Sonya Looney Rides the Mongolia Bike Challenge: Part 2 – The Harsh Reality

Race Coverage Travel

Stage 4

Stage 4′s start was downhill. I was happy to put the last 24 hours behind me and distract myself by bombing downhill. It was pretty fun! I had good positioning and found myself ahead in the top 10 people as there was a bit of traffic behind me. Once the road flattened out, I was dropped again.

Matt and Steve Hammer came up from behind and rode with me. I was extremely thankful. The wind was howling. I was still struggling in the crosswind and Steve told me exactly where to be to get a good draft. Again, my lack of road knowledge was showing its face! I was glad that Steve told me what to do. I was also happy that Steve was riding with us because he was one of my best buds from the Yak Attack in Nepal earlier this year. I was suffering greatly just to hang on. Steve took off after his competition up the road and Matt hung back with me.

I noticed that I was mentally weaker when I was riding with Matt. I’d want to cry from the suffering and I was complaining a lot more in my head. I was mentally cracked from everything that had happened. I tried to figure out why riding with him made me feel less tough. I later talked to Matt about it (he is brilliant) and he said that the reason is likely because we are more comfortable and vulnerable with our significant others – we often seek comfort in them. That hard shell I envelope myself in during hard races is harder to put up when he’s around. Once that clicked, it was a little easier for me to HTFU. I thanked him profusely for not riding away from me during that stage. He very easily could have. I tried to enjoy the fact that I was racing in Mongolia with my boyfriend. We saw a lot of huge hawks and beautiful packs of wild horses. Their coats were shiny and their muscles were strong.

On the one decent hill of the day, we caught and passed a few guys (including Steve!). The camera crew commented that the majority of the day, I looked like was hurting. My head was down. It’s true, I mostly stared at the back of Matt’s wheel!!

Flat rough riding in the wind is not my speciality, but it was really good to do this race and force me to work on it. We got to the last aide station at 90km. We stopped because we had 30km to go. At the start of the race, they told us they reduced the stage from 175km to 120km because of some more impassible parts. About 1km after the aide station, we saw the 5km to go sign. It was very confusing.

I was secretly hoping that it was in fact only 5km to go. Sure enough, we saw our next camp. There were mixed feelings around camp about the shortened stage. I think everyone was kind of happy it was shorter, but some people wished they had known that last aide station was only 6km from the finish because it effected their stage result because they stopped. It didn’t matter to me.

I was relieved the stage was only 3.5 hours, but frustrated that we were rushed and stressed out in the morning to start when the stage wasn’t very long to begin with. I was happy to finish earlier in the day, get some lunch, have time organize my stuff that I frantically crammed into my bag earlier, and wash my bike.

The sun had also come out – it had been cold and rainy for a couple days. Matt basically forced me to go sit in the river. I was glad he didn’t let me get out of going, but it was brutally cold!! It did help my recovery for the next day. I even took a painfully cold shower since I could at least warm up in the sun when I was done. It was my first shower in awhile too.

Pumping right out of the frozen river I had just been sitting in. BRRR!

I saw a sheep tied up. He was pretty cute, but I said to it, “I bet you’re dinner.” I remember a goat being killed behind a teahouse I stayed at in Nepal so I figured this was common practice.

Sure enough, I came back later and…

I actually felt really sad!! I also saw them torching its head. The story around camp was that they slit it open and a Mongolian man reached in and grabbed the sheep’s beating heart till it stopped. Crazy!! I decided to at least taste the meat, but I didn’t like it. However, I have never been a fan of anything other than some beef, chicken sometimes, and fish. Picky!

I even got to do a TV interview along with some of the other racers at the top of their fields.

The Gers in this camp were pretty rustic. Completely dirt floors. Another racer had 2 thin yoga mats that Matt and I borrowed so our sleeping bags weren’t directly on the ground. I have to say, after 4 nights, the ground felt really hard. We had bruises on our hips! You also feel all your sore muscles. Racers were looking for anything to put down under them, even ones with camping mattresses so the rocks would not puncture it.

Matt taking a dirt nap. We had both been sick with an upper respiratory infection since the end of Stage 2. There was lots of mucus and coughing…but we were better off than others. It seems like most people got sick. You either got the crazy vomiting/diarrhea or you got the upper respiratory thing. (It took 3 weeks and 2 rounds of antibiotics to get rid of it. Crazy Mongolian bacteria!)

Heading to the podium… I took 2nd again for the day. Things were a bit rough, but we were still smiling.

Late that night, I got up to go the bathroom. The night was completely clear. We were so far from civilization and the night was very dark. The stars were brilliant. I have never seen so many in my life. The Milky Way and many constellations were stunning. I stood there for several minutes taking in the dazzling night sky feeling thankful for the view. It also is a strange feeling to think how big the universe is and I was just a spec in Mongolia!

Video: Mongolia Bike Challenge 2013 – Stage Four. Video courtesy of Mongolia Bike Challenge.

Short race video. You can see Matt and I riding :38- :45.

Sonya Looney Rides the Mongolia Bike Challenge: Part 1 – The Adventure Begins »
Sonya Looney Rides the Mongolia Bike Challenge: Part 3 – The Fetal Position »
Sonya Looney Rides the Mongolia Bike Challenge: Part 4 – Bonfire and Shaman Dancer »

Photo Thumbnails (click to enlarge)

About the author: Sonya Looney

It’s energy and attitude that have propelled World Champion Sonya Looney on a mountain bike across the rugged Himalayas, through sweltering sand dunes of the Sahara Desert, and through the clammy jungles of Sri Lanka. Sonya Looney is an adventure traveler on a bike seeking out the hardest races in the most remote, beautiful, and interesting places in the world. She believes in pushing limits because that’s when you realize you are far more capable than ever imagined. Sonya is also a professional speaker, keynoting at large conferences and has spoken at TEDx. Don't let her accolades fool you though, she loves craft beer and joking around. Follow her on social media!

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