Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Yak Attack... The final Days

With all the substantial climbing over there was only one stage left... 67km in length and mostly descending with a fair bit of 'Uptulating' terrain to take us from Muktinath to Tatapani... and the promise of a relaxing hot spring.

The day started not so well as not long into the first jeep track descent i noticed my forks were sitting almost at the bottom of their travel and with no shock pump there was nothing i could do to try and remedy this... maybe an issue with altitude.

So now riding what was essentially a fully rigid bike (i suppose i should be used to this) i made my way down the first descent to the first flatter section of the day... a ride along the dry river bed to Jomson... at this point i past the Swedish guys.. Andreas and Martin.. who had suffered a flat on one of the many cobble we were riding over, Andreas had gone off super fast making the most of his very well trained bike handling skills but had slowed mid downhill so himself and Martin could ride out the last stage together.

Passing through Jomson the trail maintained to be super dry and dusty Jeep track.. not particularly nice to ride with the constant dust drying out your throat... the track was very uptulating with short climbs and short descents and the odd diversion across braided channels of incoming streams to this very wide and flat valley.

As the trail continued the valley began to narrow and we etered the deepest valley in the world being flanked either side by 7000m plus peaks... as the valley barrowed the trail steepened and became now very fast and rocky... fear of dropping the handlebars increased as my arms and upper body took on the job of my non functioning suspension.

The target time for the locals for this stage was 3 hours and i was pretty glad when the 3 hour mark came and past meaning i must be getting close to the end.

Quickly the finish came through a narrow street and the sight of Phil Evans, Race Organiser, sat under the finishing banner was a welcome one.

A cold Everest beer was ordered and i could now truly relax.

The evening was spent enjoying the hot springs and more beer... a fitting reward for completing the highest race in the world using the least amount of gears.

The next day was jaded by the haze of the previous nights drinking but still with only 22km of riding to complete the challenge was not a big one.
With no racing today i rode in baggies and Jonny Cash t shirt and spent most of the ride trying to out 'pump' Andreas through the undulations to gain as much free ground as possible and taking any opportunity to pop off a lip or small rock... in less than a few hours we reached Beni and enjoyed a motorised transfer to Pokara.

Its impossible to convey the awe and amazement i have encountered riding this event... with my year so focussed on completing the challenge i have set myself i lost sight of the individuality of each event i would ride but each and every pedal stroke or metre carried in this event wass done so in the most amazing place i have ever been in my life... the people, the culture, the scenery all contributed to a fantastic event... its not easy but it is more than achievable for most people and a worthy challenge to add to anybodes wish list of events.

I would like to thank Phil Evans who with the help of Chhime Gurang makes this event possible, i wanna thank volunteers such as Snow Monkey and Rattaman who gave endless support throughout this event and i now consider great friends.... i would like also to praise the local competitors Ajay, Mangel, Kaji and Chandra, 4 of the best riders i have ever raced against in my life and i pray they never leave Nepal as life racing these guys would be just too hard:) Not only did the local competitors race but at the end of everyday made sure the international competitors were looked after eventhough they had just also ridden the same arduous stages that we had.

I have to say i love this country and the people... i can't wait to race here again.

Huge thanks goes to all my sponsors as always.. Genesis Bikes, Montane Clothing and Alpkit.

A special thanks goes to Col Stocker who has to be credited not only for all the images of this trip and eduring long days walking on the trail but also for leaving a new daughter and family at less than a weeks notice to help support me.. thanks Col it was hugely appreciated.

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Yak Attack... Breathing thin air

After a rest day in Manang the following stage saw us head to the foot of the Thorong La Pass, Thorong Phedi.

After resting in Manang and having a good walk up a nearby hill my altitude related sickness had cleared and i felt pretty good... after a few pedal strokes into the Manang to Thorong Phedi stage the lack of oxygen kicked in and my legs instantly started to burn and my breathing was hard.

The stage started through the streets of Manang heading out the older parts of the town and straight into a hike a bike upto a village higher up on the hillside... for the walking part i could still stay with the Nepalese but soon as the trail became vaguely rideable i was again treat to a lesson in hill climbing... the slopes were so steep i couldn't even imagine riding them.

The days finish lay 972m of ascent higher up the valley and the trail was amazing to ride... very flowing and it was great to spin the pedals rather than grinding them.

The skies were filled with Ravens and Vultures and the peaks bounding the trail were spectatcular.

With all the non Nepalese riders behind me on the trail and the Nepalese guys far ahead i was left alone to enjoy the the scenery and the trail.

The stage itself was pretty short at 17km but the altitude and climbing made sure i got my moneys worth finishing 2hrs 41mins later.

Thorong Phedi was busy with trekkers, everyone getting ready to up and over early the following morning across the highest pass in the world, Thorog La at 5416m above sea level.

Arriving at Phedi i could feel the altitiude again so started on a few painkillers to cure the dull headache.. later that evening i took a diamox, diamox masks the symptoms of altitude mountain sickness, as i wanted to make sure i could get over the pass as quickly and painlessly as possible.

The next days stage was the one that most riders had dreaded... 17km in length but including the 5km climb up to the Thorong La pass.

This stage started at 5am to make sure conditions were at best for crossing the pass... the 5km would be entirely unrideable due to a combination of altitude and steepness of trail.

At the start i paced myself with the last Nepalese rider, Ajay, race leader but walking isn't his strongest discipline so he was just out to minimise his losses to Kaji Sherpa, a high altiude specialist and a man that will be travelling to summit Everest for the 4th time 3 days after this race finishes... believe i'm in good company here.

As i paced Ajay up the slopes in the dark, headtorches above us highlighting how far we had to climb.. and this was only the portion of the climb we could see.

All was going well as we walked together until we reached an off camber snow covered section and as Ajay strided away i slipped and slid at every step and eventually had to slow my pace right down to try and stay on my feet.

Dawn broke and headtorches were extinguished.. the trail still stretched further and higher with no sign of the end... luckily my pace remained consistent and i felt no ill affect to the accumulating altitude. The trail turned from rock to mixed ice and rock to then snow in its entirety.

After 2hrs 16mins i reached the high point of the pass and after a photo opportunity with the signpost i swapped from big mittens to lighter gloves and donned my helmet, this may have been a little optimistic as the descent was initially snow and ice and too steep to ride... my hands in the thinner gloves quickly froze and i was forced to stop to try and drive some warmth into them but after the exertion of the climb i could hardly muster any energy and i had to sit down and had a little moment to myself as i embraced the pain of freezing hands and still a long descent to negotiate.

With the feeling coming slowly back into my hands i stumbled slowly down through the snow until i past the snowline and the rocky trail was now underneath my tyres.. after a few attempts at riding the trail it just wasn't happening.. the trail was very loose and very steep so any attempt to bring my speed under control was futile so i was forced to walk downhill.

This section seemed to stretch on forever but i was happy to be able to feel my hands again and as i reached a few small buildings on the trail the slope slackend off and i got to ride an awesome piece of singletrack.. nice and rocky with well placed rocks to aid railing corners.. this flowed into a wider smoother trail around the back of the finishing town, Muktinath, and eventually the stage finish.

Only one stage left.. 70km mainly downhill to Tatapani and a well deserved dip in some hot springs.

Monday, 15 March 2010

Yak Attack.. stages 3,4,5.. Catching up

With limited internet access for the last 3 days its not been possible to blog the race as it happened. Today we are in Manang at 3540m, a rest day to acclimatise before the next climb upto 4450m.

The last 3 days have gone like this;

Besi Sahar to Tal, 43km.

This stage started on jeep track from Besi Sahar, with 27km on jeep track then 16km carrying/climbing it didn't look like a bad day for singlespeeding on paper. The start was fast as usual with the Nepalese guys going off the front, Aussie Phil chasing then me.

The climbs initially were short and sweet but as the stage went on the climbs lengthened and the surface became more and more dusty till eventually i couldn't get any grip to turn the gear and back to walking.
After about 15km i glanced back to see another rider coming quickly... thinking it was maybe Andreas, a fast swedish rider, i was surprised to see it was Aussie Phil.. apparenly he had taken a wrong turn and was trying to make up lost ground.

As the jeep track seemingly went on for ever the temperature as always was pretty hot until eventually as expected the jeep track ended and the carry/ride section started... this short carry was pretty steep but ended in a water station.

After the water station it was a mix of carry and short riding sections along the side of a cliff.. passing numerous trains of horses.. some going in the same direction which caused delay until a suitable passing point was found.

The trail wound along the base of the cliff until the final carry came into sight.... it looked pretty steep but not so sustained... the carry was slow and steady until Col from came into view nearing the the top taking pictures..

cresting the climb Tal came into sight.. sitting on a flat wide valley floor just a short ride and carry down to the flat then a short ride saw the end of the stage...

In the evening the skies opened and it rained hard but luckily before going to bed the skies were clear and it looked good again for the next days stage.

Tal to Chame, 23km.

Another lightening quick start from all but unusually quick start from Andreas who was quickly out of sight leaving all chasing as we quickly entered sections of carrying over rocks.
The crux of todays stage would be a lengthy carry through some woods just before the half way point... the carry was very very slow as i tentatively took every step bike perched on my back taking shallow breaths not knowing how long this climb would go on.

Finally the climb ended at a water station and from here on in the rest of the stage should be rideable. It wasn't long before another push up a dusty climb started but the riding that came after was worth the effort.. the trail was nicely packed and not dusty and very fast.. reminded me of riding through an alpine forest.. getting on top of the gear on my bike on the flat felt great.

The race went through numerous villages with rock paths and steps to negotiate dodging the usual mix of animals and children.

The stage end came pretty quickly as the pace quickened on fast trails, the weather again remained consistent with rain coming a few hours after the finish but relenting before it was time to sleep.

Surprisingly no Andreas at the finish, turns out he Swedish had been playing practical jokes and while the field chased him down Andreas was back riding with the our Rockstar the other Swede Martin, shortly after his lightening start he had found a good hiding place and let the field chase down a ghost :) .

Chame to Manang, 30km.

I think this was my best stage yet.

After the start i was mid pack and stayed up there with the fast guys until the first granny ring climb where i slipped back into my own riding rythmn. The trail wound on the edge of a landslide in places and demanded a good level of concentration... after a section through some woods i caught sight of Aussie Phil changing out his shoes after getting his riding shoes wet his feet had got cold so he decided on walking boots before the carry.

I led the carry up through the woods.. snow now present on the ground a reminder that we were gaining altitude... surprisingly as we got to the top of the carry there was no sign of Phil so i made the most of this advantage and pushed on the descent into Pisang. At the water station i just took a quick mouthful of squash and continued trying to make the most of my advantage... going through the village Col was there taking pictures and then he managed to run past me on a short push to take some other shots while i rode past a set of prayer wheels.

The trail was really singlespeed friendly and flowed very quickly so i pushed as hard as i could... when we reached a steep switched back climb i was mindful that Phil was riding up behind me where i was forced to push.. cresting the climb we were side by side and as i remounted i let Phil lead down the snow covered descent back down to the flat but the difference being the previous nights rainfall had left the trail a muddy hell and with no option to downshift i had to slowly grind across this flat watching Phil spin away.

I could really start to feel the effect of altitude with a dull headache coming on and when i could ride it was very very slow... Manang crept into sight and the last slow ride up the high street took an age.

After suffering from Altitude induced headache for the rest of the day i opted for an early night as snow fell heavily from the sky.

The nights sleep was patchy as my headache persisted, finally i succumbed to painkillers.

The weather now in Manang is sunny and clear.. going to take a tour of the village then do some bike care and attention.

(all grammatical and spelling errors can be attributed to altitude mountain sickness)

Thursday, 11 March 2010

Yak Stage 2 (day 3) ... Spinning out.

After a transition stage group ride yesterday of 50km with a healthy serving of both up and down we found ourselves in Gorka.. the old capital of Nepal.

Stage 2, Gorka to Besi Sahar, 60km... the days stage was sold as a half and half, jeep track and sealed tarmac rode.. on paper it didn't sound too tough although with that much tarmac involved it was never going to be a singlspeed friendly day and best i could hope for was to minimise losses.

The day started with a descent of around 6-7km, not too rough but pretty rutted as rain has carved the surface into multiple channels to choose from... the jeep track flowed from reddish clay, to grass then into villages and back onto the familiar dusty brown surface of the last 2 days...

The first proper carry of the race came after a footbridge crossing which led onto a set of stairs.. with the Swedish guys, Andreas and Martin, just behind me on the trail as well as in the race overall i tried to run the first flight of stairs which quickly turned into a brisk walk and then to a slow walk...

Cresting the stairs the trail then wound undulating down the valley finally ending in a steepish climb to up and over down into the next valley... the going was a fast as my gearing allowed but still painfully slow... geared too high for some of the ups and too low for the flat.. the curse of the singlespeed rider.

My only salvation was going to be the easy tarmac section... 30km was going to be slow but manageable.. and at first it was pretty easy going if a little slow.. the road was either gently uphill or downhill and progress was acceptable.
As the tarmac continued the frequency of the ups and downs tightened and the downs were steeper and so were the corresponding ups.. with no ability to capitalise on the downhill spinning out the gear i had to bear the full brunt of every climb and it started to take toll.

The morning had started with a poor breakfast selection, well what did i expect ordering chocolate pancakes in Nepal, and the soon the lack of food was apparent. I had managed the first 2 days on nothing but fluid and felt fine but today i gradually ground to a halt and an SIS Caffeine gel was taken to try and salvage the situation.

The road signs indicating the mileage to Besi Sahar were only every 5km and weren't coming fast enough... i rationalised the distance to training routes and rides at home which is always the sign of suffering.. even the sight of the big mountains couldn't lift my tempo.

Gradually i reached the base of the last climb before Besi and ground slowly up to the finish.. maintaining my place in the overall.. gaining time on the riders who were behind but losing to those in front.

So far the riding has been pretty tough, the Nepali foothills are very steep in places and relentless in there delivery of height gain... the scenery has been immense.. the people so friendly... the Hike a Bike starts tomorrow on the way Tal.. 30km riding followed by 10km steep hike:( ouch.

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Yak Day One.... a glimpse of the pain to come.

I never viewed my participation in this event as a ‘race’, I knew the local guys had the event sewn up as although we can match them on the flat and the climbs when you limit the supply of oxygen we have no response.

So with this in mind I have no idea why I couldn’t sleep last night, I had my usual pre race nerves and spent most of the time going over what little I knew about what lay ahead. Everything usually feels better after the first stage.

The race day started with a group ride to Dubar Square for the official welcome from the President of the Nepalese MTB Association, Chhimi Gurung, and the ‘Gary Fisher’ of Nepal, Sonam Gurung, the man who brought the fat tired back to this part of the world.

The turnout of Nepalese riders was fantastic with 50 strong riders coming out to join the band led procession through the streets of Kathmandu to the official race start on the outskirts of the city to the base of the first climb.

From the start the local favourite and current Nepalese Mountain Bike Champion Ajay Pandit went off hard, out of the saddle attacking the tarmac climb... I optimistically moved up alongside him and for the first 500m rode wheel to wheel until traffic stopped play... well for me at least... while I tried to negotiate around a van in the road I was passed on both sides by other riders.

The climb tarmac with a often changing gradient making getting into a rhythm impossible and with no option to adjust the gears to suit the slope I had to muscle the stiffer slopes and breath hard and recover on the easier stuff... the climb lasted about 6km before levelling into a traverse across the hillside on undulating jeep track, jeep track roughly translates as pretty rough going.

When the undulating jeep track reached the saddle between 2 hills we crossed and started the sizeable descent down to the valley floor but not before getting a glimpse of a fantastic view until the trail demanded full attention ... 18km of fantastic descending through villages, passing buses, cars and motorbikes... every km I thanked DT for supplying me with some suspension forks for this trip.. The trail switched from rocky to sandy, tight corners to flat out straights... dodging locals, goats and dogs.

On the valley floor the jeep track followed the course of the river... the going was pretty harsh and the 32/18 gearing I was thankful of on the first climb was now stopping me going fast enough to get on top of the bumps.. All the time I was convinced my slower than geared progress was going to see me getting caught by one of the other riders.

We passed under a large suspension foot bridge and not long after that turned and crossed another bridge popping out onto a tarmac road... again I felt under geared but pressed on as hard as I could until one of the volunteers signalled the turning for the last climb to the finish at Nuwakot.

This climb was on some awesome dry red dirt... the real heat of the day was now bearing down and it wasn’t long before I was forced to give up riding in favour of a brisk push... the climb would probably be singlespeedable but this being the first day I was picking my battles... this climb as the first was pretty lengthy at around 7km.. as it eased off I was able to turn some pedals and as we reached what looked like the top I made sure I rode more than I had been... after 3 hours of riding I reached Nuwakot and the finish line.

A good opener to what looks like is going to be another amazing experience on the bike.... stage stats of 11km ride to the start... 45km stage... just under 1000m of climbing and 1300m of climbing.

The tea house accommodation as I type is offering some amazing views and time to prepare for tomorrows transition stage to Dhadingbesi followed by jeep transfer to Gorka.

Sunday, 7 March 2010

Singlespeed Capital of the World

Not much to do at the moment but wait... i'm always worried of too much activity pre race in case of any bike or body mishaps which would take me out the race before the first day begins.

Instead today was spent building and checking my bike then taking a walk around the surrounding streets, the number of singlespeed bikes in Kathmandu is amazing... its not niche here its norm. Fair enough most of those are rikshaws and the rest are 'make do or mend' modifications to keep a vital mode of transport working but all the same its making me feel better.

We have a good bunch of riders assembled... discounting the sub 50kg rider category occupied by all the Nepalese riders we have a few brits, an Australian and a Swedish duo includng a previous Eurovision competitor.

The afternoon was finished with hiking the bike to the Monkey Temple... which pretty much is as its sounds.. a Temple with Monkeys.... i managed to come away with bike intact but Col annoyed a monkey and got a smack on the foot as a warning:)

Race registration tomorrow and then the day after we can start turning some pedals.

Saturday, 6 March 2010

Over the first hurdle

Before any International racing can take place there is always the worrying matter of getting there in the first place.

Bikes have to be packed, gear has to be checked and double checked, you have to remember to smile extra nice at whoever is checking you in in the hope that they didn't see you struggling to lift an overweight bike bag..

Well the first hurdle is over and I'm in Kathmandu.

The journey was pretty uneventful... a mad dash around Nottingham to get Col some basic immunisation then a stress free flight and we are here.

The flight offered time to reflect on how I didn't do the planned dieting I said I would after Arrowhead and the lack of callouses on my hands indicate that maybe I haven't been able to get the miles on the bike that I would have liked but all that means is I'll have to work that little bit harder but I'm quietly confident I can suffer through and get a finish... may even enjoy some riding on the way.

One thing I know for sure is I will be limiting my time riding a bike on the streets of Kathmandu... driving here is manic at best and lanes and rules are seemingly non existent... self preservation will be the order of the day.

Food is good at the Kathmandu Guesthouse so plan is to eat and drink up for the relentless climbing in the forthcoming week.

Bike building and Monkey Temple tomorrow:)

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

Deja Vu.... Packing again.

The spare room bed is again covered in gear waiting to be packed into the bag... jerseys are folded, energy bars have been organised and spares have been accounted for.

I'm now 2 days away from leaving for the next challenge.. the highest race in the world.. Yak Attack, organised by Phil Evans of Extreme World Challenges. (

I'm getting pretty good at this packing lark now... well I hope I am... I'm finding It hard as always to get excited about what lies ahead and I know I won't relax until me, my bike and my luggage are safely in Kathmandu.

But every now and then between the constant organising I get a chance to look forward to the riding ahead... this is the roof of the world.. riding unlike anything I have done to date.. not only will I have to battle the competition, the climbs, pushing the single gear I am going to have to get involved with a totally new problem... altitude... can I literally breath thin air?? 2 weeks from now I guess I'll have an answer.