Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Yak Attack 2014 reflections

This is both the hardest and most rewarding event I've done. It's a real gauntlet. I feel a a lifetime from home. At first I questioned the organizer's web site "Extreme World Challenges". I don't anymore.  This puts extreme duress on your body and mind.  What says even more is the Calgary contingent who really signed up on a whim last fall after my panic sign up and email all finished. Everyone had highs but also lows and hardship. Getting through this one takes serious grit. 

Temperature range: about 50-60C
Elevation range: over 5,000m change, tops out 5,416m
3 6am bag pickups, 1 3am bag pickup, each leaves you in gear you carry or if you don't you're cold - a tough equation
20kg max gear for all this

Technical difficulty of the above, ie not trail technical difficulty, is very very hard. Maybe that should be called logistical difficulty. Nothing was easy and comforts were modest. 

Health difficulty is hard for non locals.  It hurts when you get it, and you need to hope it's not on the hardest days.  The non-local gut rot was essentially 100%. If you have time, come early and get it over with. 

Psychological difficulty is high. They really throw everything at you. Gerry and I just laughed some nights before going to bed - you really don't know what tomorrow will bring.  We learned not to bite on the promise of hot shower labels. We've labelled them Himalaya fresh, aka purely bone chilling. Luxury is now a gallon bucket of hot water to cleanse with squatting on an ice cold concrete floor, perhaps with a light. And I'm now entirely fine with that. 

We're soft.  I looked up temperatures beforehand and made judgements. What would have been useful that I didn't know is this country is devoid in its entirety of climate control.  So it's not just racing temperature, but post race damp clothes low energy and your bag isn't there what did you carry to stay even remotely warm? We could see our breath in rooms, and the concrete floors were icy, in the shower your feet freeze. No place was ever set to 20C constant. 

Running water, toilets, much protein in a diet are first word expectations. They're all scarce. Altitude, long climbs and fiercely competitive local riders are not even remotely scarce.  All those paragraphs are encapsulated by world human development indices where Nepal is one of the least developed countries in the world. 

With all that, I wouldn't trade the experience for anything. Somehow again I went from a slow start/major low point to finishing almost awesome save that flat. What happened in between was just a magic journey.  This packaging tells me something I've learned in Nepal; it's almost poetic.  Riding, eating, hiking, socializing, staying warm was all that was on our minds. 

I think this is my favourite photo. More than just the one at the top with the sign, this shows the journey in progress. And like most winter shots, what's lost is that if we stopped for 1 minute the freeze set in, and the air was just so thin as I'd never felt it before. 

Lastly, what made all the relative harshness worth it and even hospitable wad the people. From the diversity of other racers to the warmth and kindness of the Nepalis, it was just such a positive experience. 

Nepal is high on my listing I ever just feel the need to tune out for a while. Steep hills, healthy food, beautiful walls of mountains the size of which I've never seen before, and kind people. Once out of Kathmandu valley the air is clean, and I'd say bring a good kit of stomach drugs. After that a year could be had on a couple thousand dollars!  And that's including momo and Ghorka. 

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