Tag Archives: Nepal

2014 Yak Attack Stage 6

 

Blessings before Race Time
Blessings before Race Time

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!

Getting my scarf
Getting my scarf

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.

Looking back from Thorong Phedi at the end of a long day
Looking back from Thorong Phedi at the end of a long day

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.

Courtyard at Thorong Phedi lodge
Courtyard at Thorong Phedi lodge
Gerrit Glomser
Gerrit Glomser

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.

Parking Lot Thorong Phedi
Parking Lot Thorong Phedi

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.”

Finish line Stage 6
Finish line Stage 6
Sam the Doctor, and Tobias
Sam the Doctor, and Tobias

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.

View up valley from Thorong Phedi
View up valley from Thorong Phedi
Living in a Fortress
Living in a Fortress

“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.

The lodge at Thorong Phedi
The lodge at Thorong Phedi
Rajeev Rai
Rajeev Rai

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.

There's a storm-a-brewin'
There’s a storm-a-brewin’

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.

Cleaning duty in sub-optimal conditions- Pro Gold Pro Towels for the win!
Cleaning duty in sub-optimal conditions- Pro Gold Pro Towels for the win!

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.

We go that way - looking up towards Thorong La
We go that way – looking up towards Thorong La

2014 Yak Attack Stage 2

Gearing up for stage 2
Gearing up for stage 2

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.

Terraces
Terraces

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.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Enp-pjBYbLc

Bridge traffic
Bridge traffic

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?”

Snapshot(2)

Working the fields
Working the fields

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.

Phenomenal course markings- Snow Monkey does an incredible job!
Phenomenal course markings- Snow Monkey does an incredible job!

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.

Walkin' bushes
Walkin’ bushes

Mind your line

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

Snapshot(6)

2014 Yak Attack Stage 1

That's a lot of gear
That’s a lot of gear

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.

Me and Raj Kumar with Yuki and Rob
Me and Raj Kumar with Yuki and Rob

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.

Waiting game
Waiting game

Not the first or last of the mud

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.

Leading Tobias
Leading Tobias

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…

Stats: 30.3 miles, 2,907′, 3:15:32, 23rd

Well earned beers and Kind bars
Well earned beers and Kind bars
The Famous Farm
The Famous Farm
Chillaxin- Rajeev, Tyler, John and Rob
Chillaxin- Rajeev, Tyler, John and Rob
Race prep central
Race prep central
Mr Marcus strolling
Mr Marcus strolling
The bounty
The bounty
Best eating of the trip
Best eating of the trip
Awesome views everywhere
Awesome views everywhere

Raw Freshly Peeld Skin

Title

 

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!

Gearing up at the Park Village
Gearing up at the Park Village
Tan and Wendy looking fresh
Tan and Wendy looking fresh

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.

Me and Raj Kumar with Yuki and Rob
Me and Raj Kumar with Yuki and Rob

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.

Valley Views
Valley Views

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.

Heading into the mountains
Heading into the mountains

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.

BOOM!
BOOM!

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.

The view from Manang
The view from Manang

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.

Finish line!
Finish line!

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!

At the terminus
At the terminus

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!

Ice Cream in Pokhara with Tyler
Ice Cream in Pokhara with Tyler

Yak Attack Prologue

Langtang group from high above Nagarkot
Langtang group from high above Nagarkot

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…

Across valley from Nagarkot
Across valley from Nagarkot
The road down from Nagarkot- FAST
The road down from Nagarkot- FAST

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.

Climbing out of Mudku
Climbing out of Mudku
Taking a rest at another glorious spot
Taking a rest at another glorious spot
3rd time Yak Attack Vet Neil Cottam
3rd time Yak Attack Vet Neil Cottam
A motley bunch- Phil Evans (Yak Attack Race Director), Rob Burnett (Fast Golden local), Neil
A motley bunch- Phil Evans (Yak Attack Race Director), Rob Burnett (Fast Golden local), Neil
Views like this are everywhere
Views like this are everywhere
Stylin'
Stylin’
Post ride muggin' at Himalayan Single Track- best shop in Kathmandu
Post ride muggin’ at Himalayan Single Track– best shop in Kathmandu

 

Yak Attack Countdown

Yakkity-Yak
Yakkity-Yak

The 2013 season is in full-swing, but I can’t help but think about 2014 and the Yak Attack– it’s 8(!) months away… that’s a long ways off, but deposits have been made, and in order to secure awesome flights with the least amount of miles, I already have my plane tickets. I’ll worry about the 3 weeks of non-existent vacation time required for the race closer to D-Day…

It was just about a year and a half ago when I first learned of the Yak Attack reading along with updates from the 2012 edition. It sounded brutal, and way beyond my abilities. The Trans-Nepal, which shares some of the same early stages of the Yak, looked more my style. After a great time in that race, I knew I was going to double (triple?) down for 2014 with the full-Monty.

My time in Nepal was… incredible- from the people, to the mountains, to the crazy traffic, to the trails- I can’t wait to get back there. The race comes “early” in the season, and I know training is going to be super tough in the cold winter months- this might be the impetus to finally find a coach. As a bonus incentive to actually train, the 40-49 field looks pretty stacked this year comprising almost half of the 2014 foreign-riders- old dudes represent!

But before I allow too much more mental effort to be expended on far off adventure, it’s time to HTFU for the remaining 2013 season. Next up this holiday weekend is the 2-day Keystone Enduro followed by the Breckenridge 100 on 7/14.

The Breck 100 is the real-deal, no bullshit, hard-as-fuck mountain bike race to beat all mountain bike races. It destroyed me last year, and will likely do so again. I can’t wait- for adventure, for suffering, for riding my bike. Adventure on! Eight months and counting down.