Monday 30 September 2013

Whistler Weekend

Months ago I had such optimism for a great Whistler weekend.  Mash up a bunch of friends beyond the bike crowd (ie. work and high school/uni buddies) and head out for a weekend... of course to celebrate a bachelor party, but I was leary of doing much in that regard as Whistler is generally over run with people making asses of them self with that excuse.

The good news is, it was a ton of fun, only very subtley labelled as a bachelor party.  The bad news is as an avid rider, I really got in less riding than I had hoped (ie. it was a big fat zero), and I wasn't the only one.  We might do a reunion out there next summer just to have fun again.

Almost the whole crew, we only noticed one was missing after the photos were taken. 

Friday 27 September 2013

Arm update 5

So I expected to see change. But not in this direction. Photos are chronological and 12 days apart. Also I heard wrong or mislabeled it in my own mind when I left first time - it's radial head not ulnar head. 



They say it's gone from 0.8mm crack to 3.1mm, and to my eye the bottom is hanging on by a thread. Shoot. 

I started worrying about the weekend when I asked the lady if I step over to the Good Earth to get some food while I waited for further review, and she said I shouldn't be eating if I went to surgery right away.  That wasn't compatible with Shawn picking me up for the airport at 2... so we had a little chat that included the concept of not rushing the diagnosis at all, it's not one of these decisions you wanted to make rashly on a Friday afternoon really, was way better to ponder for the weekend and render decision on Monday. 

Phew - it's airport time with the gang!

Tuesday 24 September 2013

Arm update 4

This week's developments... Jon Nutbrown shared these rather raw pictures.  This and Shawn's leg seem to indicate the bike gang is running through its luck rather fast these days.  Lesson: careful with box cutters.

My friend Darren has been getting cortisone injections in his back so hopefully he can sleep, not have to stand at desk and meetings, and be out of pain.  Shawn's toes are blue bruised still.
Hmm... facts would indicate we're getting older and or more accident prone.
I had 300 ml of fluid drained from my hip from my mangled then "over inflated" (yes, see how much doctor potential I display in my vocabulary?) bursa.  300 ml is like most of a can of pop.  It then was injected with anti inflammatory and steroid in much smaller quantity.  I was frozen, so it didn't hurt except when he went deeper.  I wasn't a fan of the two saying "I don't think I'm deep enough" "would you like a longer needle" kind of chat while I'm at least attempting to tune out.

Sunday 22 September 2013

Arm update 3

I don't actually have much of an update on Sunday vs. Friday in terms of progress, more just reflection. This is deep off season... doing nothing!

I'm tired.  I didn't leave the house Saturday other than going to FirstEnergy's gala.  Sunday I woke up at my normal time, but then just slept in.  Had breakfast with Cindy, then couldn't find the desire to do anything other than go back upstairs for a nap.  I see the sun outside and it looks beauty out, but it doesn't register enough to go outside which is unusual for me.

We're house sitting a cat that got dropped off at like 3, Cindy's sister asked what time it was, and 3pm isn't a normal time of the day that I look at a watch and have done absolutely nothing.

On the positive side, I'm reading web from various sports experiences of breaks.  I can't express how glad I am better than one of the worlds first double platinum super groups.  On a side note, we always are listening to music at home, which is great.  The violinist in Florence, the Mongolian horse head violinists, Jan Arden last night, remind me just how much fidelity is absent in digitized music.  Live music is such a deep luxury on the ears and mind, it just penetrates so much deeper into how one thinks, I wish I could be exposed to more up close hi fi performances.
Ok, so in addition to the first "I'm glads" post crash, I'm glad I'm not in the soccer crowd with a longer healing leg break.  I'm glad I wasn't hit by a car and have resent and hate and stress besides just healing.  I'm glad I'm not one of the guys on singletrack forums discussing how long and painful the recovery/off bike time is for humerous breaks.  I'm glad for a forearm break I didn't actually crack across my ulna, or the classic both ulna and radius.

Everyone says the soft tissue recovery is a longer time.  In conversation when I mention I've broken an arm, people say they'll try not to bump me.  I'm entirely bump-able.  I haven't come across any bump, arm rest, etc. that actually hurts.  It's just twisting really, shaking hands, opening doors, opening lids, and thus far holding handlebars and supporting weight doesn't seem appealing/feasible.

I wish I had energy to spin a bit on a trainer perhaps, this hip tissue thing isn't going away very fast, and I wish I could have pumped a few hours of real exercise blood flow past/through it so far, but that's not yet been the case.

It is a bit fitting that there's a new house guest.  This approximates my recent activity level.

FirstEnergy turns 20

We had our 20th anniversary gala last night, and gala it was.  Cindy and I did our best to beautify ourselves, then headed out to mix and mingle, although my ability shake hands is pretty impeded.

The plan was to turn the Telus Convention Center into nothing its ever looked like before, and it worked.  Reception area, dining area, then transformation of reception to nightclub.

Decidedly Jazz Danceworks, Alberta Ballet, and Cirque provided lovely performances.  Speeches were designed to, and executed on, being pretty short, which worked well.

Mayor Nenshi and Allison Redford spoke, Danielle Smith as leader of the opposition was there and had a video address.  Rex Murphy provided the most articulate, humorous, and positively political talk of the night in a way only he can do.

John announced our 10 charitable recipients, one of which was key to Jann Arden's life, so she played for the crowd.  Beautiful voice.

Friday 20 September 2013

A 5 day week with a broken arm

I've never had a broken bone. This counts as its broken, but it's not broken in a way that needs a cast. My immobility is from messed up soft tissue around my elbow and hip. The hip thing is fine, I just get up funny and walk funny until it loosens up.

The arm is difficult. I can get it to about 20 degrees before straight and say 20 degrees before right angle. So reaching shoelaces is hard, and I can't touch my face. Here's some observations on a week reduced mobility. 

Putting on socks is new to do left hand only. Belts are a several minute process. Toothbrushing is awkward with the left, it's quite unrefined, although by Wednesday when I looked down at my hands at work, the right felt leftish and the left felt rightish. I think the left was starting to come alive more. Eating yogurt is easy as it sticks to the spoon, soup is harder. Chopsticks were on the easier end for the fingers, but the angle the wrist wants to approach the plate at is all wrong. Rotations at the hand are very limited, and torque against rotation is impossible (ie jar opening). 

The painkillers say don't operate heavy machinery, which is good advice. Its codeine based. They insert a layer of dumb. I'd listen to someone and take notes (typing). I'd read the note and it didn't even remotely match what they said, even though what they said never left my mind. I got a bill from a waitress, thought it looked fine, ie it added up to what I thought the items would add up to. I paid cash. She said I gave her too much. The bills I counted didn't really match at all, even though I had the price in mind and was counting towards it.  I took no more after Wednesday. Thursday I felt fine, felt more connected to the pain of the arm and what it was telling me.  It's not bad, but it's useful information instead of numbly reaching for things and having sharper pain only kick in later.  I guess that counts as stoping them before enough dependency kicked in that I was living in a box in tattered clothes trying to score morphine hits instead of the low level painkiller stuff and talking about the life I once had... just 3 days worth.

So with a Sunday injury, 1 day of pain/diagnosis a day later, I did 3 days of painkiller and tentative movement.  It's now two days without.  Friday, or kind of 5.5 days in, I felt optimistic on some movement (the lethargy or "apathy" as wiki lists a side effect seems to be gone).  On the way past our gym to the bathroom today, I picked up 2 5lb weights and played around with them.  That morphed into 15 minutes of fiddling.  A joint is meant to move, warming it up and using it within limited range felt really good.  I've rarely seen any injuries get better (or get better faster/optimally) with pure rest.  Bodies move, metabolisms that are not tepid work better in my opinion on any affliction I've ever had.  My hip is surprisingly sore, I think I'm going to move to a week of gentle motion to actually pump blood through there in better fashion as it still feels like just a giant lump of tense tissue.  We'll see what routine I can make with the 5lb weights.  Lots of movements, rotations, etc. actually felt pretty good.

I'm in forced downtime, I accept that's necessary and it's not at too bad of a time of year.  I rarely do this little, it's been nothing but sleep and walk to work.

Monday 16 September 2013


Well, yesterday afternoon I had a couple robax platinum, walked Cindy through changing/fully housing her derailleur cable, went for late lunch in Inglewood, and dropped by Shawn's for some bike talk and measuring (and to talk about his dislocated ankle). 

After a painful sleep, Cindy helped me get ready for work. After about 3 hours I walked over to the Sheldon Chumir. Check in fine. Second check in counter was odd, lady went to wrong web site to get family doctor name despite telling her right one plus his name. Whatever. 

X ray nurse was nice, but in pursuit of perfect angles of X-rays wanted me to bend in the most painful ways possible. After I lied down on the floor, she asked what I was doing. I said two minutes ago that it hurt so much I was pushing ability to stay conscious, and I wanted to lie down so I didn't pass out and fall on my arm... so here I was doing what I said. Seemed more of an X-ray jockey than getting the whole picture. Oh well. 

Top of my ulna is broken by my elbow. I have pain medication but no cast as its one piece still just cleaved off like when you chop wood but it doesn't split off to side. Said I should make efforts to move it in like ten days or whatever, but for now it's too painful to move as all the soft tissue is messed too. 

Sunday 15 September 2013

K Country

After 800km of safe riding in Mongolia plus many years before that, time for an oops. I'm out with Cindy and Craig and Kate today. We're linking up some K Country trails, and are coasting reasonably fast down a paved road in a campground after entering it from some trail in the mountains. I'm looking at Cindy's bike while coasting as she's describing a small mechanical issue that I'm trying to witness to then help with. She then yells 'Bakke' as Kate in front of me had slowed and turned left. I look forward, hit the brakes, collide with Kate, and her turning left essentially pulls my bike out to the left from under me. I fly and hit my hand, elbow, shoulder, head and right hip down pretty hard. What was not far off a concussion, broken collar bone and dislocation seems to with luck be a road rash palm, sprained elbow as I can't bend it much or rotate the two forearm bones, and a pretty good bruised hip. Bummer, especially the standard road crash when mountain biking with experienced riders. Front bike Kate is fine like nothing happened which is usually how bike stuff happens. Good reminder of that key technique of watching where you're going.  Cindy had sanitary wipes in her safety kit; and her and Craig went back for the car as I can't support weight with that elbow. Head is fine, just elbow pain and hip pain made me light headed at first, not the end smash. We debated but then elected to take two cars this morning which is good, Craig a d Kate still get some riding in.  Elbow is only concerning part, hip is just a mass of sore flesh, hand is pretty good - Cindy's sanitary wipes in the first aid kit really helped. Elbow hurts and doesn't want to bend, wrist can't rotate, twisting open jars a bad idea. So much for the corporate golf day tomorrow. 

Thursday 12 September 2013

Wednesday night Midweek Mayhem 'cross

I'm perpetually amazed at how this grows and delivers fun for so many people. Two people I know are in their first 'cross season, one is one race deep, one is two races deep. The common thread? Absolutely, utterly, irreversibly hooked. Perfect! Both expressed the same "is it competitive racing, can I do it, is it technically difficult" series of questions in advance, then at the end of the race realized nobody knows how you did, it's just competitive within yourself, yes you can do it, and technical difficulty is just commensurate with speed for the most part.

Ps. Trying to do 'cross after an 850k week in Mongolia and jet lag is... difficult!

Monday 9 September 2013

Gene pool

Think we don't share at least some with birds?  Look at this vulture's finger that was missing an claw, then look at yours. 

Sunday 8 September 2013

Mongolia Bike Challenge reflection

I consider myself lucky to exist in a golden age of mountain biking where events like this, excellent mountain bike technology, and my fitness and travel budget are all lining up.  At times I marvel that this is the life I get to have.  I got everything I wanted out of this race and more. It's raw and tough. It could be just called Mongolia Challenge, as the bike riding isn't the only hard part. It reminds me of a line from a great article about La Ruta: nothing is particularly hard about this race, but none of it is easy either. You can't point to any climb, descent, camping technique, etc. that on its own crushes you. Wrap it all into what this is, and nobody in their right mind will say anything about this is even remotely easy.  Look at the faces outside the showers covered in dirt after riding  100+ km days where at some point they cracked off the pace at the front waiting for their chance to hose down with ice cold water in the wind and you won't see the look of ease - and by my estimation the group who self selected to be here is a tough group. Cory will tell you it's tough - although I'll assert he's tougher - he did ride 90km back to Ulaan Baatar on "day 8" with some half ass directions which is an awesome Cory move.

I didn't think I minded cold water, and in the grand scheme I don't, but daily cracking on long rides and an ice cold hose to welcome you at camp isn't easy. So is ger sleeping on rocks waking up cold at 4am just trying to get a few more winks without being cold until 6am breakfast daily. These aren't newbies who decided to give a stage race a try. The crowd like Jack, Andre, Richard, and Bob who had his 66th birthday on stage 6, have more stories each than a lifetime of stuff Indiana Jones ever did. Andre still has Gerry's Deadgoat hat and wears it with pride. He said maybe he could be an honorary 'goat - finishing this and doing the other races he's done definitely qualifies him. He's a Frenchman living India that has stores back to skiing with Jean Claude Killy and working at Val d'Isere in the 70's. 

The younger crowd doesn't seem to be the xc lap race centric bunch - its a really neat group of people this attracts. The attrition rate is pretty high on this race, and we didn't even get the 175km day. Chatted a bunch with UK Matt who has Mike Hall as a riding friend at home and took interest in hearing about Craig. 

Note: if you ever see a TransMongolia race - train. We dabbled in a small part of this country and I felt dwarfed like an ant.  I've only heard stories of when it went into the Gobi and it sounded hard as it comes. Joao is pulling his bike touring trailer to the Gobi right now before heading back to Portugal. 

This was without a doubt one of the most rewarding things I've ever done. For me all racing is escapism - you forget a little of the "real world". It's like taking out a clipper and shearing back the stuff that doesn't matter. This hacked away the trappings of my usual routine with a battle axe. No electronics really - no connection all week and this phone hasn't been charged all week. No hot water, plumbing, temperature control, walls, or creature comforts. We haven't seen a single product advertisement in a week. Sunrise, sunset, bike, eat basic food. It feels like centuries have been rewound looking across these landscapes. There's no fences. Animals roam. Wild horses run right across our path like flocks of birds.  We can't tell, but it really seems they do it just for fun. The camels just hang out. Here's a captive one that was actually reasonably personable. 

My cat friend looks like it froze part of an ear off. It just showed up on my bed all skinny and friendly. Cows, dogs, goats and sheep are smaller and thinner too. People aren't fat. Getting enough is hard work - this isn't a land of excess.

People are tough to survive here, but warm. Law of the land is you can go in any ger and have food/tea/sleep if you're stuck outdoors.  Humankind is cooperative to make it work here.

There's a definite absence of rules here. All the basics appear to be in tact - people stop if there's a fender bender, city seemed orderly enough, I didn't get the feeling theft and murder were particularly prevalent. But all that happened without the appearance of excessive "don't do this" signs and mindset. I swear I only saw 6 traffic signs outside of logs with arrows and come Cyrillic written town or landmark 80km off in another direction. There were even fewer traffic lights. I couldn't wield my camera fast enough for the skull and crossbones sign on the highway, but that kind of says it all -  they don't mess with the small stuff here like speed limit signs (non existent). 

This race was small enough to be friendly and not overwhelming. I look down the GC list now and almost all the names have a face, a place, a personality, a riding style, the ups and downs of the week, a reason that drew them here like moths to the light. Camp was community.  You can pick the Mongolian names out of the GC list, and don't let the results fool you - these guys didn't sit in and ride for place. They are hard as nails and animated the race, taking huge pulls and making huge efforts when it got tough and others wanted to sit in. Their places don't reflect their contributions. That Altanzul guy is a powerhouse of epic proportions. If these guys had travel budgets, they'd be awesome at tour divide. They wouldn't have to pare back gear from a North American mindset... and the route would seem relatively populated!

I can't think how many future tough ass situations I'll face in the future and think "this would be easier with a Mongolian here".  I knew nothing before, know very little of them now, but am just seriously impressed after just one week. Altanzul, the guy who pulled 50% of the 165km day into headwind and blew in the last 5km blew everyone's mind.  The guy can push a gear into the wind like few I've ever seen. So strong. 

There's a veteran Mongolian guy here who's badass. He was in their army in Vietnam. He wore nothing more than bibs and a jersey every day. He washes it and puts it on damp in the morning when the starts are cold. No gloves. His bike only has a front brake. He's got an aluminum 26er frame from another decade, if not two ago. The front derailleur cable stop came off, so he routes housing through the hole in the seat say bridge that most people use as a fender mount. He's nothing but sinew and muscle - I'm fairly certain he'd twist my flabby whiteness into a pretzel in about 60 seconds if he needed to without breaking a sweat. He's done every Mongolia Bike Challenge so far, and he quit his job before the race this year as apparently they weren't going to give him the time off so he said f- them.  Mijid Batmunkh is one awesome guy. Believe it or not, we hung out a bit and he requested this photo so I handed my phone over for one too. 

I find it hard to remember why I'm so busy doing so many things when what this week had is pretty much all I ever want. People at home who think its hard to ride bikes to work in the cold winter have no idea how soft at least urban Canada is in modern times.  With modern cars and central heat, cold seems hardly worth talking about compared to ger life, animal raising, and living so far from "stores".  I need less, not more. Even UB doesn't seem easy, my guess is it'd be bleak in the winter. Even on a 15C day its dust, concrete, rocks and square apartment blocks leave you feeling devoid of anything cozy. 

Each night when I'd take a piss I'd marvel at the stars. No lights anywhere to be seen in any direction to fade them. Millions of them, bright from the horizon up. What a treat.  But really it shouldn't be. 

I had 3 solid days, a couple tougher, and the unknown transfer day I was feeling good for the start until the aid one where it was cancelled. The good days on a bike are just are golden. This kind of beating down with hard rides makes me feel more alive than dead although people espouse the opposite in finish line talk.  Suffering isn't having your chin on the stem in a headwind, it's letting prime years slip by wilting into frailty.  I'm closer to dead when I'm flabby, sedate, in temperature controlled environments under the fluorescent lights. I'm fully alive when it's cold starting, windy, heart pumping, legs burning, and can tag onto a 20 person lead group of respectable engines that's drilling it. I think I respond to high training loads and just don't do jack shit all at home usually vs efforts like this. I fully get structured training, but it doesnt touch racing. 7th day was a 5 min max climb right after wakeup from a cold start followed by 15km of threshold stay in the group by the skin of your teeth, chase back on into a headwind, climb to drop some, pull last 15k and chase down two more in last 3km. That's crazy amounts of effort. Last couple days I've just felt the engine come alive, god I wish I could bottle that up. I don't really care how I do, I just love the feeling of being able to pound it out for three, four, five or six hours. Feeling that way, looking around at such landscapes, I feel so alive and lucky to be able to do it. It doesn't hurt that I'm down a belt notch. 

Real world seems a million miles away; I don't really want to go back. Here's what I left for the long trip home... our fort. 
Where we finished riding yesterday. 
Thomas thanks so much for talking me into this adventure!  Sportsman champ - you rode awesome all week!

Here was by my favourite river. 

Mongolia Bike Challenge closing ceremony

This whole thing blew my mind. Talk about fun. The dining hall is floor seating. Beer, rice, soup, and every group plate to middle of table with various languages going on spurred "what animal is this?" question. 

We listened to the amazing horse instrument thing that's like a 2 string violin and a throat singer. Mongolians are proud of their horsemanship, rightfully so as the conquered a good chunk of the world with those skills. 

Here's the amazing contortionist - I'm glad my seat was 2 feet away for all this, amazing. 

What closing ceremony is complete without a lounge singer?

Here are the podium girls for the finisher ceremonies. Every finisher was called up, some people were very emotional having completed it. 

After all that and podiums for the categories, we finished with a Mongolian version of burning man with sing alongs. 

Mongolia Bike Challenge day 7

Our 7:30am start turned left immediately up a hill and it took about 14m into the 86km stage for the first attack to launch. By the top of the hill the first 18 riders were away. Fortunately I was in the draft, I can tell you doing a maximal climb right off the go wasn't something my legs seemed really fond of.

Next 20km or so were fairly flat, I even took a half dozen pulls to at least appear to not mooch too hard. Doesn't really matter when it's like a half hour up and down to placings and its last day. Somewhere along a vast valley a series of attacks went when I was doing a coasting pee at the back. Shoot. I rolled down my short leg and realized this was going to be a lot of work. Took me about 20 minutes to get back on which was simultaneous to the bottom of a climb where group really was breaking up. This, combined with the starting climb, meant i was just furiously burning matches all day, not the likes of how I'd usually do a ride that long, but legs were working. I kept pedalling hard and a group of 3 formed. Eventually a Mongolian dropped and Matt from Kelowna joined. We blew through aid 2 and rode hard to next climb, passed a couple stragglers. I crested climb with a guy who's strong but has been sketchy all week, I didn't want to descend behind him so I gave it a few kicks. We came on a hard right turn in a high speed part that I rounded, he apparently didn't see, and he blows it off into the rocks. I'm way down already at that speed and hear screaming, so I stop as does Matt, and we're waving our arms and pointing the vehicles over there - turns out later we hear he dislocated his shoulder but they put it back in and he still finished. Glad I rode my own line up front. 

Matt and I caught one other Mongolian. He needed something like 6 minutes for 3rd in our category and was feeling shelled. I said there's no mulligans to try again if we got in with only 5:59 up so he popped a gel and off we went. I said he'd hate me at the finish for the suffering until  6 mins passed on the clock and started a half hour pull. Felt solid and went a good tempo. We could see the finish which is a ger camp/kingdom looking thing up in the shelter of some rock cliffs, but what we didn't see is the loop that did every climb around the mountain so we could see an old fort, lookout, camels, etc. I took off on the climbs as I saw two guys out front, and was barely catching them until we rounded back to the front of the hill in a huge headwind section, just put my head down a d worked. 90 degree right turn took us straight up the last 1km straight shot grass climb to the finish. I finished 11th for a high point of the race at the end. Cory won. I ended up second to Belgian Tom overall and had three days of master wins when I was feeling good, or other way of looking at it I was 17th overall.  Matt did get third with today's effort. 

We're staying in a palatial ger, dining in a huge one too with wolf skins and eagles mounted by the throne. 

This is our royal dining hall. 

Mongolia Bike Challenge day 6

165km stage that everyone says actually measured a bit over 170km. We saw camels, deer, wild horses, horse skeleton, vultures, and good god I've said it before but this country is so big with not much out there. Endless grassy hills. Rode about 120k with lead group; I had legs to stay in - even got a thanks from Cory for pulling to close a gap when it opened, we jokes how few and far between me pulling him will ever be in out riding careers. 

Last 50k with Catherine was lovely/hard - I've never seen such a small body put out so much power. Not only does she climb well, but on like 2 degree decline sections into a headwind she had me redlined, and that's something I'm usually more comfortable at. Holy. We crossed the line together, they gave us ladies first 11th for Catherine and then 12th for me. 

It was carnage out there over that distance and the last hot climbs, people were coming in for hours. We came in from them thar hills. 

Jack said he had his toughest day ever on a bike, he's been sick. Thats rough, we're rooming together and I feel for him. Few people going down randomly each couple of days. How sick?  Jack just took a cipro, went out to do something, and when he came back he was looking for another muttering "what a rip off that was" has he just hurled that one up with soup he got down at dinner. 

Saturday 7 September 2013

Mongolia Bike Challenge day 5

Last night's sleep was less than ideal. I had a bad stomach which also caused night terror episodes. My brain woke up first and wanted to get me outside the ger, but there was that awful period where my body wouldn't wake or respond so I felt suffocated. To add insult to injury on exiting the ger I just bonked my head into the door.  Rest of night slept in all my clothes and shoes in case I needed to head out, and opened my bag into a blanket. Morning few hours was really cold that way. My voice is going a bit.  I suspect it was my manky water bottle more than the lamb tied to the back of the dinner truck that ended up feeding 150 people in meat ball, pasta sauce and wonton form. I think the Mongolians think its weird how many photos the foreigners took of the slaughter; I think living out here dinner goes from field to plate pretty regularly. 

I was late for everything. Back of breakfast line behind an older lady who is here with her husband. She took the last of the cornflakes, I wanted some to go in my hot milk with rice concoction they had. She then proceeded to tell me how she wasn't even leaving camp today, then didn't eat more than a quarter of the bowl. Yup, when I'm not feeling well I notice these things, and that's about as close to reality as you get with the proverbial pissing in someone's cornflakes. 

Rob was on the megaphone saying how many minutes to start, and with 10 minutes prior one guy was there. I headed over to the washroom. 

Today's plan was 97km and not as much climbing over these hills. 

I made efforts to stay in the second group after fading from the first group as I didn't want to be in a headwind solo.  I made it to base of first climb with Joao who missed the start, Catherine who's leading, Aussie Todd and one other. I did my pulled in rotation behind Catherine and knew I was on borrowed time; she's so small there's not much draft, plus I was just burning the energy in my legs as food wasn't doing its thing. Eventually I dropped behind big Aussie Todd and dropped at the bottom of the fist big climb. Partial mission accomplished. The beautiful valley we rode up had no exit but up and over a steep climb. I was fatigued but made a point to ride all of it. 

From that descent to the next climb I soft pedalled and went backwards. Ate two gels hoping they'd get through, but it wasn't happening. This felt more like trying to hang in for the finishers trinket and enjoying the scenery. People rolled by and said hop in the draft, I'd just say see you later and kept crawling along. Next long climb I got passed by 4 people, but over top coasted back down to the front of them which was Sonya.  Flat to Hal a degree down valley plus the descent seemed to let my body catch up a bit. 

Tall Aussie who had an early mechanical, a younger Mongolian and I made a trio for a while, and I was feeling stronger with food. Mongolian guy doesn't do cooperative pulls through, more like standing surges. I see Matt from Kelowna a half a km up, get frustrated with this surge pull stuff, and take off.  We settle I to cooperative pulls to aid 2.  I roll through it as I had an extra bottle and felt great for last 30km. Ride solo to end not seeing anyone. At finish the lead group is still lounging, which surprises me. Apparently they took a wrong turn. Sounds like they'll use aid 2 order as results. 

We showered, ate, then chatted and drank tea. Cory came in way later - he had a 140km day. Ouch. 

Need to hit an afternoon nap hard... after chatting for a while with Matt and Sonya, while doing awkward things like applying polysporin to chafed areas simultaneously. Racers seem to have the same methods. Nap and massage and a better sleep seem key to surviving tomorrow's 167km. 

Mongolia Bike Challenge day 4

We woke just after 6am to this beautiful view with another 3-4C morning. 
Start was delayed an hour as some people only got in at 1:30am. I felt decent and put on same outfit as yesterday, plus a vest and beanie and also carried thermal gloves.  Day was shortened from 175km to 120km. Before coming here I thought a day 4 of 120 after the first three days would make for an intense event. Now that shortened distance seemed like a godsend. 

Downhill start to the valley below. I was further up than usual. It basically mimicked my favourite Nose Hill Park descent but was fifty times longer. Apparently people haven't been practicing no brakes grass double track descending since they were 13. 

Lead group of 25 formed then it was like a road race with crosswind and climbs that whittled the pack down and started breaking things up. I was burning matches left and right to keep with accelerations for a good half hour period before I got to thinking this could be suicide on a long distance windy day. Oh we'll, I felt good and decided I didn't care. We turned left with the wind and started flying. Thomas was a group up, there was one straggler, then me. Forward was the plan. Caught that Mongolian and worked together for 10 minutes but he already had blown, about was me chasing group Thomas which was 5 people. I ended up doing that for an hour, always thinking it was foolish if we turned into the wind and I was cooked, but we never did. I closed most of the gap on the big climb before aid 2, when surprisingly Joao passed me - he had missed the start. He motivated me to the top, and I caught the group on the big descent by this no brake technique that most people don't appear to favor. Turns out we were only one kilometers from the aid station in this vast expanse of a valley that had no exits but up and over. All routes looked long, gradual until the end, and beautiful. I grabbed two bottles that I found right away and rode off.  Long gentle climb up a valley, and I was surprised people weren't trying to come around me.  Realized one of my bottles was off so spit out that sip.  Eventually Joao went off about half way up, and put in a big gap by the top. Only one who tried to chase was Thomas. Felt good considering 4 of the 5 I chased for the prior hour who had group advantage were fried. I plugged away and tried to minimize the gap over the top, and got to within a few seconds of Thomas by next climb; Joao had powered away with his big engine. Never caught Thomas again but tried to keep the gap small. Did 3 more climbs with Thomas in sight then a long fast descent to aid 3.  I poured out my off bottle, refilled one, then went for broke in TT mode for last 30k.  Passed a 5km to go sign and figured that must be wrong. Kept the cadence up, until I saw a 1km to go sign, looked right and saw camp. Amazing. A 97km day instead of 120km. Went through a rocky field, followed the descent sign which took me down a hill with 4 cows with big hors staring at me at the bottom, figured to go around them, then turned into a headwind for the finish line.  Great day!

Camp is higher on morale. Food was ready soon, bags came in shortly thereafter. Everyone was dry. Tailwind for entire day other than last 100m. 

My bike has been flawless and well suited to purpose. Legs worked well. Food was great. It's early in the day and warmer. Thomas won his age group category again and it turns out I won my age grouping. More interesting, 4 days in and I was ahead of the top woman, which seems to indicate my usual warmup curve is still in tact. Funny. 

The guys were struggling to get the showers set up in the wind, so I used the hose that pumps into the pool reservoir and just went buck in the wind... mainly as I had a massage with my crusher guy soon. People have quite given up on modesty in favour of function here, it's kind of interesting what ends up taking priority. 

Mongolia Bike Challenge day 3

Right up front, I'm gonna say this really brings the whole toughen you up in Mongolia concept into one day.  The only thing predictable about today was that by third day in I was riding better than I had thus far. 

It rained all night, stopping only an hour or so before we got up. The ger kept us dry, and when I started getting ready the thermometer on my bag, inside, said 4C. No prob. Off to breakfast in the Mash style mess tent, then pack and get ready.  I wore two shorts, two wool socks, full fingered gloves, an icebreaker t shirt and a jersey, plus good thermal armwarmers. Brought a jacket as I do every day.  Sonya asked me which of her jackets I'd pick and I pointed to the warmer one. Perhaps fortuitous. Grabbed my bike, and 10 mins to start not a person was at the line. We did go on time. I kid you not, Mongolians wearing shorts and jersey. 

Flat roads for start, first water crossing was about a hundred meters in. Now I had double wet wool socks. Plan was we were crossing a lot of Siberian tundra - 145km worth was the plan.  We proceeded crossing more puddles, streams and rivers. It wasn't long until I couldn't feel my feet. I was tail end of lead group which I counted at 27 riders. I preferred the tail as I could hold back from eating too much mud, and watch how crossings went and take the smarter line and catch back up instead if the crap line then rush and hammer to combat the slinky effect. We crossed some yak farms. Awesome.  Legs have been wet and ice cold since start. But feel ok. 

Turned into a strong headwind and people started dropping. I was a bit over a pace I preferred, but I sure as hell knew I didn't want to drop and ride cold Siberian tundra headwind solo with big clouds on the horizon. Let me tell you that's a serious motivator. 

Up a climb into that same wind shed a few more, but not yet me. It dropped back down a d we started working a valley up to a pass on a long climb. Lead group broke away leaving fragments behind. I rode past a guy who was chatty about my jersey, turns out he's leading the category of our age group. We rode together for a bit, he's Tom from Belgium. He also knows Thomas from Belgium. We crest the first KOM together and ate pumped for a downhill. 

It didn't work out that way. I've never spent more energy going down a slope of this grade. Also note this for later... but it was mush muskeg that was virtually impossible to roll. We passed the first van that was buried to the wheels only 50m in. We drove on.  Got through a forest, then a super steep grass hill descent where I caught up to next guy by avoiding brakes, then to a clearing where we see leaders to far right across a river. We head that way and cross - it's almost belly button deep and freezing. Belgian, Aussie and I work on the trail together into aid 1 where - surprise - Cory's mom takes our numbers and says we're done. So much for best day yet. But story doesn't end here!

Apparently we're set for 4 more crossings, all deeper, and vehicles plus us can't make it. 5 minutes of chatting cools everyone down. It's not warm out. We pile into a little van, which ends up holding 16 of us and eventually has hot horse milk being passed around. I partake. It's salty, after first few sips I'm fine with it and think more about warmth than a different taste. 

Eventually a guy orders us all out and the van peels out down the trail. We look around and find an animal shelter chunked with dung a hundred meters off so we all pile in there. We stay until someone advises us of a plan. Plan is to ride back the way we came for 8-10km. We do so then wait at a a fork until the Toyota Land Cruiser comes up. It tells us to cross back over the deep river and wait by the gers. After freezing and regrouping, the plan is communicated that we're going back up the pass - steep descent and muskeg be damned, to a ger on the other side, then be evacuated. We start climbing at an easy pace as its the entire group for most part, but we're also trying to warm up. I end up behind Cory and he climbs this mondo steep straight pitch. I don't need to burn the match but I do anyway for the sport of steep climbing.  It hurt, but were the only two who didn't treat it as a long hike a bike. Next was some forest with vans that made it through the muskeg, then the muskeg. Geez. Cold, wet, difficult and now uphill. If there was one part unwanted to ride twice, this wasn't it.  

As a side note here, I've learned something about Toyota Land Cruisers. They have a reputation for a reason. This thing makes it through anything, plus it pulls the vans through. Uphill long tows through muskeg, dozen times here, several other places on course per day, year round service, for decades. Like seriously mind boggling. Plus up the steep climb which is the max I could possibly ride. 

So back down the pass, into a cold headwind, with only the instruction to find a ger. We find one and a guy waves us in. It has a fire going. We get 36 people in before the next one starts filling up. People live here and are bringing tea bags and sugar, we don't really have water to make it with. We get it sauna hot and end up staying several hours until all riders and all vehicles drag themselves up the muskeg. International mixing room, nap room, drying room, and probably not a very good smelling room.  The Mongolians borrowed or bartered for more clothes. 

We eventually have snacks brought and a first wave of vehicles leaves for evac to camp. Little do we know this is going to be a 4 hour ordeal, crammed into these little Russian 4x4 vans. Lets just say we learned quickly the ceilings aren't padded for decoration. About 3h in we find a gas station where someone has money for kit kats, beef flavoured chips that are penne shaped, and other odd snacks. 

We get to camp as the sun is setting 12h after departure. It's been cold, wet, although no rain miraculously, and nothing but Lycra on all day. I grab a tent and strip down so fast, then to mess tent. Food is excellent and hot. I'm done by time most people aren't even done dishing up yet. I have a cup of tea and psych myself up for a shower, mostly as I want a non-gross sleep and the idea of unclean going into a 175km stage tomorrow just puts a serious fear of saddle sores into me. 

It's dark so I'm wearing my head lamp. I can see my breath and its a cold wind. In my tent now after typing all this it only say 4C which might include mild ambient tent warmth. I strip down, lather up, and cringe. The water doesn't have a hint of warmth in it. It's a biblical experience. I've never troweled off faster, that wind was a real motivator to get clothes back on. 

That's a day in Mongolia. I loved every minute of it, but people seem to be mixed - some are cracking. This place is awesome - and harsh. When they say pack a jacket and a space blanket, do it. That's not a made up race insurance policy stipulation. Ask anyone out here today. You bring it cause when you're cracked, cold, wet, and there's nothing around as far as the eye can see except wind and yaks, you're really not going to be thinking of the grams you saved. 

I'm wearing every piece of clothing I have. Two wools sock layers, long johns plus fleece pants, t shirt, long sleeve and hoodie icebreaker, puffy jacket, toque and hobo gloves in my sleeping bag trying to warm up to fall asleep soon.  People who didn't make first wave won't be in for hours still, we won't see bikes till morning, and we've for biggest stage tomorrow. 

Maybe it was the good legs, or just the cold, or just the whole deal today, but I haven't felt this alive in ages. This race is awesome, I've loved every minute in this country. 

Mongolia Bike Challenge day 2

Beauty start today, big white clouds and a little cooler. I stayed on the back of the lead for about 25k.  Fast over the grassy hills till we got over to the forest. Just beautiful landscapes today - forested hills, river valleys with yellow poplars, big round rock outcrops. Valley after unpopulated valley. I was right behind Sonya and the Malaysian at feed one, but my bottles weren't as expected again even though Jack and I did a peer review of proper drop off. There's 4 boxes at aid 1 but there were 6 at drop off so something funny going on. I then was back a couple minutes to make up, took about 10k to make it back, then it was the three of us again for the next climb, I popped when Sonya went faster, but caught the Malaysian then her on the long descent after snacking and soft pedalling the top. After aid 2 things got even more spectacular. Yellow trees in river valley, then turned left up a giant valley, just felt like another century, even another planet. Untouched. Khan Khentii National Park. 

Led Sonya and the Malaysian up the valley until the climb, deal being Sonya was going to take off on the big climb, me and Malaysian were going to ride rest together, he had enough English to communicate he didn't want to be alone. It worked for a while but I had to visit the wilderness on the climb as my stomach is still struggling and that was last I saw him till finish. Shoot. 

Great descent then it was an hour plus of river and big crossings. Some shockingly deep. All cold. Apr├Ęs race I unscrewed the S&S couplers to check - dry as a bone inside.  The Kelowna crew caught me with one Mongolian. They were all hammering, and I wanted to get caught as there was quite a headwind down the valley. We worked together for a half hour or so, then it got frisky with attacks. I wasn't really in the mood for that - yeah it's a race - but we've got a long way to go, and where these guys are getting surge pull strength time after time was beyond me. Eventually Matt does a giant TT pull ang gaps, an Italian goes with him, Steve mechanicals, and I'm with the Mongolian. We keep motoring until Steve comes by again at Mach speed trying to catch Matt. Bagging a 25k TT to the finish isn't resonating with me by current capacity or mindset. Off he goes. 

Well, the Mongolian then attacked me twice, and I covered. I was trying to reconcile if I was missing something - did every other person really want to do a solo TT into the wind for an hour on what was going to be pretty close to a 6h day instead of group ride into the end?  I really wasn't in the mood for this, was feeling energy deficient, and wanted a drafting partner for the last 20k not a solo effort. Hmm. So I laid down a couple minutes of effort, opened a big gap on him, then sat up and let him roll back up. So he knew that I wasn't done just yet.  Rest of way in was cooperative and I got a trademark iron handshake at the finish.  Felt empty, belly worked better but not ideal yet, so end was burning fumes. 

Brain worked really slow at the finish. I got my ger assignment, and so far am with Sonya and Matt and an Italian lady, sounds like her husband is joining. We're on the ground tonight with thunder brewing. 

It took me a half an hour to get decent, and an hour to hold a conversation. I put my head down on the table and held off crying - how's that for a finish line bonk.  Pretty much everything is sore. Ate bowl after bowl of mushroom soup reminiscent of moms, sitting in my dirty shorts an an overshirt until I got the wherewithal to shower.  There was also two kind of pasta and borscht, but the mushroom soup was really doing it. 

After crossing the river 20x, I knew what the shower would be like, as the shower water was pumped all of 50 feet from the river. I've heard so many languages of "cold" and various profanities... man it's a character builder. I like cooler showers, but this was trying. This whole thing is character building.  Couple of the Kelowna guys said they were freeze soaking their legs in the river trying to inch their way in, when a Mongolian guy hitches his horse to a tree, strips down, dives in and swims around. Hardy. Can't even make this stuff up. These guys just prove daily how soft my first world office life is. I wish it weren't so stark; they're inspiring. 

We've been pondering the race pack in our ger - every stage has a physical challenge and technical challenge rating. The physical challenge ratings aren't even worth looking at - they only have "high" or "very high".  We start getting into the long stages tomorrow - tomorrow finishes with a 28km climb. 

Mongolia Bike Challenge day 1

Reality hits us. Bam. Nice morning, thermometer said 10C in the ger this morning. Lined up at 7:30.  Not a cloud in the sky.

Let's rewind a bit. Yesterday I asked Cory what his plan was for today... "I think go hard right off the start, hard all day, it's going to be a hard day and maybe some guys have jet lag". Roger that. Not my plan. 

Start goes off, we ride out of parking lot, then turn onto 40m of highway, then left into dirt. About 10 minutes in, group is strung out, I'm say 20th, I see Cory's national marathon champ red maple leaf up front. I look down and we're doing 40.   This is gonna cause carnage.  

We get into the first set of climbs. I feel good, the 34 is a bit hard up front, but it's workable. The terrain is just amazing - I had the word amazing in my head a million times today.  I thought I was in Lord of the Rings scenes. Just beautiful and awe inspiring. I rode with Thomas and Joao for a bunch, both started slow as they weren't feeling great. 

We get to aid 1 and I lose the group I'm with as my bottles aren't there. I start questioning if I did the drop off right. Damn. Eventually a guy says to make a bad situation better and gives me coke and water. Better than nothing. I start chasing on to the group - 3 minutes up from little landmarks. Feel good still. 

90k mark has serious climb and sugar and water without electrolytes the cramps started. Sonya went by on the climb and I really started going backwards. Limped into aid 2, had bottles. Drank a full one, took two with.  Good descent, really amazing how fast the vans drive across the terrain. Like 50kph in the rough without even tracks. 

We drop into valley after valley of open terrain with barely anything in it. Natural earth and animals. Just spectacular. Vast ran through my mind like a million times. Here's where I felt salt and regular bonking until the end, if my fuel supply was a fireman's bucket chain gang, my stomach was like the guy in the middle having no arms to pitch in with. Typical first day suffer. 

I get into spiritual feel holding off the gut rot from the excess sugar. I feel the vastness. It's amazing. I think it's so dry here you can see forever - Calgary is dry, but here I have hangnails on every finger because its so dry (or as Thomas' fashion jacket brand - "superdry". The crests of these hills you can see range over range with uninhibited land - like 10's and 50's of kilometers in the distance.  You couldn't create a wide angle lens that could capture the feeling - we're just so insignificant out there.  I probably said "it's just so vast" to myself a thousand times - if I fell and hit my head, they'd put me in the asylum and I'd be stammering "just so vast" for the rest of my days.  I've never seen anything like it, and Mongolia has redefined my definition of vast. 

I'm cresting one hill and hear an engine,  sounds familiar. I see to my left a Subaru and it clicks - just sounds like the Baja buggies.  Motoring over a hill with a lady driving and kids in the back. The closest I can describe it is like the Moose Mountain crest where it's grassy right at the top, going 50kph, not even on track. Blows the mind.  Kids wave. 

Down in a flat valley I'm chugging along and the tall giant say 6'5" Malaysian national road champ comes up to me. He says he's not feeling well.  I was about to ask him if he had water, but he asked me first. So we're screwed together.  But he's kind and always checks to make sure I'm drafting. We ride a ways together then 2 other guys come up. They blaze by and we follow them. After a while I feel like I'm not on the right track. I start to try to see on my gps, but everyone keeps hammering along. All of a sudden I hear a thunderous sound behind me - I shoulder check and a Mongolian horseman is just blazing up a few meters away. I think the wind made it so I couldn't hear it sooner, plus I'm in a spacey mind set. He's yelling at his horse, they move like one. It's amazing to see - but point is he's pointing over to the other hill and we're off.  Backtrack time. Ugh. 

Other guys blow by, I'm in no mans land, flat course down the valley. Huge. Came on a group of horses, tame I'm sure, in the Mongolian lesser definition of tame anyway. Two of them I presume are playing. I'm on a slight downhill, going 35, and they run right along side me for a hundred meters. Again, just beautiful. I'm feeling rough, but I don't care.  This place is incredible, and I'm savouring that over riding feel right now. It's everything I wanted and more. 

We cross a highway and get into valley after valley of what looks like hobbit country, complete with repeat climbs. I'm having to walk some, it's rough. Today was 2900m of climbing and it didn't relent - last crest was like 4k out from Ghengis. I had to sit at the top of the third last hill and just settle my innards a bit with a time out.  Ended up rolling in with Dutchman Leon that I met at Portugal years ago, about 6.5 hours. 

One guy came in with his saddle broken off the rails. It was his birthday. Ouch. 

Headed over to the little solo shower tents. Very good design. Cold water. We'll call it "refreshing" at the end of a day like this. 

Cory won by 7 minutes. Apparently solo'd away at 90k. Look, I'm fully a legend of Cory fan, but now seeing this and thinking back to when he won the 9 day version where they weren't based out of a place with sit down dinner for days?  That is mind boggling hard man shit. Even this as it is just crushes. 

I'm making a strong effort to recover. Dinner was great. Then it was massage time. 

On the way to massage, some Mongolians were wrestling in front of their trucks. It looked intense. Then I stepped into the massage tent - it was a olive drab military looking unit. The massage was run by a Spanish guy, but there were two Mongolian masseurs. Nobody would mistake them for Cindy and Tania. I was thinking it was too bad I couldn't book more than a half hour... boy was that ever wrong. I came out of there looser than I've ever been. I didn't "get" a massage, I submitted to one. I went to a guy in Calgary for a while named Greg, whom I shortly thereafter referred to as Greg the Gorilla. This guy ate Greg the Gorilla for breakfast. Two minutes in I was worried if I could relax, then my body found some emergency stash of a morphine strength endorphin to get me through. Wow. It was like tightness was wrestled out of me - it was great, especially after it was done. 

Got back to the tent, and the guys had rescued my mattress from the field where it served as a lounger for three teenage girls who were singing songs on it all afternoon. 

I'm on cloud nine.  Sleeping in cool fresh air in a ger, hearing tall tales from amazing adventurers, getting clobbered with 6.5 hours of riding in absolutely amazing landscapes, great food, intense massage. Taking away complexity makes life richer.  This has delivered more than I imagined possible in just the short time so far. 

Mongolian nights

There's something very therapeutic and right about all this - this is how we're supposed to live. Went to bed with the sunset. Sleeping here is silent, more so than when we pre-rode over the hill.  If you aren't talking, there's no wind and no noise.  It makes you realize how noisy life is. The silence is so vast and penetrating, it's really hard to remember the last time I felt it like that. The air at night is cool and fresh. 

Humorous evening. Jack went out to brush his teeth and says "this toothpaste they gave us just keeps foaming and foaming, weird stuff".  Me: "they gave you toothpaste?  I only had shampoo in my little kit." Hmm... wait a second. 

We're going to bed, and I ask the guys in the ger - your mattresses are pretty firm eh?  Yeah, yeah, they're firm. Ok so I won't make a deal of it. Morning rolls around, we inquire how each others sleeps were. I say fine, but my bed sure is firm. Jack comes over and pokes my bed, then looks at me, then knocks on it.  Sounded like a door. I had a sheet over a piece of plywood. Right. 


Transfer to camp took over 2h even with police escort for 55km. That gives you a hint of roads. I got up part way and pushed the fan button on the console to the applaud of the roasting passengers.  Sign language with the driver yielded approval. 

Camp is awesome. First, I met a big new friend. You wouldn't believe the mass of this guy or the grip of his claws. Badass creature. They say at least these aren't wild capture, they're old. Who knows. If it was much bigger it feels like it could swipe me away.  I learned something from this vulture that mankind has known for thousands of years, but learning it myself will stay with me for the rest of my life. When I reached my arm to its perch to put him back, he looked over, cocking his head sideways the way they do. They have huge eyes, black like an abyss, but a soft black. These animals are tranquil and calm, they feel patient and wise.  Having it look into my eyes from a foot away and locking a gaze for three seconds told me one thing: this animal traffics in death, they're associated with the reaper for a reason.  But I got no feel of savagery, just peace. The sounds of the area seemed to drown away for those few seconds. I'll never forget it. I'll always respect these things. It unlocked my wrist and stepped off one foot at a time. 

This is our view, we ate under one of the most successful conquerors of all history in the second floor restaurant. Amazing food. This thing is absolutely huge, the scale is tough to appreciate.  Ghengis said don't ride like a wimp and com back to my camp...

This is my new home and our camp. The get is awesome. Spacious, smells like horse, has a solar light, and very nice beds. 

Scott, Jack, George, me. Ger. They're comfy and smell like horse. 

After lunch I hiked up to the roof.  Ghengis really left an impression on this part of the world. There's quite a story on why this monument is here in this part, too long to write. 

Here's how the camp moves around. I'm trying to find out how old these things are - but they sure aren't new. They have to rev them up and down for minutes every morning to keep them running, the engines sound throaty and loud. Guys are always changing tires, brakes, cloning in the engine, etc. I think they ratio of drive to service time is about 1:1. I want to take one for a drive.