The first whistle blew around 5:30 for the 6:00 am bag drop- no matter, I was already awake. With no blankets or sleeping bag to wrap up in for the three hours until race start, there was nothing to do but get up… getting dressed was an excruciating affair as everything seized up in my chest. I should ask Tyler just how much I wailed during the morning.
Tea, I need tea.
It only got worse when I went for my morning constitutional. Squat toilets are pretty “rustic” in the best of circumstances. In Manang, where everything freezes, things go from bad to worse in a hurry. Add in 50 or so porters that used the three toilets before you and well… I didn’t get any photos, but the images are deeply burned into my brain. Toilets of the damned…
Eventually we piled out into the frozen muddy start area. It’s a “short” day- only 16 Km – 10 miles… that’s all plus 3,700′ of climbing. How hard can it be? Of course, you’re starting at 11,500′ and finishing at close to 15,000′, “Hardest 10 miles you’ll likely ever ride.” Fact!
It’s a bit blurry from here. I remember grunting, moaning, yelping at every bump, every stutter along a cobbled road, a rutted jeep track, a post- holed path through the snow and ice. The stage was steep from the get go: the ice thick, the ruts treacherous, and the despair a bottomless well. The adrenalin was gone, the mud deep, and the will tested.
I pushed on- choices were few- continue, or go back. I visaged no relief in a death-ride jeep back down the valley on an endless journey to Kathmandu. Up, ever up, pedal, pedal, pedal. “Harden the fuck up,” I repeat endlessly between self-pitying cries of stop, wait, sleep.
I likely pushed my bike almost as much as I rode it. The track was rough, technical at times and on reminiscence, RAD! High peaks, tight single track, endless views, and lung searing altitude. This is why I came to Nepal.
Suck it up Butter Cup. Eventually, far in the distance, the finish line came in to view. Rocky, snowy, desolate, and so comforting.
“This was a day I never, ever want to repeat.”
This was the lowest of the low. I was broken; I was beat, but I was carrying on. The yak attack continued to claim casualties as the very strong Ayman Tamang had to turn around just a couple miles outside of Manang due to a persistent chest infection.
“You can pour over the results as much as you like for the first 6 stages, but nothing matters until pass day,” prophetic words from Neil Cottam as we sat huddled in the lodge in Thorong Phedi at the base of Thorong La.
My appetite was cooked- it’s clear the altitude was hurting me. I didn’t realize until the next day that I was also coming down with a cold. Everyone was suffering to some degree- some more than others. Yuki’s face had swelled to twice it’s normal size- he looked like a boxer after 15 rounds of brutal punishment. The belly demon was wreaking havoc with multiple riders.
As clouds settled in and snow began to fall- 3:00 am was going to come all too soon and there was still mud to clean off my bike. Washing it down with cold water in sub-freezing temps was not appealing. But I was smart enough to pack a Ziploc bag full of ProGold Pro Towels. They were enough to get my drive train clean, and most of the heavy mud off the frame. Every ounce of mud is another burden to carry over the pass- a clean bike is a light bike.
I barely ate dinner. This was not going to help power me through the following day, but I just couldn’t stomach any food- classic signs high altitude. I bundled up for another fitful half-sleep and waited for the whistle to start the march over the pass.