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

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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!