Both my memory of the race, and available photos from the bike start to get a bit spotty at this point. My mind was constantly absorbed by the pain in my chest. My gopro mount broke on Day 4, and I just didn’t have it in me to stop too often to take photos…
Sleep was rough. There were no positions I could find that did not hurt. I’m sure my moaning, and occasional outbursts of pure pain did not help Tyler’s sleep either. Dawn came all too quickly and now that there was no jeep access, the bags needed to be ready long before the start of the stage- this includes your sleeping bag, unless you want to carry that in your pack.
The steep sides of the valley made the morning cold and uninviting. But the grand send-off, complete with candies and the ubiquitous yellow scarf set a good tone. Once formalities were dispensed, we trucked off down the road and across a large bridge to the start. It seems customary to tie the scarf around the bridge- both for luck, and to prevent the scarf from wrapping up in the drive train, or front wheel.
The goal for the day was simple- finish. Whatever it took, cross the line. I wouldn’t have the adrenaline from the day before to help me along. It was a relatively short 20 mile day, with only 3,600′ of climbing- almost a rest day by Yak Attack standards- however, the finish line was above 11,000′ and there would be snow.
The whistle blew and the pack surged forth. I took a more steady pace along the awesome loamy forest start. The rough jeep track was no fun on the ribs, and I couldn’t help but moan and groan fairly continuously as I pedaled along, but I was able to move forward and that’s what counted.
I settled in to a rhythm, and once again started to reel some riders in along the way. I think it was shortly after the aid station at Pisang that we hit the first stretch of snow. It was brutal. There was a decent, ableit narrow, packed trail, but it was rutted deep with human and animal foot prints. Mules are heavily used on this section of the trekking path. Normally I can motor over snow track like this, but in my current state, it was pure agony. Eventually, the snow gave way to awesome rolling track and I even caught Tyler and Wendy again. I kept them in sight for a bit but then dropped off.
Then came the mud- deep, soul-sucking mud. I was prepared for the stifling heat down low, the cold and snow up high, but I was not prepared for the mud. It was the kind of mud that sucked you in. The kind that reeked of shit, piss, and other foul things. It required upper body English that wrenched my ribs in a most unpleasant way. And every time a bit of mud would splatter up into my mouth, or nose, I feared I too would get the dreaded belly rot that was making the rounds.
Pro-tip: I personally think water bottles are a bad idea on this race. There’s just no way to keep them clean from the mud and the muck- and there are nasty things in that muck. It’s hard enough keeping the nozzle of a camelbak clean enough.
Close to Manang I was convinced I had missed a turn, even though we were on the only navigable “road.” I turned around and hiked back up the muddy hill I had just managed to come down for a good 20 minutes before the med team’s jeep appeared and assured me I was now backtracking. I turned around, saddled up, and proceeded to take another slow speed crash in the mud. Not good.
I eventually hit the final steep climb into Manang- all around surrounded by the high peaks of the Annapurna. Then the familiar town gate with prayer wheels, and then a long, seemingly endless rough mud and rock track to the far side of “town.” I thought it was a cruel joke, but it was just this tiny Himalayan village’s example of urban sprawl.
Stats: 20 miles, 3,600′, 22nd, 3:03, 0:58 off lead
We had finally arrived into the heart of the Himalaya. We were now above 11,500′ in Manang and the following day was an acclimatization rest day. Best of all, Manang has an entire cottage industry built around real coffee (Lavazza), and “German” bakeries. There are many, and they all seem to serve many of the same creations- pies, cakes, rolls, and other pastries. Perhaps one of the best items is the yak cheese sandwich. I well sized loaf of soft bread, fresh semi-firm yak cheese, and a sort of cole slaw mixture that tastes so much better than it sounds.
Manang is a perfect spot towered over by 7,000+ meter peaks with stunning unimaginable views in every direction. There are even multiple cinemas, though they all tend to show the same movies- choices range from Seven Years in Tibet, to Touching the Void, to a few other mountain themed movies. It’s all a bit surreal.
I also want to give a HUGE shout-out to Raj Kumar Shresta. It was pretty obvious that I was feeling a bit out of sorts, and when I finally got up enough motivation to head out to the back field to clean my bike, Raj Kumar had already taken care of it. He probably had this bike cleaner than any other time except when I first bought it. I am humbled by the warmth, compassion, and general awesomeness of the Nepali riders. Namaste Raj Kumar!