• Race Report: Yak-Attack Stage Race

    Not even sure where to start with this. Hence the reason now some 4 weeks after returning I still haven't put anything down in writing on the digital paper. As much as the Yak-Attack was a race, it quickly became clear that this was an 'adventure ride' more than a race. Was everyone racing? Sure they were. But, all the riders realized where they were.....what they were doing....and they needed to take the time to look around and soak in the culture and environment.

    2012 Yak-Attack

    By now, you know I didn't finish this "race". Am I bummed? Hell yes I am! But, when the event Dr. says to you at 15,500 ft around midnight as you suck down your 2nd bag of IV fluid "Jeff, you need to stop or you will likely die going over 18,000ft"....that raises the red flag to the highest level. So after some 5 days of trying to ride with a 102F fever, I had to suck it up and realize it wasn't happening this year. Life goes on. It's just riding a bicycle. It will happen again.

    The Yak-Attack ranks up there as one of the most amazing bicycle experiences I have ever had. There are so many things that make this event stand out. Not sure I can hold your attention long enough to type what needs to be said. I basically need to 'bullet point' this whole recap/report.

    So here I go! Time to put the thoughts on the Yak-Attack down on digital paper.......

    I went into the Yak-Attack with the mindset I could win the overall, be the first non-Nepali to do so. Could I have? I had a really good shot. I had late-June fitness at the end of February.  But, It would not have been easy at all. The first 4 stages I hit the top-4 every day, and actually won some prize money.....which I gave back to the race organizer to use to keep growing this event and supporting the Nepali riders. Ajay, the eventual race winner, was the man! A 5 ft, 100lb, 23 year old man.....he was built to go uphill. Fast! Pretty much every stage started uphill. He was out of sight in the first 15 minutes. When I say uphill, I don't mean gradual uphill. Everything in Nepal is steep. Stupid steep! I basically had to run my effort at 75% every day to stay steady and to have enough in the tank to make it to the finish line after 11-days of racing. Well, getting sick on Stage 6 ended the race plan and gave me the experience I didn't plan for.....and will never forget.

    2012 Yak-AttackA generic view from the Yak-Attack.  Not sure I should use the word "generic", but this sight was around just about every corner.

    You know how they say the Honey Badger doesn't give a shit. Well, in Nepal goats and donkeys are the "Honey Badger"

    Goats on course

    Donkeys on course

    At the start of Stage 6 I was off the front with Ajay. I followed his every move....even the short cut he tried to take. This was a rumor I overheard after Stage 3.....some of the Nepali riders were cutting course. I shrugged it off. But, now I was a witness to it as his decision caused us to have to back-track when said short cut put us about 500 ft below a suspension bridge we needed to cross. Was a I mad? Yeah, because it made me wonder how often it was happening in the earlier stages of the race. Whatever.  Nothing I can do, and karma is a bitch. Well, it wouldn't matter any way. One hour into Stage 5 is when my fallout began. It was about 70f outside....a sunny warm amazing day. I started to get chills....goosebumps. I was freezing....sweating....needing lots more clothes. I wish I had my down jacket. My quest to go forward fast now became a quest in damage control, ie: don't loose time or places. That didn't happen. Riders soon started passing. Some were concerned. Don't remember who, but one Nepali rider passed me slowly and in broken English said, "You look white ghost." Really, did I look THAT bad? Must have. Sure felt like it.

    2012 Yak-AttackThe suspension bridge.  Something that Nepal as perfected.  Yes they bounce up and down when there is a lot of people and/or animals on them.  Yes, they do sway in the wind.

    The next few stages would be the best and worst days I have ever had on a bicycle. After that first stage of feeling ill, I immediately did what I never wanted to do at this event, and that was lay in bed in favor of rest instead of seeing the sights around our overnight towns and hang'n with the other amazing athletes. I laid in bed hoping what invaded my body would leave as quickly as it came. It did not. The next stage, Stage 7, was a 20 mile day with 3500ft of climbing. At the end of this day was our rest day town. The plan was to ride conservative.....get to town without loosing too much time....then get in a good chunk of rest over night and during the rest day. Well, I felt good at the beginning...then slowly faded to a walking pace. I was zapped! Walking was hard....even on the relatively flat ground. I was shuffling my feet at 12,000 ft while I stared eyes glazed over at the 22,000 ft peaks to my left.

    2012 Yak-Attack Stage Race
    Photo © Nepal Sutra, www.nepalsutra.com

    I arrived in Manang, a small village which sits at like 13,000 ft and is surrounded by massive 22,000 ft peaks. I got to our tea house and immediately hit the bed. Shortly I was joined by Sonya and 1 of our 2 event doctors, Keith from the UK. He wasn't sure what was wrong with me. My symptoms were pretty generic and it could have been anything. He took my temperature....it was 102F. I felt the same at this point as I did riding the last 2 days. So, yep, I was riding with a 102F fever. So he started me on some random medicines. Symptoms included: cough, fever, chills, elevated HR, nausea, some diarrhea, lack of appetite, etc.

    2012 Yak-Attack

    The rest day came and went. I laid in bed staring out the window all day...listening to the wind howl....dogs barking....loud talking and coughing Nepal locals. I would randomly feel a bit better....then be back to feeling bad. I kept popping pills and drinking tons of liquids. The next day was a tough stage. We would go from roughly 13,000 feet up to 15,500 ft. I had been looking forward to this day since I signed up to race.

    2012 Yak-AttackPushing my bike and staring at this all day. The views helped to ease the pain of not being able to 'race'

    That morning of what be the last day on the bike....or I should say walking along my bike....was slow going. Everything was in slo-mo. Surreal. Typing this don't even remember eating breakfast that AM. The race stage started with a hike-a-bike out of town on some man-made rock stairs. It went on for ever! I was super slow. Within 20 minutes of starting the stage I found myself out the back pushing my bike on anything that was slightly uphill. The visual distractions of the mountains helped to pass the time. I was along my bike at 14,000+ ft while surrounded by 22,000+ ft mountains in all directions. I remember coming up to the German journalist working for BIKE Magazine. He spent his day documenting my 'dragging ass.' He couldn't believe that I was still out there. Now as I type this, I have had many many people say they can't believe I went multiple days on the bike with the 102f fever. Really, I had no option. One foot in front of the other. Just don't collapse and black out. I was the last one to finish that day. Dead last.

    While sick, this is how my days went.

    I immediately went into bed then was surrounded by the doctors. More pills and more rest. Ghandi, one of the doctors, had and idea what I might have. He called it "walking pneumonia". Basically it's everything pneumonia is minus the elevated level of having fluid in the lungs.  With that in mind he started me on a 3+ day supply of antibiotics.  He said later he would come back to give me 2 bags of IV fluid.

    Later the evening Ghandi came back with Keith, the UK doctor.  Keith tried to get a good vein from me, but failed.  After 3 failed attempts, the IV needle was into my arm.  I hate needles. Normally this would bother me, but I was so out of it that they could have stuck that needle in me a million times and I wouldn't have cared.  I sucked down 2 bags of IV fluid.  That is when Ghandi broke the news to me I was done.  No more racing. No more riding. "You must stop or you will die on that mountain."  Crazy thing is inside I actually thought about what to say back to him to try to convince him otherwise. Jesus! I thought too long. Due to our location, I had basically 2 options: call in for helicopter evac or charter a yak over the pass to the next town.  Yes, a yak.  As in the 4-legged hairy horned animal.  Considering the yak was $200 and helicopter evac was roughly $5000....the decision was easy.  The decision was made and the yak was hired.  Off to bed I went.

    That night I slept like a rock, the best sleep all race.  I didn't even hear Looney get up to leave to start the early morning ascent of Thorong La Pass.  As I slept, Ghandi came charging into the room around 5 AM, I think.  He said we needed to get going.  The yak was coming and I needed to packed, get dressed, and eat.  Only one small issue, I couldn't move.  Seriously. I was numb from head to toe.  Had no strength or energy.  Ghandi said it was all the medicine, and he knew that this might happen.  That morning he had to dress me and pack my bag.  He then basically carried me to breakfast where I two-hand fed myself as the spoon I was using felt like it weighed 200 lbs.

    2012 Yak-AttackThorong La Pass, just under 18,000 ft.  This is looking west.

    2012 Yak-AttackSame location looking east.  Temperature?  Not sure.  I wasn't cold.  But some racers not so lucky getting frostbitten fingers and toes.

    After a quick breakfast I was literally shoved up and onto a yak dressed with every item of clothing I brought to Nepal as not to freeze at 18,000 ft.  The yak was led by a Nepali man who yelled, whistled, and threw rocks at it to keep it moving.  The yak set a steady pace up the mountain, about human walking speed. The yak was a pretty amazing creature....basically a 4-wheel drive horse with the speed of a turtle if you want to compare it to anything. As for me, I had one hand grasping the front of the saddle and another wrapped 3 times around a dreadlock on the back of its neck.  The trail steep enough that I nearly kept sliding off the back of the yak.  To add even more misery to this whole situation, I developed diarrhea. From the altitude? From the food? From the medicine? Don't know. Great. I shit myself once before I realized what happened.  Was able to make it off the yak another 6 times to deface 6 poor rocks between 16,000 and 18,000 ft. As nasty as this was I didn't care....neither did anyone else around, like the trekkers or porters.  The environment was so inhospitable that anything went when up there.  As excited as people were to get to Thorong La Pass.....they were just as excited to get the hell off that Pass. There is a reason things don't live up there.

    2012 Yak-AttackSitting in poopy pants at 13,200 ft.  Yes, I just said that.  Deal with it.  I did.

    I got to the pass on the back of the yak.  Once there, the yak driver told me I had to get off, as they would go back down the way we came.  Ghandi didn't realize this, and was worried I wouldn't make it the remaining 10 or so miles to the over night town.  For the next many hours I stumbled from 18,000 ft down to nearly 10,000 ft. The trail which was normally dry for the most part was covered in snow and ice this year. More than once I fell down....tripped over a rock, my own feet, slipped on ice.  I look back at it now, it was unreal.....like a dream. The hike down from the pass to Muktinath was long, but visually one of the most amazing things I have ever seen.  Once in Muktinath, we hired a jeep to get us to the over night town where the other racers rode to. The jeep ride sounds great, but was just as rough and dangerous as the hiking/riding was since the day we left Kathmandu.

    2012 Yak-AttackNepali bus ride. 40+ people inside bus rated for 20. Unlimited number of people on the roof. People ride on the inside and outside.  Outside ends to be safer because when the buses roll off cliffs, which they do, those on top can jump off.  Those inside are pretty much screwed.  Why am I smiling in this photo again?  To my right is John from BC, Canada.  Check out his story.

    2012 Yak-AttackThere was also transportation via the hired jeeps. Jeeps, good.  Roads, not good. This jeep driver is straight out of Rambo III. Trust me. Google it or go watch it.

    The remaining days would be filled with rest and transportation via bus and jeep. Sounds glorious on paper, but in reality the bike is quicker and safer due to the conditions of the roads....think backcountry jeep roads like we have here in Colorado. While only 2 more riding stages left, I would view the race from the sidelines.  I was now one of a handful of people would would not finish the 2012 Yak-Attack.  All non-finishers were stopped dead in their tracks due to things out of their control: chest pains, severe GI issues, illness, etc. No one just gave up.  Everyone was forced from the event beyond their control.  Says a lot about those who did finish.

    2012 Yak-AttackFlight back to Kathmandu from finish line in Pohkara.  A plane full of bike racers and monks.  Odd.

    Dr. GhandiI owe a lot to this man, Ghandi, my Dr and caretaker while I was sick, Sonya as well. One of the most amazing people I have ever met and hope to see soon again!

    Over the next few days we made our way to Pohkara, the finish line of the 11-stage event.  By the time we got here I was starting to feel a lot better, antibiotics were doing their job. The next day we flew back to Kathmandu.  By the time we were back in Kathmandu and all packed up to fly back to the USA the antibiotics had done their job.  I was pretty much running at 90%.  The Dr told me no physical exercise for 7-10 days, so the bike was out of the question, even though I wanted to ride.  Our remaining time in Nepal was spent seeing Kathmandu, visiting a Tibetan refugee camp where rugs were made, and visiting a knife factory.

    2012 Yak-AttackKnife factory fun! Sonya and others went home with new 'toys'

    Overall, it was one of the best bike experiences I have ever had....sick or not.  I got to go with my best friend.  I got to make new friends. Wouldn't trade that for anything. Going to Nepal opened my eyes to how good we have it.  Simple things like water and electricity cannot be relied on there. Also made me take a close look at work ethic in general and the fact we can always take things to the next level. Looking at the race now, don't think I could have won.  Race winner, Ajay, was at a whole other level.  I was not at that level...either was anyone else.  The best won. The best made the rest of us that much better.

    There is so mush to say about this trip.  Going to try to break it down in further post, but above gives you a general summarizing of how the 2012 Yak-Attack went for me.  I will have video coming.  That too will take awhile.  There is nearly 90 GB of video footage to look through.  All the photos I took are posted here.  I am already trying to figure out how to go back to Nepal, bike or no-bike.  Simply an amazing place that everyone should get to at some point in their life!

    One picture to sum up the Yak-Attack? Here ya go!

    2012 Yak-Attack