Proud Montrealer, Lamar Timmins just returned from finishing the 2nd edition of the Silk Road Mountain Race in Kyrgyzstan. @velolifestyle
The Silk Road Mountain Race is a 1700km Ultra Distance self supported bike race in Kyrgyzstan. Riders follow some of the roughest terrain along the Tian Shan mountain range, reaching elevations as high as 4060m. There are 3 official checkpoints, where riders can get a hot meal and possibly a nights rest in a yurt. Other than that, there are small shops in hamlets and villages for resupply. Family and friends can follow each racers position the entire time live via Mapprogress. What makes this race extremely challenging is that it is 100% self supported, meaning that each person is responsible for their own food, water, repairs and shelter. On top of that, you are exposed to all the unpredictable elements of being at high altitude. Expect hot temperatures in valleys and below 0 over the passes. Everyone has there own strategies, whether it’d be to travel lighter with less food or be on the safe side and go a little slower.
Timelapse recap https://srmr2019.maprogress.com/?bib=45
Montreal Gazette Article https://montrealgazette.com/news/local-news/montrealer-burns-10000-calories-a-day-in-race-so-gruelling-half-the-cyclists-quit
The Bombtrack Hook EXT ‘19.
There is no perfect bike for The Silk Road Mountain Race. Everyone has different preferences and strategies. Having never owned a bike for this type race, I like many others relied on reviews and previous riders feedback. Luckily, I had access to Bombtrack at Allo Velo. I chose the Hook EXT for its steel frame, but also its overall low weight. It is built for speed, but has the components to take on rogue terrain. I changed the handlebars to the Salsa Woodchipper for more control and comfort, added a dynamo light by KLite. Ultimately, this rig pushed through day in and day out. It suffered as much if not more then myself. I consider myself quite lucky, because I had 1 flat and some small manageable issues vs. what horror stories I head from other riders.
Would I change anything? Yes, there are some things that I would have benefitted from, like a smaller chainring (I had 40T) and slightly wider tires (I had 27.5 x 2.1).
It took 14days, but I promise you that I made every minute count and fought for every kilometre. You would expect everyone to be an expert in these types of races, but that is not the case. I learnt that everyone comes from different backgrounds and skill levels. Thats the beauty of this particular race. It doesnt attract just one type of rider. My experience is a culmination lots of long distance biking across Canada, big hikes and solo travel. This was my first ultra distance bike race. The adventure wouldn't just start in Bishkek. It started the minute I signed up. Juggling a full time job and training was not easy at all. At times, I considered abandoning the race.
My recommendation is to arrive early and at least complete the first pass to get a sense of what is to come and to acclimatize. You’ll find plenty of writing on the entire race online; i’ll follow with some personal anecdotes from the trail.
Training definitely helps, but when it comes down to it, this race doesn’t care if you are a pro or have the best equipment. Many riders were paralyzed for days from food poisoning. Unfortunately, some got sick at the checkpoints. Naryn is where I fell victim to food illness. Finally, I arrived in a bigger town where my guard was down and I ordered a big pizza for lunch. For the next 2 days, I had a painful stomach ache and fever. However, I still managed to move my body doing 45kms and then 65kms the next day. On the 2nd night , I ran into a family from Calgary that were staying in a Yurt. They graciously invited me to stay over night which is exactly what I needed. The next more I felt better and managed to do a solid 139kms over Arabel Pass at night and arriving at CP3 in the beach town of Baskoon by 930pm.
My toughest and ”never gonna forget this “ moments were Shamsi Pass and the route to CP2. Shamsi had already built itself a reputation from last years race as being extremely diffcult. After all, it was a horse trail and mostly not rideable. I even heard rumours that it would take 15hours to complete. To be honest I had no clue what my strategy was for this section. After Kochkor I ended up riding with Bengt Stiller to the foot of the pass. We agreed to both wake up at 3am in hopes of getting to the top by sunrise. The next morning, after pushing and lifting the bikes for hours, we still didn’t break the 3000m mark. Sunrise was epic though. For a brief moment you forgot how brutal Shamsi was. We even got lost in a conversation about all the nice things we will enjoy in Bishkek once the race is done. We pushed on and It only got rockier and steeper from there. The last stretch to the top was very slow. The descent was pretty scary; loose gravel and scree. The view was incredible, but little did we know that the rest of the day would not be any faster. More walking and hike a bike, and on top of that we now had river crossings. Moral was so low with just 65kms complete and 3 days left. Shamsi lived up to its reputation
My journey on The Chinese Highway to CP2 was both extraordinarily rewarding and extremely draining. It was my longest day at 17hours or 220km, and finishing at 130am. Unlike many, I liked The Chinese Highway. 80kms of tarmac at 3500m, tail wind and clear sky?. Ill take it. This was that rare moment when my Hook EXT performed at its best. I was totally in the zone. With the smoothest road you can be on, I could finally listen to music without worrying about something falling of my bike. It was about 4pm when I reached the Chinese border before the turn off to Kel-Suu. Other riders were debating t go all the way to CP2 (60kms) or camp out. Raphael and I decided that we would push on all the way. It wasn’t indicated in the race guide, but turns out there was a small gas station at the Torugart border where we were able to get some snacks. Raphael and I left the tarmac and now was a rough gravel road that followed the border. We rode fast and barely stopped. Before sun set, we hit a web of shallow fast rivers. A lot of time was wasted trying to find areas that could be crossed on the bike. We ended up taking the shoes off and crossing. Nightfall was no treat. The temperature dropped and the climb began. at around 10pm, I really started to feel the fatigue. Raph blasted music to keep him going. The breaks became more frequent too. By midnight, I couldn’t keep up with Raph and started to get tunnel vision from the extreme fatigue. The kilometres couldn’t come faster for me. We arrived at CP2 a 130am. I never felt so relieved. I couldn’t feel my body or think much. There was noting left in me. The only thing keeping me going was that there was a warm meal and a yurt stay waiting me. Yes, there was a warm meal, but to my complete dispear, there was no more room left in the yurts. There was no way I would sleep outside in the cold. So the checkpoint hosts allowed us to sleep on the floor of the dinning yurt. The lighted stay on though. I now know what it is to bike 220kms at 3500, cross rivers at night, climb some more, fight the urge to sleep , get little to no sleep and have to pretty much to it all over the next day. Thats the Silk Road Mountain Race!
Undoubtably, The Silk Road is more than a race. It is a profound experience that takes you through a country that most have never even heard of or wouldn’t think to travel too. What I admire about Silk Road and its creators is that they put importance on the country rather then building hype about how difficult the race is. Understand that you will constantly be on edge, because the unique landscape is ever changing and the weather very unpredictable. This race will take you to epic landscapes, but it will take you somewhere deep inside. Possibly beyond mind over matter. I came out a different person. I believe in myself so much more now. At the finishers party Lael Wilcox (2nd place) assured us that there are so many other races we could have done, and that choosing this one was going straight to the deep end. That statement validated everything I went through.
Thank you Nelson, Nelson’s parents, the crew of volunteers and my fellow racers.
Primary Gear List//
Sleep system :
Tent Nordisk Lofoten ULW1 (super packable, quick set up and ultralight)
Sleeping bag Big Agnes -7c (lightweight, barrel shape, packable, matt and pillow sleeve)
Mattress NeoAir® UberLite™ (Regular)
1 set of dry longjohns, socks and base layer by Icebreaker
MEC pillow (worth it)
Food and water system:
MSR whisper light international (petrol in Kyrgyzstan was very dirty)
12 packs of dry food
100 chlorine tabs
Katadyn Hiker Microfilter (rarely used)
Rockbros top tube bag 0.5L
Blackburn Outpose Elite Seatpack (side strap broke and bag interior is very sticky)
Blackburn Outpost top tube bag small
Ortlieb Top tube frame pack 4L
Ortlieb Handlebar bag
2 Salsa Anything cages on the fork with 2 Apidura Fork Pack
Garmin 1030 GPS + 1030 battery pack (barely used it)
Spare Garmin Etrex 35T (never used it)
Samsung S10 (used Kommot app mostly)
Anker PowerCore 20100mAh (used it the whole time charged twice)
Solar Power Bank, Qi Wireless Charger 10,000mAh (used only on the last day)
1 usb plug
1 wired earbuds