What a crazy, chaotic, and beautiful adventure to finish the 2019 season. Early in the year a mutual friend, Dave Cohen the newly appointed head medic for the event, convinced myself and several other intrepid souls to sign up for the Yakru Enduro race in Nepal. Few details were available besides the fact it was a two-week trip to Nepal for a three day Enduro race in the Himalayas. I was a little nervous about what I was actually signing myself up for but it seemed like a perfect time and opportunity to explore Nepal. It was absolutely an experience of a lifetime but one of the most challenging as well as awe-inspiring trips I've been on. It was really a roller coaster of a trip with many highs, lows, and lasting memories along the way.
Kathmandu is a name I remember from childhood books and songs. Arriving into the chaotic city from the West is a bit of a shock and quite the cultural experience. I've never been to a city quite like it so it was nice to have a planned few days to recover, adjust, and explore. The streets are a packed symphony of horns with cars, scooters, pedestrians, vendors, dogs, and the occasional cow fighting for space. You quickly learn you will get nowhere in the jammed streets unless you commit to your line and go for it. Confidence is everything so you have to just start moving across the street and hope it all works out. On arrival, I met up with the crew and quickly ticked off touristing items like visiting the Monkey Temple, Durbar Square, and walking the merchant streets of the old Thamel district where we were based.
After a couple days I was feeling recovered and ready to start the journey with everyone to Manang where the racing would occur. I'd got some good sleep at my comfy hotel, the coffee was surprisingly pretty good, and I only had one problem. When I arrived my bike didn't despite my theoretically simple one-layover Vancouver-Delhi-Kathmandu itinerary. I wasn't too stressed at first but I'd been calling almost everyone I could several times a day with no answers and no idea where my bike might be. My excitement about the trip had slowly changed to frustration as realization that the race convoy was leaving without me. The next day my hope was quickly fading that my bike would be found and I would be able to make the race start. I was a little down and pretty much resigned to heading home with no idea if my bike was lost forever. Luckily at the 11th hour the tracking suddenly showed my bike scheduled for arrival midday; just in time for me to have a chance to make the trip work.
I hastily coordinated with the race organizer to hire my own old Bolero 4x4 Jeep, driver, and a guide to help navigate my way up to Ngawal where we were staying for the race. The maps showed it was only a little over 250km so how hard could it be to catch up? I had no idea how savage and brutal the drive would be but I was pretty excited to be heading in the right direction. The first 6 hours and 170km on "pavement" we got done the first evening before settling down in a rustic guest house and eating the first of many Dal Bhat, rice and veggies, meals in the mountains. Even the Nepali pavement highway is barely more than one lane; it's chopped up, potholed, and jammed with quite the assortment of vehicles constantly honking and moving at various speeds.
The second day it got real when we hit dirt and took eleven very bumpy hours to cover the last 90km; driving over rugged but stunning terrain that often reminded me of the World's Dangerous Roads reality show. It was my driver's first time in the Himalayas so he was just as psyched as I was to stop and check out the mountains, waterfalls, and snap some photos. Time passed quickly and I arrived at sunset to a few cheers from the crew but definitely felt a little concussed after the jarring day. Regardless, I was super happy to be in the Himalayas with my bike and really excited to ride.
Part of what made the trip fun was how small and tight our crew was. It's not very often I can remember everyone's name in the race. After a few people didn't make the event, we ended up with a pretty intimate group of 8 racers (Tom, Megan, Gab, Phoebe, Robin, Steven, and Ben), 4 media (Riley, Dane, Cole, and Kristina), 2 medics (Dave and Zoe), and the whole Yakru race organization crew. This small group made it feel more like an amazing private mountain tour but we still had some fun riding fast against the clock. it wasn't always easy but as long as you have people to laugh with that's what makes for good stories and memories.
On the first day of racing, I woke up to an amazing view and got to see in the morning light what a stunning location we were based in. The Ngawal Mountain Home was nestled in a hillside village at 3600m with stunning views across the valley of the imposing 8000m+ peaks of the Annapurna Conservation Area. Everywhere we looked was breathtaking literally and physically. In the high desert region overnight the temps dropped below freezing but the days quickly warmed up with the sun. The dining hall was warm and cozy but the often cold showers and unheated bedrooms meant a quick transition before the sun went down after riding was important. With early morning starts to avoid afternoon winds we were often to bed early and I was happy to have my sub-zero sleeping bag to snuggle up in. We often bundled up for our early starts but almost immediately pealed all layers off as the sun came out.
On day one the ride and first push of the day went up to over 4000m and took us to an old Milarepa Cave holy site. The view from the start of stage one was unreal and trying to turn the brain on to push was definitely challenging. The dry, dusty, and rarely ridden rocky hiking trails were a challenge to find grip and be aggressive on. I didn't want to have any issues in such a remote region so I brought the biggest, most reliable set-up I have; my Yeti SB150 with super solid Stan's Flow EXC and a thick Maxxis DD Assegai/DH Minion rubber combo. After the first day, I was feeling a little over-biked but as the days got a little more challenging I was happy that I didn't have to stress about having any issues and could just enjoy the riding. After the first day, fellow Yeti riders Tom Sampson and Megan Rose were the fastest and held their lead in the results to the end. There was one benefit to being second best however; I didn't have to lift up an actual stuffed Yak head at the podium. Not sure how fresh they were but it was said to be good luck to keep it at their bedroom door. I guess it worked but was a bit shocking to come up the stairs and be confronted with a big Yak head at the door.
At high altitude with loose conditions, any slight incline immediately became a push or carry which we did a fair amount of. We didn't cover a lot of ground but definitely always finished the day tired. The last couple days started straight up a long set of stairs which took us past a few beautiful shrines and monuments. We had to laugh at our medic friends Dave and Zoe who were riding Ebikes supplied by the organizer; they thought it would be a great idea to zip around at high altitude. Unfortunately, the motor doesn't help so much when it's loose and you have to push or carry; the extra weight made the carrying even more brutal and there was definitely a bit of cussing to be heard. Everyone embraced the challenge though and we all had fun as the stages got more exciting on days two and three. With such a small group we all travelled together and regrouped before every stage. The photogs would set up, the racers would all drop in, and then the medics would follow after everyone made it down safely. Besides a few scraps, everyone stayed safe and the best crash of the week was probably "MeDick" Dave's headstand coming into the last day's finish. There was some fun riding to be had but the location and scenery was definitely one of the highlights for me. During the liaisons, it was constantly mind-blowing to just stop and take a look around at where we were. The scale of the Himalayan mountains is stunning and we were lucky to have perfect weather for the entire trip.
One of the most enjoyable days was actually the first transfer day back towards Kathmandu; instead of driving slowly in the jeeps we had fun on a 50km social ride down the valley. As a group we got to stop and explore some of the tiny villages, rip some of the fun Annapurna circuit hiking trails, grab some delicious donuts and coffee, snap lots of photos, and take in the incredible scenery. Arriving close to dark we had to pack up our bikes to fit in the vehicles for the final transfer day in the vehicles.
This second transfer day turned into one of the longest and most chaotic days of the trip. Leaving at 7am you'd think 200km would be no problem but we finally rolled into Kathmandu around 11pm. We did get to stop for a nice brewery visit but we all had to laugh and make the most of it after we got stuck in a Nepalese traffic jam. A flipped oil tanker blocked traffic and caused chaos. To pass time we grabbed some more roadside beers and started a dance party with some kids on a bus. Maybe too many beers as things got more chaotic when a few people got separated in the dark from their jeeps in the stop and go traffic. Eventually, everyone made it back "relatively" safe and sound.
The group was pretty cracked from the journey but we were happy to have a few days to enjoy some luxurious hot showers and good food back in Kathmandu. After eating some tasty but repetitive Dal Bhat variations in the mountains we were all psyched to get some more familiar food back in the city. French toast and a good cappuccino never tasted so fabulous. Feeling pretty rough it was also nice to take advantage of the local spas; nothing like $20 for a 2hr full body scrub and massage to feel refreshed again. We also had time to do a few laps of Thamel, pick up some souvenirs, and do some early Christmas shopping.
Since committing to my trip to Nepal there was one more item I wanted to check off my list while over there. Many may have seen the superb documentary Joey Schusler did called RJ Ripper; check it out on Vimeo if you haven't. The movie features RJ as well as Mandil who runs Himalayan Guides and I wanted to figure out a ride together as we are all part of the Yeti Tribe. I'd met them earlier in the summer and was psyched it worked out to meet up and go for a rip on the local Nargakot trails. After struggling up the Himalayan hills it felt great to shuttle up and just ride a bunch of trails with the guys. Pretty cool to try to chase and keep up with RJ on his home trails. Afterward we also got to fit in a nice lunch and trip to the Unesco World Heritage Site at Bhaktapur. Thanks to Mandil for organizing such a great day and memory to finish off my Nepalese trip.
Reflecting on the trip after turning home really makes me grateful for the opportunities I get on my bike. The trip was challenging at times which also gave me an appreciation for the comfort I live in at home in Canada. Nepal and the Himalayas were astounding but there were also contrasts with that beauty. Seeing burning roadside plastic, garbage, and thick air pollution in Kathmandu also makes one realize how much work still needs to be done around the world. Travelling with my Camelbak mug and re-usable water bottle seemed a little insignificant but we all need to start somewhere and support change for the planet wherever we can. A lot of people have asked me about the event and if I would recommend it. If you can get some friends together and you've never been to Nepal before I'd say it is definitely one hell of an experience. We made a few recommendations to improve the logistics and riding and it won't be something you will soon forget. It's is so much more of an adventure than a three-day race and I feel like I got a pretty amazing bang for my buck. The group we had really made the experience special though.
It's been another memorable year on my bike and this trip was quite the way to cap off the 2019 season. Thanks for following along and to all my supporters that make it possible. Keep riding until the fun stops! Cheers. - Geoff