Taking the Himalayan High Road
Into day two of the race the field was rapidly spread out as teams completed the first trekking stage, then an additional trek to replace a cancelled rafting section, and then the big riding stage that was such a topic of discussion before the start. Was it really 8000m of ascent?
On the first night of the race the majority of the teams had difficulty with navigation and with the maps as they passed the checkpoint at Parashar Lake and temple. The two race leaders took different routes into the CP, and almost every team took the ‘wrong’, or longer than necessary route out and down to the next transition.
Though the day I heard many tales of how difficult the maps were to read, or how they didn’t really represent what was on the ground. I guess it is all well and good for the Race Director to tell you to ‘think like a local’ but not easy on a cold night while trekking in the snow! Some of the best very navigators in AR were finding it hard, but one team who did take the line the RD planned were Rootsock Racing.
“I think our perfectionism came to our aid,” said Ryan Van Gorder. “Things did not quite fit and we realised we had to lose height to get back on track, so that’s what we did. Even so we were surprised to hear we’d done well.“ The end result was the team gained a lot of places overnight!
It was the opposite for Thunderbolt AR who had a nightmare time. They made a bigger error than most coming down from the Lake CP and after that I saw them very briefly on the busy main road, walking away from the transition. In the traffic I could only ask if all was OK, and Bern Dornom just said, “Yes, but we are taking a bit of a detour.”
Once at TA3 all the teams got the unwelcome news the next raft was cancelled, and they’d have to carry on trekking. Blasting, rockfall and water release were the reasons given, but it made no difference which of these it was, the permission the race had in place was pulled.
I saw several teams at this transition, which was by a big footbridge and a very impressive temple set in opposing canyon wall. There is a collection of small shops there and teams were able to get food and drink, as they can round the whole course.
The novice Nepal Army team came in and transitioned quickly, holding a good top 10 place with some of the world’s most experienced racers. They said they found the trekking hardest but were better mountain bikers. They have cheap and borrowed equipment, and were trekking is flimsy casual trainers, but are focussed, fast and holding their own.
At TA4 they passed a couple of other teams in transition and rode out with Issy Aventure , matching them on the tough start to the bike stage. After a brief ride along the valley the climb began, and went on, and on relentlessly for mile after mile. (It probably took us an hour to drive it.) Eventually the road gained a high ridge with immense views of the steeply terraced hills to either side, and most of the ride after that was in the high hills, climbing in and out of valleys.
The ridge tops were mostly forested, and lower down there were numerous apple plantations, while in the valleys the terraces were full of farmers planting out beans and potatoes. All along the route there were towns and villages, and plenty of tea shops. The roads were sometimes paved, but in the second half of the ride they deteriorated into broken mud and dirt tracks, often with slide debris and in one section with some snow still standing and muddy, slippery conditions from the melt.
I saw Estonian ACE Adventure at one shop chugging down Coke while watched by a curious crowd, and despite the huge climb they said they’d done a bigger one in AR (in Spain), but today’s must have come a close second in this case the higher they got the less oxygen they had to gasp in!
One racer who had a tough start to the ride was Nichloas RAmbier of Agde Raid Aventure and he was sick enough to need to stop. Paul Galode explained, “We were taken into a house and Nicholas was given a bed and we all had tea and food. The welcome was amazing and hour hosts took lots of pictures as we stayed for an hour and Nicholas recovered. It turned into a good experience.”
At the time they were racing for the lead with Naturex but after this their compatriots pulled well ahead to open up a commanding lead in the race. They were the only team to complete the ride and start the next rafting stage, making some distance down the river before nightfall and the imposition of the dark zone meant they had to camp for the night. They have no tent as they are not required in this event, but will sleep knowing they now have a lead.
Agde were second into TA5 around 18.45 and all those arriving tonight will be able to stay in the tented camp on the riverbank. It is fairly comfortable, there even electric lights hung on the tent doors and mattresses, and with hot water available the arriving teams will be comfortable and well rested for the restart tomorrow.