The aftermath of stage 9 was afterglow for some but torture for others. Both Eric and Brian were snow blind, and unable to start, while Steve H. had a pretty bad case of frostbite. He raced, partied through the night in Pokhara, and rode even more when we got to Kathmandu but would end up spending the next couple of months recovering.
Eric’s case is worth some time. He finished stage 9 in 11 hours and change, calling it the hardest day of his life. He was in bad shape (and in our room), so I got him some hydration drinks and into bed and went to get Keith, who worked with him for quite some time. That night Eric was seriously cooked. He couldn’t come to dinner nor even get out of bed. I have to admit I was slightly worried.
In the morning, I asked how he was doing and, miraculously, he looked okay. The night before his eyes were rolling back in his head to the point where if you’re adventuring all you concentrate on is getting your partner home. But here he was—other than some terrible sunburn—looking pretty much ready to go. He was also stumbling about the room and blind.
“I’m okay,” he said, looking like someone who’d risen from the dead. “But unfortunately I can’t seem to see anything.” Eric, as you might recall, was riding a 30 pound steel rigid bike that looks like it was made in the 80s. He’s also 58 years old. At least I’ve got time to get tougher.
Now back to the diary:
This is the best race I’ve ever done. It’s not due to the terrain, the course, country or even the bike. It’s the people. The Yak Attack attracts a special breed; those who seek a combination of racing, adventure, experimenting and a love of the unknown. It’s more of an adventure than race. You can’t predict it and, if you’re they type who needs to try, you’d might as well not bother.
Rob highlighted this with an anecdote. He came here fit and ready to race, and did he best to control the variables. It went perfectly for a while. Then, on stage 7, I knew something was amiss when he passed me at a place I was messing with my bike (remember this was not a good stage for me either) and my mind went “uh-oh”. He did not look psyched.
Later on we talked. He was, indeed, pissed but as he rode he rationalized the possibility of doing this race without a mishap and, over time, got more and more relaxed.
“Racing without anything going wrong isn’t why we’re here,” he said. “And once I got it through my head that everyone was going to have an issue I began to think that if that’s as bad as it’s gets, I’m fine with it.”
It’s not that we don’t want to do well. We train and do our best to control what you can. The difference here is that it’s not the be-all-end-all, as it is in many races. In the Yak Attack, your placing is really just a blip on the radar in an overall experience of awesomeness.
Today’s stage was all about Pete, who clipped some rebar hanging out the back of a truck around a blind turn, crashed, and was very lucky not to be severely injured.
We didn’t know it at the time, however. I was one of the first on the scene and Pete did not look good. He was coherent but covered in blood (not to mention at the absolutely edge of a pretty big fall). Before we’d finished an initial assessment, thankfully, Jon showed up and took over. Keith, our other racing doctor, soon followed (a fortuitous mechanical had him further back than usual) along with most of the field.
Everyone stopped while we made sure Pete was okay and we made a quick decision to neutralize the race; an example of the camaraderie of the group. Not one person wanted to continue racing and by the time Phil showed up there wasn’t even a debate. Only 8 were off the front and the only ones that might have their GC placing changed were Keith and Rob, who didn’t hesitate a second about what to do, which was anything we could to make sure Pete was okay.
Since that wasn’t much, most everyone headed down. Pete had my jacket and I was his size, so I could ride his bike when the van showed and could carry mine, so I was among the few who stayed to direct “traffic” and keep him from getting run over (not that there was much traffic but none of it expected to see anything laid out in the road), while the rest group rode to the finish.
The med team showed, with a vehicle that was full. The assessment was that the injuries were superficial but dicey enough (an exposed but un-severed artery—scary!) that he should head straight to the hospital in Pokhara. Samir, one of the staff photographers, offered his seat and took Pete’s bike and we all headed down to the finish.
steve, sonya, pete one day later. pic: sonya looney
Pete’s situation could have been anyone. In fact, it was almost me.
I started the day in my customary last position. This time because I was late (can’t remember why) but I started moving up on the first climb and pretty soon was zipped along with Mangal and Rajan, feeling better with every pedal stroke. I was finally coming into bike racing form. A little late, but that was cool. I’d race today.
I’d actually decided to give it my all a bit earlier. It was the last racing stage, so why not empty the tank? My bike was rolling fine, if a little rattle-y, and I ignored the discomfort and simply tried to hammer.
Oddly enough I was chasing Pete. He was only a few minutes behind me on GC and I got it in my head to try and keep my lead. Pete was a faster rider than me, no question, but this rolling terrain suited me. It was also perfect for him, but that motivated me more. So I charged ahead, again passing people who usually beat me, tailing my arbitrary Aussie rabbit.
At some point my gerry-rigged shock failed. I don’t know where but I found out when I clipped a rock on a downhill section going, well, fast. The jolt popped my back wheel off the ground and I headed, fighting an endo, into a boulder field next to the road. Somehow I missed everything and came to a stop riding my top tube with two to three foot rocks all around. Guess I’d taken most of our race’s luck for the day, sparing just enough for Pete to avoid serious injury.
The final descent was uneventful. It was nice to ride with the other Steve Edwards, finally, and Keith, two guys I’d seen very little of during the race. We finished, slightly unceremoniously but extremely happy, in the picturesque town of Tatopani.
Tyler was with us, too. My roommate for most of the race, we’d only raced much together the last two stages. It was cool to roll to the finish with him, where I went into the first store and came out with two Gorkha’s, the local beer.
After lunch and a few more beers we headed down to the famous hot springs. This I’d also pictured. I’d seen it in the race videos and expected to have a big celebratory outing where everyone was raging. And while we all were decidedly happy, and it was a great moment that I’ll remember most of my life, I don’t think I was the only one who’s energy was flagging. Yeah, I’d had a few beers but I was TIRED.
That night, I must admit, I probably wasn’t great company. It was heartwarming to see the locals turn out in force for the ceremony but I was too tired to truly appreciate it. At some point, as the dancing ensued, I slipped away and hit the sack. Satisfied, but very very tired and thinking that, while it’s a “group ride”, we still had some mileage to cover before the race was really over.
above is a great vid from the 2010 race, which really has me wanted to go back!