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

Narayan Gopal Maharjan: We Will Remember You.

On June 13th the World lost one of its rising cycling stars when Nepal’s National Mountain Bike Champion met his last day on this earth. Narayan Gopal Maharaja fell off a dam while leading a race in Sri Lanka and drowned in the river below.  I hadn’t cried in years but I was shedding tears the next couple days as the emotion was too much to keep inside.  Narayan had become a Brother of mine after racing against him in recent years all over the world including South Africa, Malaysia, India and Nepal.  This past winter I was lucky enough to spend 5 months in Nepal and our relationship tightened as we raced hard against each other over a dozen times.  We also enjoyed countless training days together and lots of good times off the bike around Nepal.  There was no-one in the world I enjoyed competing against more then Narayan as he raced his heart out and truly loved what he was doing.  The positive energy radiated off him as he was able to uplift anyone who was lucky enough to be in his presence.  I had the upmost respect for how he balanced the business part of racing with the more important part of having fun, and enjoying each others company while we did what we loved.

  

My Nepalese is nearly non-existent, and Narayan’s English was pretty rough so there weren’t many words between us, but we had a tight bond that didn’t need much verbal communication. It was something special to be so close to someone like this, especially someone who had grown up on the other side of the world in such a drastically different culture and environment.  He came from one of the toughest situations in this world, poor as could be, in one of the world’s poorest countries.  One of his biggest dreams in life was to support his family and he did everything he could to make life better for them.  He also had a dream to be a pro mountain biker and he found a way to balance his full time job and family time, with the training needed to become one of Asia’s top XC racers.  After a number of near misses, he finally obtained one of his  life long goals in becoming Nepal’s National XC Cycling Champion this past March. It was an inspiring ride as he launched a last lap comeback to take over the lead and bring home a dream.  He was a true champion, had little ego, and went humbly about this world doing things the right way.

The Nepali racing scene is the tightest one I’ve experienced on this earth as the riders treat each other like brothers and sisters.  The Nepalis look after each other amazingly well and stick together through thick and thin.  This tight group let me into their family this past winter and it was one hell of a winter to remember. It was inspiring how hard they worked in their day to day lives just to make things work in their economically poor country. They’d always find time for their passion and the group rides we went on together were full of laughter from start to finish.  A lot of times cycling can be a pretty independent sport with different cliques forming and egos getting in the way of a good time.  The Nepalese have found another way and after racing hard against each other or training all day, they band together and head out for Dhal Bhat dinner and joke around about how the day unfolded.

 

 

These guys and gals are the salt of the earth and Narayan was in the heart of it.  This world could use more people like Narayan who had found their passion and had really come alive in doing so.  So many of us go through this life trying to figure it out but we never really realize what it is all about.  Narayan was one of the few that seemed to have it figured out as he always put people first.  His positive energypoured into the World wherever he went as he was always 100% present.  He taught me it’s not about the money you have, the things you’ve collected, or the ego trip you’re on, but it’s truly about enjoying what you have , wherever you are, and making the best of it.    For a guy that came from such a tough situation to be able to spread his light like this, there is no excuse for any of the rest of us not to try do the same.   

 I miss you Narayan, you were a Brother that I can not replace.  I thank you for everything you taught me about this world and how to live here.  I’ll see you again one day, and I’ll look forward to that reunion as I know we’ll be laughing and joking around together, just like the last night we saw each other in Kathmandu in March.  My thoughts are with you and I’ll be riding my ass off down here for you as long as I’m able to. 

Rest In Peace Dai.

* Narayan may be gone but we can keep some of his dreams alive. Narayan’s biggest dream was to support his family, thus NCRR – Nepal Cyclists Ride to Rescue have set up a fund to do this.

Please click on the link below to donate if you can help his family out. Thank You.

https://www.gofundme.com/ktm-kora-in-memory-of-narayan

 

Double Header: Spakwus 50- Ghost of the Gravel

This past wednesday I woke up to the news that one of my best friends in the World racing circuit had passed away while racing in Sri Lanka.  Nepals National XC Champion, Narayan Gopel was swept off a damn while leading the race and drowned in the river below.  This news brought me to the ground in tears as he was a Brother close to my heart. He rose from one of the most difiicult situations in this world and worked as hard as anyone I ever met to get where he was.  This was climaxed with him winining the Nepal Championships this year, a long time dream and one most well deserved.  He brought a light to World wherever he went with his endless laughter, positive nature and smile that kept us all in good spirits.  Life’s not fair sometimes and the fact Narayan was taking away from this World at the young age of 33 wasn’t right.  The only escape from the pain of losing him was on my bike the next few days as otherwise my head would fill with emotion as I was on the edge of slipping into a depressive state. 

Having a double header race weekend on deck, unpacking from one trip and getting ready for 3 weeks of training in the Rockies, there was alot happening.  My head wasn’t in it as I was starting to question the way this World worked.  I figured I better get my ass out there and pedal my heart out for Narayan this weekend as I know he would’ve done the same for me if the positions were reversed.  Narayans death was a reminder this World can change in a heartbeat and that we shouldn’t take any day for granted as any day can be our last.

Saturday: Sp’akw’us 50- (Squamish, BC) 

It was an emotional ride at round #4 of the BC Marathon series in Squamish.   Spakwus 50 is the replacement race to the legendary Test of Metal and brought nearly 600 riders too the startline.  Dwayne Kress is known for putting on great races and this one was no exception with nearly 40 km of the best trails Squamish had to offer.  I went to the front 15 minutes into the race and thought “sorry boys but this race is for my brother Narayan”. From that point I upped the tempo on the first climb until everyone was dropped and then kept on the gas..  This ride was for Narayan and my body and mind went into autopilot for the rest of the day.  I didn’t know most the trails I was riding nor did I have much rest in the days before the race but the emotions took over.  During the ride all I thought about were the good times with my brother Narayan and how he would’ve done anything to have a chance to race in Canada one day.    That day won’t come, but I took this one for Narayan and soluted him at the finish line as I know he was watching from above.   

 

Intermission:

After the race my buddy Dave Vunic and I had a bit of time to get to the airport to catch my 7 pm flight, but we got stuck in the increasingly sluggish Vancouver traffic.  Pulling up to the airport at 6:11, Dave took off for the Ferry and I packed my bike in a record time of 3 minutes and then rushed to get checked in. West Jet is great to fly with, leenent when need be and they don’t charge for carrying a bike anymore which is pretty rad.  My friend Wayne Worobec picked me up at the Calgary airport @ 10 pm and then it was off to Cochrane to change tires on my Kona gravel bike, fill some bottles and prep for the 120 km Ghost of the Gravel.  After a patchy 5 hour sleep it was up and off to Water Valley, Alberta to sign in and get ready for day 2 of the doubleheader.  

Sunday: Ghost of the Gravel- (Water Valley, AB)

The legs felt like lead for the fist hour as the 240 rider field quickly dwindled down to 8-10 riders.  The roads were really fast but also had a fair bit of climbing in it which made things tough.   American Pro roadie Phil Gaimon was in town as a guest rider as his sponsor Cannonade was a big supporter of the race.  I heard through the grape vine he was talking about just going for a hard ride with us and showed up without race numbers on.    I was a bit confused when he kept going to the front and drilling it but figured it was just part of his “hard ride” tactic. There was a KOM early on which Evan Bayer sprinted for and then we went into a bit of a twisty and slippery descent.  It was rad as I finally had a chance to show off the handling skills of my new gravel  bike from Kona and dropped everyone except Andrew Davidson and Alberta mountain biker Issacc Niles.  Phil would claw back on with Evan on the next climb and we would continue a pretty hard pace with the 5 of us taking turns at the front.   Mid race Phil would blow the field apart through a couple of steep rollers.  We did our best to catch him but he was riding strong.

 

Eventually it was just Alberta Road Champion, Andrew, and myself working together trying to bring down the 30 second gap to Phil.  We could gain on the flats but he would pull away a little every climb.  The fact we were both rolling wide treaded cyclo cross tires while Phil was on smooth rolling road tires definitely didn’t help our cause.  I was surprised just how smooth these Albertan gravel roads were.  After having tire troubles at the Dirty Kanza in Kansas a couple weeks earlier I leaned on the side of safety in tire choice this day but it back fired.  Going into the final climb, 4 km from the finish, it was apparent Andrew and I weren’t going to catch Phil. Having no clue if he was in the race or not we didn’t know if we were fighting for the overall prize purse or just the leftovers.  Unfortunately Andrew had the fresher legs and used his smaller size to drop me on the last climb and would roll in 2nd, or 1st (depending on Phil) and myself a few seconds later in 3rd or 2nd.  

It was a relief to finally shut down the engine after a busy weekend as there was alot of travel and not much rest between the back to back races.  The Ghost of the Gravel was a race I always wanted to do and it did not disappoint. The organizers did a great job as they covered all the bases and hosted a solid event.  The course was rad rolling through the Albertan foothills with snow capped Rocky Mountains as a back drop.  My only complaint would be that the roads weren’t technical or rough enough to give us mountain bikers an advantage over the fitness freak roadies 😉

 

In the end Phil would step on the top of the Podium to claim the $500, a big bag of cookies and the title at the Ghost of the Gravel.  He was the strongest guy there but to me it was a weird move to show up without any race numbers on and to be telling people you were just there for a hard ride. It added a bit of unneeded confusion to the race.  All I know is if  a mountain biker shows up at a race without a number plate on then they’re not in the race. I guess I’m still trying to figure out this road cycling culture. 

It was great to catch up with the Albertan racing crew at the post race BBQ. It’s not often I get back to my home Province to race but when I do it’s like a small family reunion.  I’ll be looking forward to returning to the Ghost of the Gravel in the years to come as it has all the makings to become a big time race.  After seeing how successful the Dirty Kanza is, while offering a similar type of event, there is no question this one should take off.  The Ghost of Gravel is more of a race as it has fully stocked feed zones, course marshals, course markings, commissars and in my humble opinion the terrain on the boarder of the Rockies is far more entertaining then racing though the middle of America’s cow pastures.

 

Huge thanks to Dwayne and his family for hosting us in Squamish for the Spakwus 50 and Wayne and Joan Worobec for the airport pickup, food, and place to crash in Cochrane before and after the Ghost of the Gravel.  Now it’s time to buckle down these next 2 weeks in the Rockies and sharpen the top end for the races ahead.  First up is the BC Bike Race  July 7-13th and then the Canadian XCO Championships July 20th in Canmore .  Thanks for the pictures Spakwus 50, Ghost of the Gravel, and Candace Mihalcheon.

 

HardHat Time.

 

Dirty Kanza

Last week I hopped on a jet plane to the middle of America to race one of the Worlds premier Gravel races in Emporia, Kansas. Kansas state is known for its wide open plains and prairies as it is the breadbasket of America. The Kanzans are also well known for there BBQ’ing skills as they have some prime cattle pasture land which we would get to know very well over the weekend.  It was never on my travel radar, but getting to see some random places around this World is a nice side bonus of being a bike racer, .

It was exciting heading to my first Gravel race at the 330 Kilometre Dirty Kanza as it was something new and could play right into my wheel house with the winning time being around 11 hours.  It’s been a while since I entered a race with so many question marks on my mind but it’s the unknowns that help keep racing so much fun after you’ve done it for over a decade.  This one was setting up to be a firework show with top cyclists from all over the World and all different disciplines showing up to battle it out in a format that not too many of us were familiar with.  

Waking up on race day a small thunderstorm with gusty winds came through town which added some electricity to the air.  After a 30 minute delay over 2000 cyclists were off to pedal there way through the middle of the flattish lands of America on some now muddy gravel roads.  It was a bit chaotic at the start with mud flying everywhere and a few cyclists in there aero bars making things sketchy.  Just as it started to thin out over a couple of rollers, riders started dropping like flys with flat tires.  I had put on some heavier tires to avoid this problem but it was to no avail as the flint rock was sharper then a
knives edge and tore through our tires like butter.    I sliced mine, stopped plugged it twice but it kept leaking.  The free ride was over and now I’d have to stop to put a tube in and then chase like a dog to try and get back into the race.   Seeing Cyclo cross legend Sven Nys pulling over to also fix a flat, I decided
this was the best time to pit stop as we would have some alright horsepower working together to chase back on.  Waiting a fewseconds longer for him to finish his tire we then took off to try and bring down the now 4-5 minute gap to the leaders.  Unfortunately he flatted again a minute later and I was left on my own, 20 miles in with 186 to go.  It was a depressing start to a race I’d been targeting for a while but all you can ever do is play the hand you’re dealt and get on with it.

 

The next 30 miles before the first feed zone was like riding through a parade as I passed fat bikers, aero guys, mountain bikes, road bikes, lots of cows and everything else imagineable. It felt like I had passed 400-500 riders as I weaved in and out of them like an obstacle course yelling “on you’re left, on your right for” for a very long time.  At the first feed I received the news I was still back in 85th position and 4+ minutes back of the lead group.  In a race like this if you’re out of the lead group for too long you are a fish out of water.  

It was a longer pit stop trying to find more Co2’s and extra tubes as I was now preparing for the worst and just hoping to get to the finish with air in my tires.   The rest of the race I chased down one rider at a time and slowly moved up the field.  Along the ditches there were many other contenders fixing flats or just having pure meltdowns.   Riding a couple hours with Canadian CX champ Michael van den Ham  was fun as he is a class act and was enjoying the ride even given his bad luck as well.  We actually could’ve had a good chase group going and caused some damage later on but some of the other contenders we caught decided to drop out which was too bad.  In a way the ride was pretty cool as the pressure of trying to fight for the win or a podium spot was long gone so I just set it into diesel mode, enjoyed the scenery and the company of the different riders as I’d go through group after group towards the front. 

At one point I caught a group of 8 riders in the top 30 and soon found myself at the front doing all the work.  One guy yelled at me to slow down which gave me a chuckle.   It’s a race buddy, you’re getting a free ride on my wheel, zip it and hold on if you can or get dropped…  Support wise I had a great team thanks to Marco and the crew @  Velo + bike shop in Kansas City which took pressure off at the feed zones.  The team at High Gear in Emporia also took some pressure off going over the bike before the race and there mechanic Dylan leant us his empty condo to call home for the weekend.

One of the main goals of the trip was to showcase Kona’s new Gravel grinder which will come out in 2019.  Thus I had a cameraman,  Anthony following along to document the race and photograph myself and the new Kona Gravel Bike.  He was good company and helped make the weekend one to remember with his chill attitude and assistance in making sure the trip went smoothly.  The bike I was riding was awesome and could certainly win that race one day.  Huge thanks to Luke Way at Balance Point Racing for dialling it in as having a proper bike fit is key for maximizing efficiency and staying comfortable on these big days.  More details to come soon on the bike..!

Terrain wise the Dirty Kanza was like riding through one giant rolling cattle pasture.  It slightly resembled Mongolia, although Mongolia is much more wild with no fence’s, nomads riding around on horses and the sense of being someplace really out here. This was alright though and most the roads were pretty smooth and gravelly with a few choppy sections mixed in.   The flint sections were a disaster as alot of us found out why they used it’s sharpness for arrow heads.  Outside of getting flinted, the hardest part was the solid head wind for the last 50 + miles of the race.  The guys with Aero bars had a big advantage but they also caused a few accidents.  In the future it would be smart to ban aero bars as it’s sketchy as hell riding with guys in there aero bars they’re trying to pass you on the loose descents.  Another dodgy part of the race were all the road crossings as most of them didn’t have any course marshals.  Trying to race the last couple miles into town, having to blow stop signs to keep the guys behind me dropped made the race feel like a saturday group ride.  

 

The highlight of the race were all the local farmers along the course which were cheering us on and offering water and beef jerky.   The people out in the middle of America are real down home country folks and welcomed us with wide open arms.   The final home stretch on main street was also rad as they had shut it down to vehicles and organized a giant street party.  Rolling through the cheering crowds to finish 14th capped a long 11 hour chase.   I was stoked how good the body felt and am keen to come back another year to try and battle it out for the win.  This gravel racing thing is kinda fun as it combines the Worlds of mountain bike and road bike racing into one. It is also very rough on the feet, hands and ass so it’s important to have the right bike and tire combination.  I figure 12 hours of gravel grinding beats your body up about the same as a 24 hour mountain bike race on a full suspension.    

 

After a 2 day recovery I settled into a 16 hour, 3 day, training block in the Rockies to use the momentum from the DK to re-build the engine for the summer of racing to come.  Racing in 2 xc races, 1 road race and 1 gavel race this past week across BC and Alberta put a decent load on the body and has helped recharge the high end.  I’ll never understand how the body bounces back stronger after these big races like Dirty Kanza, or a 24HR race but they seem to push the body into another zone about 10 days after them.  Next up is a 2.5 week training block in the Rocky Mountain towns of Canmore and Jasper as I build up for the BC Bike Race on Canadas West Coast coming up July 7-13th! 

 

Over and out 🙂 

Photo Credits to Anthony Smith @ www.the4color.com


 

Canadian Mountain Bike Double Header

Catching a boat out of Victoria Friday morning  over to Vancouver kicked off what turned into a solid weekend of Canadian bike racing.  The first goal of the weekend was to build up my new Kona Hei Hei Race DL with Seth Cox at TBG.  We built the bike as much as we could then crossed our fingers as we waited until the rest of the parts showed up that were stuck in customs.  At 3:30pm the parts showed up and Seth put his hard hat on and went to work. He got greasy and worked through beer o’clock but he made it happen and had the Hei Hei ready for a big double header weekend ahead!  Leaving TBG at 6 pm I got kicked in the balls by Vancouver rush hour traffic and would eventually roll into my buddy Ricky Federau’s house in Chilliwack a couple hours later.  After a 45 minute ride in the dusk to get adjusted to the new rig it was back to eat a bowl of cheerios, do some last minute race preps and grab a bit of shut eye.

Vedder Mountain Classic: Saturday morning started bright and early as I took my new Hei Hei (Hulk) out on the trails to dial her in a bit before the maiden voyage.  At 10 am the shotgun went off as 200 + racers tackled an amazing 32 km single track loop on Mount Vedder.  For the first 45 minutes, Canadian CX Champion Michael Van den Ham set the pace before I cranked it up over the final 10-15 minutes of the climb to give Spencer and I some breathing room from the rest of the field.  Claiming the KOM near the summit of Mt Vedder I rolled into the long flowing decent back down to the valley bottom alone.  Spencer new these trails well and caught me half way down the descent as he was ripping.   Riding these trails blind I opted to move over to give him a clear path as this was his backyard and he had the lines all dialled in. From here it was a good race with Spencer as I would claw back time on the climbs but then he’d get it back on the descents, eventually winning by just over a minute to defend his title from last year.  

 

I was content to roll in 2nd, and then we enjoyed a stellar Canadian summer afternoon on the shores of Cultus lake hanging out for the awards.  It had a Cancun like vibe as a bunch of pasty white Canadians were coming out of hibernation after a long winter indoors and were getting parched by the summer sun.  Normally after a race it’s chill time, but there was another race against the clock to get up to Salmon Arm to prep for BC’s biggest interior race, the Salty Dog 6HR on Sunday.  After the awards, I pulled out of Chilliwack at 5 pm to start the 4 hour drive north to meet my Dad and Eileen for a Cowboy dinner of Steak and potatoes at our campsite nearby the race venue.

Salty Dog 6HR: Sunday morning was busy, waking up a bit groggy, washing Hulk, putting some food together for the 6hr race to come and mixing 10 Litres of homemade electrolyte mix to keep the body hydrated in what was going to be a hot day in the sun. Everything was going smoothly until I mixed in the last ingredient, some Black Himalayan salt which I picked up in Nepal this past winter.  I figured it was just like pink himalayan salt, full of sodium and other minerals but it smelt like rotten eggs which turned on the alarms.  Apparently this stuff is full of sulphur and typically used in ceremonies, not for human ingestion as it’s full of charcoal and some other weird things.  After some research on google we dertermined it wasn’t going to be poisonous so I decided to try it as an experiment.  The race preps continued and soon we were off to join the other 600+ racers at the annual Salty Dog 6 HR Marathon.  

 

 

The plan was to go hard from the gun and make it a tough day in the office as the big goal from this weekend was to get in some solid efforts for the 200 mile Dirty Kanza gravel grinder on June 3rd in Kansas.  The legs bounced back nicely after a busy saturday in Chiliwack and Evan Guthrie and I made an early break.  We’d work together to the top of the climb before he showed his World class enduro skills on the descent back to the finish line taking the first lap.  The Salty Dog is an early season classic and gives riders the option to race in pairs, or Solo on the 10.5 km lap course.  I tried to race the teams for the first couple hours which worked out well in opening a big gap to the Solo riders behind me.  Eventually I’d have to knock the pace down a notch and let the teams go so I wouldn’t detonate and be left face down out on course somewhere.  

 

It was rad to race around for 6 hours on a great course full of fire road climbs and long flowy BC style descents.  A lot of  Albertans show up for this one so it was a bit of a reunion catching up with old friends. My Dad was in the feed zone with our good friend Stephen Hanus. It’s not often I get to race in front of my Dad or have a Cowboy in the feed zone so it was pretty motivating.  7 laps in I would get word I was up 22 minutes on 2nd place so I turned the focus to see if a new course record could be set. Opening the throttle back up a bit on the last few laps I’d roll into the finish with 10 laps, in 6:01:20.  This beat the old course record by just over 5 minutes and provided some feedback that training is on course for the big races ahead.  After the race we BBQ’d up some Alberta Beef and enjoyed a few refreshments back in camp with some good friends as we wrapped up a solid weekend on the Canadian trails.

 

Huge thanks to the following for making this weekend happen:

Seth Cox at Kona bikes for staying late Friday evening to build up my Kona Hei Hei for the weekend.

Ricky & Melanie Federau for the cave to sleep in in Chilliwack.

Ernie and the team at Vedder MTN Classic for putting on a great event.

 Tom and the team at Skookum Cycles for putting on another great event.

Dad and Stephen for there full days work in the feed zone, Eileen for the great pre and post race dinners, and Linda for the yard to Camp in.

 

Off to the Balance Racing HQ in Kelowna for some testing and bike fitting as the build up into the season continues in full force!

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.