From all the elements the wind is the cyclists biggest enemy. If I can tolerate the cold, the heat, the snow, the rain and even the mud wind gets me mentally every time.. And it’s not that I don’t have the power, I’m but no means scrawny, it’s just the simple fact that you have spend mental effort with each pedal stroke, and the fact that if the wind is really strong you have the sensation slowly of going nowhere.
The sad truth about long endurance races is that wind will get you in the end and that most likely you’ll have to spend time fighting it. If normally you can wait it out during bikepacking trips during a race unfortunately this is not an option: you can’t afford to lose time and you can’t know whether the wind will actually die down in a couple of hours.
These are exact thoughts which pass through my mind when I’m fighting my way on the straight road which heads towards PC2, Kel Suu. I’ve already been fighting a strong headwind for the past 5 hours but at this exact moment the wind strength is ridiculous, basically I’m pedalling fairly strong and I can’t go faster than 8-9 kilometres an hour. Being on a mountain bike, not having aero-bars and not being very thin certainly doesn’t help help but there’s nothing to do about any of these at this point. So I clench my teeth, look in the distance for Lubos who just passed me and try to ride the through the hurricane. After one hour if riding straight into the wind the road takes a 90 degree turn and suddenly I can go faster than 10km/h but with the added challenge of having lean sideways into the wind in order to keep my balance.
Today felt as the toughest day by far for me. It started badly with a night when I struggled to fall asleep (how the hell can this happen when you’re sleep deprived and when you haven’t had any caffeine for days, I don’t know). It continued poorly with the realisation that my legs are shot on the tarmac climb out of Naryn, then I had to fight the first hurricane of the day after Ak-Muz, then struggled on the climb towards to second big pass of the day, encountered rain and hail on the descent, got so sleepy that I wanted to stop, caught up with Lubos, fought another hurricane, got passed by Lubos. The fact that all these things took place at over 3000 meters of altitude also didn’t help.
At this point the only thing I can think of is the warmth of the yurt camp at Kel Suu. Some food, some sleep and an early stat in the night when (hopefully) the wind will die down should get me back on my feet, but at this point I’m mentally broken and I just want to put the entire race on pause. The only thing which saves the day is the way Kel-Suu looks, you really feel like you’re in the middle of nowhere while the ragged peaks rising towards China look absolutely stunning.
When I finally find the yurt and enter inside my jaw basically drops. Everything looks like an endurance-racers wet dream. It actually looks more like a wedding table than a resupply point and I joke with the other riders that only the bride and the groom is missing. Hot soup, plov, candies, some fried sweat dough which is some tradition desert, cookies, basically it’s everything we could wish for. We take our time, we talk and it seems that for a short while the race is put on hold.
I decide to try to stop early and go to sleep, Lucasz and Christoph are already sleeping, Lubos wants to push on. Arno who arrives 30 minutes after me also decides to stop. I find a place in one of the yurts, start to drift to sleep only to be awaken first by the sound of the wind turning the plastic covering of the yurt and then by a nearby dog. It’s last night all over again and I wonder again why is it that I can’t fall asleep. I try to move to another yurt and after waiting for sleep to come for almost 6 hours I finally fall asleep after midnight. Note to self, in future races always stop when you’re 100% sure that you’ll fall asleep in a matter of minutes.