After one of the strongest kickoffs to a season ever, the summer racing season hit a large speed bump fighting through a long period of high fever and lethargy. After some blood tests it showed up positive that I had contracted two rare Mosquito born viruses (Jamestown Canyon & Snowshoe Hair) in early July. Taking five weeks pretty much off the bike at the end of August the body turned around and although out of shape I felt blessed to be healthy again. It was tempting to call off the rest of the season but the opportunity to head over to India and Nepal for a couple of late season races was too good to pass up. I put together a six day training block to try and salvage some fitness and started packing the bags!
It was a bit of a gong show getting ready for the trip with a couple hospital trips to make sure I was virus free, a thief stealing all my race supplies out of my van and re-supplies not showing up in time. It was nothing money couldn’t fix, so after a shopping spree to replace all the lost goods and some help from Kona the journey began.
Eventually, I ended up at the Vancouver airport after an eight-hour drive from Jasper, 75 minutes before my flight but somehow overshooting the baggage allowance of 2 x 23 kg bags by over double with 85-90 kg. The charges would’ve been astronomical, so the check-in lady gave me 10 minutes to reorganize my bags in which I loaded up the bike box to 40kg+, jammed the carry on up to 25 kg, downsized the duffel to 23kg and then crossed my fingers they wouldn’t weigh the bike box again. Going to India for eight days of racing would’ve been easy to pack for, but adding in one extra month of training and 11 days of racing in Nepal made it interesting. Running to the gate I realized my yearly travel insurance was expired so it was on the phone getting a new plan set up. To top it off the airport security found the C02’s in my bike box so they called my name on the intercom to give me a bit of shit but in the end, I made it on a jet plane to India!
The MTB Himalaya in India is one of my favorite races as Ashish Sood and the other organizers have created an adventurous bike race across the foothills of the Himalayas. The family atmosphere is great amongst the 90+ racers and 90 + Indian support staff as we create a giant moving circus across one of the craziest countries in the World. The whole race we’re laughing and joking with each other as the Indian way of life is a little different then what we are accustomed to in the Western World. They make fun of us for taking life so seriously while we get our kicks out of their loose way of living and disregard for time. When you have 1.3 billion people in your country it creates a level of chaos and confusion which is second to none and a really unique cultural experience.
Knowing the fitness wasn’t solid I opted to bluff everyone on Stage 1 and be the first into the sketchy single track out of the start gate. The Norwegian freight train Thomas Engelsgjerd latched onto my wheel as we’d open up a small gap before being joined by a couple fast Spaniards on the first climb. The three Euros would put the hammer down as I’d chase 45 seconds behind them for the next two hours before flatting and losing a pile of time hand pumping the tire since the airlines took all my gas canisters, eventually coming in fourth, nearly 12 minutes down. The camp this night was rad, set up in a small alpine meadow surrounded by thick forests. It’s impressive how fast the Indians can put up a camp, complete with endless Indian food, annoying loudspeakers, warm showers, sketchy toilets and lots of places to lounge in the shade. The camp life is a highlight of the week, there’s loads of time to get to know each other and entertain ourselves in the surrounding communities.
Stage two was another sufferfest as I opted to attack into the first sketchy singletrack to put some pressure on the Euros. The singletrack in India is legit, built for walkers and pretty gnarly as you never know what’s around the next corner. Going way to fast I came around a corner onto a wet concrete patch, trying to turn away from the oncoming ditch for nearly 20 ft before ejecting off the bike into the bushes. After this close call, it was best to tone it down a notch as the next 1500 M vertical descent was nearly 30 minutes long and called the death enduro due to its nature of being full of unexpected holes, steep staircases and tall grass which you can’t see under. Passing two Spaniards fixing flat tires halfway down was a morale booster before hitting the hell climb, a blistering hot 800 meter ascent. It was a good battle the last 1 hr with four of us coming within 2.5 minutes of each other for the stage win with my buddy Thomas Turner taking it out.
Stage three over Jaloria pass is a 45 km ascent to 10 000 ft before a sketchy road descent dodging the crazy Indian traffic to the valley below. The Indian traffic is worth a blog post by itself as the roads here are obstacle courses full of everything and anything that moves. The drivers although skilled, don’t stick to their side of the road and would rather blow their horn at something than try and steer around it. Feeling good off the start I rode like I was in mid-season form up the climb for the first 1.5 hours, dropping everyone except race leader Thomas Engelsgjerd and Portuguese pro roadie Micael Isidoro. Having visions of riding myself back into the race, I instead rode my body into self-destruction as it was not happy with the effort. From here it was a long cross eyed ride to the finish line losing a huge chunk of time and falling out of contention of defending my title from 2014.
The next three stages were all pretty similar racing hard, dodging Indian chaos, and enjoying the adult boy/girl scout campouts. Stage seven was marked in my head as it contained a 5km stretch of donkey trail that my Kona Hei Hei full suspension and I could hopefully put the hurt on the Euro climbing machines. Going to bed early for a good rest, the Indian X-factor hit hard with loud music across the town blasting out of blown out speakers until 2:30 am. Next up were random trucks starting up at 3am with sputtering engines and then after 1 hour of silence, the local church turned its blown-out loudspeaker on to preach their story. All in all it equated to under two hours of sleep. It was rather amusing to see all the tired faces in the morning as it looked like we had all been to a rock show and drank way too many beers!
This probably played into my hands as you are way more messed up at the tail end of a 24 Hour solo race so I stuck to my tactics and hit the donkey trail first after a pretty gentle 15km road climb to start the day. After dodging a couple grass people, I came around the first corner into a herd of three donkeys, three other riders caught up to the traffic jam as we had a standoff before one donkey sprinted past, catching Michaels bike with his pack hauling it a few feet before luckily not destroying it. Here I squeezed past the other two donkeys, rode Canadian style over the next few km of trail and soon had a substantial 5-minute lead. It was a long solo 70 km ride to the finish but the lead would stretch out to over 8 minutes. It was pretty rad to have a good ride again after such a long struggle this summer!
The final stage finished off with a sweet 45km through the Indian countryside before a hard climb up to a paraglide launch where we had a fabulous view of the Kangra valley below and the Dhauladhar Range behind. We must’ve stayed up there for over 4 hours, eating lunch and enjoying having completed one hell of a fun and tough race adventure across the southern ranges of the Himalayas. Next up the organizers had set up an unexpected 12km treasure hunt to the race hotel. My team, with Yak Attack organizer Phil Evans, and Eve Conyers from Australia ended up riding close to 20 km and came in near dead last as we made the mistake of asking the roadside Indians for directions, in which they made shit up and pointed us all over the countryside. The post-race party turned into a bit of a gongshow as the hotel apparently knew nothing about hotel management or feeding a bunch of hungry bike racers. Seeing the chaos of 90 hungry bike racers trying to deal with the confused Indian hotel staff made an amusing spectacle. A few of us grabbed some ciders from a nearby liquor hut and sat back to enjoy the show.
The next morning six of us decided to get the hell out of Hotel Shitshow and headed up to the mountains to the hippie town of Dharmkot. After sweet three day hike and a bonfire in the mountains, everyone changed their tickets for a couple weeks later and we created the Himalayan “A” Team Adventure Squad. Since then it’s been nearly two weeks of proper Indian adventures, climbing 4400m passes, camping in the mountains, a few hippie rest days eating good food, some solid training days and a really good crash course on the cultural way of life up in the Indian mountains.
We have another week up here before the others will head back to their homes in Norway and Australia while I’ll head off to Nepal to take on the World’s Highest Mountain Bike race, The Yak Attack! Hopefully living and training up here at Altitude all these weeks will pay off.