This night I slept quite well. Stopping at 7 pm I probably managed to got fall asleep at 8 and the alarm sound at 3:30 am means that I got a solid 7 hours of sleep, good enough for one more day in the saddle but not enough to erase the lack of sleep from the previous 8 days. The full moon under which I fell asleep last night is gone and the sky is covered by a million stars. While it looks stunning I would have somehow preferred the the light of a full moon for the next section of trail which climbs to a 2700 meter pass in the middle of nowhere.
The trail could also be called a goat path in some points, and I try to keep a decent pace with all the switches from push-bike, to carry bike and to short stretches of actually riding the bike. The only witnesses of this effort are the cows grazing near the riverbed and from time to time the reflection of the my headlight in their eyes reminds me that I’m not alone here. But I enjoy being up this early and even with all the push-bike I manage to get atop of the pass just after sunrise. From here comes a long 1000+ descent to a string of villages, followed but yet another long climb up Kegeti to 3800 meters. The squishy bikes makes short work of the descent and while I feel the brakes pump under my fingers I wonder if the metallic pads I have in will last me until the end of the race.
Just before joining the the main road I see in the distance something which seems like an wild animal running extremely fast towards morning light. I hope to get closer in order to seem what is this rabbit like creature but even though I’m going at something like 30-40 kilometres per hour the creature is still moving away. I make a mental note to search what it could have been but at the same time I wonder if it could also be some kind of vision due to the lack of sleep. Regarding the lack of sleep this becomes obvious when I start descending on the long straight road directly towards the morning sun. I get an incredible feeling of sleepiness, and while It only lasts until I change direction and until the morning sun isn’t shining directly in my face, it’s a reminder that maybe this is a proper time to get back on the magic caffeine.
I didn’t have any caffeine for the past month or so as I thought it would mess with my sleep patterns during the race (unfortunately this didn’t work) but as the finish line seems close I think it might make sense to get back on the drug again. I shake the thought out of my head and postpone the idea until after Kegeti. For now I just do a short resupply with stuff to last me until the afternoon and at the same time I check the map with the trackers, seeing that a couple of hours in from of me there’s a small battle going on between David, Lubos and Christoph, with Christoph seeming to have an amazing pace at this time in the race.
Kegeti when climbed from Djangi Talap is a daunting prospect, almost 2000 meters of climbing from which the last 300 meters are a serious push bike. The upside is that from the top you have 50 kilometre long descent on fairly good roads. The biggest issue for me during the climb is the heat, especially for my feet. This is the first hot day in a while and I’m reminded again the that the goretex boots, while they have been great for the past 6 days are horrible right now. I have to stop several times either to dip my feet in the river or just to stay for a couple of seconds with the boots in the cold mountain water to get the temperature down.
This works for 30 minutes or so, but then I have to find the next place to cool my feet. Not to self, for similar future experience choose a lighter / breathable pair of shoes and pair them with some neoprene gaiters. When I turn off the the main road towards Kegeti I start making good progress and the final pushbike goes also surprisingly fast. It seems that opposed to yesterday today I feel quite OK. The 50 kilometres of descending from Kegeti to the first village are a blessing, especially after the last 500 kilometres of racing which had a LOT of difficult terrain. With a squishy bike you can basically just bomb down the mountain and relax and hope that the brake pads won’t wear out and that the brakes won’t overheat. And the feeling o descending for over an hour, from 3800 meters to almost 800 meters is priceless.
I make it to the first village with it’s small shop in the early afternoon, buy some real food (canned corn, bread, canned fish and sweats) and I hop back on the bike trying to see if I can catch up with Lubos / David which seem to be around 30 minutes to 1 hour in front of me. After 50 kilometres of descend we have ahead another 30 kilometres of tarmac until Orlovka, through small villages and on secondary roads guarded by apple trees. Due to the warmth of the afternoon the air smells of ripe apples and two locals wave at me to stop as thei offer their afternoon harvest. The afternoon light is soft and a slight tail-wind pushes me towards Orlovka while my only complaint for the moment remains the feeling of of the feet overheating and I have to take the same cooling approach as in the morning, cooling my shoes in cold mountain water.
In Orlovka I resupply again for the following day as I know that the shops in the next string of villages will be closed during the night. From here comes yet another climb to a 2200 meter pass. It’s the third pass of the day, after more than 150 kilometres and the legs and the mood start to go down a bit exactly as the night falls.
I’m a bit surprised when I see that the track seem to lead directly to through a high security complex and I’m even more surpised to see the chinese guards at the entry stopping me and showing a cardboard sign where it’s scribbled that we should pass directly through the complex and avoid stopping at all costs until we get out. I do exactly that, wondering what this complex could be, I would find out at the finish line that it was actually a gold mine. Amongst the stories about the gold mine, it seems that there was some kind of delegation coming just behind me who saw riders going through and got upset, a couple of riders actually got stopped for a couple of hours until Nelson handled the situation while the last half of the riders actually had a nice resupply / refreshment point laid out for them by the guards.
It’s almost midnight when I make it to the top of the pass and when I start the descent on the other side, the full moon is once again out illuminating the landscape and while I descent I search for a spot where I could nap for a couple of hours. The spot doesn’t appear in time and when I finally find one protected spot and stop I discover that sleep doesn’t come that easily.
If there’s a mystery I haven’t seemed to be able to solve during this race is how to handle properly handle the sleep periods. For some of the nights and stops it was ok, and I feel asleep right after putting my head down. For others it was a complete failure, with my mind racing wildly and with hours wasted before I actually fell asleep. But if it’s one thing which I’ve learned from the past days is that if sleep doesn’t come in the first 10-15 minutes maybe it’s better to pack everything and move on.
I do just that, I pack everything really quick and ride for an additional 2 hours, reaching the main asphalt road which leads up the Chon-Kemin valley. David and Lubos are 1 hour up the road and I wonder if I should ride through the night and try to catch up with them but when the batteries in my headlamp start to wear off and when sleep finally catches up with me I stop by the side of the river in groove protected from the road and the wind and I lay down on my mat, in my cycling clothes cover myself with the bivy blanket and instantly drift of to sleep with the alarm set to wake me up in two hours.
Some data for the day (204km / 3800m):