I am just home from Central Asia where I competed in the Silk Road Mountain Race a 1,700 km, solo and unsupported race, through the Tien-Shen mountains of Kyrgyzstan. This was the second edition, made tougher for the 140 starters thanks to a more difficult route combined with plenty of testing weather; rain, snow, wind, cold (-10 C), and heat (40 C).
I climbed and descended multiple passes, up to an altitude of 4,000m. I pedalled across barren valleys. I pushed, dragged and carried my bike. I waded rivers. I slept where and when I could.
Pounding the pavement of the Chinese Highway section heaving to Checkpoint 2: Rue Kaladyte
I had arrived in Kyrgyzstan 3 weeks early to acclimatise but I still found the first two days of the race really hard, I got my acclimatisation wrong. The altitude made me feel sick and slow. I arrived 9th at Checkpoint 1 and was suffering. The tide turned and I managed to push on to arrive 1st at Checkpoint 2, with a gain of 9 hours and I was beginning feeling better. Setting a good pace to Checkpoint 3, I arrived a few minutes behind the incredible rookie (and eventual race winner) Jakub Sliačan from Slovakia.
I left Checkpoint 3 at 8pm, riding into the night and up an incredible fairy-tale canyon. At around midnight, just a couple of kilometres behind Jakub, I was involved in an attempted robbery, facing two men on horseback and their dogs. I was involved in a scuffle and the only escape was down, outrunning horse riders using gravity. I descended the 30km with 1,000m of altitude I had just climbed and spent the next 36 hours at Checkpoint 3 getting my head right and dealing with the police.
Eventually, I admit with some reluctance, I left this safe place in 10th position and tried to get my protesting body going again. I had set my main goal as finishing the Silk Road Mountain Race and I was determined to meet that. Scratching might provide short term relief, but not long term fulfilment. Soon I was back in the rhythm of the race and for three days I pushed myself to the limit. As a result I finished 4th, just a few hours from 3rd, Jay Petervary. The formidable Lael Wilcox had arrived in 2nd place.
I didn’t quit, when I had reason to. I opened my mental reserves and dug in. I learnt new lessons in resilience and tenacity. I didn’t make the podium, but my race was exceptional. I will have this to draw on in further times, when the going get’s tough.
This year I wanted a challenge and found it. The transition from road to off road has been hard. With the tough terrain, unforgiving weather and complex logistics, I found the Silk Road Mountain Race to be about survival of the fittest and strongest; mentally as much as physically. When the dust has settled in my brain, there is an incredible story to tell.
One thing I’m sure about: I will return in 2020 and my aim will be to win.
Leaving Checkpoint 3 into the sunset: Rue Kaladyte