Into the highlands

“Beep.”

My shifter reminds me that I’m already in my lowest gear. It’s a useful function but right now I would have rather heard the chain move to an easier gear instead of hearing the electronics tell me I was already there. It’s hot, humid, and the hardpack climb out of the jungle is taxing.

Stage 1 had started about an hour earlier, with a fast pace as we left Kuda Oya along dirt tracks and back roads, before diving into tight singletrack through the jungle – this immediately split up the race. Yuki Ikeda from Japan shot away, with Dutch rider Albert Kikstra on his wheel. Roan Tamang and Narayan Gopal Maharajan from Nepal were in pursuit while I was trying to see if I could get them back into sight after dabbing in a rocky V-ditch.

The fast pace of the flat trails, and the dark and technical trails in the jungle are gone, now it’s time to climb. And as this tiny hardpack track starts to get ever higher, I’m reminded by the advice from Race Director Phil Evans that any trail that could possibly have a 3-wheeled tuk-tuk on it, probably will. As if sensing my thoughts, a tuk-tuk with music blaring comes around the corner, we both move enough to not collide, and both carry on what we are doing. This would be the first of many similar encounters over the coming days.

We rode from down there, to up here.

Our route continues over the hill, down into a valley and across a river shrouded in trees with impossible canopies over the water. The climb to Haputale starts in e rubber tree plantation, and finishes about a 1000m higher in tea plantations, after crossing various types of forest. From the town of Haputale you could see until you weren’t sure what was horizon and what was sky. At our feet lay tended grounds, with banana or tea plantations, while the town spread up around us, seemingly with each building built on top of the other, or with floors added as funds and need dictate.