Besides the obvious- a bike and legs to pedal, the one thing I wouldn’t do without on the Yak Attack, or any stage race, is a ziploc bag full of Pro Gold Pro Towels! The Yak Attack is 8 days long- plus pedaling days on either end, and sees everything from dry, silt-covered jeep roads, to river crossings, to deep unforgiving mud, and long stretches of snow and ice. Many stages can see all of the above conditions over the course of a day. The bike, along with your body, takes an incredible beating on this race. On top of all of this, bike washing facilities are pretty spartan to say the least. As the elevation increases, temperatures drop, water approaches freezing temps, and the will to thoroughly clean your bike rapidly declines.
On several stages, Pro-Towels were the only thing I used to clean up my bike at the end of the day. They are tough enough to stand up to everything you can throw at them- no lint, no falling apart in your hands, and impregnated with grease and grim busting citrus solvents. Pro Gold makes a ton of great cleaning, and lubrication products, but Pro Towels are my favorite of the lot. It’s amazing how much you can get done with such a small towel. I buy them by the tub and transfer to ziploc bags for travel, but they also come in single-serving packets that stash in a pack for mid-ride-mud-rub-downs.
If your local shop doesn’t carry Pro Gold, they’re missing out- but you can also order on-line (or find a new shop).
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.
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!
Stage 4 was another combination of stages from previous years. It was to be another epic day in the saddle- 51 miles and about 9,000′ of climbing. It’s all up, with a nice spike of steepness coming in around mile 16. The down bits are few and far between, so I knew my chances of making up time were slim.
Something just wasn’t right in the morning. I was ready to go with plenty of time before the start, but then realized I wasn’t quite ready. Things got away from me quickly and suddenly I was racing to meet the whistle as the other riders started to leave the hotel grounds for the start about a mile or so down the road.
I was flustered, and foggy-headed. I strapped on my pack, and as I was heading down the steep rocky hill in front of the hotel, I suddenly found myself spread eagle, face down in the dirt, bleeding from my knees and elbow. I had wrecked trying to turn my Garmin on- caught a bad rock or dip, or who knows what. That definitely hurt and rattled me pretty good.
I limped my way to the start and when the whistle blew again, I knew I was in trouble. My legs were replaced with leaden replicas. I could not pedal worth a damn and saw the main group peel away from me quickly and I had nothing to offer in return. This was going to be a long day. As Tyler started to pass me, Garrit rode up next to me (he was playing photo-tourist today), looked over and shouted, “Don’t make it so easy on him, out of the saddle!” as he started to sprint away begging me to suck his wheel. I tried, but it was a miserable effort. I settled in to a slow rhythm again and was caught by Phil who usually runs sweep, “uh-oh.”
“I’ve got nothing Phil, this is gonna be a long day.” and he too pedaled away from me. I didn’t want to start wallowing in self-doubt so I just lowered my head and pedaled on. We were still only a few miles in, and I knew there was a long way to go.
Somewhere around the time the trail kicked sharply, I suddenly found my legs. I found that hilarious since historically, I am absolute shite climbing, but there I was starting to reel people in as the grade got steeper, more loose, and somewhat techy and chunky. I had caught and passed Phil, and was now trading back and forth with Tyler, and I think at some point even passed Wendy for a bit. I was starting to feel pretty good for the first time that day. I was still with Tyler and Wendy as we pulled in to the aid station at the half-way point. I downed a quick slug of water, and ate a few biscuits and followed Wendy out of the aid leaving Tyler behind. The trail got very steep and very loose again, and Wendy started to pull away.
We were switch-backing our way up the valley side and the heat was really bearing down. I was definitely red-lining but wanted to keep Wendy close and pace her as much as possible. The track I was on was getting way loose with big bowling ball rocks so I started to move over to a clearer track. At some pointe I stalled a bit and was about to un-clip when suddenly my cleat would not release. Yup, the mental notes from stage 1 and 2 came back suddenly- it was clear my cleat had rotated again. This all happened in a flash, and suddenly I was falling on to my right side- SLAM! I landed on the wrong end of my handle bars straight to the solar plexus just to the side of my sternum. My full body weight came crashing down on my bar end.
The wind was completely knocked out of me- I find this one of the scariest moments, especially after redlining up a steep hill to suddenly have no ability to breathe. I tried to remain as calm as possible reminding myself that breath would return soon. I hunched over, finally free of the bike and counted, desperately waiting for my diaphragm to start working again. From behind me I could hear Tyler asking if I was okay.
I was decidedly not okay. Finally a short gasp came, I heaved, groaned, and waited for a second breath, “Ohhhh fuck!” More short shallow breaths followed. Adrenalin started to take over. I righted myself and my bike. Things were hazy, but I started to walk, stopping to straighten my bars, Tyler still checking on me.
Then I noticed the “click.” It felt like my ear bud was bouncing off my heart rate strap, or maybe I had broken my heart rate monitor around my chest. I pulled up my jersey, and angry welt almost the perfect shape of my bar end smiled at me. My strap was fine, and my ear bud was nowhere near it. I pushed on my ribs, “snap, crackle, pop”- my fingers melted into what is normally solid bone.
“I fucking straight up broke my rib.” It was matter of fact- anxiety flooded me, was this the end of my race?
“Do you want to go back to the aid station- it’s just down the hill.” That hill had cost me too much to retrace. No way was going back down.
“Do you want me to stay with you?”
“No, go on, nothing you can do.”
There was probably a bit more yelling, a bit more cursing. I was pissed and didn’t really know what to do but keep moving my feet. Tyler took off and I continued to walk my bike up the steep grade. When it started to kick back, I got on and pedaled. This was suffering at its worst. I pulled over to readjust things. I ditched my heart rate strap as it was not helping things. I readjusted the straps on my camel bak. I pedaled some more, then I stopped to fix my cleat; I definitely didn’t want to take another tumble. I went on like this for a while. Time crawled to a standstill. I stopped again. People were now catching and passing. It was hot, dusty and endless.
I stopped for a longer stretch, poking and prodding my chest. First Paul appeared and offered help, then Phil came around the corner. I told them what happened and Phil looked at me, “Are you going to wait here for the sweep vehicle?”
“Fuck no!” the anger wasn’t at Phil, or the question, but at myself, for being in this spot. Just over halfway through the 4th day- the days only getting harder from here. I did myself in good. What the fuck was I going to do- ride in a jeep? Take a bouncing metal deathtrap all the way back to Kathmandu? Give up? No, I was pushing on.
Then the jeep appeared with the race Doctor sitting shotgun.
“I’m all fucked up.”
The doctor agreed I likely broke something, but there wasn’t much to do. He gave me some paracetamol and asked if I wanted to ride in the jeep. This wasn’t happening.
I waved everyone off, and got back on my bike. It was going to be a long day, and I needed to move if I was to see the end of it.
I don’t really remember much from here. I do remember some stunning views- we were getting deep into the mountains now. I think I pulled away from both Phil and Paul, and traded back and forth a bit with the jeep. There were waterfalls, and glacially cold water crossings. My feet were soaked and cold. Rickety bridges appeared across scary river crossings. It got steeper and steeper. Alcoves of waterfalls dropped the temps a good 20 degrees inducing some slight shivering. I pedaled on. Then a massive snow-capped jagged peak appeared and I stopped to take a photo- this may be my last chance.
I plodded on, turning the cranks, willing myself into Chame. I passed a couple more people before finally hitting the outskirts of Chame; I spun the prayer wheels as I went through the arch. It felt like forever to reach the finish line at the far end of town. I pulled in to the courtyard and collapsed in a heap on the stairs. It was cold. This was a forbidding place. I was mentally wasted, but I was at the finish.
My mind never really returned the rest of the day. I struggled to get my bike cleaned and shit put away. Every movement was a supreme effort. I gobbled down the ibuprofen and paracetamol. I tried for a shower but regardless of the signs, there was no hot water to be had anywhere. Then I grabbed my flask. It was full of 18 year Jameson whiskey- a celebration for a far off race finish that was now in serious doubt. Might as well kill the pain. I sat in the eating area and soothed my aches.
Tomorrow was a shorter day, but we were getting up there in altitude. It took everything I had to finish stage 4 and I really didn’t know if I could continue, but there was only one way to find out.
This is the only stage that starts with a downhill close to the hotel. I had done this same downhill and taken 3rd during Trans-Nepal. We ran a staggered start with 30 seconds between each rider starting with the slowest. My goal was to catch as many rabbits as possible before we hit the road at the bottom of the downhill where the route turns uphill for a while before upgulating along on a fair amount of sealed road. I manage to real in a good 7-8 riders, and while I probably burned a match or three doing it, I really enjoyed the downhill. I’m not sure why I pushed so hard but I had an absolute blast railing this downhill for just over 5 miles. I certainly paid for it later on in the day, but I came here to have fun, and fun is what I had.
I was caught pretty quickly by some of the last riders I’d passed, but it took the leaders at least a little while to catch me given my head start. It was humbling to watch them pass by like I was standing still. Suck a wheel? Not likely with these cats. I was eventually caught on the road by Tyler, and was able to hang on to his wheel into the finish where I just nosed him at the line. The day ends with the steepest climb of the stage, after the finish line- typical Yak Attack!
We’re now getting in to parts of the race I didn’t get to see during the Trans-Nepal. Day three ends in Besi Sahar, the gateway to the Annapurna circuit. you can just start to get good glimpses of the high Himalaya. It was one of the easier days but still clocked in with a respectable mileage, and some decent climbing- even the easy days are hard in Yak Attack. One rider was claimed on the day when Johan, already suffering with a torn back muscle, broke his seat post and finally had drop the race. To his credit, he completed the rest of the stages on foot including the pass. This race brings in the tough ones for sure.
I think the idea for upping the ante on The Yak Attack had been in the works for some time. Phil (race director) mentioned during Trans Nepal that he was considering combining some stages for future races. This year stages 2 and 3 were combined into one long stage going from The Famous Farm all the way to Gorka. I’ll be honest, I was a bit concerned. Even though it is not a horrendously long stage, clocking in around 51 miles, there is over 8,000′ of climbing. My knees were not feeling the best, and this is only day 2 of 8 days of riding with another monster stage 2 days later (combined stages 5 and 6 for a new stage 4). We also hit the low point of the race in elevation, and temps were going to be warm. But first, we needed to descend a narrow busy, sealed road for 5 miles and then, of course, climb a steep bit for a good mile or so to the start. This is Yak Attack, no freebies allowed.
The stage wasted no time in getting started as you climb an ever steepening grade for about 6 miles- all told, about 2,500′ of elevation gain. I was getting passed but settled in and just made sure I kept turning the cranks. At some point near the top, I started to reel some folks in, and then we got a great downhill. which of course led to another even steeper climb. At the top it is standard, beautiful upgulating (undulating, with more up than down, always up…) Nepali riding before another even longer downhill. I think it was here that I caught Tyler sitting on the side with a flat. I offered the obligatory, “are you good?” but the response was not positive. I hit the brakes and helped him get his valve core unstuck so he could put in a tube. From there I continued down and eventually came to a rickety suspension bridge across the river. Nothing much to do but ride it- better to spend as little time on this bridge as possible.
After the bridge was some steep hike-a-bike on loose dirt. It was hot but I felt okay. I caught at passed another rider (Thomas maybe) and was surprised to be pulling away from him on the climb that followed. The first aid station was only 13 miles in but felt like forever. The next section to aid 2 was rolling, occasionally up, occasionally single-track, and occasionally very rough. I was putting some time on a few riders from stage 2 but was caught by Tobias just as I was leaving aid 3. As I was taking off, I suddenly noticed John Salskov sitting on the threshold of the shack/shop. “You ok John?”
John was decidedly not ok. Heat stroke, Nepali stomach bug(s), general body break-down. He looked like shit and was talking of having to bail. I told him to rest, there were hours before the cut-off, and try to recover before I took off. Unfortunately, John ended up having to take the jeep from just past aid 3 to the finish. He was not the first or last casualty of the race.
I found another gear leaving the last aid station, and felt the freshest I felt all day. It seems maybe I am finally learning to pace a bit, and also benefitting from doing a lot of long rides. This is good because you set off on yet another long climb from the day’s low point, up, up, up. I did some walking, some riding, some grinding, and once again took a good tumble going up hill when I failed to release my right cleat- mental note. It was a dusty landy, and I was covered in fine silt now reddish brown where I had been black lycra.
The stage finished with more rolling, upgulating riding with stellar views everywhere. We were riding through centuries old terraced valleys and ridges. And then the finish line came in to view. I felt great as I crossed the line- it was a beautiful stage. It would make a great one day race all on its own. The knees ached, but nothing debilitating and I hoped I hadn’t dug too deep a well for the following days. Besides combing old stages 2 and 3, there were some significant reroutes to reduce the amount of time spent on roads. The race is all the better for it. Good job Phil Evans!
Stats: 51 miles, 8,300′, 7:04, 22nd, 2:30 off lead
The awesome Videographer was working his way among the racers, “What are your expectations for this year’s Yak Attack?” if I had been asked this a couple months ago, my answer would have been a lot different than this day. What are my goals- to finish. Of course, it’s a race, and once the pedals start turning, even knowing I have no shot of doing “well,” I can’t help but push myself as hard as I can.
That’s the real deal isn’t it? At the end of the day, will I feel like I did my best- did I push hard enough? Did I leave too much in the tank? Did I crumble mentally, or did I put in an effort I can be proud of. Podiums are awesome, don’t get me wrong, but the Yak Attack is a different sort of race save for the very few, extremely gifted riders at the front of the class. This is an adventure.
Stage 1 starts with a long “group ride” uphill to the start line at Shivapuri National Park. It is pretty common for Yak Attack days to either start, end, or both with an untimed stage, usually uphill. We reached the top and regrouped for a short few minutes before the whistle blew and we were off on the extremely steep rocky start that eased back to some great single-track.
I had ridden a lot of stage 1 during the Trans-Nepal. The short but techy rock garden was as fun as I remembered, and there was some mud, rocks and then a fabulous first view of the mountains- absolutely stunning.
Once the Himalaya came into view, we deviated from previous courses. Instead of a fast sealed road descent, we climbed further up and right on muddy jeep road to a new, gigantic, brake burning descent. It was the kind of descent that starts to just destroy your hands and legs, even though you’re going downhill.
I was screaming down the descent with Thomas- a German living in the Yukon, and another German, Tobias. I had just started to open a gap on Thomas when I came up on Tyler (fellow Coloradan now living in Kathmandu) and Ram- of the Nepalese army riders. Ram had taken a big spill, was repeating himself a lot, and had some big contusions and scraps on his face and a broken helmet. Did I mention that Tyler was the one that found me after crashing out at the Breck 100 last year? Is this good or bad luck? Tobias and I stayed with Ram and Tyler for several minutes to make sure things weren’t desperate. We were a good 10 miles from either the start or the first water station, pretty much in the middle of a nowhere on the steep sides of the Kathmandu valley.
I eventually took off with a goal to update the docs at the first water station. It took longer than expected. My knees started to act up on the remaining downhill and I was actually looking forward to some flatness. We pedaled along cobbled, bouncy primitive roads until aid 1. I updated the docs, and gave some info on location and Ram’s state. There really wasn’t any easy way to get transport to where he was located, but I left the particulars to them before heading off. Keep this in mind, we were at the start, very close to Kathmandu and it was still a huge proposition to afford any reasonable care in the event of shit getting serious. This is no joke, and only gets more serious the further along the route one goes. This is committed.
The day finished with a horrendous, hot, and normally dusty hill climb to the finish. Last year my cranks were literally falling off on this climb due to a loose spindle, and I had to walk a few sections. This year I was determined to get it clean, which I did, but I lost a good amount of time to Tobias who pulled away from me near the bottom. This hill cracked more than a couple top riders in the heat- but the recent rains at least meant the dust was minimal. I crossed the line in 23rd that day- not stellar, but about where I belonged.
From the finish it’s a short, uphill march to the Famous Farm- the best accommodations in the entire race. At the entrance to the farm, I fell over when I failed to unclip from my pedals- mental note…
How does one describe a truly grand, epic adventure where the details are so fuzzy, where each day melds seamlessly, sometimes jarringly into another? Vague memories punctuated by crystal clear snapshots- a perfect view of a vast Himalayan icefall, ice-choked squat toilets at 6:00 am, breathless searing pain riding rough shod over rocky terrain… This is Yak Attack!
Over the next few days, I will try to capture some thoughts I wrote down for each stage, but as I sit here, 4 stories above the ever lovable chaos of Thamel nearly two weeks after we first set out on stage 1, after two days of lounging about the sleepy strip of Pokhara, I want to try to capture the essence of the experience. I know this is futile, but worth the effort.
I’ve been fortunate to have some pretty raw adventures in my time. Was this the hardest, most difficult thing I have done? Probably not, but maybe so- how does one really measure something like this? Time and memories are so fluid- a land where days can seem like weeks, and months like the briefest moments, even simultaneously. Reflection on an experience is never the same as in-the-moment. Without a doubt, there were moments where I was stretched to my limit, a rubber-band cracking and straining, yet I never fully broke. It was, however, the hardest, most raw, committing thing I have done on a bicycle without a doubt.
The sheer scale of the Himalaya is overwhelming. Sitting on a deck, sipping real Lavazza coffee and eating Black Forest Cake at 11,500′, the soaring Annapurna range loomed high above- I could not fathom the size, even sitting at the base. My familiar frames of reference are useless- even having spent so much time in the high mountains back at home.
Valley views of centuries old terraces as far as the eye can see- dug by hand into the steep unforgiving sides of the foothills- pass by almost daily. Bewildered stares, with a hasty “Namaste” greet a passing rider in every town. Stark, barren, and cold rooms dominate each night as you climb higher into the mountains. There is never enough sleep, enough food, enough time recover, enough beer…
Most of us are strangers to one another. There are the various couples that come to race together- life-long friends on a quest for adventure, fellow racers from “back home” or acquaintances from some brief moment in the near-distant past. We share similar experiences, but many different colored passports. There are the truly elite, world-class racers vying for the podium, along with the average Jane chasing the experience of a lifetime.
Then there is the riding- holy shit! The riding! ancient foot paths, blasted jeep road, ephemeral steeps through deep snow. Fast, techy, dusty, grinding track through the iconic Annapurna circuit. This is perhaps the most unique location to race a mountain bike. Tropical forests down low, to hypoxic altitudes up high- this race has it all- from sweating it out and barely escaping heat exhaustion in the opening days, to suffering from hypothermia well below Thong La on “Pass Day” wearing almost every stitch of clothing available. Every day presents a new challenge, a new type of terrain, a new chance to suffer or shine.
We all share the misery and pain that comes from pushing the limits in such an environment. This race is as much about luck- of staying healthy enough to keep turning the pedals, as it is about fitness, or capabilities on a mountain bike. It is a race that will test you- a race where you will have to dig deep in order to continue- beyond reason, or logic. Not all who show succeed. If it was easy, or guaranteed, it would not have near the meaning that it does. And yet, crossing the finish line is not the end. Riders continue to succumb to the punishment. It’s frightening to watch a friend faint from illness on the final return flight to Kathmandu, days after the official race has ended.
Some, many likely, of the people I spent the last two weeks with, I will never see again. But there are others I know I will not only see, but will share other, soon-to-be-known adventures with- in some far-way, or close locale. I will, once again, share a beer, a shot, and a good story with some of these fellow adventurers. That time cannot come soon enough.
This is an adventure that will last- that will continue to impact my day-to-day, my future experiences- a new yard-stick by which to measure other tests. The future is always uncertain, unwritten till the moment it is lived, but I do not think this will be my last time here- my last time to experience all that this wonderful, amazing country has and is. Nepal is a kingdom that has long held adventure for those willing to only to seek it out, and I look forward to my next chance to share a smile, an adventure, and a part of myself in the heart of the Himalaya.
If you want to take the test- sign up. I did a fair amount of things right, and a fair amount of things wrong. I had some great gear, and some of the wrong gear. But I made it. If you persevere, and can recover from the lowest depths of self-doubt (you will reach them for sure), then the finish line, the medal, the celebration, and the memories are there. Realize though this is not a luxe tour. The accommodations are sparse- the toilets are some of the most disgusting things on earth. Unless you like glacial temps, showers are pretty much non-existent- my last shower was on stage 2 before getting to Pokhara 8 days later. Due to logistics, porters can depart 3-4 hours before race time and they will have your sleeping bag unless you want to carry it while riding. This leaves you the option of shivering on your bed in below freezing temps in your lycra, scoring an often impossible “blanket” or sucking it up and heading to the common area (unheated) for some tea and shivering with fellow riders. There are few creature comforts in the Yak Attack though they do appear at random points. Schedules can be fluid in Nepal, and plans are always subject to change at will. If you’re looking for a catered event with detailed directions and schedules, look somewhere else. But if you are looking for adventure, there is plenty of that in spades.
This is Yak Attack!
My sincerest thanks to all of the support staff involved in this one of a kind event- Snow Monkey, and all of the porters do an incredible job getting supplies from point to point along the route. Phil Evans realized a dream of creating a truly great event in one of the most magical places on earth. Finally, the Nepali people are some of the warmest, most sincere people I have met- and some of the most talented athletes I have ever raced with- Namaste!
Kathmandu shares a lot of similarities with other Asian countries- namely, the driving here is absolutely crazy. First time visitors are generally easy to spot by the look of pure terror on their faces. Traffic mainly drives on the left, though that is purely a suggestion when it comes down to it. Traffic is especially crazy in the narrow alleyways of Thamel- the streets were just not made for full-sized vehicles. There is great biking in the Kathmandu valley, but every ride requires braving the chaos in the streets of town. At the end of it all though, you get a seriously good Falafel wrap on Mandala street- I’m addicted to those!
Stepping in to the street and throwing a leg over the bike felt insanely alien and familiar at the same time. The street “traffic” here is indescribable. Vehicles and pedestrians mostly stay to the left, but that is really only a suggestion, and absolutely meaningless on some of the narrower (read most) streets and alley ways especially in Thamel.
My aim my first morning back in Kathmandu was Nagarkot. I’d not been there before and only had a vague gpx file and some slight understanding of the major roads. I became a bit lost in the back alleys of Thamel but righted myself soon enough. It’s relatively flat but along a busy street for the first 12-14 miles before kicking up on a long sealed road climb up to Nagarkot Bazaar and then even steeper (16-20% in spots) up to the communications antenna. I made decent time and was pushing fairly hard testing the knees. The trip back was fast and furious and completely chaotic once I reached Kathmandu again. I had no reverse gps so had to go by feel. Some of the streets looked familiar from over a year ago, but it all blurs together. All told about 48 miles and a fair amount of climbing- 48 miles, 3600′ of climbing and spectacular views of the Langtang group…
I had a late night work call that kept me up to the wee hours but still managed to get to the shop for the 10:00 ride time. Phil Evans (Yak Attack race director) and Rob Burnett- a fellow Coloradan had just show up yesterday. I met Rob about a year ago in Golden, and it’s taken this long, and traveling halfway round the globe to finally ride with him. Figures. The three of us met Neil Cottam back for his 3rd Yak Attack and headed off towards Mudku for a “quick 2 hour leisure ride”. It was an awesome mix of moderate to sometimes steep climbing, and awesome raging downhills- all told 23 miles and 2500′ of climbing. The knees had twinges but surprisingly weren’t on fire. I may make it through this yet.