Lockdown in Nepal

After a winter of solid training across Thailand and Nepal, I was excited to head over to Spain to kick off the race year at the Andalucia Bike race in late February. Unfortunately a crash on the eve of my flight derailed that plan and left me with a couple weeks of recovery before getting back on the bike.  It was a blessing in disguise as instead of kicking off a month of Worldly travels in what turned into a ticking Corona Virus time bomb, I set off on a solo hike deep into the Himalayas.

Over a month has passed since then and I’m still up in the Himalayas as the World has been turned upside down by the Corona Virus.  I’ve felt little motivation to immerse myself into the chaos and the risks of contracting the virus myself so have been hiding out in the Himalayas for the time being.  At home in Canada would also be a great place to be but the thought of 4 days of international travel through airports and planes seems risky. Right now the last thing I want to do is risk getting this damn thing and passing it on to anyone, especially my Parents who are at a higher risk level.

On March 21st we were enjoying day 10 of a high altitude training camp here in the Solukhumbu, the region where Sir Edmund Hillary called home for many years. We opted to end the camp a day short as the Corona Virus was starting to heat up and we wanted the riders to get back home before anything broke out.  My girlfriend Usha and I stayed behind figuring it would be best to avoid densely populated areas at this time especially since we were already in a remote valley in the Himalayas.  Two days later Nepal would get its 2nd case of Corona virus and immediately locked down the whole country. This was a shock and ended our plans of some adventures in the mountains.   Instead we found a hideout in the Solukhmubu, perched at 2400 M on the side of a mountain, watching the World go by one day at a time.  

How does one keep their spirits high when their’s a deadly pandemic sweeping across the World?  For starters it has been important to try and stay in the present moment without getting carried away with what the future might hold. Social media is going rampant with people thinking they know what’s going on, dooms day sayers and conflicting news on the Virus. None of us know what the future has in store, but we can make the most of each day and try to get some good routines going until things calm down. One of the best things I’ve done has been limiting the social media and instead focusing on a couple more reliable news sources such as CBC.

Racing is gone for the foreseeable future which for a pro bike racer has a substantial impact. In a normal year we are travelling all over World, meeting hundreds of racers, and training when we can in between. Our lives revolve around the next race on the calendar and there’s rarely a moment to sit still.  With an open schedule now, I’ve put the bike racing on the back burner. Instead of putting in the normal 25-30 hour early season training weeks, I’ve lowered expectations and have gone into a holding pattern. Focusing on some solid recovery, working on weakness’s and spending time on other aspects of life. Until this Pandemic calms down and races come back on the calendar I figure it’s best to not burn any matches, rather recharge the batteries, keep the immune system firing and do my best to maintain some of the fitness built over the winter. 

This lockdown in Nepal has really restricted what we can do but it has been important to still find a way get in some exercise to keep the balance during the day.  Even just 20 minutes of getting the heart rate elevated can make a world of a difference, helping keep the endorphin levels up and the mind clear.   I’ve taken up meditation, trying to build a stronger mind, doing a daily stretching/core routine to work on some muscles I usually neglect, and eating well to keep a healthy flow of nutrients coming into the body, focusing on some anti viral foods such as garlic, and colloidal silver.   

In the World we use to live in it was tough for me to sit still, always chasing the next race or next adventure.  After chasing the 24 HR World Title for nearly a decade I figured I’d be content after finally winning it in 2017.  I was content for a while but then the mind was thinking, lets go for the repeat, then we’ll be content.  Ok that’s in the bag, now lets go for the three peat then we’ll be content.  In reality we can keep chasing these dreams and goals our whole lives, but it seems that true happiness lies within our own heads, not with achievements, not with material goods, not with fame or fortune. Don’t be fooled, I will be chasing a 4th World 24HR title when the opportunity arises, but that’s because I love racing, the people, and the challenges it brings with it, not because I think it will make me more complete in any way.

Some of the happiest people I’ve ever met are the Monks and other mountain dwellers in Nepal which live in economic poverty, often on the same mountainside their whole lives.  They’ve never scene the ocean, travelled to foreign lands, won any World championships or gained much fame or fortune. Something which the 1st World countries seem to be highly fuelled on.  Having spent some time with these Monks and getting a glimpse of there lifestyles it seems apparent a simple life style can provide all the happiness any of us could ever want. 

The Monks live in isolation, filling their days with simple tasks, meditating, eating basic food, laughing, and showing great compassion to other living things.  More then once I’ve had to seek refuge in a Monastery during a storm and was overwhelmed by the generosity of these guys, offering tea, food, and shelter until I could continue on my journey.  They would never accept any sort of payment, so I learned to hide money under the dishes before I left and would try to escape before they found it and chased me down to return it.  It seems these Monks have alot to teach us, especially in these tough times when many of us are in isolation and our movements are restricted.  I’ll be searching to find my inner Monk as I adjust to this more sedimentary lifestyle, and who knows it may just be another blessing in disguise to slow down this whole rat race for a while.

With 14 days of lockdown behind us, I’ve actually become quite content living on my a little piece of the mountainside.  The day will start with a cup of green tea, then a small meditation, some reading and then I’ll try to update on the World news.  Living in lockdown in the Nepali mountains means the diet is getting limited each day.  We found a source of freshly ground buckwheat flour, local eggs and spinach. Generally we’ll have buckwheat pancakes for breakfast then aim to get some form of exercise while maintaining all the precautions to prevent getting or passing on the Corona Virus.    A healthy lunch of rice, eggs and spinach is followed, then a short 20 minute nap, and either some reading or a 30-45 minute stretching/core exercises.  I’ll also try to squeeze in 1-2 hours of computer work at some point.  The day gets eaten up pretty fast, then it’s time to grab a drink to catch the sunset, make some dinner, then chill out near the fire before settling in for the night.  

Sleep has been a big focus as it boosts the immune system more then anything, often lights out around 9:30, up at 6.  There’s small variations to keep the days interesting but right now this simple life, with little expectations is working quite well.  In fact I haven’t felt this rested in years and am finally having time to reflect on past adventures instead of always draining the tank chasing the next one.

What is this World going to look like after the Corona Pandemic passes through?  The Corona Virus has brought people together from around the World as we all battle a common enemy.  Overall I feel we have been lucky this pandemic has a pretty low mortality rate, somewhere around 1% I’ve heard.  It is a lesson for the World to learn from and to be better prepared for the potential of future outbreaks.  We are currently also facing another major pandemic called global warming which is going to need the same sort of united fight from around the World if we are going to manage it.  It seems the Corona Virus has kickstarted this World unity and hopefully it will continue to grow well after the virus is gone.

At a personal level these times have been an eye opener, a reminder the freedom to hop on a plane and travel wherever I wanted in the World was a real luxury.  After being stuck here in Nepal this spring, flights will no longer be taken for granted anymore!  The Virus has also brought together families and made them spend time together via quarantines and lockdowns.  It’s likely most parents have never seen so much of there kids.  The tighter families are, the better the communities they live in will be, so on with their countries and ultimately the World.  If after this Corona Virus passes we can keep some of this closeness it will be a win for everyone. Here in Nepal the locals are very poor but they are also very tightly tied to their families, something which is shown in the richness of their culture and communities.

Sitting in Nepal here on day 15 of lockdown their is a lot of uncertainty in the air.  Nepal still has just 9 confirmed cases and neighbouring Bhutan at 4. Some are saying its due to a lack of testing which is partly true, but there hasn’t been any news of mysterious deaths either.  With the proximity to China, the lack of social distancing, sub par living conditions, and the number of travellers coming through here, it’s shocking things haven’t exploded.  It leaves me wondering if the Corona is having a hard time getting established.  From a young age the locals immune systems are being attacked by viruses, bad food and water and other obstacles involved with living in such a rough and unforgiving environment.  Over the years I’ve also noticed the locals constantly fighting off respiratory coughs.  Maybe, this has toughened up their immune systems and has built up some immunity too this Virus. During the Spanish Flu in the early 1900’s the Chinese weren’t hit nearly as hard as some other nations, thanks to the immunity they had required from a similar flu the year before. Is something similar happening in Nepal or is it just delayed setting in here?  Only time will tell but for now I’ll stay up on this mountainside, drinking my tea, isolated, keeping the risk of transmitting anything to anyone back home at zero.  

Namaste from Nepal.    

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