Sunday 30 March 2014

Alberta Telemark Ski Championships

I'd say a successful day. Cindy loves it after her intro clinic and wants to do more. She was beaming with smiles about how much she enjoyed telemark skiing, and few people beam smiles like Cindy. I was happy at that.

Then it was racing time. I fell on run one but kept 90% momentum.  Inexcusable and unexplanable in flat and straight. Hmm. Was up instantly and poled for the life of me. Run two went for broke. 2nd overall!  This wouldn't be possible without the support of my goggle sponsor, Darren Engels. Thanks and I owe you!

Then Cindy won the first draw prize. 

And after much suspense, I won the last draw prize, which will be Cindy's new tele skis!  (With any luck will be in service by next weekend.)

Friday 28 March 2014

Great white north

Breakup hasn't even started yet. But the value creation marches onward in impressive fashion. -17C day, city folk dressed up, rig workers, helicopter pilots, site supervisors have coveralls and sweaters on and eat lunch standing outside. How would you like to sit on metal pipe (casing) all day in those temps?  Or buff the ends clean with fluid and an over size dental tool?  Can you say sucking the heat out of you?

Thursday 20 March 2014

Close to mountains

We keep describing Calgary as "close to the mountains". In the grand scheme it is. But after Kathmandu and Bogota it just doesn't feel *that* close to the mountains. 

I wish I had one of these closer to home to unwind sometimes.  Just feels so right.  I watched soccer for an hour. The place had a dozen women and two guys. They also don't really have a drinking age here so some younger folks dropped in later, funny to see. 

Morning review

No better place to review work materials in the morning than Juan Valdez patio Bogota.  Almost makes up for two painful flights this week ; )

Tuesday 18 March 2014

Welcome home

I've seen Cindy, I've seen Marvin, and I've seen the office I remembered - sort of. First world is so clean and convenient!  My office return had some humor; moreso than having a cardboard box to pack my stuff into.

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. 

Monday 17 March 2014

Long distance commuting

We're heading home from Kathmandu to Bangkok to Chennai to Frankfurt to Calgary. That's quite a milk run. 

Thai airways people - you are so unduly nice, and your cuisine is exquisite. You even offered me a blanket after boarding in 32C pitch black evening heat with high humidity. That's very kind, but my sweating white body couldn't think of anything I wanted less than a blanket at that point.  I've spent very few days of my life in temps you take for granted, but Thorong La felt surprisingly familiar!

I'm certainly not the foreigner who's going to change Indian "queuing" culture, but I found it amusing. When the monk who was between Gerry and I somehow expanded to another half dozen Indians between us and I cracked a joke to my travel companion about how that happened in the blink of an eye, I'm glad the security guy noticed and stopped them and waved me ahead. Small victory. We aren't trying to take ourselves too seriously, but the lineup scrums felt nice when they halted the ferverous mass and just called business class through. Ahh...

I've never been in a country as short a duration as India. Maybe I'll have to extend that at some point. We deplaned and an employee had signs with our names. We ran down the hall with him as he relayed our baggage tag numbers. He'd switch from his language to the Queen's English seamlessly. Got us a back way to transfer tickets, security, then boarding.  We were out of a plane for no more than 15 minutes. Amazingly efficient!

Then there was Frankfurt, orderly and clean, complete with buxom young multilingual German girls handing out fresh baked salted pretzels and beer. I didn't care what time of day that was or should be; I didn't care about calories with nil nutrition. I'd been dreaming about that moment since my second day of empty stomach at the Famous Farm in Nawakot.  It couldn't be more clear that this was a return to the western world. 

Too bad upon arrival home Gerry and I are without luggage - I'd guess it's in India. 

Friday 14 March 2014

Nepali Downhill Championships/Himalaya Downhill Race 2014

After our return to Kathmandu we focused on the simple things - massage, coffee, and getting our bikes back to the hotel. Next steps were souvenir and art shopping from our favourite Nepali artist and cyclist Laxmi Magar, and a group dinner at Everest Steak House. Good times! Kate, Wendy and Laxmi accompanied Jeff, Gerry and I. Clearly our laundry job must have been good to have that female to male social ratio when there were only three girls on the race. 

We got the details for the Nepali downhill championships and Laxmi said she'd ride us to the venue. The commute. 

I signed up and Jeff and Gerry saw this was really happening and let their hesitation dispappear. Now let's be clear, I'm in the duffer class, with a soft tail, and my tubeless is gone so I'm running an over pressured tube. Ready to rock. They were lenient for us on the full face helmet/elbow guards/knee guards. Not a lot of spandex. 

We're the only ones that pre-rode up. Ha. Tried to eye the jumps but also thought I'd just make the calls on approach, we're the only ones with no real pre ride. So the start is quite steep and sketchy, need more tire and suspension to go faster. I can do half the gap jumps, not a big one at the top and not one that crossed the road near the end.  But surprised a few spectators with the ones I did - everyone was talking to us before like we're crazy and they're friendly and amused. So I think it was positive to show some riding ability. Then first time it's happened to me my chain came off on XX1 for the last 4 switchbacks so I had to coast out instead of pedal out which probably knocked some time.  I made a chain guide for second run. 

We had coffee at the lovely restaurant at the top and then group lunch of Dahl bhat. 

Then waited for our second run, which was for the end result. First was just seeding. We are not eligible for national race. Jeff's run 2 start. 

Jeff and Gerry were 1 and 2 respectively in the masters!

I was 10th after first run so went 10th last. I ended up like 10 or 12 range overall. Couldn't talk any of the other guys into loaning me a DH bike - I don't think they wanted more competition ; )  They were all very nice. First run start they were asking where we were from, second run questions were where I learned to ride a bike!

Thursday 13 March 2014

Group Ride day

Tatopani to a roadside stop for bus pickup, 33km, 3h bus ride to Pokhara

We got up earlier than I thought was needed, but loading busses here is slow. Cruised down the valley with Jeff and Gerry mostly. Few people sick with round 2 - Jeff, Kate and Gerry seem to have it. This far I dodged it. I didn't eat anything other than packaged food post race. 

I had gone to bed thinking I was going to "pull a Wallace" move as a bunch of guys were talking about skipping the creaky bus and riding back with Ajay as guide. Would have been a great ride and bus was bumpy. But I woke up with a pretty solid cough that I think will need two solid 12h sleeps to let my body get ahead of. Yuki passed on the opportunity too. Those guys made it back before the busses, but I would have needed to be feeling spry to survive. 

Sunday 9 March 2014

Yak Attack 2014 Stage 8

Kagbeni to Tatopani
58km, 958m ascent, but net down a lot

The order of the day was to survive. We're on a gravel descent road with lots of corners, and lots of trucks and tractors that take liberty with "lanes". Apparently it's the deepest gorge in the world between sets of 8,000m peaks. 

One last 7am bag drop, and people just want to cruise and be happy.  That was the plan...

... till the start when Cory said "are going to crush it today?"  I thought no, take it easy. Then Kate cross country started and I couldn't even get on her when for the first couple of hills. It dawned on me a net downhill 60k race on sketchy gravel was exactly my deal. Caught on to front group after a half hour, then ended up solo for a bit. Saw a group of 4 Nepalis dividing themselves out, and next half hour was riding to them. Got in a group with Rajeev and Ajay. Ajay cracked both of us and we kept working together. Rajeev has the power over the hills mentality and was pushing my buttons by using my own moves. He's stronger and thicker - lives in Norway now most of the time. We were hauling ass and then I said let's take bets on who'll win today - Cory, Gerrrit, Naryan or Ajay. He said we passed Cory with a mechanical in a town, I didn't even see him.  Gerrit was going hard, but we came around a corner and he was begging a tube and had multiple flatted. Sucks. I gave him mine. All of a sudden we were in 2nd and third, and Rajeev had already actually conceded he was fading and I was crushing him. This was looking good!  Wow!

Then 2 minutes later I flatted. So much for giving away my tube with 3k to go. Took a while to get another. I dropped back. Got one with a short stem that worked for a bit, then that flatted. I was walking and Cory gave me one and sat while I changed it, Gerrit came by and lamented that luck. Never feels fun, but that's racing. A single flat with a couple k to go in a stage isn't bad for here. 

I finished!  It was almost on a super high of a second (or third) but Rajeev even at the finish said the same thing, that he was cooked and thought I'd get him at the end. At least I have a new riding buddy!

We came down this road. 

Our hotel is the white building to the right, complete with hot springs. 

There was talk this morning of doing group ride day. I thought it was an ok idea. When I could barely hold Kate's wheel on the first climbs, I had assumed then group ride was off, as that didn't feel like any group ride pace I've done. Upon finishing, I'm hearing more about not group riding than I am about a chance at a really solid result save for a small sliver of bad luck. I only have a handful of days each year where it feels like I'm flying, and unlike some who podium every event they show up at, it's a scarcity for me. I enjoy the feeling of riding well when I can. Tomorrow is the actual group ride day.  No regrets. Other than not having enough Stan's in the rear tire ; ) 

Sunset is happy times. 

Saturday 8 March 2014

Post Thorong La day - Incentive systems, commerce

First day with porters getting into Manang, my bag was earlier than most but I didn't see my porter. Second day up to Thorong Phedi it was there when I arrived. I asked the group of porters who we're socializing who brought this one, then told him straight up he was awesome fast and gave him a solid tip.  This was the start of something good...

Leaving Thorong Phedi there was a rap on the door at 5 minutes before 3am. I was just trying to zip my bag closed. I gave it to him. By the time he left I realized I forgot to put my glasses case in. He was already over where we start the race and about to climb the first switchback. Wow - he was 30m from the room and hoofing it!

Fast forward to apr├Ęs race, we're lounging, and someone says Kate's TransPortugal bag arrived. She said it wasn't hers, and saw my tag on it. My porter was standing by smiling. The very first bag!!

I gave him a solid tip again. That has real value. I've been conversing enough to try to understand what people make and get by on a month here. I think he got a good bonus and I got good value!  As in priceless value. 6h later people are waiting for bags and are in kit, sun is down and it's hard to stay warm. When sun is down, second issue is only hot water is from black solar tanks. Absolutely the best value pickup ever.  Like bike racing, you can't tell from the outside who has an engine. This guy does. It's only funny a day or two later rather than at the time, but Gerry's bag was last, frozen, full of snow, bottom was sliced from being tobogganed down the hill, and his young newbie porter was I'll prepared for footwear and was freezing his feet so pulled out Gerry's boots to hike in. Fair enough not to freeze on someone else's behalf, but those were to be Gerry's only dry footwear and they were saturated blocks of ice. Better to prepare than learn portering on Gerry's dime. 

Washed up and went to the local restaurant with the guys who were still in kit. Yac Donald's!

Cory saw the guy chopping meat right off a leg to make the burger. 

Yak Attack 2014 Stage 7

Thorong Phedi to Kagbeni - over Thorong La pass!
25km, 1,036m ascending, but a net descent
Thorong La pass: 5,416m/17,769ft
Kagbeni: 2,915m/9,560ft

Here's yesterday's finish at Thorong Phedi 14,750 feet. Mountains around sort of defy scale after a while. 

I hiked after to accomplish my main mission. Yaks 100m away!  Pictures needed!

He wanted to go off the trail to pass me. Instead I went off trail so it could go by. 

Little buddy.  I watched them eat. To say there's not much vegetation is an understatement. I looked at where they were nibbling, and the "grass" was millimetres high. The nights are cold, let alone the days. God these things are tough. 

Perfect!  Mission accomplished. 

Luggage was picked up at 3am; we slept in our gear for today. My porter is a rock star and was early and started hustling right away. 

I was given a few pieces of advice ahead - dress your legs quite warm as you can unzip tops easier for heat, hold your own pace, and enjoy the views, pace for 3h and don't focus on the false summits. In retrospect I didn't think they were false summits, it was clear to me when we we weren't going up anymore. After ichiban style breakfast with tea we were off.  We were supposed to start at 4am but breakfast was late so it was 4:30. I wasn't in the mood for faffing around. I had a hunch my body was going to work and I wanted to get down to business. -13C start.  After yesterday's fairly unhampered breathing I had some confidence, the temps had some people rattled, and I'd already seen that most people don't ride snow like us. Today was Canada Day in Nepal as far as I was concerned. 

More for record and reference than narrative, here's my gear that I was very happy with. Feet: 45nrth Wolvhammers plus the Yak Trax that are like mini crampons. Little warm, but very glad err'd on warmth. They walk well. Legs: Ibex merino knickers, calf height merino socks, Breck Epic wool socks, thin merino long underwear, Pearl Izumi winter tights, Gore Alp X shells. Carried MontBell down pants for emergency. Top: 2 merino t's, Columbia omni heat base layer and thicker over sweater, MontBell down jacket, Gore Alp X shell was great esp with hood. Bottle on bib straps under down, and it also slept with me to not freeze.  Took one chug and one gel on ascent. Columbia omni heat hat. Gore wind proof neck warmer stayed on for half climb. Gore lobster gloves. Carried but not used: heat packs, goggles, balaclava, shells for gloves. Unfortunately GPS too but Kate said I could have her file.  Jeff's CamelBak carrier was a beauty design but mine cracked day prior. I think a modified one is the way to go with improved materials/strength. 

Here's the start. We clearly eased into the climbing.  For us it was pitch black. Watching the trail of head lights was cool. 

The hiking surface was relatively easy - well packed despite new snow, not too much ice, a bridge to crawl through, but really just walking. 

I felt surprisingly good. Started approximately 10th. Ended up passing a few who pulled off to breathe. Rob told me in advance don't think about the countless false summits, think about a 3h climb. I decided I wasn't going to ever stop, just keep moving, even if that meant a modest pace. Like Crazy Larry said, just sing "ain't nobody gonna break my stride, ain't nobody gonna slow me down". 

Walked a lot behind Peter Butt for first hour, and a few in front I couldn't see. The rises were harder than the gradual parts, and it was pitch black. Eventually the lead stopped, I asked Peter what was up, and he said guy was taking a break. I post holed through the side and kept going. It was Ajay and Yuki ahead. Call that the 1:15 mark. After moving a bit, I asked Yuki if he wanted to go through, and he said no. It dawned on me I was having a solid hike. Small steps on inclines, long on flats, exactly like my weighted backpack workouts on the treadmill. Those were perfect.  My co workers who saw me doing them said they looked hard, and they were. Max breathing for 2h at times yielded a comically slow pace. Accelerating was impossible, you'd just hold and people would drop or pull over. 

As it turns out, I was 4th to top after 3 Nepalis. Bam!  Expecting any better would be illogical, in my world that's killing it.  I guess if first world doesn't work out I could be a porter climbing mountains in the dark. Ajay went straight through. I took off gloves to remove bike from bag, and a Nepali porter took photos.  We summited just a few minutes after sunrise as the long shadows show. 

Climb for me was 2h17m and tea house was closed. Cory was back from our group and went through after Ajay right away. Yuki and Peter went. I didn't think I was dawdling but was last to start down. My fingers really froze in like 60 seconds. Had to be below minus 20C as I had body heat furnace going and they still froze that fast. 

First part was rideable, but hard with frozen hands. I pulled off Yak Trax but in retrospect too early. It steepened right up and was so hard for next hour.  Steep ice main track you could but slide, or post hole on side. Passed Peter and Yuki, traded spots with Ajay a few times till he cracked me. They said there's way more snow this year, it was a tiring effort. Eventually got to some road, then coasted to town. We're now at 2,800m and relaxing. 

I finished 5th. I didn't see Kate all day but she was 7th, came in just a few minutes after I sat down. We felt good. I feel accomplished. I enjoyed the hike and descent. I'll never sympathize with an organizer that cancels a race for inclement conditions again!  Also I've never been done an epic stage at 8:45am!  One Nepali froze fingers bad and another froze toes. Partly they try to go light, partly their gear wardrobes aren't on first world budgets. God these guys are tough. The one with frozen toes is the one who smashed his face on day one and concussed. He's Nepali military. Guy has no quit in him. For them this is glory they have little access to in life, the upside vs downside is very asymmetric and it shows in how much heart they put into it. I haven't discussed with him directly, but the guys who have done this before/have businesses here locally say Ajay was a street orphan and this is how he made it - none of his hundred pounds contain an ounce of quit. 

Knock on wood - the Calgary contingent is only a day a way from surviving this epic throw down!  8,000m peak dwarfing us. 

Net downhill profile, that must be easy right?  Not quite.  That 5km hike up "hill" was hard.  Breathing is hard.  Thinking is hard.  Staying warm is hard. 

Friday 7 March 2014

Yak Attack 2014 Stage 6

Manang to Thorong Phedi (alt. 4,450m/14,420ft)
16.1km, 1238m ascent

Last night Gerry and experimented with the local rum. 

This shot is suppose to show the hardest worker in Manang. The guy with the No.1 jacket works sunup to sundown, no socks just flip flops even when it's freezing. Nepalese are tough, used to little. 

Short day. But felt great. Not much to say other than Kate is a high altitude machine, the weather was beautiful, the scenery was amazing, and Keevy had a boulder roll down the mountain and total his wheel. Better that than his head. 

I'm actually surprised how well Kate and I went. Cory ate a lot of mashed potatoes and won, crushed it!  All I can say is it's not easy to hold a pace over 4,000m, but we actually rode a lot.  My bag was already there!  Tipped the porter well. If I knew he'd be here first I'd have shed 5lbs of gear and gone xc light.  If it didn't work out though it wouldn't be worth it. 

I chatted a little with Aayman on porters. He does some guiding outside racing. We talked about other routes. He talks about porters and Sherpas like they're two different species, which I suppose in some respects is true. "You need a Sherpa for that, not a porter. Sherpas are much much stronger."  They're legendary. 

Ominous weather blowing in night before Thorong La.  Nice lodge, but it was cold. I don't get cold easy, we've been cold for days.  Generally wearing t shirt, thermal shirt, flannel shirt, sweater, down jacket, long underwear, jeans, down pants, double wool socks and toque/wool cap all the time, and often eating with fleece gloves.  Wearing all that inside my -7 sleeping bag too. Plus threw a heat pack down by my feet. 

It's official, this is the highest elevation I've been at - prior was Mt. Evans, Colorado peak at 4,348m/14,265ft.  That was breathtaking in its own right, and we only go up from here.