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

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!    

     

 

 

 

 

 

Indian Adventures (MTB Himalaya)

After one of the strongest kick offs to a season ever, the summer racing season hit a large speed bump fighting through a long period of high fever and lethargy.  After some blood tests it showed up positive that I had contracted 2 rare Mosquito born viruses (Jamestown Canyon & Snowshoe Hair) in early July.  Taking 5 weeks pretty much off the bike at the end of August the body turned around and although out of shape I felt blessed to be healthy again.  It was tempting to call off the rest of the season but the opportunity to head over to India and Nepal for a couple of late season races was too good to pass up so I put together a 6 day training block to try and salvage some fitness and started packing the bags! 

It was a bit of a gongshow getting ready for the trip with a couple hospital trips to make sure I was virus free, a thief stealing all my race supplies out of my van and re-supplies not showing up in time.  Nothing money couldn’t fix so after a shopping spree to replace all the lost goods and some help from Kona the journey began.

Eventually I ended up at the Vancouver airport after an8 hour drive from Jasper, 75 minutes before my flight but somehow overshooting the baggage allowance of 2 x 23 kg bags by over double with 85-90 kg.   The charges would’ve been astronomical, so the check in lady gave me 10 minutes to reorganize my bags in which I loaded up the bike box to 40 kg +, jammed the carry on up to 25 kg, downsized the duffel to 23kg and then crossed my fingers they wouldn’t weigh the bike box again.  Going to India for 8 days of racing would’ve been easy to pack for, but adding in one extra month of training and 11 days of racing in Nepal made it interesting.  Running to the gate I realized my yearly travel insurance was expired so it was on the phone getting a new plan set up.  To top it off the airport security found the C02’s in my bike box so they called my name on the intercom to give me a bit of shit but in the end I made it on a jet plane to India!

The MTB Himalaya in India is one of my favourite races as Ashish Sood and the other organizers have created an adventurous bike race across the foothills of the Himalayas.  The family atmosphere is great amongst the 90+ racers and 90 + Indian support staff as we create a giant moving circus across one of the craziest countries in the World.  The whole race we’re laughing and joking with each other as the Indian way of life is a little  different then what we are accustomed to in the Western World.  They make fun of us for taking life so seriously while we get our kicks out of their loose way of living and disregard to time. When you have 1.3 billion people in your country it creates a level of chaos and confusion which is 2nd to none and a real unique cultural experience.

The Race:

Knowing the fitness wasn’t solid I opted to bluff everyone on Stage 1 and be the first into the sketchy single track out of the start gate.  The Norwegian freight train Thomas Engelsgjerd latched  onto my wheel as we’d open up a small gap before being joined by a couple fast Spaniards on the first climb.  The three Euros would put the hammer down as I’d chase 45 seconds behind them for the next 2 hours before flatting and losing a pile of time hand pumping the tire since the airlines took all my gas canisters, eventually coming in 4th, nearly 12 minutes down.  The camp this night was rad, set up in a small alpine meadow surrounded by thick forests as we aquainted ourselves to our home for the next 8 nights.  It’s impressive how fast the Indians can put up a camp, complete with endless Indian food, annoying loud speakers, warm showers, sketchy toilets and lots of places to lounge in the shade.  The camplife is a highlight of the week as there’s loads of time to get to know each other and entertain ourselves in the surrounding communities.

Stage 2 was another sufferfest as I opted to attack into the first sketchy singletrack to put some pressure on the Euros.  The singletrack in India is legit, built for walkers and pretty gnarly as you never know what’s around the next corner.  Going way to fast I came around a corner onto a wet concrete patch, trying to turn away from the oncoming ditch for nearly 20 ft before ejecting off the bike into the bushes.  After this close call it was best to tone it down a notch as the next 1500 M vertical descent was nearly 30 minutes long and called the death enduro due to its nature of being full of unexpected holes, steep staircases and tall grass which you can’t see under.  Passing two Spaniards fixing flat tires halfway down was a morale booster before hitting the hell climb, a blistering hot 800 meters ascent. It was a good battle the last 1 hr with 4 of us coming within 2.5 minutes of each other for the stage win with my buddy Thomas Turner taking the W.

Stage 3 over Jaloria pass is a 45 km ascent to 10 000 ft before a sketchy road descent dodging the crazy Indian traffic to the valley below.  The Indian traffic is worth a blog post by itself as the roads here are obstacle courses full of everything and anything that moves. The drivers although skilled,  don’t stick to their side of the road and would rather blow their horn at something than try and steer around it.  Feeling good off the start I rode like I was in mid-season form up the climb for the first 1.5 hours, dropping everyone except race leader Thomas Engelsgjerd and Portuguese Pro roadie Micael Isidoro.  Having visions of riding myself back into the race, I instead rode my body into self-destruction as it was not happy with the effort.  From here it was a long cross eyed ride to the finish line losing a huge chunk of time and falling out of contention of defending my title from 2014.  

The next 3 stages were all pretty similar racing hard, dodging Indian chaos, and enjoying the adult boy/girl scout campouts.  Stage 7 was marked in my head as it contained a 5 km stretch of donkey trail that my Kona Hei Hei full suspension and I could hopefully put the hurt on the Euro climbing machines.  Going to bed early for a good rest, the Indian X factor hit hard with loud music across the town blasting out of blown out speakers until 2:30 am.  Next up were random trucks starting up at 3 am with sputtering engines and then after 1 hour of silence the local church turned its blown out loud speaker on to preach their story.  All in all in equated to under 2 hours of sleep.  It was rather amusing to see all the tired faces in the morning as it looked like we had all been to a rock show and drank way to many beers!  

This probably played into my hands as you are way more messed up at the tail end of a 24 Hour solo race so I stuck to my tactics and hit the donkey trail first after a pretty gentle 15 km road climb to start the day.  After dodging a couple grass people, I came around the first corner into a herd of 3 donkeys, 3 other riders caught up to the traffic jam as we had a standoff before one donkey sprinted past, catching Micaels bike with his pack  hauling it a few feet before luckily not destroying it.  Here I squeezed past the other 2 donkeys,  rode Canadian style over the next few km of trail and soon had a substantial 5 minute lead.  It was a long solo 70 km ride to the finish but the lead would stretch out to over 8 minutes. It was pretty rad to have a good ride again after such a long struggle this summer!

The final stage finished off with a sweet 45 km through the Indian countryside before a hard climb up to a paraglide launch where we had a fabulous view of the Kangra valley below and the Dhauladhar Range behind.  We must’ve stayed up there for over 4 hours, eating lunch and enjoying having completed one hell of a fun and tough race adventure across the southern ranges of the Himalayas.  Next up the organizers had set up an unexpected 12 km treasure hunt to the race hotel.  My team with Yak attack organizer Phil Evans, and Eve Conyers from Australia  ended up riding close to 20 km and came in near dead last as we made the mistake of asking the roadside Indians for directions, in which they made shit up and pointed us all over the countryside.  The post-race party turned into a bit of a gongshow as the hotel apparently knew nothing about hotel management or feeding a bunch of hungry bike racers.   Seeing the chaos of 90 hungry bike racers trying to deal with the confused Indian hotel staff made an amusing spectacle.  A few of us grabbed some ciders from a nearby liquor hut and sat back to enjoy the show.  

The next morning 6 of us decided to get the hell out of Hotel shitshow and headed up to the mountains to the hippie town of Dharmkot.  After sweet 3 day hike and a bonfire in the mountains, everyone changed their tickets for a couple weeks later and we created the Himalayan “A” team adventure squad.  Since then it’s been nearly 2 weeks of proper Indian adventures, climbing 4400 M passes, camping in the mountains, a few hippie rest days eating good food, some solid training days and a real good crash course on the cultural way of life up in the Indian mountains.    

 

We have another week up here before the others will head back to their homes in Norway and Australia while I’ll head off to Nepal to take on the World’s Highest Mountain Bike race, The Yak Attack !  Hopefully living and training up here at Altitude all these weeks will pay off 🙂  

 

 

Iceland- Glacier 360

Iceland “the land of fire and ice” is a small island nation lying just south of the Arctic circle  in the North Atlantic ocean.     It has become a tourist hotbed as people come in droves to see its extraordinary landscape full of Volcanic activity, geothermal energy,  glaciers, waterfalls and vast expanses of moon like rock fields.  When the opportunity came to visit this Nordic country and the  Glacier 360 mtb race which circumnavigates the countries 2nd biggest Glacier, we had to go!

The race itself  is for pairs in which you ride with a teammate and you get the time of the slowest member.  Being classified as UCI S2 with  Intenational/Olympic ranking points, this drew a strong field of contenders, mostly from Scandinavia and Europe.  My partner, Andreas Hartmann, crashed the day we were suppose to fly out. I delayed my flight for 2 days and started searching for  a replacement.  Thankfully my buddy, Thomas Turner, (USA), stepped up at the last minute, with no preparation. He was on a plane within 48 hrs of the first call.  We named our team “Wallace and the Hitman Gromit” and jumped into the adventures of this far off land.  

From the moment we landed in Iceland it was rad as we soaked in the Nordic culture of its 330, 000 inhabitants.  Navigating around a very touristy Reykavik, (The Northern most Capitol City in the World), was more expensive then we’d imagined but the people were great and made us feel welcomed from the get go.

The Glacier 360 is in its 2nd year and is a 3 day, 280 km race around the Langjökull Glacier, starting at the world-famous Geysir in Haukadalur South Iceland. The finish was at the Gullfoss waterfall, known as the most beautiful waterfall in Europe.  Stage 1, nicknamed  “The Black and White Miles“,was  essentially a 90 km road race through a volcanic desert full of pitch black rock and sands.  The course was undulating and pretty scenic as we raced by the immense ice fields to the right of us. We could see plumes from the geothermal fields across the landscape. 

Seeing the lead teams from last year ditch their spare clothing at the start line, we did the same, but would regret this mid stage when the temperatures plummeted to + 2 degrees celsius, with strong frigid winds off the Glacier and a few spits of rain to make us really nervous.  Our hands froze solid and our jerseys and shorts didn’t protect us quite as much as we would’ve liked, but we made it to the finish line in a the lush glacial valley on the west side of the glacier.   Here we were treated to a warming tent full of food, highlighted by Iceland’s world famous Skyr Yogurt, which is made with three times the milk of most traditional yogurts. It is strained carefully to remove excess liquid, leaving a thick and creamy nutritious treat, high in protein and low in fat.

The terrain around camp resembled the high alpine in Canada with clear creeks, open meadows and a brisk chill in the air.  The parking lots were full of tourist vehicles which looked like they were ready for the moon. They had enormous tires on small little vans, apparently to provide flotation up on the glaciers and across the rough terrain.

Stage 2 was labelled “The WaterWorld Climbs” as it took us across a couple of large unbridged rivers and over the rough Icelandic highland to the northwest of the glacier.  The riding was rad as it was rough and full of sharp volcanic stones which required a fair bit of agility to weave through at high speed as they didn’t look too friendly to our bike tires! It was a solid 110 km ride which ended at the highest point of the race, in the dead centre of the highlands at Hveravellir “Oasis”. This Oasis is a tourist camp formed around a hot spring on the oldest coast-to-coast road in Iceland.  There were huge glaciers to either side of camp, a hot geothermal field full of pools, a small steam vent and a hot spring with 100 degree  Fahrenheit water coming in one end, and glacial water in the other.  The food up here, like everywhere in Iceland, was great, although paying upwards of $40 for a greasy burger, then seeing signs in the bathroom asking for $6.20 to use the toilet seemed a bit overkill.  In theory it would cost $46.20 to eat a greasy burger, turn it into shit, and then get rid of it down the toilet.  If there was ever good motivation to go on a diet this was it!

The first half of Stage 3 was one of the coolest bike rides I did all year. We climbed an old highland road through the alpine into Thjofadalir valley which is tucked away underneath huge glacier fields. Dropping into the valley we followed  an abandoned dirt path which apparently has only been used by horses and hikers for years. The 20 km trail was rough, rutted and braided in many spots which turned into a choose your own adventure type of race. My teammate Thomas had been struggling a bit the previous few days, battling jet lag and having only 2 days to prepare, but he was on fire in this section as he wound his way through the boulder gardens with last year’s winning team and myself in tow.  The fun would eventually stop as we hit a long gravel road to the finish line with Thomas casing a big rock to get his 2nd flat tire of the day and kill any momentum we had.  That’s racing though, and once we had air back in the tire we enjoyed the final 1.5 hr ride through the highlands to the Gullfoss waterfall. Here we were reminded that Iceland is in a tourist boom as the trail to the waterfall was packed with thousands of tourists as busloads were being dropped off by the minute. 

The post race party was in an open field beside another geothermal pool. A hot bbq was cooking up burgers and sausages for the riders before we were to be transferred back to Reykjaviik to start our journeys home.  My younger cousin, Ali, was a volunteer at the race so we stuck around for the night to party with her and the rest of the volunteers.  The plan in the morning was to hitchhike back to Reykjavik, but after helping clean up camp, the Glacier 360 organization offered to take us on a tour of the Southern Coast, with the volunteers. The highlight was a pretty cool glacial walk on one of the Countries many large but retreating ice fields.  It was a fitting cap to our short time in Iceland, which somehow felt like a month, with all that we experienced in the short 6 days we were there.

Here’s a few interesting facts on Iceland.

  • Between geothermal and hydropower, 100% of the countries electricity is from renewable resources and 80% of its primary energy is also renewable with fossil fuels making up the other 20%.
  • Iceland’s capital Reykjavik is the northernmost capital city in the World.
  • The only native mammal is the Arctic Fox.
  • Geologically, Iceland is the youngest country in the World.
  • I’d estimate that to travel like a normal person, it would cost $400 dollars a day in this tourist Mecca.
  • Bike touring around the country with a tent and buying food at a grocery store could lower this coast to somewhere around $80 to $100 a day.

 

Off to the Backcountry near Jasper Alberta with my Dad and Eileen and 7 horses for 2 weeks  to clear some trail and recharge the mind an body after a busy race year 🙂    

Over and out!

Singletrack 6 (TransRockies)

The Singletrack 6 was born when the legendary TransRockies went dormant a few years back and is turning into one of North Americas premier races.  Each year the host communities change as the organization seeks out new riding areas to showcase 6 days of the best of what Western Canadian singletrack has to offer.  The days are typically around 40 km (3-5 hours for the average racer) as the riders navigate a great brew of single track riding which includes big climbs into the alpine, panoramic views and epic timed descents.  In the evenings we all come together for post race bbq’s, slideshows, and story telling from the days racing. Often some locals are on hand to give us some history of the riding areas and how they became what they are today over years of hardwork and ingenuity.

This year the race ventured into the Kootenay towns of Rossland, Nelson and Kaslo in South Central BC.  It’s a riding area few of us had ever ridden as it’s tucked away from the rest of the province. It is a well known as being the hippie outpost of Canada, especially the town of Nelson which you can smell from miles away.

Stages 1-3 took place in Rossland, the self proclaimed “Mountain bike Capital of Canada.”  There are a number of towns that could claim this and Rossland certainly didn’t dissapoint as there is an extensive trail network surrounding the town 360 degrees which offers some exciting riding.  Coming off a racing hangover after winning the World Solo 24 HR Champs in Italy back in June I was fired up for an intense week of racing and used the first steep climbs of Stage 1 to spread out the field and kick off the bike tournament in style.  Leading half way through the stage and still well within normal operating levels the body disturbingly started to show signs of the past few weeks as the watts started to plummet and the system overheated.  From here a couple USA boys, Justin Lindine, Taylor Lideen,former French Marathon Champ Frederic Gombert and one of Canada’s rising XC stars Evan Guthrie  took over and set a blistering pace down the rough timed descent on the day.  It was a short day of racing at just over 2 hours but we all felt the mid 30 degree heat and 1500 M of climbing.

 

The next two days were pretty similar as I’d kick off the racing to make sure the tempo stayed high then would settle into my 24hr hangover pace while the boys off the front through haymakers at each other in the Canadian wilderness.  On day 3 we apparently rode one of the most beautiful trails in Canada as we hit the high alpine 7 summits trail.  They say there are 360 degree panoramic views up there and some beautiful wild flowers but we’ll have to go back another day as our attention was 100% focused on the rocky trail so we wouldn’t end over the bars and eating alpine dirt for breakfast.

Stage 4 in Nelson was another beauty as we climbed for nearly 15 km off the start on a great mixture of fire roads, overgrown quad trails and singeltrack.  Eventually we topped out in the high alpine before hitting a series of sweet descents back to the start.  Every stage had a timed descent which was great as even if you were having snail legs on the climbs you could still fight for something and rail the downhills.

Stage 5 in Kaslo was the highlight in my books as we road high up on the mountain slopes above the sleepy little lake side town before hitting a great sidehill trail traversing across the slopes and eventually leading down another single track gem to the glacial river below.  The racing at the front was great with 10-12 guys jostling for position everyday.  My friend Ian Murray and I had a nice battle going on the last riverside decent as the trail rolled up and down the banks of the Kaslo river.  I opened up a gap but was clobbered by a weird overhanging tree that caught me in the back, digging into the right Kidney.  It was like being blind sided into the boards at a hockey game as I tried to keep riding but had to get off for a minute or two to let the odd numbing feeling pass through the body. Oddly enough Ian never passed by which I couldn’t figure out but later heard he also got clobbered by a overhanging tree and ended up on the side of the trail with a charlie horse.   We both limped across the line and then headed straight to the Kootenay lake to chill the bodies and provide some relief to our aching bodies.  

Stage 6 was back in the Hippie capitol of Canada as we raced another short but challenging stage high up on mountain slopes above Nelson.  It was a hard morning as  we hit a mixture of fast flowy trails and some real brain rattlers which really put our xc bikes to the test. It was a nice cap to cap a great week as the rest of the day was spent like the other days, cooling off in the fresh mountain lakes and hanging out with our riding buddies sharing stories from the days action.

Compared to alot of the other racing around the World, the ST6 really feels like a biking holiday as there is alot of time to chill after the stages as we’re often done by around 10 am and have the rest of they day to soak in the culture of the surrounding communities.  For someone who wants to have some adventurous and challenging days on a bike but still have loads of time to hang out with family or friends then the ST6 is tough to beat.  Next year it will be back towards the Rockies as the race will tackle 3 days in Golden BC then head over to the Okanagan for some riding in Revelstoke, and Vernon.  I’ll be looking for a chance to return again as these weeks stand out in the memory books every year!  

 

Photo Credits for the two race shots + the high alpine:  John Gibson @gibsonpictures