The Yak Attack – an epic journey of the body and spirit. The adventure is over and yet it feels like it’s just begun. I honestly do not know where to start. How about the beginning? I can sit here and tell you how each stage happened, about the culture, about the journey of overcoming adversity, about the amazing people I met along the way, how fortunate we are in our lives, things I want to go back to Nepal to do, things I wish I could have done better, how my life is changed from visiting the beautiful, impoverished country. I could write paragraphs on the beauty of simplicity. I will tell you my post stage race blues are magnified this time around compared to other races I’ve done. I want to write something good, something memorable and inspiring, but the pressure I’m putting on myself makes it nearly impossible to write, so I’ll just start typing. There is so much to tell. I can save the eloquence for a magazine article and give you the full ride from start to finish, sparing no details.
Right now, it’s almost midnight, I’m hours from sleep, wide awake from jet lag. When I finally do drift off to sleep, my dreams are vivid of my days in Nepal and when I wake up, I have no idea where I am. I feel confused and wonder what part was a dream and what part was real and the haze clouds the rest of my morning. Right now in Nepal, it’s mid-day. The busy streets of Kathmandu are bursting with energy. Cars are honking, people are running every which way, people are selling their wares on the streets, cows are wandering aimlessly, Tibetan refugees are weaving carpets, and shopkeepers in Thamel are persuading passerbys to “come inside, have a look” because their livelihood depends on tourism. Sleep is a distant idea and even though my comfortable bed is tempting and I am not taking for granted my soft sheets and plush pillowtop mattress compared to the boards and sandbags I was sleeping on in the teahouses in Nepal, I’d rather write. However, I’d also like to go back to sleep – to disappear back into my dreamworld and go back to Nepal. It’s an adjustment being home, albeit wonderful. I’ve been sick in bed all day with what some of my friends termed “Delhi Belly” except most people get sick within a week of getting to a foreign country. Mine came the last day and wreaked some serious havoc on my experience flying home. Let’s just say that the trusty barf bags and the plastic airline toilet was a welcoming throne compared to the disgusting smelling squat toilets(complete with frozen flush buckets) that some less fortunate individuals were forced to visit while sick during the race.
I had forgotten that I typed out a post on my Ipad after the first day in Kathmandu. Here it is:https://sonyalooney.com/?p=3889 I attempted to write in a different style, similar to that of the Hunger Games which I’m just about to finish (and just in time for the movie).
I still sit here stunned and in disbelief that it all actually happened. Was it a dream? Nope, it was real and this is my life. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine I’d be the first woman to complete the 10 day race known as the Yak Attack. I sit here calm, all my fears leading to the race assuaged. It’s over, it’s done. I conquered. I wrote in one of my posts in the days leading up to the Yak Attack:
“I’m feeling strong and confident, but of course, there is always that fear. The fear of failure. It’s very unlikely, but there is still a small voice of doubt that I’ve banished to the back of my head. I’m drawn to the siren song of discovering what’s behind the “what if?” Breaking out and doing things that many do not get the opportunity to do, or that people do not have the courage to do opens the door to the unknown. I’m finding that the unknown is captivating. It offers so much opportunity for growth in life – new culture, new independence, new experience, and more wisdom. I’m very lucky for this chance and it reinforces that idea of “you never know until you try.” ”
Back to the here and now – Never did I imagine carrying my bike over the longest and highest pass on the Annapurna circuit. The problem? I’m hungry for more. That’s the problem with a Type A personality – you are never satisfied. It’s so bad that while I should be beaming from my accomplishment, I’m studying each day thinking of what I could have done to be faster, become irritated about things that happened even though they were out of my control, and wishing I could have done even better. Funny, but I know this about myself and while it’s a flaw, it’s also what drives me.
So now I’ll take you back to the beginning. After trying to adjust to the 13 hour time difference and waking up at 3 AM in a fit of hunger for a couple nights(and trying not to wake Jeff with the sound of my PowerBar wrappers), the pre-race meeting was finally upon us. There were chairs set out in the garden courtyard and a bigger production than I expected with a tent and some tables set up.
There was even a table with tea and cookies(as as the UK’ans would say “biscuits”) I looked around and saw a group of Nepalese guys all sitting together and tried to gather where everyone else was from.
There was a small group from Germany, mainly with German BIKE magazine, a couple Australians, and the rest were either foreigners living in Nepal, or from the UK.
We would all be very intimately acquainted after spending a grueling 12 days out there together and I was excited to get to know all the new faces. Each of us were called up individually to retrieve our numbers and were interviewed by Nepal Sutra.
All the interviews can be found here.
Here is mine:
We were off to get our bags organized for the 8 AM race start the next morning. We had a group ride through Kathmandu with very minimal carnage since the streets were quiet early Saturday morning. It was definitely NOT like the ambush the day before when Mongol had taken us through the city to do a ride in the hills.
Ride with Mongol before the race started. Check out the last 10 seconds trying to make a turn against traffic with no signals, no nothing!
Stage 1 3/3/2012 35mi 4920′ of elevation gain
The road started to kick up, and Jeff and I both assumed that this is where stage 1 started since in most of our races, neutral starts end when the road starts kicking up. He and I were both off the front and I kept looking back wondering what the heck was going on because no one was chasing. When we got to the top, there was a military gate and we were informed that right there is where the race started. “Well, at least we got a warm up!” I said to Jeff. We waited about 30 minutes for someone to hang a start banner here:
I felt pretty good, but didn’t want to be too crazy at the start. A large lead group took off ahead of me and I waited to pick up the pieces of the people that blew up on the first climb of the race. The paved road turned to dirt and before I knew it, I was descending down a very rough road. I looked up and to my left and caught my first glimpse of the Himalaya in the background. They were massive and I giggled like a little kid. I was relieved to be out of the city. Just then, my new matey mate – Paul Bolla blew by me hooting on the downhill and was gone.
He had become one of my first friends in our group and showed me around Kathmandu the day before. He had done the race the year before, but was back to raise money for a local orphanage that had encountered financial trouble. His goal was sub 30 hours… if not, he had to match the money raised. Paul had been living in Nepal for 2 years. The descent went on forever (5000′ of descending to be more precise) and I was suddenly upset with my bike choice. First descent and I was already getting my butt jackhammered on my 26 in hardtail. I kept telling myself to tough it out and that it’ll be worth it when I have to carry my bike.
Then there was a flat road that went through a bunch of very small towns. There were women dressed in traditional red wardrobes and kids squirting waterguns. There were multi-level gardens nestled it the hills with bright yellow flowers.
The weather was really hot and were down around 2500′. The last climb came quickly. I stopped to get some bottled water since there was a designated water stop because I knew the climb would be long and hot. China Bikram Llama caught me and rode away on his Specialized – a bike older than what everyone was riding. Vintage…and he was whooping up on everyone on that thing. He disappeared up the hill.
I settled into a steady, fast pace and was sweating bullets. I caught up to Keith (a doc from the UK doing medical work for the race and also racing himself… he was also a Yak Attack veteran). A little ways up the climb, I caught Matey Mate (Paul) and taunted him with a little push. The day before, he was talking trash so I figured I’d make it fun. I yelled for him to pedal circles and come get me.
Here is a little video I made on the last climb:
Finally, I made it to the top in Nuwakot where I was greeted by Jeff, Peter Butt (another Australian at the race who lives in Texas. We met up with him at the airport in Qatar and traveled into Kathmandu with him), and a group of Nepalese riders.
So that was that. Stage 1 complete in 2hrs and 27 minutes. 11th overall, 3rd international rider, 1st woman. We rode up the hill to the hotel. The teahouses along the route didn’t begin until we left Besi Sahara. The little hotel was quaint and relaxing with flowers, goats, and warm red stone.
Immediately following the race, we were served Dal Baht. The floor and bricks of the building were held together with adobe and the ceiling was woven sticks and in the background, I laughed constantly at the sound of the goats. It’s amazing how dramatic the landscape is in that the valley floor is so low in comparison to the mountains around it.
Goats around the hotel
We went for a walking tour around town to see the old palace and some of the sites. It was our first cultural experience outside of Kathmandu.