This was first and foremost an adventure, and as an adventure, it was a complete success. I challenged myself, physically, and mentally.I pushed my limits, and I stressed my chosen gear. I learned things about myself, about another culture. I saw scenery that left me in awe. I saw people, wildlife and livestock unfamiliar to me. I lived life in really big bites.
I had no significant mechanical problems during the race. I went in with carefully selected bike components and gear. I was also prepared to fix a lot of problems that could have cropped up.
I managed to bleed a Shimano brake (that would require pumping at altitudes over 3500m) using things from my bag and some European Power Steering fluid from a roadside stand. It worked perfectly afterwards. I expected my background as a bike mechanic, and my improvisation skills would serve me well, and, sure enough, they did.
I spent a good chunk of time in the months leading up to the race thinking about what bike to take. I would not object to taking the same bike again (Trek 2023 Top Fuel) and I think it was a very good choice for me. It did have a couple of pounds more weight than my hardtail, but it also had enough capability on rough terrain that it provided a margin of safety when the trail got spicy. I outfitted the bike with electronic Sram AXS XX1 and GX components, partly because of the reliability, but mostly because the effort to move a mechanical shifter hundreds of times per day has left my injured in the past, and I wanted to avoid it.
My lights from Lynx OGT were great, nice even beams and the ability to run them on the bike or my head. My own frame bag worked as intended and held more stuff than I could realistically fit in such a small frame space. Passchier handlebars were the most comfortable I have ever used. My PedalCell generator was efficient and could be disconnected from the wheel whenever I wanted to clear mud or just be more efficient.
I brought two chains, and had pre-waxed both with Silca Hot Melt, and as it was time to re-lube, I would put some Silca Drip Wax on the chain that was coming off, work the lube in, and then take it off to dry, replacing it with the dry chain from my bag.
Clothing from 7mesh, sleeping bag from Patagonia, and the rest of my stuff were all solid performers. My socks that my mom knitted me were the same kind of great they have been for years.
Self-Reliance and spouse-reliance
I knew already that my strength lies in my ability to be alone in the wilderness. I feel that I coped well with the isolation that came from being off the back of the pack with no ability to speak the local languages. I did get many, many messages of support from Tania, and she provided me with updates on my progress and minimum mileage. She did ask at one point, when I was at my slowest, if I was still having fun, and I could only answer yes.
Tania is not really extreme-adventure-girl, (she has been fatbikepacking in a tent in -30ºC, my scale may be skewed) but she tolerates my need for it, and in this case was a real boost. Many people sent me messages, but Tania had basically the only direct access to me in all locations via my InReach Messenger She is the one who I knew could pull me out of the depths of despair, and ultimately, my biggest reason to return home.
Long afternoons in or near the saddle, meant a lot of time to be with myself. and I was comfortable with that. My brain did not turn to taunting me, I didn’t think about quitting, and I didn’t need to drown myself out with music or podcasts (but you should still subscribe to My Back 40 Podcast). I was a little fearful that the sadness of imminently losing my mom was going to be overwhelming, it wasn’t, but I’ll have more to say about that in a later post.
I was living in the moment on the bike, enjoying the singular purpose. I did not let the demons in, even when I was not performing well, I allowed myself to be weak and slow. I did not engage in any negative self-talk, and I came away with an appreciation for myself. My positive mindset allowed me to appreciate others’ good performances and finishes, I’m undecided yet if I want to go back, but if I do, it will be to finish, not because I feel like a loser not finishing, but because of the joy of competing.
The aftermath was also not exactly the pit of despair that I was led to believe it could be. I am fortunate that my mental health is currently quite sound. I am not bragging, it isn’t like I did a bunch of training to strengthen my brain, I’m just happy about it.
In spite of my digestive issues, my body did generally perform well. After a couple of days of not eating, I think most people would have scratched, but I was on the (slow) upswing, in spite of riding hard without meeting any of my nutritional needs. I was pleased that my ass and hands felt fine after the race. I could use my bike as transportation around Cholpon-Ata, and I was back on the bike as soon as I got home. I did lose a little more weight than I anticipated, but I don’t seem to have lost much muscle, as I returned to training with the same weights and reps as before just a week after being back.
As I was setting up a tent nearish someone’s yurt, a man came out and rather than asking me to get off his lawn, firmly invited me to stay the night in his yurt with his family. Like most westerners, he though I would be cold in my tent. He showed me a level of hospitality that left me very grateful, and reflected well on his entire nation. I hate to stereotype, but he might be a good one.
I didn’t like everything I saw in Kyrgyzstan, but with everything being so different than my home in Canada, it was always interesting. I learned some unexpected lessons, I saw some stunning landscapes and animals. I saw people living a nomadic herding lifestyle that is mostly gone from the world.
I saw animal I didn’t even know about before, Jerboa, Pallas’s cat, Asiatic Wildcat, as well as numerous more familiare animals like red fox, and the ever-present domestic herds of cows, horses, camels, yaks, goats, and sheep. There were numerous birds, hawks, falcons, corvids, and ducks among them.