Tuesday, 23 October 2007

Grab a coffee, this will take a while.

Below is the write up on the race, full details of the trip and other interesting information will be added as and when (depending on magazine articles that might be forthcoming) So sit back and get a taste of endurnace racing in India:

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Well I made it back in one piece and what an amazing adventure I had along the way. The big news is that I raised, thanks to your donations, over £700 for Leonard Cheshire Disability! Thank you so much for supporting this great charity.

The race started from the Peter Hoff hotel in Shimla (the former colonial summer capital) and wound its way round the mountains to Manali. Well that's the short version, what it entailed was transport (un-timed but no easy ride) stages and competitive stages where the standings would be decided totalling 700km with 14,000m of vertical climbing! The trails covered everything from tarmac to broken jeep tracks and narrow sheep trails snaking across alpine meadows. The only unifying factors were the sun and the heat that we had everyday, being a pale UK-dweller this was pretty hard to deal with but I managed to keep my body temperature down thanks to a bit of cloth over my neck that I kept soaked with water and lots of factor 20 sun block!

Days 1 and 2 were not the best for me as the combination of heat, dust and altitude took its toll on my body and the psychological barriers of racing on uncertain courses with only basic route notes and quite often on my own. Thankfully the course was well marked with chalk arrows on the road and banners / posters on trees and rock walls so I soon got into the routine and didn't get lost once. Racing on your own is difficult as you don't have a pace rider and can easily convince yourself that you are about to be swept up by the broom-waggon. Most of the first 2 days I was no more than 200m from another rider in front or behind but the multitude of switch backs meant that you never saw each other!

Each day finished with chai, vegtable soup and pakoras when we got into camp, before a shower (bucket of warm water and a measuring jug) clean and fix the bike (ok, oil the chain and brush off some of the dust) and get ready to load up on rice, roti, dhal, mutter paneer and aloo chana. Bed by 9pm was pretty much the rule as you had to be up at about 6am to get ready and sort out the kit for the day, have breakfast (2 parathra with honey, cereal, porridge, 2 hard boiled eggs, bananas and lots of chai) and be ready to ride at about 8:30am at which point the sun was making its way over the mountains and creeping across camp. We soon learned to get the tent that would see the sun first so the shorts and top might be slightly dry when you put it on (or at least not too cold)

Day 3 was where it all fell into place and I started feeling comfortable and with reasonable (ie not last) finishes in the first 2 days I built my confidence and apart from the seatpost on the bike slipping down slowly over the course of a day there were no mechanical problems with the bike or kit. Day started with a 14km down hill which I used to make up some time on other riders, now I am not a downhiller by nature but the course was a limestone jeep track with a few sections of mud...not that far removed from the tracks on Leckhampton or Cleeve hill! After a short but steep road stage we all re-grouped at a dhaba (cafe / truck stop) were we fueled up on chai and cardamon biscuits before riding en-mass over the hydro electric dam to the second stage of the day, a 10km undulating trail along side the river left after the construction of the dam. I started 1minute in front of Joe Cruz, (a semi-pro racer) and John Nobile (endurance racing legend) with the only thought of putting off them overtaking me. In the end they did catch and pass me but I came in less than 2 minutes slower than them, a result I am more than happy with.

Day 5 was a relatively easy day with only 1 really big climb and an early night as we had Jalori Pass to climb the next day as well as another 16km timed up hill. Jalori pass is 3,223m above sea level and we started out at 1,500m that morning from the bridge at the bottom of the valley. The 30km stage consisted of 23km of rideable tracks and road then 7km of much steeper broken jeep track. Feed stations were situated at 4-5km intervals and lunch was at the top. Despite the climbing and running only 1 gear I was really looking forward to this as the gradient looked ideal for a singlespeed....not too steep to make it unrideable but steep enough that geared riders would select a tiny gear and spin like idiots at walking speed.

I started at a reasonable pace that I knew I could keep up and started passing riders almost immediately. As I was in a good rhythm I blew through each of the first 4 feed stations grabbing a juice of banana as I went feeling great and even chatting to riders as I drew level and passed them. At the start of the really steep rough section I stopped to re-fill my water (I had drunk all 3liters by then) and grab more juice and bananas before riding the broken track until it became too slow going. Off the bike and on with the MP3 player and start walking. This might sound like a bad plan but I can walk up hill faster than many were riding it so continued to keep pace with the riders in front. It was about this point that I started to loose the plot a little, I had been riding hard for over 2hrs at altitude and this really started to take its toll as I laughed, cried and sang out loud as I trudged up the mountain, sometimes doing all three at once. It was a very cathartic experience and one I am glad I did, knowing your breaking point makes everyday trials seem pretty small.

The last 400m were tarmac and while steep were rideable so with a pounding tune on the earphones I stormed up the last switch back and over the line in 3hrs 23m 15s and 20th for that day. The views from the top were amazing and once I had had lunch and a snooze on the temple steps in the sun (and out of the wind) I felt a lot better.

Day 7 started with my first puncture when 500m out of camp the rear tube blew out from damage it had sustained on the previous days downhill section. A quick change and we were off on the 8km to the start of the hike-a-bike section which I understood to be 3km. It turned out to be 13km with only about 1km being rideable and much of it dangerous to walk as the trails were 1' wide with a 500f' drop on one side. I had brought my trainers so I was able to walk easily but the riding sections were tricky not clipped into my pedals. At one point I got a really odd feeling and stopped dead, took out my earphones and looked around, the rider 20m infront and Ray, who was about 50m behind, did exactly the same as well. Apart form the incessant cicadas and the breeze there were no other sounds so we shrugged and continued on our way. Talking about it later that night it turns out that the official photographer had snapped a leopard about 100m down slope from us in that area! Luckily by this point we probably smelt too bad to eat and it had left us alone.

The hike-a-bike finally ended and the downhill stage started until I blew out the rear tyre on the first corner. I hurriedly changed the tube again and set of carefully as I had no more spares and patching a tube takes ages. I stopped to help another rider who had ripped his rear gears off and was walking down the hill, I performed a quick singlespeed conversion and he was able to pedal down the rest of it. I made it to the finish in a really bad time (about double what it should have been) and quickly set off for the final stage in the next village, our progress only slowed by the local festival of taking the village gods to Kullu every year and the villages being fully of people dancing and carrying the statue through the streets! Ray and I were some of the last to make it to the final stage and we immediatly got a start time and our time sheets signed for the final 10km, 7 of which were up hill. We started off at a reasonable pace but the 13km of carrying the bike and the previous 6 days slowed us and it was only the two broom-waggon jeeps behind us that kept us going, failure was not an option at this point. As we crested the last switchback the deep red sun was setting behind the ridge line and despite the time ticking away we both snapped a couple of pictures before starting the final descent to camp.

Day 8 was a relatively easy day and we were in camp by 3pm and had time for an informal cricket match and to wash and dry some clothes. A few of us walked down the road to a dhaba for some noodles as the "all you can eat curry buffet" was wearing a little thin, even with the addition of pasta and cauliflower cheese for us Westerners! That night we celebrated John Nobiles 44th birthday with a big cake and some beers that appeared from nowhere. We were still all asleep by 9:30 though.

Day 9, the final day. Only one competative section but an hours bike carry up concrete steps to the top of the mountain. 58 minutes later I was at the top of the mountain with amazing panoramic views all around. At the very summit was a temple to Shiva which I visited and was encouraged to ring the bell for good luck, I am not sure if it worked but I had no more punctures! The final stage was, we were assures, 99.9% down hill. We took this with a pinch of salt as the percentages of down hill and even distances were a little hit and miss and the organisers had not got a GPS in time to pre-ride the route and give us an elevation profile, something they are promising for next year!

The route was about 70% downhill with some long gradual climbs in between. The upper reaches were shady forest tracks not that far removed from the Forest of Dean on a summers day but the lower sections became rockier and covered in a super fine dust that coated everything and made reading the trial almost impossible. I spent a lot of that sections just holding on as I pin-balled from one rock to another waiting for a tyre to rupture. The final short road stage gave me some respite before the finish line appeared round a switchback and people yelling "Stop! Stop! its over!" as I skidded the back tyre down the road, my face split by a huge grin. I had lost a lot of altitude in the last two hours but I was still on top of the world.

After a podium presentation and champagne in the local town we rode together to Manali and up the cordoned off main street to the park where the official finish was. Sitting in the cafe loading up on pakoras and chai it dawned on me that I had finished and that there was no riding tomorrow, the bike could stay dirty, no cycling shorts needed washing and that I would sleep in a real bed tonight. The awards ceremony ran late with lots of local big-wigs presenting prizes and various sponsors being thanked for their part in the event. I won the 3rd place Solo International Mens category much to my surprise as I had only been keeping track of the over all positions so had no idea. I also received a yellow jersey for being the first and only singlespeeder ever to take part.

We rode to the overnight accommodation and had to wait for our bags to arrive so we could shower, change and go to the end of race party at 9pm. At 9:30 the bags finally arrive and we grab a quick shower and change with one of the marshals trying to hurry us along and getting some rather terse replies! We make it to the party at 10pm and preceded to eat our own body weight in curry, drink the complementary beer but gave the "Old Smuggler" rum a miss because it was only good for cleaning bike chains as we found out at the pre-race meal! After the meal and some very spirited dancing we all received finishers jerseys and certificates and made our way back to bed at 1am totally shattered.

Photos of the event can be seen at http://picasaweb.google.co.uk/Singlespeedpunk666/MTBHimachal2007

Again a big thanks to everyone who sponsored me for the event, 100% of your money went to Leonard Cheshire Disability as I don't think that people should pay for my holiday :) I would also like to thank my sponsors who supplied equipment for the trip, all of which performed faultlessly in some of the harshest conditions.

4 comments:

miketually said...

Finally got the time to read the full report. It sounds like an nforgetable experience; I'm very jealous!

Alex said...

That was just the race details, there are another 4 chapters about the non-race activities, people, daft situations and hairless koalas!

Alex

miketually said...

In that case, looking forward to chapters 2, 3, 4 and 5 :)

Cellarrat said...

Way cool alex!

way to rock it!!