After 11 months in Nepal, it was tough to leave when it was finally time to head back to Canada. Being in lockdown for 4 months straight from March to July was a rollercoaster as the pandemic turned things into a real gong show. Being stranded up in the Himalayas in the Solukhumbu (Everest Region) of Nepal was a great place to ride out these uncertain times. Moving in with some Monks in a monastery living off a cliff at 2950 meters was a residence I could have stayed for a very long time. These guys quickly became my lockdown brothers. Everest was just 50 km away, and we were far off the grid. I recommissioned a couple of trails from the monastery so had some good biking circuits and would spend the days riding and soaking up the monastery lifestyle with the Monks. At the end of June, it was eventually time to leave as my girlfriend Usha was back in Kathmandu, and the monsoons were moving in. All the biking trails were turning into to greasy slip and slides, and even my Kona Hei Hei bike was in need of a break after being ridden for months on end without proper maintenance. I also had hopes of finally being able to catch a flight back to Canada after months of the airport being shut down. I was motivated to try and catch the last of the Canadian summer and to get back to a country that wasn’t in sporadic lockdowns.
The first attempt to ride 300 km back to Kathmandu was a dud with the police stopping me at the first checkpoint denying my passage. I tried a week later with some proper documentation from the authorities and had a long but successful ride back to civilization. My buddy Roan joined me for the last 100 km which made it a breeze passing the police checkpoints into Kathmandu with his local presence. A flight back to Canada didn’t happen but the next 3 months in Kathmandu were unforgettable. It turned into another roller coaster ride as Nepal went in and out of lockdowns, some flights left but more often than not they were cancelled, and we rode our bikes a lot. With the lockdowns, the normal chaotic Kathmandu traffic was down to a crawl, leaving the roads wide open for cycling, turning it into a once in a lifetime opportunity to enjoy the amazing city without traffic and pollution. I always figured the riding was great around the Kathmandu Valley but what we found over the next 3 months was better than expected! It’s one of the best cities in the world to ride with mountains encircling the city 360 degrees, full of roads and trails to explore. It was monsoon season so some days we couldn’t ride but when we could we would usually head out for the day, either exploring new routes, or piecing together some epic loops from the trails we knew. It was also the first time in a decade you could see Everest from Kathmandu, generally this part of Asia is in a haze for 9+ months of the year but the pandemic fixed that!
What made these 3 months in Kathmandu work so well was that my friend Jenny had hooked me up with her friend Anna, so I could stay in her Condo while she was riding out the Pandemic in the UK. I usually dislike Kathmandu due to the noise and pollution, but her place was tucked away in a nice quiet garden,
providing the perfect retreat from the city. Staying alone, there were some tough days when the city was in full lockdown and we couldn’t leave our homes. I would practice my meditation skills, cooked a lot, and used the stairs and driveway to get in small workouts. Hockey was also on so watching NHL playoffs was a great way to pass time. It was a chaotic time as the Nepalese government would change things up almost every day as they struggled to come up with any concrete plans to deal with the pandemic.
For the most part during lockdown everyone was supposed to stay home except for “shopping hours” from 6-9 in the morning. This created a weird situation as everyone would crowd out at this time to gather food and essentials as if the Virus didn’t exist. By 9 the streets would go deathly quiet as the cops and army personnel would round up any stragglers. Knowing how my body runs, I knew I had to keep exercising or else it shuts down, and that is when I usually get sick. To remedy this, I made sure I would head out at 6 am every morning on my bike. Dressing casually, looking like a shopper, I would go to the closest veggie stand to fill my backpack with spinach, making sure some was sticking out for the cops to see. I’d then go do a training circuit, trying to avoid the check stops as much as possible. It was difficult with cops every 300 meters out there in the streets. I had one interval hill in which I could do 5-minute repeats. It was amazing how the body performed after all these lockdowns with my body hitting some personal bests towards the end of August. During the lockdown days, people that looked like they were just hanging out, would be rounded up by the cops and put into holding pens, being made to stand socially distanced in there for 2-3 hours. It was pretty comical to witness, and thankfully I was able to avoid getting rounded up myself!
Between lockdowns we had some epic rides around Kathmandu. The Nepali cyclists truly have one of the best training grounds in the World and it was great to have so much time to ride around with them. My friend Snowmonkey and I also did a number of food fundraisers/ distributions. He knew the city well and could determine exactly where people were going hungry. I would do a fundraiser ride/go fund me campaign to raise the funds. After that we would build up dry food packages and deliver them around the city. My friend Gauravman also connected me to a great lady, Apara, who was doing food distributions to help school children in need. In the end, through all these programs, we were able to distribute over 15 000 meals worth of food. We also did one trip around the city dropping off snacks and water for 300+ police officers who had to stand out in the elements all day to control the lockdowns. This seemed to help me breeze through some of these checkpoints later on with my bike, now having some cop friends. Again, thanks to everyone that donated and made these fundraisers possible! When I do return to Nepal the plan is to do another couple food fundraisers, and also another one to raise the rest of the funds to build a dry house for the Monks at Chiwang Monastery. We raised $4000 CAD in June for this project and will be looking for around another $3000 to finish it off. Stay tuned if you want to help out! The low point of the time in Kathmandu was when my travel agent had confirmed a flight for August 17th, only to have the government cancel all flights from the 16th onwards. Soon after a strict lockdown was announced, and I was stuck solo in the condo again. Things were starting to open up again early September but then a religious group gathered thousands of people together to pull a large wooden chariot through the city. This ended with a big clash with the police as the rioters used sling shots and bricks as weapons while the police used water cannons and bamboo sticks. My girlfriend and I watched this amazing spectacle unfold on live feed at the condo, just a block away. The day after this gong show the government ordered a “stay at home curfew” stating the police had authority to shoot anyone that was seen out on the streets. Luckily, I had loaded up on corn flakes the day before so could eat well while I waited this one out.
Pretty much every week I’d put my money down on a flight, but for some reason or another it wouldn’t go. 3 times my travel agent called the day before saying the flight was off, 3 times the government stopped all flights, and twice the flight went but my travel agent would tell me it wasn’t going. I’m not sure if the flight was sold out so they were selling off the seats for more $ and cancelling other ones, but it was sketchy business. I didn’t care too much as it meant more time with my girlfriend and I have a great group of friends in Nepal I was enjoying being with. After 8 cancelled flights, the airport was supposed to open for regular international flights on September 1st. Up to that time just some expensive charter flights had been available with 50+ hour itineraries. These went from anywhere between $2500-$5000 back to Canada. The 50+ hour itineraries were the biggest drawback as I didn’t want to be spending two over nights in airports and have this much travel time during the pandemic after staying safe so far!
September 1st came and went, and no real flights were able to be booked until September 15th. I had given my travel agent money back in August for a flight, but he was unable to get anything done. I fought with him for a while to finally get the money back so I could just book my own way home. For some reason the guy kept promising flights but would never get anything done and neither wanted to return my money. I eventually had to threaten to get the Nepal Tourism Board involved. Being able to finally book my own flight made things pretty easy. First up was a flight with Nepal Airlines to Dubai and from there I booked a return flight with Emirates Airlines, direct to Canada. This roundtrip ticket on one of the World’s best airlines was less money than they had been charging for 1 way charter flights out of Nepal on pretty average airlines, and this ticket was direct to Canada!
There was a bit more drama getting this flight as the Nepal Airlines online system wasn’t working so it meant going directly to the airport the night, I was flying out to purchase the ticket at the desk. They jacked up the prices from $220-370 for an economy ticket but didn’t have time to jack up the business class ticket, so I just bought one of them for $420 and was on my way after 11 months in the country! The airport was empty as I cruised through it until surprisingly being stopped at immigration, in which they wanted to charge $100 + usd for Visa fees since mid-August. This was interesting as we had been in a full lockdown from mid-august to early September and weren’t allowed to leave out residence except for shopping hours. Were they really going to charge us for being locked in their country? Yep, I called it my donation to the Nepal government, paid the fees and then loaded onto the Nepal Airlines flight, finding out I was the only one in business class!
Business class on Nepal Airlines during a pandemic is a little different than what I expected, with chai tea in a plastic cup being served as first class treatment and nothing more. It was a comfy trip to Dubai, and the transfer through Dubai was simple as the airport was basically empty and easy to maneuver. Next up was a direct flight to Canada on Emirates airline. This flight was half empty, and I had four middle seats to myself where I stretched out for an 8-hour sleep before preparing to land on Canadian soil for the first time in almost a year! Canadian immigration was a breeze as they just asked if I had a place with food and water to quarantine for 14 days and let me through. Next up was another half empty flight, this one with WestJet to Calgary. From there I picked up a rental car, grabbed a hotel for the night and then was on my way under blue skis the next morning up the Icefields parkway to Jasper. This was an unforgettable drive on Canada’s most scenic highway, on an amazing sunny autumn day. After a short stop in Jasper to see my Mom, pick up my truck, dog, and new Kona bikes, I was off to McBride where I would quarantine at Dad and Eileen’s place for 2 weeks as they had generously left their Cabin for me to isolate in. The next two weeks in isolation was actually a pretty nice way to transition back into Canadian life after 11 months in Asia.
Once out of isolation it was great to have Thanksgiving with Dad and Eileen and then head to Jasper for another Thanksgiving dinner with Mom. I had a few big rides planned to soak in the autumn weather but after doing the Jasper 360, a 160 km tour of the valleys single track, a big cold swell moved in and we had an early winter complete with -22 Celsius temperatures.
It was refreshing to be back on home turf for a while after the chaos of Nepal, time which I spent with friends, family and riding bikes. My plan had been to return to Nepal once things calmed down a bit over there, as at the moment it was festival season and 25-30% of Covid tests were coming back positive. It was nice being home but also tough, as I had to leave my girlfriend in Nepal, not knowing when I’d be able to see her again. The friends and relationships I’ve developed in Nepal over the years have been amazing, and something I value greatly.
Too pass time I just rode my bike more and focused on getting my Lumberjack Ticket back so I could go back to work if the opportunity presented itself. To my luck my friend Daniel put me in touch with Brendan Taylor, who runs a Tree Service business out of Valemount. He’s also a big xc rider, we had a few good rides together and then he put me to work for 5 weeks falling trees on a contract in Valemount, this ran until the Christmas holidays. Bush work was a nice break after having been solely focused on riding and racing for the past 3 years! I’m lucky Kona supports me so well that I don’t need to work, but I do enjoy the change of scenery so don’t mind putting on the hard hat once in a while!
Going into Christmas holidays Canada went into a semi lockdown in which no gatherings of any sort were allowed, and we were supposed to be in close contact to just those in our family. Meanwhile in Nepal everything seemed to open up and go back to normal as soon as I left. After being in Nepal for 6 months of lockdown while Canada was pretty much open, it seemed like I was getting more then my share of lockdown life. No complaints though, it had been years since I was home for Christmas, and it was nice to spend this much time with my Mom after being away so much over the past decade. It was also a warm December and the winter riding has been awesome in Jasper.
The Bench bike shop set me up with a Kona Woo fat bike and together with my Honzo hardtail, I had a solid training camp over the holidays, riding on average 25 hours a week with 5+ more hours of cross training on the ice skates and snowshoes. I had planned to go back to work for a couple more shifts to use this as active rest, before really putting things in gear come February to prepare for 2021. Unfortunately, work was cancelled due to Covid19.
The other focus has been getting my shoulder repaired as it has become quite unstable over the years with 10+ dislocations. I was supposed to leave Nepal back in February for a race in Spain but had to cancel the flight the day before due to crashing off a mountain on a training ride and dislocating the shoulder. Soon after Covid hit and resulted in the trip of a lifetime. On numerous occasions my shoulder has dictated my future, and it has sent me on some pretty wild adventures. I’m happy this happened as it led to quite the journey the past 11 months in Nepal but it’s time to take a bit more control of life if I can!
With the pandemic still ongoing, 2021 is also a question mark, so the plan is to train as if there will be racing. I’ll use this fitness on some challenges such as a 24 hr Everesting record, solo bike packing races and maybe an adventure or two in the Himalayas or Rockies, depending on what this Pandemic does and what seems feasible. With any luck we’ll hopefully be able to start racing sometime in the summer but who knows. For January I spent my time riding up and down the Icefields Parkway from Jasper to Lake Louise to build the fitness up before going in for shoulder Surgery with Doctor Heard in Banff on January 27th. He performed the Laterjet procedure, moving a bone around and tightening my shoulder up in a pretty intense open surgery. Luckily, he is one of the best at what he does, things apparently went well, and I am now in full recovery mode. The first few days the wounded wing was sore but soon I’ll be onto rehab and hopefully back riding outdoors in 4-6 weeks. If all goes well by the end of April the shoulder should be back into race shape if I put the work in and have some luck, fingers crossed…
This past year has been a real roller coaster for everyone. It’s been a good time to support the greater good and to focus on a simpler, slower pace of life. There is always a silver lining and it’s up to each of us individually to find what that is for us. There is light at the end of the tunnel with vaccines starting to roll out and I’m sure sooner then we know it things will be starting to creep back to normal. Until then let’s keep looking after each other and make sure we all get through this pandemic together as brighter days are ahead!