I like to think of the Yak Attack as a few races molded into one. The first four stages of the Yak Attack are dramatically different from Stages 5-10. When people think of Nepal, they think of giant snow covered mountains, sherpas, butter tea, and frigid temperatures. What you may not know is that the first four undulating stages of the race hover around only 3000’ of elevation with boiling temps in the 90s. The first four stages of the Yak Attack require one of my favorite things about being on a bike – warp speed. Each stage consists of rough dirt roads with one steep climb after another.
Stage 1 – KTM to Nuwakot
It was déjà vu to be back at the official start line of the Yak Attack, but when the start whistle blew, we were in it and the hammerfest began. I stuck to the lead group for the first 5kms and slipped off the back at my own pace. I went back and forth with a couple of riders before setting off on my own. My favorite moment was the short bit of singletrack in the first 20km. It was a clear day and the mountains grandly jutted in the distance. I couldn’t help but giggle like a crazy person and get goosebumps. I was riding my bike in Nepal. Again!!! At the time, Rob was behind me and we cruised the singletrack together. I remembered the climb at the end of Stage 1 being extremely hot and steep last year. This year seemed a little easier. Zbig caught me at the bottom of the climb. I was amazed to see a guy his size climbing like a maniac! (He’s probably 6’2” and 200lbs of pure muscle) He laughed as he passed me and I made it my business to chase him down. I was glad Zbig was the Yak Attack. I had met him a few years back at the Brasil Ride Stage Race. I reeled him back in and pushed it to the finish line. I was amazed to discover I had finished 6th overall and 30 minutes faster than the year before! The course was maybe 10 min faster overall due to one of the smoothed out descents. I was shocked and flattered to get fist bumps from a couple of the Nepali guys.
We hung out at the finish as riders came in. Pete won me over instantly when he pulled Skittles out of his backpack and dumped some into my hand. We all rode together to Stop 1 of the race – The Famous Farm at Nuwakot. It’s one of the nicer places we stayed. The building itself was really intricately built. You could see each brick was handmade.
There was a wailing donkey that caused me to burst into fits of uncontrollable laughter with each ahhh-heeeee-haaahhhh, the ugliest bird alive – a turkey that looked like his brain was on the outside of his head(I was afraid of it), loud honkin geese, chickens, bleating baby goats, puppies wrestling in the green grass… they don’t call it the Famous Farm for nothing. We enjoyed a walk into town at sunset to admire the Newari architecture, Hindi relics, and toasted to the end of Stage 1 with Gorkha beer. We sat outside after dark in candlelight enjoying a very freshly cooked meal with vegetables from the garden and getting to know each other better.
The next few days were a blur. Each day, I maintained my 6th overall finish and was blowing my times out of the water from the past year. Stage 3 was a bit of crusher with very hot temperatures. The water stops were pretty unofficial – a jeep pulled over on the side of the road. A couple of us blew right by it and I was left with 2 water bottles for the 3 hours stage. Dehydration set in and I slowed down considerably. I was thankful to be caught by a couple riders to make sure I had my wits about me. Keith even gave me a sip of his water. At the finish, there were people watching from the village and I must have had 10 vanilla crème cookies.
After a lot of water, I got my wits back and my eyes could focus again. It was then that I learned Yuki (my teammate and bunkmate) wasn’t feeling well. I started having flashbacks to 2012 when Jeff (my teammate who came with last year) started to fall horribly ill. Yuki seemed to hold it together for Stage 4. I just hoped we would get over it.
Stage 4 was considered to be a stage to favor the roadies. Rob Burnett is a cat 2 road racer who dabbles in mountain biking from Denver. He and I were racing very competitively against one another. I had him by maybe 2 minutes in the GC at the start of Stage 4. My goal was to try to beat him in the roadie stage! The trick was the start. The beginning was a twisty, steep descent. In Trans Nepal a few months before, someone got hurt badly so it was decided we’d start in 30 second increments. I rode most of the day by myself and absolutely fried myself. I also had my first (and sadly, not last) flat of the race. Instead of using my precious CO2, I used my handpump. I had burped air out of my tire down to maybe 10 PSI and was back up and running…running scared! I hit the pavement with Mangal. The pavement section went on and on. I tried to keep the power hammering down. I finished strong, but glad it was over. Rob came in just a minute back. The competition this year at the Yak Attack was very stiff. He wasn’t the only racer pushing me.
The cold, sweet Coke tasted so good after such a tough stage. We all groaned as we had to ride up another hill to get to town and find our hotel for the night. I was excited to close the book on the first 4 hot, fast, painful stages and to make our way into the gateway of the Annapurnas – the town of Taal was our next stop for the finish of Stage 5.
We had a nice afternoon roaming around town and interacting with the children and watching Neil wolf down cake.
The morning of Stage 5, we all woke up not feeling well. Yuki had been in bed all day since Stage 4 and taking antibiotics. A few people were throwing up all night. A good portion of us had some gut havoc including myself. I felt weak and dehydrated. I wasn’t disappointed that our 9 AM start got moved to noon. We were supposed to get a permit to go into the mountains, but the town was on strike and the permitting office was closed. There was also blasting on the road we were supposed to race on. At our noon start of Stage 5, we were notified that stage would be neutralized and become a group ride due to the late start and the blasting which would make the course dangerous to race on. I was relieved and lucky that the stage was neutralized. I felt sick and weak. 2 people rode in a jeep. Yuki had to get picked up by a jeep as well. I was riding in the back our group ride. I could barely move my legs in circles on the bike and worried what was going to happen to me for Stage 6. The people who rode in the jeep were not disqualified because the stage was neutralized.