish line, 3.5 hours after the leaders, but still in the game:)  The support from the locals along the race course is great, although some of the dogs can be a little over zealous at times!  

It was a bit of a bummer to miss out on racing this stage as it is a tough mother of a stage with its sawtooth profile and sections of rad single track.  The highlight was dropping into the huge crater lake of Lago Atitlan on a technical descent down some rough trails and through tight alleyways of a local town.  It’s the icing on the cake after a stellar day of riding across Guatemala.  This night in Pana was a gongshow again with the majority of the night spent on the toilet but the views of the Lake and surrounding volcanos helped ease the ass eruptions.  

Stage 4 “Climbing to the Heavens”  started with a relaxing boat ride to the village of Santa Cruz along the northern shores of the lake.  From here we climbed an insanely steep climb out of the crator then continued on a mixture of rolling terrain with patchs of singeltrack before descending down into a rad little valley in the middle of nowhere.  From here a long gradual climb started up to 3100 M.  The final portion of this climb was raw, winding up some high hiking trails in dense brush before topping out in a dry pine forest similar to Canada.   From here we hit some rough singeltrack descending all the way down to Guatemalas 2nd biggest city of Quetzaltenango (XELA).  After a couple slow days, the body miraculously turned around to battle into 3rd on the stage, probably a combination of the other riders being tired from racing the previous two days, and myself being somewhat rested from being forced to soft pedal them!  The combination of big climbs, rowdy single-track and being in the non stop action of the Guatemalan countryside makes every mile at the El Reto de Quetzal a memorable one.  Like every other night, us riders were treated to a nice hotel and large portions of local food which is a treat after these tough stages.

Stage 5 “Enduro to the Pacific Lowlands”.  The final stage is a classic as it starts with a couple small climbs surrounding Xela with some dusty trails mixed in.  Pretty soon it traverses under the shadows of Volcan Santa Maria and onto an enduro descent into to the tropics of the Pacific lowlands.  Going into the 40 km descent the 2 leaders from Columbia and Spain had a few minutes on myself with Tristan Uhl just behind me.    Having Tristan catch up, we teamed up to work together to try and reel in the 2 leaders with him leading the steep descents and myself the rough flat traverses.   After nearly an hour of ripping through big boulder fields, rough cobblestones and patches of trails through the tropics we finally caught the two leaders just 10 km from the finish.  Unfortunately an untimely stick in the chain caused a 45 seconds stop which took me out of contention for the stage win.  The final few km flew by with Tristan attacking the single tracks, and the Columbian and Spanish/Honduran leaders attacking the few punchy climbs and then ripping through the chaotic mayhem of a small Latino village.  The talent these these local Latinos have at dodging traffic, people and dogs in these congested areas is impressive as it requires a high degree of risk!  Rolling in across the finish line in 4th capped a very entertaining adventure that only  a few races around the World can offer.  

El Reto del Quetzal is a solid event as it offers an adventurous race across a truly remarkable country.   It was certainly worth the trip down here as theres no better way I can think of to see the landscapes of a developing country and meet some great locals.  Back off to my training camp in the Guatemalan highlands as this place is a mountain bikers heaven with endless routes and it’s eternal spring climate! 

 

   

Guatemala

Guatemala is a small country situated between Mexico, El Salvador, Belize and Honduras.  It is the poorest country in Latin America but also one of the most stunning with a landscape full of steep Volcanoes, thick rainforests, crater lakes, high mountain plateaus and numerous ancient Mayan sites.   Bike touring around the countryside on two separate occasions in 2009-2010 left a lasting impression with the excitement, welcoming locals, and endless dirt roads and trails to explore.   I’ve been meaning to come back ever since, particularly to train in the mountains surrounding Quetzaltenango (Xela) up at 7500 ft and hone in the Spanish skills.  The years have flown by but this year the opportunity came up to race Guatemalas 5 day cross country mtb race “El Reto de Quetzal“. This was a good opportunity to get the body fired up for the season so I organized a 5 week training camp surrounding it and have set up base camp in Xela.

Doing research on Guatemala before the trip all I heard was don’t do this alone, don’t go out at night alone, don’t travel on these roads due to bandits, don’t a taxi out of Guatemala city in the middle of the night, look out for roadblocks, don’t eat the street food etc…  Landing in Guatemala city at 1 am on friday morning I preceded to do everything listed above in the next week and have had zero problems.  It’s bizarre how the media loves to build up negative points to such a point that makes people nervous to get out of there beds in the morning.  What I’ve experienced is that you can run into trouble anywhere in the World if you go looking for it. At the same time if you take a few precautions, put a smile on your face and treat people with respect that this World is a very hospitable and welcoming place.  Knock on wood…

The first few days in Guatemala were spent in the tourist mecca of Antigua, a charming colonial city with cobblestone streets and towering Volcanoes.  A couple days were filled meeting locals, riding single track off of Volcan Agua and preparing to bike pack 2 days over the course of the El Reto de Quetzal to Xela in Western Guatemala.  With all the talk of bandits along the way I made sure to check with the local riders and was given the green light that it wasn’t as bad as it was made up to be.  The next two days were spent riding dirt roads and patches of sweet single track traversing the heart of the Guatemalan country side.  The ride was rad, everyone was friendly, even the tough looking gangsters out in the middle of nowhere, all they needed was a smile and a buenos dias. 

The biggest problem were the dogs as they are sketchy and everywhere in this country.  The Guatemalan dogs apparantly really like to get it on with each other without any regard to birth control.  The ones that bark are easy to defend against but the ones that silently take chase require eyes in the back of your head.  Usually you can out ride the dogs, but when you can’t, option B is to stop and use the bike as a shield and water bottle and rocks as weapons. It seems whenever the dogs are confronted they thankfully coward away.  The other problem was getting lost high up on a mountainside at 3000 M when my GPS lost signal.  The next few hours were spent mostly hiking, traversing out of the thick forests towards the Pan America highway in which I could ride a ways before re engaging the trail down to Xela.    

This past week in Xela has been pretty smooth, training in the mornings, attending spanish school in the afternoons and meeting up with other travelers and locals in the evenings.  The mountainous terrain surrounding Xela is great for riding. There is no way I’ll be able to explore all it has to offer in just 1 month!  The dogs are a pain in the ass still, but the city itself is pretty rad with a historical colonial center, a fair number of tourists, but still a very Guatemalan dominated feeling which makes it a good place to practice up on the Spanish and get immersed into the culture.  The travellers are pretty rad as well as they are either focused on volunteer projects, taking spanish courses or off on cool adventures.  A big contrast to some of the hippie hang out backpacker places in which most everyone seems content on drifting through there travels in a hungover state. 

The highlight so far has been meeting up with the local riders, Carlos, Juan, Julio and Cesar and the rest of the crew at BiciCasa Xela.  One of the best parts about racing around the world is hanging out with the locals, learning there ways and seeing the sweet local riding areas they have. There certainly is no shortage of great places to ride bikes on this earth!  Cesar and his crew at BiciCasa Xela have given me a home away from home and have been looking after the Kona Hei Hei for the race to come in a few days.  Its so clean right now I’m afraid it may become allergic to dirt.  Thanks boys!

 

Off to pack the bags to head back over to Antigua with Cesar via the infamous Chicken buses this afternoon.  El Reto de Quetzal kicks off Wednesday evening with a Night time trial before heading to the slopes of Volcan Agua for Stage 2 on Thursday 🙂   

Race Results should be found here:  El Reto De Quetzal Results

2017 Schedule

Feb 23- March 30: Guatemala Training Camp

March 8-12:  El Reto De Quetzal (Guatemala)

April 28-30: Whisky 50 (Arizona)

May 19-21:  Grand Junction Off-Road (Colorado)

June 2-3: World Solo 24 HR Championships (Italy) 

June 11-18:  Rumble in the Jungle (Sri Lanka) or Beskidy MTB Trophy (Czech)

June 24-25: UCI MTB Marathon World Championships (Germany)

July 7-13: BC Bike Race (Canada)

July 16:  Canadian Marathon Championships (Quebec)

July 22: Canadian XCO Championships (Alberta)

July 29-Aug 3: Singletrack 6 (BC)  or July 30- Aug 5: Legend of El Dorado (Columbia)

Aug 11-13:  Glacier 360 (Iceland) 

September-October: TBD

Nov 5-15:  Yak Attack (Nepal)

 

2016 in the Books

When 2013  happened it looked like it would go down as the biggest year ever with 79 days of racing.  

2016 eclipsed it by 2 days.  81 is the new personal record which will likely stand till the end of my career… but who really knows.12717370_993857927328794_3163842700367276642_n

It all started road racing down in the jungles at the Tour of Costa Rica, a race full of brawls, crashes and insanely fast Latinos riding like Tour de France champions. Post race a couple weeks were spent staying with my friends Ronald & Angela and training in the Latin mountains before hopping a flight over to Australia and New Zealand.  Racing the inaugural Pioneer through NZL’s Southern Alps with my Kona teammates was a trip to remember.  This was topped off with a week with some buddies in Queenstown before heading North.  

Following this was a road trip with my friend Tarren through NZL to the North Island to take on the 24 HR  Solo World Champs.  Riding 450 km of single track, finishing 2nd, 4 minutes off the title was one of the rides of my life as Jason English set a new record, winning the title for a 7th year in a row.  There were hot springs, beaches and a couple more races in NZL before launching to Vietnam to defend the title at the Vietnam Victory Challenge.  

Next up was a bike tour across northern Vietnam-Laos and Thailand with my buddy Simon.  We ate loads of fresh fruit, got sunburnt and had some good times enjoying the Asian gong shows. After 3 weeks Simon went back to work in Canada and I caught a jet to India for a crazy adventure in the foothills of the Himalayas.  Eating some sketchy curry from a kitchen built in a chicken coup turned the stomach inside out for a while.  After three weeks of recovery with my friends Martin and Julian in Australia it was back home to cap off this solid 4.5 month road trip to start the season.

Back in Canada things came back on track with a win at a wet and gnarly Nimby 50.  This was followed with  4 stage wins and the overall title at BC Bike Race as my teammate Spencer Paxson and I worked well together to finish 1-2.   Up next was a tough battle with Geoff Kabush at Marathon Nationals in Eastern Canada in which he nipped the title from my grasp by under a minute.  Back to Back wins at the Alberta XC and Marathon Championships closed out the Canadian portion of the season before heading off to Asia for round 2!13710438_1219533761398207_6199163205165734886_o copy

Asia round 2 started off racing across the land of Ghengis Khaan in Mongolia.  After 5 times to Mongolia it feels like i’m just starting to know that pristine nomadic country.   Up next were 4 days of missing flights and losing my bike tying to get to Bhutan from Mongolia.  This is harder then it sounds. The next 10 days in Bhutan were out of this world, winning the 250 km Tour of the Dragon, visiting the Prime Minister at his residence, hanging out with the Prince, and hiking to monasteries in the mountains with my buddies/guide DJ and Jigme.  

Next on deck were 5 scorching days at the Tour of Timor in which my skin started to melt.  Timor is a great place to ride a bike but you need to be up in the mountains or else it’s too damn hot!  At this point the trip was suppose to end but I missed my flight back to Canada and headed to Singapore to stay with my friends Ken and Laura.  They helped reload supplies, gave myself a place to rest a few days and helped fix the bike before hopping a jet to India for round in the Himalayas.  

India round 2 was another solid adventure with a great crew.  1 day in India is like 1 month in North America in regards to sensory overload as the action is insanely intense 24/7.  After racing 8 days across Northern India the adventure was topped off with shaking hands with the Dalai Lama in his home @ Mcleod Ganj.  

The next 2 weeks were spent beaming from this encounter and acclimatizing in the mountains surrounding the hippie village of Dharamkot as the Worlds Highest MTB race was on deck in Nepal.  These 2 weeks were eventful with lots of hiking with my friends Zina, Ashish and Gurman a bit of riding and a fall off a mountain, dislocating my shoulder.  This seemed like a trip ender but visiting some hippie doctors fixed things up and the trip continued…IMG_6036

Nepal will go down as one of the all time greats, kicking off with 10 days of training up in the mountains with my buddy Peter. Next up was the Yak Attack with 11 days racing through the largest mountains in the World and into the forbidden Kingdom of the Upper Mustang bordering Tibet.  Capturing the title to become the first foreigner to do so in the races 10 years history capped a memorable season.  With time to relax my friend Usha and I headed out trekking in the mountains for 10 days before it was time to call it a trip and head back to home soil.  

Work was calling in Alberta so it was off slashing down hazard trees in the frozen north for a while.  As of now I’m still up there refreshing the mind and filling the bank, waiting until a little bird flys bye and chirps that its time to re mount the bike for 2017 🙂

Here’s some numbers from the past season.

14 Countries Visited: Canada, Nepal, Australia x2, New Zealand, Costa Rica, Vietnam, Laos, Thailand, Singapore, India x2, Mongolia,

Bhutan, East Timor, China.

81 Total Races:

70 Mountain Bike Races

  • img_7380JetBlack 6×6, Australia: (2nd)
  • The Pioneer, New Zealand: (2nd)
  • World 24 HR Solo Champs, New Zealand (2nd)
  • Kiwi Crusade, New Zealand (DNS)
  • Karapoti Classi, New Zealand (3rd)
  • Vietnam Victory Challenge (1st)
  • Uttarakhand MTB, India: (5th)
  • Convict 100, Australia: (4th)
  • Rocky Trail Grand Prix, Australia: (DNF)
  • Salty Dog 6hr, Canada: (3rd)
  • Nimby 50, Canada: (1st)
  • Cumberland Marathon, Canada: (2nd)
  • Test of Metal, Canada: (4th
  • BC Bike Race, Canada: (1st)
  • Canadian Marathon Championships:  (2nd)
  • Alberta XC and Marathon Champs: (1st x 2)
  • Mongolia Bike Challenge, Mongolia: (3rd)
  • Tour of the Dragon, Bhutan: (1st)
  • Tour of Timor, East Timor: (7th)
  • MTB Himalaya, India: (2nd)
  • Yak Attack, Nepal: (1st)

(more…)