Hero Cycles MTB Himalaya

Incredible India…….Where everything is possible 

During last years’ Tour de Timor I remember Ilda and Catherine talking about the fantastic experience they had when competing in this race. That somehow deposited itself in my consciousness only to resurface earlier this year.

After having some time off the bike to finish Uni, the Hero Cycles MTB Himalaya race was my secret motivation to complete my thesis and get back on my bike. I called my coach nine weeks out and told her about the race and got cracking with the training.

I was never really sure why I was so drawn to this race. Since coming home, I now know.

India left a deep impression on my parents’ hearts and subsequently, I was brought up around tales of their 6-month epic adventures in India riding Royal Enfields. A generation later, here I am following in their footsteps, although I am opting for human powered bike riding. I knew my own adventures would not disappoint but I could never have imagined how amazing they would be either. To make the trip even more exciting, Chrissy, Eve and I were having a Timor Leste reunion (we met at Darwin airport prior to Tour de Timor 2016) in India; the people you meet racing bikes!

PRE-RACE – was pretty jam packed with activities

Pic 1
Unplanned trip to the Taj Mahal
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A little post travel spin turned into bit of an epic. We didn’t seem to mind 🙂

THE RACE

Race morning rolled around and unfortunately after feeling pretty damn good in the lead up to the race, I ended up with a cold. But everyone deals with some form of adversity in this race; missing luggage before the race start, receiving a broken bike from the airline or for many, gastro problems. In the grand scheme of things, I was pretty lucky to get away with a cold.

Pic 9
All smiles on the start line. Not sure we knew what we were getting ourselves into.

I had grand plans of writing detailed notes from each day of racing. That lasted about four days before the brain was too tired and resting took priority over writing notes.

Day 1 – 55.2km competitive (65km total) with 1680m of climbing

We rolled out of our palace to the Ridge for the flag off and cruised 10 or so km’s to the start line.

I had a great start, probably because there were wild and sketchy descents which I love. Despite the crazy speeds and the the steep terrain I somehow managed to stay on my bike but in the process my phone jumped out of my jersey pocket and was long gone by the time I realised.

Once we started climbing Catherine came motoring pass me. Catherine is one of those riders you watch climb in awe; she makes it look effortless. Not too far behind her was Ilda, the pocket rocket from Portugal and that’s the way it stayed for the rest of the stage.

Today was supposed to be an easier day; I was feeling a bit nervous for the bigger climbing days. The magical views eased the discomfort slightly. I felt satisfied rolling into camp after the first stage. The post-race routine for the week began; food, bike wash, shower, food, relax, food, food, food and chai, food, sleep.

Pic 10
This first campsite was probably my favourite; set amongst pine forest, with the near full moon rising above the mountains and shining through the stary night sky.

Day 2- 89km with 2061m climbing and 2970m of descending J

Today was epic, probably my best day. Start time was pretty relaxed (Indian time 😉

Start was a short ride from our campsite. All riders assembled. The roll was called…. Rider 1, rider number 1, 2, 3 …..92. A gravel climb welcomed us, my lungs were burning but warmed into the pace and I found myself close enough to Ilda and the group she was with to put in a big effort and be rewarded with a free ride to the next descent. Ilda and I snuck in front and bombed down. That set the tone for the day; crazy, mad descending down goat tracks, steep paths, steep and loose rocky awesomeness. I could catch both Ilda and Catherine on the descents, get dropped on the climbs and catch up again down the descents.

The ride from the finish line to the campsite nearly broke me. I was having brake troubles and they kept sticking on. After sitting in the sun the fluid expanded and I couldn’t spin my wheel. I loosened them as best I could and got moving with Catherine and Jorge. It was all uphill and very slow. I couldn’t spin my legs anymore and managed to control the hissy fit I was having in my head to ask for something flat to separate my pads. Thankfully Jorge was resourceful and used the end of his pump and bought us cold coke, which had never tasted so good. Finally camp appeared but how the hell was I going to do Day 3.

Pic 11
Riders climbing through the dust on the stage 2. Pic credit: HASTPA Photographers

Day 3 – 76.5km with 3000m of climbing

Wow! Just wow! What a day. I had no ‘’race’ in me today. The first 45km was all up, including Jalori Pass at 3100m altitude before refuelling at the feed station with these pineapple cakes which fuelled me for the day, they were the only thing I wanted to eat. We dropped down one of the wildest “roads”, which started with smooth bitumen, turned to dusty rocky gravel on a single carriageway that somehow fits buses, trucks and cars. We were confronted by a massive traffic jam and navigating cars, cows, humans, goats and whatever else moved was not easy. No matter how much it hurt, I kept reminding myself that I was riding my bike through the Indian Himalaya and wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.

Other than being able to rest up and eat, the next best thing about being in the campsite at the end of the day is hearing about everyone’s journey; some are up whilst others didn’t have the best day, but everyone supports each other.  It’s also the best place to learn about other stage races around the world. Portugal, Brasil, South Africa…. My list is growing.

Day 4 – Rest Day

Rest day was needed and kicked off with a kind of sleep in and very leisurely morning.

At this point of the race, I was kind of wondering how the hell I was going to get through the next 5 days of racing. But, next minute it was day 7 and just about over.

It turned out the whole camp decided it was washing day followed by a school visit and Indian cultural dancing at the campsite.

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The whole campsite was one big washing line.
Pic 15
Cultural activities at campsite. Pic: Clasina Voet

The race organisers have an ongoing social outreach programme called Mission SMILE. This year, the organisers addressed the lack of quality education in the region. Building libraries in the schools in the state of Himachal Pradesh is the aim for the 13th MTB Himalaya and riders brought over donations of books to populate the libraries. There was a group of people visiting schools each day along the route.

Pic 16
Local school visit near our campsite on day 4. Pic: Clasina Voet

Another organisation using the race as a stage to spread awareness is Orphans Africa of Tanzania. Rafael Menini from Brazil participated in MTB Himalaya this year as a representative of the organisation. Tanzania has a high number of orphans; one in every three children in Tanzania is an orphan.

Day 5 – 77km with 2000m of climbing

Today I had my race head on again, almost like I was a new person. Today’s stage was heaps of fun, I could break it down into two manageable 10km climbs and awesome descents.

As the race went on, my notes from each day got less. Fatigue set in, my brain function reduced and more sleep time was needed.

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Pic: HASTPA Photographers

Day 6 – 91km with 2078m of climbing

This stage looked pretty friendly on paper but was pretty evil in real life. I rode most of the stage with Ilda and then popped on the last climb and left her to chase Catherine who appeared from nowhere after taking a wrong turn earlier in the day. This stage was also a good reminder to be prepared for anything. Naively thinking the last 10km would be pretty straight forward, I got a nice (but not so nice at the time) surprise of hike a bike, a river crossing and a short steep climb that felt like Mt Everest.  As always, I just kept pedalling and with a little help from fellow riders, somehow you always make it across the finish line.

Pic 18
Catherine riding through the trees. Each day was such an adventure.
Pic 19
Each day the scenery changed but the temperature stayed pretty hot.

Day 7 – 56.2km with 2040m of climbing

Today’s stage was another with the first 35km climbing along a ridgeline and the views did not disappoint.

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I had some good company with the Portuguese riders today. Pic: HSTPA Photographers

 

 

 

 

Pic 21
Stage 6 – Heaven’s Ridge. Pic: HSTPA Photographers

Day 8 – 89km with 2700m of climbing

With another long day on the cards, it was fun to ride the stage with Lucy, another rider from Australia. We were treated to donkey trails (I recommend moving to the high side of the mountain and getting out of the way if a donkey train comes), paragliding cliffs, riding through back alleys of villages, fast sketchy descents and endless climbs.

Day 9 – 55.5km with 1600m of climbing (Final stage)

Pic 22
Last stage here we come. Pice: Eve Conyers

The race finished on top of a mountain where we were supposed to eat lunch and savour our efforts. I didn’t feel like I needed more chamy? time as I was pretty cooked and in need of shade. I went with a group who were heading back to the hotel, although we were first to leave the mountain we were probably the last to get back to the hotel. Never trust a Norwegian when they say they know where they are going 🙂 Those that stayed and ate lunch, enjoyed the views and watched all the riders come in.

The dinner on the last night had a couple issues as the hotel clearly wasn’t prepared for ninety odd hungry riders. Apart from that the nine days ran pretty smooth, from an organisational point of view, including organising transfers to Shimla and leaving Dharamshala at the end.

MTB Himalaya and India will also teach you some life lessons; Let it be, don’t think too much, just let it happen and everything will fall into place if it’s meant to happen J

The food, camps, toilets and showers were all set up before I got in each day, except one. I thought the food was pretty good and the chai definitely won my vote. Some people got sick but I didn’t. All feed stations were well stocked if you didn’t carry your own food. I highly recommended signing up for the 2018 edition but It’s not a race for the faint-hearted. It’s an adventure that challenges you in more ways than you would think possible (in a good way), with breath taking views (literally), promotion of social change and the goal of encouraging a nation to ride bikes. Add to the mix, a bunch of like-minded crazy mountain bikers. What more could you want?

Pic 25

Thank you Reho Travel for helping me bring my dreams to life and extending my flights.

Thank you Simon and Rocky Mountain Australia for my bikes and your support over the years.

Thank you Jen at Pedal Lab for helping me get the most out of my body.

Thank you DC and The Ride Cycles for the last minute fitting of my bike and getting it race ready.

Thank you Jarah at Swift Supplements for making great quality products (and last minute deliveries).

Thank you Ashish, your amazing team, volunteers and race sponsors for putting on a race in such an crazy-good part of the world.

Post-race

I guess you are supposed to take some time to recover afterwards. But when six athletes head to the mountains there are nights out, camping, hiking and more riding to be done, and flights home to be extended. Riding and racing bikes has certainly introduced me to some of the best people and I will treasure these memories for a life time. It is hard to put into words the experiences of the last couple of weeks, so I will leave you with an image from the top of Indrahar Pass.

India has definitely captured my heart and I have only seen such a tiny piece.

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Life is an adventure; explore it.

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