Flying the Flag For India and Adventure
“Whatever it is, it’s an Adventure!” That was Silver Eensaar’s summary after his team Bend Racing had been through the Expedition India route book and planner, and it’s a fair assessment of a race where anything could, and probably will happen.
The Bend team were sitting out in the sun after the race briefing, which was a typical Stephan Muller presentation, very quick and to the point! The information they were looking at was the logistics planner, a schematic of the race stages, which Erik Sanders was noting timings onto, and the route book, which Eensaar was reading.
And the consensus was the timings were optimistic to say the least! They are a very experienced quartet and their own timings were much, much longer than the fastest predicted times. That particularly applied to the ride on Stage 5 where the distance of 120km had an altitude gain of 7854m and a predicted time of 12 hours on the logistics planner.
Mark Lattanzi of Rootstock Racing said, “I couldn’t ride that distance without the 8000m of ascent in 12 hours!” Then he added, “I’m sure my bike is not geared correctly for this race.” There was discussion of whether the ascents are in feet not metres, but the route book says metres. (Some navigators later studied the first stage map and felt they probably are in feet.)
The other discussion point was about the dark zone on the raft on stage 6, which Muller thinks will catch all the teams, in which case they will all be in a tented camp at TA5 until the race resumes with daylight. This was perhaps more of a concern for the teams aiming to win as anyone getting through would have a race winning advantage. Whether to push hard to try and do that is a tactical decision for the elite teams to make.
It wasn’t anything some of the other teams were at all concerned about. Nth Adventure are one of the 6 Indian teams racing and they were not plotting out timings stage by stage. “We just looked at the first day,” they said, “and want to finish it without taking too long and getting stuck in the rafting dark zone at the end of the day. (That is stage 4, though it not really a Dark Zone as teams can get out and trek if they are on the water at nightfall.)
For all the Indian teams this is their first Expedition Race so it is a huge challenge for them, and at this morning’s registration some were struggling to understand what they needed to do. There was a kit check, a SPOT lesson, a team photo and other paperwork to do before they signed on the dotted line and were given their route books. It was all a lot to take in.
There was also a mini zip line between some trees just to show teams how the things will be set up tomorrow. It seemed a bit unnecessary to the experienced racers but even Lattanzi said it was reassuring the harnesses were good and new. (Usually teams carry their own.)
While Nth Adventure have trained together the other Indian teams I spoke to are mostly military and have been put together for this race without knowing each other. The two Navy teams told me they are stationed all over India, and added they are all individually skilled at certain sports, but don’t have AR experience. (One has summitted Everest.) The other Indian (and Nepali) military teams are the same but to have 6 on the start line is a great achievement in itself.
Later in the day at the flag parade down the pedestrianised Mall In the old town of Manali they really enjoyed carrying and waving their flags with pride. When the parade ended and some dancing began to the beat of the leading drummers they lead the way in that too!
The parade was followed by a return to the mountaineering institute and back into the world’s coldest theatre for the opening ceremony. (It was bitterly cold, they must use it to toughen up their students!)
The ceremony was mainly welcoming speeches, from the Indian Race Director Shaukat Sikand, the head of the institute and the chairman of the race committee, and all showed their enthusiasm for Expedition India and pride that so many international teams had come to Himachal Pradesh to race.
The night ended with some local music and dancing, but on the huge stage the 4 dancers were a little lost. That did not last long as dozens of racers soon joined them to get the party going!
With night falling it was time to head back and prepare for tomorrows start and the first job was to collect the stage one maps and mark them up from the master map on the wall. (This will be repeated at TA’s during the race.) The main map was a long strip section at greater scale but with little detail, and which will have many tracks and trails missing, Teams also received a 1;50,000 overview map, which bizarrely has no contours on! ( For security reasons.)
In the morning the race will begin with teams being driven up onto the Rohtang Pass, on a road ploughed through deep snow. How high they can go depends on the road and snow conditions, but it will certainly be a big bike descent which will be an exhilarating start to the race.