Today’s highlight was Snow Monkey’s hike around Manang, followed by a cultural tour of the old city, the monastery, the home he grew up in and then lunch at his house with his sister and assorted relatives. I was the only one privy to the final act, because we’d become friends on our Everest trek just before the race.
He was recommended by Phil, our race director, as a guide for Everest and we quickly realized that he was something special. I’m sure every guide you hire in Nepal knows a lot about the normal sites and geography. They are fiercely proud people who love to share the beauty of their homeland. But Snow Monkey was different and, from day 1, we were off the beaten tourist track at every opportunity. But that’s another story.
Snow Monkey is also the logistics guy behind the race. Originally from Manang, where he still spends “as much time as I can” he knows the Annapurna circuit like the back of his hand. He handles the logistics with the tea houses, the town’s people, as well as marking our course each day (so he has to leave way before the race) and greeting us at the finish with his infamous whistle that we’re always relieved to hear.
He’s a super talented guy, who is also fascinating if you’re interested in any aspect of Nepal. He’s an expert photographer, who knows every animal as well as its habits (he’s one of the few people to regularly photograph snow leopards), knows Buddhism inside and out, has studied herbal medicine and knows benefits and dangers of local plants, as well as a cultural and geographical authority. His also fit beyond belief and, as Brian’s photo (above) shows, can apparently fly. The race would not be the same—or perhaps be a race at all—without him, and today we’re lucky to spend some quality time with him, learning about our host town and its environs. You can find him on his Facebook page here.
slide show showing all of today’s activities
Now back to the diary:
Really pleasant day around Manang. It began with a hike above town. Traditionally it goes to an alpine like but there was too much snow so we cut it short. Some people wanted to go, anyway, but Snow Monkey shut them down. Phil is worried about the next two stages over the pass. There’s a ton of snow, apparently, and they don’t want us taking unnecessary risks by starting with wet shoes or clothes.
We then toured the old city, the house Snow Monkey was born and raised in, and very cool monastery that is supposedly one of the only places in the world to have a library (written on ancient scrolls in Tibetan) of all five forms of Buddhism. Those of us left—some people didn’t want to walk too much, given we’re in a race and all that is about to get majorly rugged—went to Snow Monkey’s sister’s house for tea.
It was really cool to see modern upgrades to these old houses. It was still fairly Spartan for us westerners but with insulation and nice decorations these ancient building became quite cozy and very livable—certainly much nicer than most places I lived during my climbing years.
I got invited to stay for lunch, which was delicious and very traditional. Everything we ate and drank came from the area—butter tea, potato curry with many local herbs, buckwheat “pancakes”, and seabuckthorn juice, which is now being exported as a superfood. It was a really nice diversion from the intensity of the race—probably for Snow Monkey even more than me!
I had to work on my shock. My initial plan was to cut up flip-flops and use them to take up the space that would compress. This worked very well in that it still gave me some shock absorption. I didn’t think it was going to last very long, however, and was analyzing my chances with Steve H, who seemed doubtful and said “if we could find a pipe of some kind…” As he was talking he reached down into the field we were in and picked up about a foot of pvc as though it were dropped from the heavens. It didn’t provide any cushioning (in fact it made the bike rattle) but it seemed a lot more likely to last. We cut a few back up pieces and I was ready for stage 8—and hopefully beyond.
I knew I was going to take some major shit for this at home. Most of my friends ride single speed and rigid and it was a thought to come here with as little to go wrong as possible. When I couldn’t train as much as I wanted I opted for gears and springs to increase my chances. A cop out, according to my buddies, which I didn’t have to get back to the states to hear as Eric, our lone rigid guy, stopped by to question my choice and show me how his old, rigid, clunker was holding up just fine. Next time…
With my work finished it was time for another trip to the German bakery to indulge and journal. On my way home I ran into Keith, the med girls, and the Kiwis, who were hitting the cinema for a showing of 7 Years in Tibet. It plays all year around along with a few other apropos films, Touching the Void, Into Thin Air, Into the Wild, Slumdog Millionaire and a Nepali film called Caravan. It all seemed just strange enough that I needed to check it out.
The theatre was great. A big stove kept it warm and the film stopped every so often so the proprietor could serve tea and popcorn. When I went in he didn’t have change. After the film he found me to pay up but I told him to use it to help keep the place running. It was magical.
It was a great day but at dinner thoughts turned to tomorrow. Jon did a recon hike and said we’d be hiking tomorrow from the gun—snow and slush everywhere. Also, the weather forecast is dicey. Our gear needs to be packed and out the door at 5am and I’m not quite sure what to keep. Guess I’ll decide in the morning.