The Silk Road Mountain Race No 1 was not only a challenge for the body and mind, but also for my equipment choices. In the 14 days of racing, we endured temperatures of more than +40 Celsius in the day and as low as -12 Celsius at night. We battled snowstorm, swamps, river crossings, strong winds, dry desert, no water, frozen equipment, altitude and much more. Without the right kit, many of these conditions could have become dangerous or put an early end to my race.
The bike loaded with everything but food and drink weighed in at 22kg’s. I started with 8kg’s of food and water, but this was the most food I carried throughout the race. On average I expect I had more like 4kg’s of food and drink on the bike.
Bike & Bags
Front Bag: Apidura Backcountry Handlebar Pack 20L
Backpack: Apidura Saddle Pack 17L
Top Tube Bag: Topeak Fuel Tank 0.75L
Food Pouch: Alpkit Stem Cell XL
Backpack: Salomon QST 35L
I didn’t own a bike suitable for the Silk Road Mountain Race, as I only had a carbon road bike, so a new purchase needed to be made. It took a lot of time and deliberation to decide between a gravel bike and a 29er hardtail mountain bike. I eventually decided on a mountain bike for two reasons. Firstly as I am very inexperienced in off-road riding I thought the mountain bike would provide greater comfort and give me greater confidence descending off-road. In addition, I thought I would get more use from it after the race than I would a gravel bike. On arrival at race registration in Kyrgyzstan, I had many moments of doubt about my bike choice when I could only see 5 or so mountain bikes and nearly 90 gravel bikes!! It was only a few days in that I realised I had very much made the right choice. Despite being a nervous and inexperienced descender, I found I was not only enjoying the descents but actually overtaking people on the technical sections. Having spoken to many people after the race, a large proportion of them said if they were to return to do the race again they would choose a mountain bike over a gravel bike.
The tyres were fantastic. I had never run tubeless before but had no issues or punctures for the entire race.
Unlike most of the competitors, I chose to ride with a backpack. Firstly, I wanted to keep the weight of the bike down and the area where a frame bag would go clear to make pushing and carrying the bike as easy as possible. I was very aware that I would need to push my bike a lot during the race as I am not a particularly strong rider, plus there would be many river crossings. So I trained with a light bike and a light backpack doing lots of hike-a-bike and it worked well for me. The backpack’s weight changed constantly, as this was where I carried my water and food. I also found that I could stuff warm and waterproof cloths in here to make for easy access, as during the race I seemed to have to change my clothing every hour or so, as the weather was incredibly changeable. It was quick easy and efficient and gave me plenty of room for bread. I would definitely use this system again if I were to ride a similar race, but I would maybe reduce the size of the backpack to 20 or 25L, I didn’t really need the 35L, but it was just a bag that I happened to have at home and saved me from spending more money pre-race.
BBB Microsafe Lock BBL-10
Battery powered back light
Casio watch with alarm
USB double adaptor wall plugs
Spare Lithium AAA’s for Headtorch and Spot Tracker
Spare Lithium AA’s for Etrex
The electronic setup worked perfectly and meant I had no need for a dynamo hub. I would not change anything if I were to do it again. The Landrover phone has an incredible battery life and is not affected by the cold and is completely waterproof and drop proof so is the perfect phone for this race. It was on 100% of the time, recording the rides on strava as well as helping with navigation through Ride With GPS. I topped up the charge once every 2 days. The Garmin Etrex was powered on Lithium AA’s and used 8 batteries in all over the 14 days. The Panasonic Camera and Go Pro were both charged twice over 14 days and took in excess of 600 images and video between them. The power pack was also charged just twice during the race, and this provided plenty of power for the light, phone and cameras. During the second week when temperatures dropped drastically during the night, all batteries and electronics were kept in my sleeping bag with me to help retain the charge.
Spares & Repairs
Duck Tape and Electrical Tape wrapped on the pump
Tubeless Repair Kit
Spare Gear Cable
Spare Brake Pads
Mucoff Dry Lube
Syringe for brakes
Cloth for bike cleaning
Toothbrush for cleaning cogs
Gloves for bike repair/cleaning
Magic Chain Links
Needle & Dental Floss
Tubolito Repair Patches
Spare Cleat Bolts
Spare Tent Pegs
Tent Pole Repair Tube
Tent Repair – Spare Clips and Guy Ropes
Thermarest Sleeping Mat Repair Kit
Pretty much everything in this list went for a bike ride and wasn’t needed, which was the perfect scenario! I didn’t get any punctures or any mechanicals. I bought a can of WD40 twice during the race and used the whole can to clean the chain and cassettes, and then lubed the chain as often as needed.
Orajel Extra Strength – Local anaesthetic for the mouth
Antibiotic – Co-amoxidav
Antibiotic – Metronidazole
Antibiotic – Rocephin mix with Lidocaine (needles and syringe needed for this)
Intravenous Needles (hospital use)
Steroid for Inflammation – Prednisone
Strong Antihistamine – Inorial
Acute Altitude Sickness – Diamox
Mild Altitude Sickness – Nurofene
Anti-inflammatory – Diclofenac Tablets
Anti-inflammatory Gel – Voltaren 2%
Paracetamol Pain Killer
Rehydration – Dyrolyte
Flu & Cold Capsules
Savlon Antiseptic Cream
Strappal Strapping Tape
Thankfully near all of this list was not needed. However, I don’t regret taking such a comprehensive medical kit. Although it looks a lot, it weighed just over 400g, which was a weight I was willing to carry to potentially save my life in a remote wilderness and to keep my race alive with smaller issues that could get worse if untreated. One set of Antibiotics I was carrying saved my race when I became very poorly at the start. Other racers with the same condition sadly had to pull out of the race to receive medical care and antibiotics. Some of the needles and intravenous needles were for if I was rushed to a hospital, as Kyrgyzstan has a reputation for re-using needles. So for the almost non-existent weight, I choose to take my own. Pretty much every item in my medical kit I have needed on one race or expedition in the past, and therefore I would find it very difficult to leave any of it out. Pre-race I also took a refresher on my Wilderness & Expedition First Aid.
Endura Gants Full Monty Glove
Extremities Over Mitt
Gore C3 Gore-tex Socks
Craft Sleeveless Base Layer (Worn on its own when it was very hot)
Icebreaker Sports Bra/Cropped Top
Mavic Ksyrium Marino Leg Warmers
Castelli Nano Flex Sleeves
Patagonia Down Vest
Arc’teryx Zeta LT Waterproof Jacket
Decathlon Waterproof Trousers
Socks x 2
Long sleeved Thermal Base Layer Top
3/4 Length Thermal Base Layer Trousers
Decathlon Lightweight Down Jacket
Socks x 1
My ‘must-take’ item is the rain poncho. It costs about £7 and I have bought a new one for all of my most recent trips and now wouldn’t go anywhere without one. I throw it on over the top of my clothes, even over my waterproofs, and I never get wet. It also goes over the top of the backpack. In addition, on this trip, it was also used as a groundsheet for extra protection for the tent, and my partner’s poncho was used as a waterproof tarp to cover the backpacks at night as they were left outside the tent. Another great bit of kit was the Gabba jersey. It was actually a last minute decision to bring the Gabba over a normal thinner cycling jersey, and with the very cold temperatures during the second week of the race, the warmth and wind-proof nature of the Gabba it turned out to be a brilliant last minute decision. If I was going to add anything to this list, albeit it may be considered a luxury item, I might have liked to have taken my lightweight down booties for in the tent, as they weigh next to nothing and pack down very small and would have just speeded up the process of getting cold feet from river crossings galore warmed up.
Petzl Tikka XP Headtorch
2L Water Bladder (drinking water)
Water Bottle (non-pumped water collected before camp ready for cooking)
Water Purification Tabs
Zip Lock Bags for Food Storage
2L Emergency Water Carrier
Everything worked spot on, I wouldn’t change a thing. The Nordisk two-man double skin tent weighing in at just 500g was faultless and took me less than two minutes to put up on my own even in very strong winds. It is pretty snug inside two people, but for racing, when getting warm and sleeping is all that is required from the tent then it is perfect. The firefly sleeping bag from Mountain Equipment again is a great weight for a race sleeping bag at 560g and has a comfort rating of -1C and an extreme rating of -16C. I was never cold, plus I also had the advantage on the very cold nights of zipping two sleeping bags together with my partner to make one, which increases the temperature dramatically and allowed us to get great sleep. We took a 450ml gas canister for the two of us and eat a hot meal morning and night most days. We had about a third of a canister of gas left over at the end of the race.
SPF 30 Suncream
The deodorant was a luxury item that needed up not being used so wouldn’t take that again. The Sudocrem I also wouldn’t bother with in future as it went unused. The Albus & Flora lip balm may in the picture seem a bit of a luxury item but turned out to be one of the most key items on the bike. As everyone’s lips at such high altitudes and extremes of weather ranging from +46C to -12C with some good strong wind throw into the mix became very damaged and blistered badly. Putting on lip balm every hour meant my lips, although pretty sore, didn’t crack or blister like other riders had. The athlete probiotics are something that my nutritionist at Loughborough University recommends I take in the build-up and during long sporting events to strength my gut. I took them took weeks prior to arriving in Kyrgyzstan and during the 3 weeks I was there. Unlike a very large number of the riders, I did not get sick from anything I eat or drank, whether this was solely down to the probiotics I’m not sure, but it can only of helped I believe.
Having tried pretty much every freeze-dried and dehydrated expedition meal manufacturers over the years, I was so happy to finally find Firepot! They taste awesome, proper food, not slop in a bag! Hurrah for Firepot. Chia Charge provides one of the best energy to weight ratio of all the natural sports nutrition bars, with 492Kcals/100g in it’s best bar and all natural ingredients. I started the race with 3 full days of food, which included a firepot meal for breakfast and dinner plus 5 or 6 Chia Charge bars. My appetite is always small in the early stages of these races/adventures, so although I would have been burning more calories than I was eating at this stage, I knew it was all I would be able to stomach. I then carried an additional 4 firepot meals and a large supply of Chia Charges which I ate throughout the race supplemented with food I bought from shops along the way (every 3 days or so). The re-supply options were better than I anticipated, so I perhaps could have got away with taking a lot less food with me at the start. However, I think sticking to my own food in the early stages may have helped me from getting sick like many of the other racers. So I would follow the same strategy again in the future.