After 4 days of racing I start to wonder if there’s any way of knowing in advance what will make the day ahead of you a good day : is it sleep?, is it what you eat?, is it how you pace yourself? or is it a simple matter of perception? For example the way I crashed last evening after the descent from Arabel made no sense (in theory there should have been enough time to recover on the very long descent) and what would make sense is that after 4 days of racing I’ll also struggle today on the climb up to Tosor, the first steep 3800 meter pass which we have to climb on the way to Naryn.
The morning ritual is the same as the previous days, wake up after too little sleep, pack the bivy, have a quick breakfast while doing this and hop on the bike and wait for the muscles to warm up. The only difference from the previous days is that I managed to oversleep (the sun is already out when I start) and that there’s no snow today, not even on the Tosor pass which can be seen in the distance. The expectations of having dead legs after yesterday somehow don’t match the reality, the legs feel unexpectedly good this morning and from what I make from the tyre tracks in the dirt on the climb I’m in third position so I have an extra incentive to try to keep a good pace on the climb.
The sky is mostly clear and the stray white clouds promise a perfect day for cycling. The snow which fell in the high mountains over the previous days has all but melted and the puddles left behind are completely frozen. Temperature-wise the climate in Kyrgyzstan in the summer months is all over the place, you can go from -5 in the early morning to 30 degrees in just a couple of hours. Sometimes in the high mountains these changes happen with dizzying swiftness, one moment you can be climbing and sweating in your t-shirt only to have falling snowflakes from a random dark cloud the next minute.
If yesterday was full of action this morning it seems that I’m almost completely alone. No cars, no riders and no locals just the complete silence of the mountains. I stop at the top of the pass to put on extra clothes for the descent, to refuel and to snap a couple of photos. The top of Tosor pass looks quite menacing: just rocks, huge boulders, glaciers and turquoise lakes are visible around. When I start the descent on the other side of the pass the road descents into a wide valley guarded by mountains and glaciers on each side. On the way down the river crossings are easier then expected and I make what seems to be like good progress.
I really like this feeling of moving fast through the vast landscape which you get during endurance races, the feeling that the road just rolls under the bikes wheel, the feeling that landmarks approach and pass with unusual speed. When you couple this with a rare day when you feel good on a bike and when the weather is perfect the feeling could be translated into something like the “unbearable lightness of endurance racing”. (unfortunately these rare moments are offset by the combination of exactly opposite conditions: dead legs, exhaustion and shit weather, or the “agonising slow torture of endurance racing”).
At a normal bike touring pace the distance would normally be half or even a third of what I cover now in a day, and the feeling of finishing the day 200 kilometres away from where you started after going over passes, valleys and towns can be quite exhilarating, and I don’t think there’s any other kind of setting where you can experience something similar.
And for the first part of today I feel in the “zone” and everything seems easy. I put more focus than yesterday on refuelling and the combination of ready made sandwiches, tomatoes, snickers and cookies seems to work quite well at keeping the energy high. When I re-join the road which heads into Arabel I start to meet other riders going in the opposite direction, we salute and go our own way.
The two small passes before joining the main road which goes to Naryn seem quite easy when compared to Tosor, just 200-300 meters of climbing sprinkled with a river crossing in the middle which was unrideable and for which I hat to take of my shoes in order to avoid getting completely wet. Crossing the river on bare feet though felt great, I take a lunch break on the other side and make a mental note that for warm / hot days the goretex boots are probably not the best idea.
When climbing the final 2800 meter pass I look behind and I see the silhouette of two riders approaching from behind, I accelerate a bit over the top make another mental note that I should avoid long breaks until Naryn. The first part of the descent is sprinkled with small climbs and the road which follows the deep river gorge is incredibly spectacular. But probably the most spectacular part of the day is the exit from the canyon when you can see the high and snowy mountains around Naryn in the distance. The afternoon light falls exactly from behind and the straight road seems to draw you in the lanscape and in the moment.
If there’s an adventure racer’s high, I definitely experienced it during those kilometres. After reaching the tarmac and the first village in over 160 kilometres I decide to avoid stopping for a resupply and to try to make it to Naryn before the night fall. The road isn’t of the same opinion and I’m surprised to see the tarmac stop when I exit the village and I end up fighting the corrugations and the dust until the next village. It’s a pattern that repeats itself for the next 20 kilometres so in the end I have to stop for a resupply, turn on the night lights and ride the remaining 15 kilometres in the twilight.
Speaking of lights one of the goals is to stop a bit early in Naryn, find a guesthouse, charge the phone and the powerbank and most important get food for the next 3 days as the next full resupply is only in Baetov and the next 400 kilometres are some of the hardest in the race. As usual after a long and hard day I buy too much food and I find that my appetite isn’t where it should be, I find the guesthouse which is full but they allow be to sleep outside, I see with a shock that the tracker is shut down and I scramble to send a couple of message to Nelson and to Mihaela thus briefly reconnecting to the outside world.
When I combine all this with the excited state which I have after the long day I find that my mind is more alert than usual when I try to go to sleep. Having some activity nearby in the inner courtyard where I’ve put my gear also doesn’t help so I end up waiting for sleep to come, a situation which I honestly didn’t expect 5 days into an adventure race. The hours pass slowly, sleep doesn’t come and I wonder if it wouldn’t be wiser just to pack up everything and leave. In the end I catch around 2 hours of sleep before morning, too little to mean anything for the recovery.
Strava for the day: