"Only those who risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go." T.S. Eliot

Guatemala Altitude Camp

Every year bike racing gets faster and more dynamic with different types of races filling the calendar.  This year the schedule is pretty diverse with 5 XCO (1-1.5 hrs) races, 6 short XC Marathons (2-3.5 hrs), 4-5 Stage Races,  4 short tracks (20-30 minutes), 1 x 6 hour Marathon, 1 x 200 mile dirt road race and the World Solo 24HR Championships.  How does one train for all these races that vary from 20 minutes to 24 hours in length?  That’s a good question, and one that I’m doing my best to figure out…

The idea is to put in a solid base January-Mid March and then spike the engine with some intensity from March to May.  Since most of the races will be under 2.5 hrs from May-July, it will be important to have some speed in the diesel engine. Come mid August I’lll take a small break to recoup. In September it will be time to start winding up the diesel engine to defend my World 24 HR Solo Title in Scotland Oct 20-21.   It’s a plan, now to try and execute it.

This year the plan is to experiment a bit more with altitude training as last year the effects were dramatic, raising the capacity of my diesel engine about 20%. This peaked with winning the World 24hr Solo Championships, and consequently a massive meltdown after as the body was running hot and I didn’t give it the break it needed after 6 weeks in overdrive.

Generally the off-season consists of packing a chainsaw around for 12 hours a day, 6-7 days a week for 6-10 weeks, cutting trees down in the deep freeze of Northern Canada.  This pays the bills but it doesn’t give the body much of a rest period as right after the work season concludes the races generally start up again.  This winter I was lucky enough to take a break from the grindstone, thanks to the support from my team Kona  and my friends and family. Being able to juggle a few things like renting my condo out for the winter, and living and training in countries with cheap living costs-Nepal and Guatemala.  Ultimately this allowed a somewhat restful off-season which included taking a full month off the bike in December. This time was spent trekking around at altitude in Nepal and it seemed to pay off as starting in January I was rested and raring to get back on the bike.  Being able to put in 2 solid months of base training in the Himalayas was a great kick off to the year.  March was spent with a bit more base training (20-25 hrs a week) at altitude and then a slow transition into some higher intensity.  

Heading back to Canada for two weeks over Easter, provided a chance to do some testing with my buddy, Luke at the Balance Point Racing HQ  in Kelowna.  This is always key to find out how the training has been working and what systems still need fine tuning.  With a new game plan after the testing, Luke and I decided it was in my best interests to head back to altitude (2300 meters +) to see if we could re-create the engine we made last year to win a World Championship.  So, here I am, back in Quetzaltenango (Xela), on the western edge of the Guatemalan highlands at 2350 meters +.

Being down here for 2 months last year surrounding the El Reto de Quetzal Stage race, was a real eye opener, as I uncovered an amazing training area.  Being based out of Guatemala’s 2nd biggest city provides all the amenities for a solid basecamp.  Being a hub for travellers to learn Spanish,  there is a good balance of gringos, melted into the Guatemalan dominated culture.  Coming back here for a 2nd year in a row it was amazing how many of the same travellers had stuck around or returned from the year before.  It’s tough to explain but something about this place keeps people coming back for more year after year!

Training wise the altitude here is perfect at 2350-3200 meters and there are loads of trails and dirt roads to explore in the surrounding countryside.  There’s also a number of paved roads which is nice for those days when you just want to spin the legs.  The cycling culture is very impressive as well with it being the 2nd most popular sport in the country behind soccer, and growing every year.  Most weekends there is a race within 30-45 minutes of riding from the city with an average of 125-175 riders.  This fits into the training schedule nicely as it’s great to have the added motivation of a race to push oneself a bit harder and it provides a good social side to what can otherwise be a pretty independent sport.  

This year my long time buddy, Simon, flew in from Montreal for the first 10 days of the training camp.  It’s usually a bit of a gong show when we get together but somehow this trip worked out pretty smoothly.  Every day would start with a 2-4 hr training ride, a small mid-day break and then either another ride or Spanish lessons in the afternoon. If there was ever a dull moment there was a boat load of touristy things to do. There’s volcanoes to hike up, hot springs to relax in or curious locals to practice our Spanish with.  There’s definatly a slight edge to Guatemala but the only trouble I’ve ever run into with people is with drunks walking home late at night through the sketchy streets of Xela.

Last year I brought my Kona Hei Hei full suspension down here, and this year opted for the hardtail, Kona Honzo.  It’s amazing how adaptable this bike is as it climbs like a rocket, yet still crushes the descents feeling somewhat like a duallie with the big 29’r wheels and the short wheel base eating up the rough terrain.  It’s turning into a tough decision to have in regards to which bike to ride as both are a blast to ride and are great at both climbing and descending!

Down here in Guatemala is a bit of a paradise for riding, but the dogs… they are 100% out of control.  They are a bit like jackrabbits, just eating, humping, barking and chasing bikers all day long.  I’ve been coming down to Central America for close to a decade and every year there are more dogs and more problems to go with them.  Sometimes there are packs of 10-12 of them roaming around running the countryside.  Apparently in some towns you don’t go out at night because of the aggressiveness of these packs.  To me this is out of control and something needs to be done as they are wreaking havoc on any cats, or wild animals that may still exist, and now they are turning on the people as well.  On a 2 hour bike ride, we’ll generally get chased pretty hard 3-4 times, with another 10-12 dogs just barking without taking much chase.  If we ride towards them or stop they generally retreat but other times they’re nipping at your legs and it takes balls of steel to keep going.  99.9% of the time they don’t bite but that .1% is what you want to avoid. 

The other thing which is a challenge is to see all the garbage. The ditches are filled with crap.  I don’t understand how people can treat a country like this as it’s not very hard to dispose of garbage properly and the benefits of having a clean and beautiful environment to live in is well worth the minimal effort required to keep it clean.

One of the highlights down here are the street markets full of fresh veggies and fruits at ridiculously low prices.  It’s one of the best places in the world I’ve found to buy good food.  When papayas and pineapples cost $1 and a bag full of broccoli, beets,  garlic, peppers and spinach is another $2 it isn’t very hard to eat healthy on a couple bucks.  The other good thing is the street food with tortillas, chicken, potatoes, pupusas and other not so healthy fried foods available everywhere.  It can be a bit sketchy but 9 times out of 10 it works out ok. The best thing is to avoid the unidentifiable meats and uncooked veggies while focusing on the fruits and veggies that you can either peel or cook really well.   

Another great thing down here are the people.  Last year I was lucky to meet a great group of friends at one of the city’s biggest bike shops, Bicicasa Xela.  Cesar, Giovanni, Gessler and Yessi make up the crew and through them a great network of Guatemalan friends has been made and now has this place feeling like yet another home.  Most the crew ride bikes, eat good food, drink good beer, but most all like to have fun.  With spanish being there language it’s also a pretty good crash course on espanol every time we meet.   Out in the countryside the people are pretty awesome as well, generally smiling and always helpful to a lost biker.  There is a small edge to Guatemala, as there are a few gangs down here and a few young punks that don’t think too highly of gringos but it’s a very small percentile and they’re pretty easy to ignore. 

 

This trip down here is pretty short at 20 days but that seems to be the magic number to get the full benefits of the altitude with added red blood cells and the ability of the body to use oxygen.  Being up high we can’t train with quite as much power so there is a small setback there but once back at sea level the body will be soaking in the oxygen. It seems after a couple weeks down there the muscles usually catch up to the lungs and the engine should be rocking after that.   In theory the effects from the altitude training should last up to 3 months, the life span of our cells which will be adapted to dealing with low oxygen levels.  

 

This coming week it’s off to Arizona to join the rest of the Kona Adventure Team in Phoenix.  Our plan is to ride our bikes 160-200 km on the backcountry roads and trails to the town of Prescott for the Whisky 50 weekend of races and then again return by bike to Phoenix.  It should be an epic kick off to the season with a great crew of teammates!  Until then it’s back to the grindstone to get the body dialled in for the exciting month of racing ahead.

PS For travel this trip I’ve been using my new BikePack to lug my bike onto planes and around the countryside. It’s pretty rad as it avoids the ridiculous airline fees which are often between $100-$250.  It also fits easily into a taxi/bus and if need be I can build my bike at the airport and ride away with the bikepack bag carrying all my luggage. It is a pretty ingenious design developed by my buddy Jean-Michel Lachance from Canada. Check out the full details at www.thebikepack.com.

 

 

 

 

 

 

2018 Race Schedule

Here is the preliminary 2018 race schedule with more to come..!

February 12-15: Pokhara IV (Nepal)- 1st

March 17: Army Sprint Race (Nepal)-1st

March 30-31: Canada Cup XCO & ST (Victoria)- 22nd (crashing)

April 8: Xela XCO (Guatemala)-1st

April 15: Guatemala XCO (Guatemala)-2nd

April 27-29: Whisky 50 MX & ST (Arizona)

May 5: Sunshine Coaster BC MX #1 (Sechelt)

May 12: Vedder MTN BC MX #2 (Chilliwack)

May 13:  Salty Dog 6hr (Salmon Arm)

 

?May 18-20: Grand Junction MX & ST  (Colorado) ?

?May 26: Nimby 50 BC MX #3  (Pemberton)?

June 2: Dirty Kanza 200 miler (Kansas)

June 15-17: Carson City MX and ST (Nevada)

June 23: Canada Cup XCO #5 (Whistler)

July 7-13: BC Bike Race

July 21: Canadian XCO Championships (Canmore)

Sept 1: Alberta XCO Champs (Bragg Creek)

Sept 2: Alberta Marathon Champs (Bragg Creek)

Oct 20-21:  World Solo 24HR Championships (Scotland)

Nov 5-11: Yak Attack (Nepal)

Nov 16-17: Annapurna 24HR Fundraiser (Nepal)

Winter in Nepal

Nepal is a landlocked country of 29 million people, squashed between the two mega giants of China and India.  It’s a unique country symbolized by the only flag in the World which is made up of two triangles. These represent the countries two main religions, Hinduism and Buddhism and also the enormous Himalayan mountain range that has made this county so famous. 

 Since a child, I’ve dreamt of going to Nepal to witness the natural beauty of the legendary Himalayas which contain 8 of the 10 tallest mountains in the World. It contains a geographical layout which ranges from hot jungles near sea level, to icy cold towering peaks topping out on Mount Everest at 8848 meters. Since going there in 2014, I’ve returned twice more as it’s a place that grows on you and won’t let you forget it once you’ve left!

This past November, after taking the title at the World’s Highest MTB race, The Yak Attack, for a 2nd year in a row I decided there was no time better than the present to live a dream and spend the winter in Nepal. Changing my flight from Nov 21st to March 20th, opened the doors for an unforgettable winter in the Himalayas.  The kick off was a Sub 24 HR bike ride/fundraiser around one of the World’s greatest trekking routes, the 220km Annapurna Circuit.  This effort pushed my body’s limits to the brink as some poor food choices and going from 800 meters to 5416 meters in 13 hours left me dizzy and with one hell of a headache. In the end the trip was a success and provided enough funds from a bunch of generous donors, to open the brand new Nepal Cycling Centre.  The cycling centre is the first of its kind in the country. It will give the riders a hub to test themselves at, train out of, and a place to go after rides for proper recovery food.  The annual budget to keep the centre open will be between $ 5000-6000 USD.  The plan is to do the Annapurna 24hr ride again in November of 2018 to try and raise this amount.  More info on the centre can be found here  NepalCyclist.com

The Annapurna 24hr ride kicked my ass thoroughly so December was dedicated to being off the bike.  My friend, Usha, and I headed up to the Khumbu (Everest) Region for 3 weeks of trekking mostly between 3500-5500 meters. This trek was everything and more then could’ve been imagined as we hiked over 3 spectacular  5000 + meter passes, across glaciers and into the heart of the Himalayas eventually reaching Everest Base Camp.  It was impressive to see how clean EBC is now as the government has put in a strong push to keep their mountains clean and it seems to be working well.  

December is an off season in Nepal as the temperatures start to drop but for us, weather wise it was a blue sky special every day and still shorts and t-shirt weather for a Canadian kid.  Apart from the epic mountain scenery, watching the other trekkers cope with the high altitude was a great spectacle. It would turn fit looking foreigners dressed to the max in expensive mountain gear into sloth like creatures creeping around like a bunch of hungover partiers.   Both of us were well acclimated after spending November up at altitude on the Annapurna circuit so we could enjoy the show.  Being acclimatized paid off in dividends as I can’t explain how much easier life is once your body is use to the high altitudes. The highlight of the hike was watching the Sherpas run around  like mountain goats as they carried gear for the sloths and went about their tough daily lives up in the mountains. They are some of the truest mountain people in this World.  

An obstacle during the hike was dealing with some of the other mountain guides that tended to treat foreigners with little respect, regarding their capabilities and ability  to look after themselves in the mountains. I guess they don’t understand how wild some of the mountains are in the others parts of the World, and that some of us grew up in them, dealing daily with turbulent Rocky Mountain weather, true isolation, Grizzly bears and often wet and hypothermic conditions.  In reality trekking in the Himalayas was a piece of cake compared to this, as the weather was stable, there were zero animals to worry about and teahouses and food available every 4-5 km.  It was real luxury hiking 🙂 

In January it was back on the bike to kick off base training for 2018.  What I quickly realized was that the “cold” Nepali winter was perfect for training as temperatures were similar to a late September day in the Canada Rockies.  Temperatures were somewhere around freezing in the morning, but rose to 14-18 Celsius once the sun woke up.  Being based out of Kathmandu for this month brought its own challenges as I also discovered that city is one of the most polluted places on Earth. 

The riding around the perimeter was awesome as Kathmandu is surrounded 360 degrees by a  2000-2700 M mountain range, full of trails and dirt roads to explore.  The problem is that this rim also keeps all the dust and pollution from going anywhere.  In the past few years the city has become overrun with vehicles that run low grade fuel from India and when  combined with the poor exhaust systems it is a disaster.  There are also brick factories, out of control construction, dusty roads, and fires in the city that all add to the toxic air quality.  Most days we would try to leave before rush hour at 7:30 am to get out of the city before it became a smog filled traffic jam. Once out on the outskirts we would take off our masks and start exploring the countryside.  Watching our phone apps it seemed around 1-2pm the smog would lift a bit as the inversion would rise with the heat of the day. This was our window to get back into the city before the crazy rush hour from 4-6pm.

Traffic at a normal hour was chaotic with busses, scooters, cars, cows, dogs, pedestrians, chickens and cyclists all fighting for room on the erratic streets.  Come rush hour it would look like a war zone with dust and fumes limiting the view to a couple hundred feet.  Somehow the traffic would miraculously flow in an awkward fashion that seemed to work without too many wrecks.  It was like a video game trying to navigate through it, bunny hopping curves, swerving around open holes in the road and trying to not get taken out by a million different obstacles.  It was an exhilarating way to kick off and end our rides and certainly helped our bike handling skills and our peripheral awareness!

  It was fun for awhile to explore the training grounds around the Kathmandu valley but also very sad to see what we are doing to our planet in the name of progress.  All we really need is clean air, water, food and some shelter to survive so it seems ridiculous to be creating these toxic chambers we call cities to live in which can’t offer either clean air or water any more. Some doctors say on the bad days, the smog in Kathmandu and countless other cities across Asia can be like smoking 20 + cigarettes a day.  Progress can be good, but we as a society really need to take some control and make sure it’s done in an organized and well thought out fashion. We only have one planet to live on and right now we are not treating the one we have with much respect. 

Outside of the smog, Kathmandu is a cool city with the densest amount of UNESCO listed World Heritage Sites in the World, to go along with countless monasteries and temples.  It used to be named the “City of Glory” and is a great launching pad for adventures into the mountains.  The tourist haven of Thamel is full of restaurants, hotels, spas and countless trekking shops to load up on cheap knock off mountain gear which actually works pretty well.  Without the poor air quality and dirtiness it would be my favourite city in the World as it is a cultural gem set in a beautiful location which iss always buzzing with excitement. 

After 3 big weeks of training to kick off the New Year, I decided to head up to the Buddhist Monastery on the outskirts of the city to take a 5 day meditation course.  I joined 80 other green eyed travellers to learn more about the Buddhist religion and the techniques of Meditation.  It was a great rest week sitting cross legged on the floor. It was interesting to understand the power of our minds a bit more as they are such a vital part of who we are.  A lot of us athletes spend countless hours training our bodies, but virtually no time training our minds so it seemed like a good area to do some work on.  The course was going along well until our teacher started talking about elite meditators being able to fly and walk through walls.  A few of us laughed thinking it was a joke but it was apparently serious business.  The next few hours we were in the middle of an intense discussion about this and some other mind blowing propositions which was a bit much for my head.  The next morning I decided rest week was over as I left the flying meditators to do their thing and rolled off on my two wheels back into the reality I know.


To get away from the questionable air quality in Katmandu I would often put a backpack on and ride out into the countryside for a night or two of fresh air and some peace and quiet. Bye February my lungs had had enough of KTM so it was off on the backroads to Nepal’s 2nd major city, the adventure capital of the country, Pokhara.  Pokhara is a bustling city 200 km east of Kathmandu, in mid-Nepal, and has a nice lakeside area that is a tourist haven.  Being close to the big mountains and some great trekking routes, it is a natural base camp for tourists. It’s also a manageable size, with endless hills surrounding it, making it another mountain biker’s paradise.  

The air quality wasn’t great, but it was sufficient without a mask and the city was one of the few places in the country

that has all the amenities to make a westerner feel comfortable; good restaurants, lots of spas and all the supplies needed to create a good training environment.  Usha and I would spend 2 weeks there training which was capped off with racing the inaugural 4 day Pokhara IV mountain bike stage race.  It was a great two weeks of training with a fun race to cap it off.  The 4 stages each took in about 50 km per day of the rough & rolling countryside. We racers were treated to some gorgeous views of the 8000 m + Annapurna massif sitting in the background.  

 

Following the race, the amenities of Pokhara were used for a bit of recovery before my buddy Ajay and I took off up to the Mustang valley to do some recce for a 10 day high altitude camp.  Camp X is what we called it, as we road our bikes to nearly every nook and cranny of the gorgeous Mustang valley, all situated between 2700-4400 metres.  Riding bikes in Nepal is so rad with all the routes, limited vehicle traffic, and the cultural aspect, but most of all thanks to the people that make you feel welcome anywhere you go in their country.  It was amazing to see the locals doing their day to day business as over half of the

 countries residents live on less than 1 USD per day.  A lot of them live off the land in the purest sense.  The poverty was hard to see, but no matter what, the people always had a smile on their faces and were making the best of whatever situation they were in.  After seeing this, it is often hard heading back to the 1st World and trying to comprehend the problems alot of us think we have over here as those problems wouldn’t even hit the radar in Nepal.

Outside the epic training grounds, a bit of thought had to be put into the training program as it was often tough to find good sanitary food and shelter.  In Canada it’s easy to gain weight as there is so much healthy food available. It makes it is easy to overeat, thinking that you’re doing yourself good, the more nutrients you consume.  In Nepal it’s easy to lose weight as it’s a game of Russian roulette every time you eat, so you only really eat when you have to.  The food itself was pretty natural with rice, beans, spinach,vegetable curries, eggs, chicken and mutton making up most of the cuisine. The higher you went into the mountains the simpler the cuisine became, but for a hungry biker there were always enough carbs available. 

My favourite mountain food was the local buckwheat and fresh Yak meat and Nak Cheese.  The high elevation seabuckthorn berry also made some great juice which was high in energy and vitamin C.  Other highlights were the fresh apple cider in the Mustang Valley and the Tongba, a warm fermented millet drink consumed out of a metal jar.

Training wise it was one of the biggest winters I’ve had in history, with over 200 hours on the bike in January and February, with much of it at 2000 meters +.  The distances weren’t impressive as the riding is slow going there with all the climbing, the thin air, and the horrible road conditions which really tested our bikes.  This makes driving in the country a nightmare, thus I rode everywhere, only taking a bus for a total of 3 kilometres over 5 months and 5 taxi rides, 3 to and from the airport and two out to dinner.  In Nepal, 9 times out of 10, biking is faster than taking a vehicle, it just requires a bit of extra energy expenditure. 

Sleep wise Nepal is not rated highly as there are zero laws against disturbing the peace and generally the people have little respect for each other in regards to noise pollution.  From barking dogs, cat fights, monkeys, crowing roosters, horns, loud music, and other disruptions there was rarely a dull moment at night but the real nuisance was the temples.  My friend Jenny had leant me her comfy apartment to live in for 2 months while she was away in Australia.  It seemed like the perfect oasis out of the chaos of the city but it was right next to the local Temple.  

Every morning between 5 and 5:45 the temple goers would bang the loudest bell imaginable to ward off the voo doos and other evil spirits. It probably woke everyone up within a 1 km radius.  I tried to adapt by going to bed earlier but then they had other religious weeks were they played music and preached on blown out speakers as loud as they could until 10-11pm at night.   Some days I would ride my bike for 6-7 hours, then only have 5-6 hours of silence at night to try and rest.  That math didn’t work out in my favour.  Eventually having enough, I went down to give the temple goers a piece of my mind one early Saturday morning.   Their response was offering me a candle to light, a cup of hot tea, and a stool to sit by the fire with them while I tried to be angry.  They were nice people but they seemed a bit brain washed and tried to explain that everyone loves their bell and that no good day could start without it.  The next morning they rang it even earlier for everyone to appreciate.  My next thought was to shoot fireworks back at them or to lock the temple so they couldn’t get in there early in the morning but I opted to take the higher road and moved base camp back to the tourist hub of Thamel.

Every day in Nepal was an experience.  The days up in the high mountains were the highlights while it was always tough to have the bike pointed downhill heading back to civilization. Nepal is a country of dramatic contrasts when you compare the chaos of the cities to the purity of the high Himalayas 🙂  

March turned into a roller coaster of a month as my time was dwindling in Nepal.  We tried to make the most of it heading to the cool ridge top villages of Bandipur and Nagarkot for more training a bit more racing, fun group rides and other Nepali adventures.  The Saturday group rides were great as 8-12 of us would generally show up for a relaxed ride full of many pit stops and lots of laughs  The crew there in Nepal know how to enjoy riding bikes more than anywhere in the world that I’ve ever experienced.  One of the highlights of the trip was seeing these same boys and girls open their Nepali Cycling Centre on my last day there. It seems the future of cycling in this amazing country is just starting to take off and this centre should help provide the base camp they need.  

The problem with Nepal is that the longer you spent in one place the more options that would open up.  There’s definitely enough over there to keep an adventurous biker or hiker busy for a lifetime or two!   Heading back home to Canada is always exciting but leaving behind a country full of adventures to be had and a bunch of great friends was tough.  Leaving behind my trusty Kona Hei Hei was also tough after I did my best to ride her into the ground since her maiden voyage last June at the World Solo 24hr Championships in Italy   I have never ridden one bike so hard and for so long, doing 95% of my riding since June on that bike, yet it was still asking for more… #rocksolid 

Being back in Canada for a couple weeks over Easter was great to catch up with family and friends and to refurbish the body with a d-tox first and then some good nutrients afterwards.  I’m lucky to have such great family support back home as it’s important to have a strong base camp to be able to reground myself and power up before heading back out into this exciting World.  I also tried racing the local Canada Cup XCO in Victoria during this small break, but the body was offline and after a couple crashes it was definitely a rough day at the office.  Days like these are part of racing though and there will be better days ahead, that’s for sure!

The body is still in a bit of a limbo after the big winter past, but after some testing at the Balance Point Racing HQ with my buddy Luke it looks like things are in line for a big year ahead on the bike.   It was exciting to see the lung’s ability to move air was higher than ever and the VO2 max rise significantly since I started riding up at altitude a few years back.  For now it’s back down to one of my favourite training destinations in the World in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala. Sitting at 2300-2800 meters, it will provide one last altitude boost to the system before the race season kicks off in high gear at the Whisky 50 in Arizona at the end of April and then a plethora of races to follow.

Alavida Nepal. Samjhanaharuko lagi Dhan’yavad! 

Annapurna 24

It wasn’t pretty but the attempt to ride Nepals legendary 215 km Annapurna Circuit in 24 hrs happened.  Rolling into the Beni bus park 23 hrs and 57 minutes after leaving Besishahar (The Gateway to the Himalayas) at midnight on December 3rd capped one of the toughest yet unforgettable days of my life on a bike.  The idea stemmed last season after the Yak Attack race, as the organizer Phil Evans, myself and a few of the Nepali riders were looking for a way to fundraise money to build a training centre in Nepal .  Timing was short so we opted to push it back until this year.  Unfortunately the other boys had to pull out last minute but I was still keen to give it a go as the opportunity was there and sometimes you can’t wait for others or else you might never do what you’re dreaming of.

Doing the ride solo and unsupported, seemed a bit daunting especially since December is when winter rolls into Nepal.  There were some road bumps in the planning and a few question marks but life is to short to wait for everything to line up perfectly so I did what I could with what I had and set off from Kathmandu on the morning of December 2nd.  Having a real dislike for riding buses on Nepals rough twisting roads, I opted to ride my Kona Hei Hei DL the 175 km to the start of the circuit in Besisahar.  My friend Rajan came along with his motorbike for support, hauling the gear and towing me up the hills to save my legs for the big ride.  The 3rd was all about rest and eating in Besi as the plan was to leave this evening.  Going to the TIMS(Trekkers Information Office) to buy the permits they refused to sell them for just 1 day as they laughed at the idea. “Haha, silly foreigner, you need 6 days minimum for the  circuit.”  I tried to convince them, but not wanting to waste much energy arguing, I eventually agreed on a 6 day permit. Then there was

the debate about leaving at night. They tried scaring me off by saying there were Maoist supporters blowing bombs off up the Annapurna Circuit due to the upcoming elections.  Having more reliable sources, I ignored this info, agreed to leave in the morning and went back to rest to prepare for a 12:05 am start on the 4th. 

A couple locals I met during the day agreed to come on the first 5km of the ride to see me off.  After a couple pictures, checking the InReach live tracker was working and fighting off a local drunk guy who wouldn’t let go of my bike, the journey up the Annapurna Circuit started, officially at 12:09 am on the Garmin.  My local friends on the scooter didn’t keep up long on the rough road so once saying goodbye I set off on my own into the Nepali night.  It was a tranquil evening with a nearly full moon above and just the sound of the rushing river below.  The first 2 hours were great before coming around a corner to see 30 people hanging out in the middle of the road.  “Shit, I thought, are these the Maoist bombers the Police told me about.?”  I rolled by them saying a quite “Namaste” and continued on my way with no trouble.  Next an aggressive black dog jumped out from under a tea house causing a near crash as I hopped off my bike to use it as a shield, picking up some rocks to pelt at the unfriendly beast.   A little later coming around a corner there was a road block, turning off my lights, silently cruising around it in the ditch continuing my way up one of the roughest roads in the World with huge cliffs on either side.  

Running out of water 4 hours in, I had forgotten all the tea houses would be closed.  Not wanting to risk the often polluted surface water I was running out of options.  Eventually finding an unlocked teahouse, I grabbed some bottles of water, left 200 rupees and continued onwards.  The darkness of the night started to lighten up as I entered the frigid mountain town of Chame around 6:30 am.  From here the travelling was easier in the daylight but the Police checkpoints were now open and were eating up some precious time.  Getting the permits checked was one thing but trying to convince them about where I was going was wasting time.  “Yes, I’m going to Beni.”  No sir, thats impossible, where are you going today?”  This conversation would go in circles so I eventually learned to say I was going to the next closest town.”  This kept the conversations to a minimum and the wheels rolling.  

Figuring this adventure would take around 18 hours I was hopeful to finish before darkness sunk in again on the 3rd.  Hitting Manang at 9am I was about 30 minutes behind the scheduled pace.   This was alright considering the time lost at the police checkpoints, stopping to change clothes as the temperature dropped to -7 C, and the fact I forgot what riding with a 5kg backpack was like.   After Manang was a 23 km climb from 3500 M – Thorong La Pass (5415M) before dropping down a rad singeltrack to the next major settlement, Muktinath, a sacred high mountain village for Hindus and Buddhists.  There wasn’t much for food along this stretch so I loaded up in Manang, ordering Buckwheat pancakes, buying snickers and a tub of sketchy peanut butter.  The race nutrition I normally use for such a long ride was a a pipe dream as I had long run out of this supplies from Canada having been on the road for over 2 months.  This was a concern before the trip started as I rely heavily on proper nutrition for riding fast and staying healthy.


  This is especially important for rides over 6 hours long as the body can get really depleted.  Ultimately the lack of good fuel would play a big roll in the struggles ahead.  The delay in Manang was longer then expeected, so I stopped to buy more batteries for the headlamp, and starting recharging the bike light as I could forsee some more night riding before this trip was over.  

Finally leaving Manang I started a great 18 km piece of climbing singeltrack to the small hotel in Thorong Phedi at the base of the pass.  Things started to unravel as the stomach went sideways and the energy seemed to be zapped in the higher altitude above 4000 meters.   What took 1 hr and 22 minutes in the Yak Attack race a few weeks earlier, took nearly 2.5 hours to get to Phedi on this day.  At Phedi I was starting to have a solid meltdown so stopped in for garlic soup, rice and ginger tea to try and resettle the stomach and recharge before the tough 5 km, 900M vertical push over the pass.  Nauseated, and with a bit of a headache I shut the eyes for 10 minutes and contemplated calling it a day as it was a struggle just staying awake.  

Daylight was fading fast so there was no more time to waste if I was to get over the pass before the sun set. This was key as once the sun drops, the temperature plummets 10-15 degrees and the steep backside descent would be gnarly in the dark.  The hotel owners generously sponsored my meal and the other trekkers gave a standing ovation as I headed out the door to tackle the pass.  The first half went alright but the 2nd 2.5 km was one of the toughest stretches of my biking career. From 5,000 m to the top at 5,416 m, the trail was deserted, daylight was dwindling and I was going a snails pase.   It was an amazing evening though with just myself and the peacefulness of the surrounding mountains.  

The farther up the more brutal it got as the heart was beating like a jack hammer and the legs were moving like broken chopsticks. The head was pounding and I was dizzy enough that I’d veer straight off the trail anytime I tried riding.  Clearly there was a bit of altitude sickness going on, which was a surprise as two weeks earlier I had no trouble racing like the wind over the pass. Maybe gaining 4,600 meters of elevation over the course of 13 hours was a bit more strenuous on the body then I imagined.  This was a new frontier, trying to ride 24 hrs through high altitude so I convinced myself to cowboy up and push through the challenges.  Feeling like a drunk with a really bad hangover I used my bike as a crutch, creeping towards the summit. Being down at 1500 M for the two weeks before this attempt likely didn’t make this effort any easier.  Next time it would be worth staying up a bit higher and seeing how that worked as this current attempt to get over the pass was depressing. 

Luckily, after a 15-minute break on top of Thorong La, most of the dizziness went away and I could rip down an amazing 12-km piece of singletrack to the village of Muktinath at 3,800 m. Coming around the corner of the valley to see the lights of Muktinath with the pink sky of the setting sun behind Dhaulagiri (8167 M) was unforgettable as darkness set in for the night .  It was a moment of peace in what was currently a raging war between myself and the Annapurna Circuit.  At this point, I had been on the trail for 17 hours, with still 100 km to go down a very rough jeep track.  Stopping for water in Muktinath I contemplated the options. The body seemed to be getting sicker and it would’ve taken 2 seconds to fall asleep in one of the comfy hotels in town.   After a 12 hour sleep I could get up in the daylight, hopefully be able to eat some food and then ride some nice trails and finish the ride in a comfortable two days.  Checking my phone there were a few nice messages, one from my friend Usha who had been very supportive in the lead up to this attempt.  It lifted the spirits as I decided to keep on it for a while longer.  After all I came here to ride the loop in 24 HRs not two days!

The last 100 km was one of the longest 100 km of my life as the nausea and headache from the pass didn’t go away and the stomach stayed inside out. In the last 5 hours since Phedi, I had managed to eat three Cliff blocks. Hitting  Jomsom, the Mustangs regional hub, was a low point.  Now I was really damn cracked. Only in some 24hr races had I ever cracked myself this good before but in those races you have support every 10-15 km.  Attempting to calm the sketchy poisoned feeling in my stomach I ordered a greasy buffalo sausage from a roadside stand. It was tough to swallow but somehow settled the stomach a bit.  Skeptical to try another sketchy sausage I took off out of town.  The body wasn’t getting much  better but it seemed stable which was a relief.  Too add another dimension to the ride, the front suspension locked itself out coming down the pass, likely due to the huge pressure changes from 5416-2700 M, or possibly from the frigid temperatures. This wasn’t ideal on the rough rocky roads but it this point there were bigger things to worry about.

Amongst all the battles of the ride, it was turning into a glorious night in the Himalayas.  The full moon was now high above the wide Mustang valley with stellar cloud configurations. Huge snow covered mountains loomed overhead like giants as I was just one small figure in the grand scene of the picture.  It was rumoured  snow was in the forecast and this seemed like the calm before the storm.  A couple times I stopped to sink into the beauty of the night, before reengaging the mind to finish off what I had started oh so long ago in Besi.  It was interesting to notice the changes in the mental outlook during the ride as what started out as a deep focus for the first 8 hours slowly faded into a “I don’t give a damn” mentality. One that I had to fight off as I was slowly losing vision of the bigger picture, starting to focus on the small ailments that were building up and not caring about the outcome anymore.  This adventure was not going as planned and I was being tough on myself for being so slow. I guess some days you just have to deal with whatever cards your delivered and make the best of it.

The other challenge was a good portion of the road down to Beni was on a riverbed with multiple options causing confusion in which way to go. Often I’d ride 10 minutes down one spur and come to a missing bridge or a high river crossing and have to turn around to try another option. It was late so there were limited vehicles on route to try and follow and my lighting system was rather weak.  Eventually hitting the end of the gravel beds, there was just one 45 km undulating descent down the Worlds deepest gorge with a 8000 M mountain on either side to the finish.  A slow leaking tire caused a few more delays.  Trying to safely manoeuvre the rough river like road with a lighting system which I didn’t know how long would last was a bit nerve wrecking.  What should’ve taken four hours from Muktinath to Beni, took more than six and pushed the 24 hour attempt to the brink. The last 20 km to Beni, I really had to shut the mind off and turn the legs on to come in under 24 hours at 23:57 minutes! Success 🙂 

In Beni there wasn’t a sole in sight as all the accommodation was closed for the night.  My friend Rajan was going to come to Beni from Pokhara in support but in my bad state after the pass I told him I likely wouldn’t make it. I didn’t want him to waste his time so told him to stay in Pokhara for the night.

Cruising around town looking for a place to pass out, A local cop approached and asked what I was doing and where I came from? “I’m coming Besisahar  sir and am looking for a bed.”  “No, today, where did you come from.”  “Besi”.  ” No, you came from Jomsom, why are you here so late.”  “I came from Besi.”  “No.”  “Okay sure, whatever, you guys really need to start being more open minded.  Can I sleep in the cop shop?”  This wasn’t an option but he called one of his friends and I was lead to a small dark dirty room to sleep for the night.  It had a mattress which was all that mattered as I passed out for 4 hours before getting up to a racket at 6am.  

It was a rough morning, so after riding 10km towards Pokhara I started hitch hiking.  A group of 4 guys picked me up and decided to take me on a tour of some of the highest suspension bridges in Nepal, and then onwards for a Dhal Bhat lunch.  Even in my cracked state it was a pretty cool day.  The locals here are unbelievably friendly and treat us foreigners like royalty.  Eventually they dropped me off at the highpoint on the highway, 25 km form Pokhara, so I could cruise in on a beautiful ridge ride before dropping into Pokhara lakeside for a couple days of sleeping and eating. 

Here I found out the fundraiser for the Nepal Cycling Centre had over doubled our goal with $2300 USD being raised.  This made all the tough peddling worth while!  I would like to send out a huge thanks to all those that generously donated as this money will go a long ways.

Also a big thanks to the crew at Himalayan Singletrack for the support and home base in Nepal.  Richard Ball at Trail Running Nepal for the loan of the Inreach tracker.  Phil Evans at MTB World Wide, and Corinne Smith at CJ Physiotherapy for helping set up the fundraiser and for helping with the planning and execution of this project.   Rajan for dropping me off in Besi and taking my extra luggage to Pokhara. And of course Kona bikes for standing behind me and giving me the support and freedom to pursue such bike rides around the World.

The door is wide open for the Nepali boys or someone else to step up and crush this current FKT on the Annapurna Circuit as this effort was far from being a smooth operation!  

Now it’s off-season mode for real as I’ll head off to Everest Base Camp with my friend Usha for a couple weeks of regeneration high up in the Himalayas 🙂

Over and Out!

Tales from The Worlds Highest MTB Race in Nepal

The Yak Attack is a 10 day race traversing around the Annapurna Circuit and into the Forbideen Kingdom of the Upper Mustang in Central Nepal.  It’s one of the most stunning and possibly the toughest per kilometre race as we battle rough terrain, primitive living conditions, freezing weather and the high altitude with most the race being between 3000 and 5416 Meters.  I DNF’d my first attempt, not being ready for the x-factors of Nepal and fell ill.  Coming back last year it was a tough battle with a few riders as I became the first foreigner to win the race in its 11 year history.

Returning this season I took the race preparations to the next level with a 3 week altitude camp at 2000 meters in India which included racing the 8 day MTB Himalaya race, followed with a week long camp in Nepal between 2700-4200 Meteres. It  payed off with records dropping as the title was successfully defended with the body  running stronger then in 2016. This was a nice treat after some health troubles this summer.  In any race it is important to prepare but when you’re racing at altitude, in a foreign land, eating foreign food and living in tough living conditions it becomes more important then ever as racing is just a small part of the overall battle!

Starting in Besisahar (800 M) we spent the first 5 days of the race on the Annapurna Circuit topping out at 5416 M on Throng La Pass before dropping down a gnarly descent to the sacred village of Muktinath (3700 M).  It’s wild riding this part of the race with loads

of trekkers, yaks, donkey trains and other creatures all over the track to dodge. The most troublesome are the trekkers as they often walk 3-5 abreast across the road and some have headphones on which makes them a real liability.  We do our best to alert them as we pass by but most don’t realize just how fast we are coming towards them.  The Yaks and Donkeys were generally good, staying in a straight line and minding there own business although coming across a heard of 150 + of them on stage 2 opened my eyes.  A farmer warned me the “Yak were coming” but I was more concerned about the racers chasing behind me until I came around a blind corner into a huge heard of moving Yak.  It was a mini stampede as I road into the ditch, climbing up a steep bank with my bike behind me to avoid either of us getting trampled. From that moment forward I began listening when the locals would warn the “Yak are coming!”.   The chickens were also a pain as there squirrel like tactics can be tough to read skirting all over the road in a confusion causing them to be moving land mines.

Hitting Thorong Phedi (4450 M) is the turning point of the race as everyone gets a little nervous before crossing the World’s highest commonly used pass, Thorong La at 5516 M.  I often try to talk the organizers into a later start so we can hit the pass after a good rest and in the sun which automatically increases the temperature 10-15 degrees but they are pretty adamant to wake us up at 2:30 am, for a 3 am bag drop and 5 am race start to hopefully avoid the high winds that can pick up later in the day.  Last year we started at 4am and did the descent off the pass in the dark which caused many wrecks so this year was a treat to be able to at least see where were we going! It was a rough start to the day after a 4 hour patchy sleep, awaking to a mouse eating my laid out breakfast, and then running away, going kamikaze and jumping straight into the water bucket we used to flush the toilet.  The race breakfast this morning was horse food (wheat porridge with rotten apples) so I opted for half a cliff bar before lining up to tackle the races most feared stage.  

From here things went smoothly, dropping everyone except Bhutan’s “Son of the Dragon”, Sonam Drukpa, on the 1 hr 20 minute hike/bike to the top of the pass.  Just before the pass Sonam would also drop off, so I opted to stop for a quick photo with the legendary 5416 M sign.  Unfortunately the iPhone went dead in the -14.9 C weather (5.2 F), but there was a porter up top so he took a couple shots before I bundled up to drop into the 1800 M vertical decent down to Muktinath below.  It was a wicked ride with my Kona Hei Hei being the perfect tool for the job as the descent snaked its way down the rugged mountainside opening up tons of different line options. It was tricky to stay on the bike as the hands froze solid a couple times, requiring brief stops to do the screaming barfies hand swing before continuing on.  Reaching Muktinath at 7:06 am set the new record at 2 hours and 6 minutes from Phedi over the pass.  The finish line staff were no where to be seen so I became the time keeper until they showed up.  While timekeeping I also remembered I forgot to get the Porters contact info so I’ll have to head up the pass another time if I ever want to get the traditional picture from the top!

Once in Muktinath we froze our asses off for the next 4 hours waiting for the sun to come over the mountainside.  It’s definitely the climax in the race as the short sleep, combined with the exertion of heading over such a pass really takes its toll on the riders after 4 days of racing and is tough to bounce back from for the last half of the race.  A couple riders got sick, while the rest of us trudged on into the 2nd half of the race as we entered the Forbidden Kingdom of the Upper Mustang.  

This is an area rich in Buddhist culture and one of the Worlds most preserved regions. It was just recently opened to tourists, now requiring a $500 visa, limiting it to just 2000-3000 tourists a year.  Its a magical landscape mostly between 2900-3900 Meteres in a 

very tough climate which makes much of its Tibetan inhabitants retreat to a lower elevation during the brutal winter months.  There is one road up there which is very rough and a couple trails, thus making it a Mountain bikers heaven.  The terrain is damn rough, dusty, and parts of the road are covered in ice as it snakes its way past waterfalls and over numerous 4000 M + passes.  Kilometres feel like miles up there and the living conditions were primitive, sometimes in barn like structures with Yak standing just 2 feet behind where we would be squatting to use a hole in the ground for a toilet.  The food was good with Buckwheat and Yak both being staples along with the traditional rice, thick Tibetan noodles, eggs and beans.  Fruits and Veg were scarce but thats why some of us pack bags full of green and red powders from Canada which everyone else laughs at, until they get sick from lack of nutrients 😉  

The days in the Upper Mustang were unforgettable but it was  a challenge to stay warm and healthy between racing our bikes.  It’s a battle 24/7 to stay on top of your game and to stay focused and be race ready each morning. Eventually the stages would wind down and we found ourselves racing to the final finish line in Tato Pani, down in oxygen rich air at 1100 M with natural hot pools waiting for our sore and tired bodies.  The Nepali boys, Ajay and Narayan were just 1.5 minutes apart in there battle for 2nd place after 8 hard racing days so they had it out on the last day.  I could enjoy a more leisurely cruise to soak in the amazing beauty of the surrounding Himalayas eventually riding in for a 2nd straight Yak Attack title.  

The toughest part of these adventures is usually after the race when everyone starts heading home and the adrenaline highs start to wear off.  The day after the race is often good, but days 2-4 after can be tough as our bodies shift into recovery mode, while our minds are still racing and searching for excitement.  I’ve learned the hard way many times that its a time the reigns need to be held tight, and the mind has to be slowed down to let the body recoup and then bounce back ready for the next adventure which is never far away.  

One thing we will all miss from this race is the camaraderie and laid back fun nature of the Nepali riders and support staff who really make this race a great experience. Even in the toughest of times the locals are laughing and joking around lightening the spirits of all those around them.

For now its a few more days resting in the Lakeside town of Pokhara recouping and getting over a few ailments from the race before heading back into the mountains without a bike to kick-off the offseason!