I takes a really good writer to turn the personal into something of relevance to others. Those who can, have a great tool because nothing convinces more than a personal narrative, no better way to get an opinion, a perspective, an argument, a sentiment across than through the first person voice. But it’s also a tricky instrument. It doesn’t take much to taint its ability to touch the reader. Subjective experience is relevant to the extent it tells us something insightful. About either the experienced, or about how experiencers, in general, maybe not universal, but at least representative of particular kinds of people, (can) respond to what triggered their experience. But the ego document kinda first person voice, that only oozes the individual hang-ups, frustrations, and fancies of the writer, but doesn’t transmit anything beyond that, doesn’t evoke wonder, open up new vistas, or elicit the questioning of assumptions, is, well, boring, even annoying.
I don’t want to bore, let alone annoy you, so no race report.
Therefore just some thoughts about the experience and the experiencer, by way of wrap up for my 2014 Mustang Trail Race scrapbook.
I feared disappointment. Mustang is undoubtedly a hyped destination, and I might not be the most blasé experiencer of Nepal mountainscapes, I am getting close. But I was blown away by the landscape, the villages, the trails, and the company. Apparently Mustang is much more powerful than any hype effect.
How well I did in the rankings reflects two realities that any non-Nepalese runner needs to contend with. Given the abilities of other members, position 10 or 11 would have been a fair reflection of where I fitted in. I finished in 7th place, because I had acclimatised (altitude is a major determinant of how one fares in this race) a bit before starting the race, and I was lucky to avoid any illness (no serious cold, nor the runs), or maybe my body is still used the Nepalese micro-fauna.
Apart from giving me a head start re acclimatizing to the Upper Mustang altitudes, the couple of days on trails further South were also a big bonus in terms of the experience of diversity. The Transhimalayan desert-like environment of the race location is a world away from the sub-tropical cloud forests and other Himalayan landscapes of my walk-in, and the contrast added to my experience of the villages and canyons of Mustang. Some pictures from that walk-in:
What I learned during this multi-stage race was that some environments are just too amazing, interesting, overwhelming, breath-taking, to use as race locations, unless the organizer comes up with some smart innovations that allow participants for whom the competition really matters (which in any event like this is not all, but certainly the majority, including myself), sufficient moments of being engaged with their environment, beyond the next foot placing that is. What on earth would otherwise be the point?
Richard has come up with a check in/check out system at special places along the route, allowing all to spend as much time as they want without compromising their (nett) finishing time. A no-brainer, I thought, until I realized that no one else does it (with the exception of one stop during one of the four deserts races, according to Matt Moroz). Having Richard’s partner Dhir Priya, a cultural specialist with an obsession for Mustang, along, and leading various pre- and post-stage walks through villages and to sites in the vicinity, was another of those creative twists to tweak the multi-stage format so as allow for better appreciation of that what had attracted most participants to this particular Race: its location. And let’s not forget trail choice: a great mix of steep single tracks, requiring total focus, and easy, undulating paths with great views.
However, some of my fears were confirmed. Mustang is starting to change. The road building begins to have some impact. Vehicular traffic is still near absent. I saw some buses, trucks and motor bikes, but (near) all parked. No repair shops yet, the villages not marred by concrete architectural nightmares. But the dozers are around and local strongmen seem able to build tracks without any consideration on what they do to the landscape, the ecology, and the heritage. What this means is that if you want to see Mustang before it’s affected too much: don’t wait too long! The next couple of years will be OK, thereafter I cannot say. Lower Mustang doesn’t give much hope (for the visitor that is – road building has too many advantages to be stopped).
Some other relevant links:
- For those interested in a real race report, and from a frontrunner at that, Andy Wellman posted a terrific piece on his blog.
- Great write-up by Sarah Walters in the Guardian
- The rest of my pictures are accessible on flickr. Not of great quality unfortunately, and I ran out of battery during stage 6, so the last couple of days lack images.
- The Mustang Trail Race facebook page has some stunning photos by Richard and I’m sure he’ll add another gallery to the website in due time.
- The results show another win for the amazing Upendra Sunwar, and a young Nepalese woman, Mira Rai, proved her talent with some really fast times during the last stages, just minutes off Lizzy Hawker‘s times of 2013.
- I published a short report on the Dutch ultrarunning portal ultraned.org
- And a report on Dutch trailrunning portal mudweattrails.nl
For those wanting info on Richard’s other races and events, and running Nepalese trails in general: keep up to date with trailrunningnepal.org, and it’s facebook page. And check out the Manaslu Trail Race!
Back to what participating in this event meant for me: I was blown off my feet. The boys and girls that shared the journey with me were great company and it would have been different without them. A last image, that cannot sum up what Mustang is like, but of all the great shots Richard took, this one came closest. That Andy chose the same picture as the concluding one for his race report may have nothing to do with it, but I like to think it has.