Yak Attack

By Col

If you send a sponsorship request to Alpkit there is a good chance that it is going to end up on my desk. Each month I sit down and crunch my way through the requests knowing that the vast majority are going to fall under my big red 'rejected' stamp. Writing an inspirational sponsorship proposal is tough, it is likely we would also love to be doing what you are planning to do.. so you had better have a good reason why we should support you rather than treat ourselves to a real adventure! It is easy to sit behind a desk making these calls, so when the opportunity came up to accompany Paul Errington on his latest adventure I pursuaded the rest of the guys that I should get on the sharp end... just to see what it is like!

Keeping up with Paul on the trail

My brief was broad, I was to document Paul's attempt on the Yak Attack race in Nepal. With only two day's notice I had no time to prepare myself, I didn't even know how I would be following the riders, some of the stages were over 30km long and many were at altitude. My head was already spinning!

I was there as a photographer and although I was not racing I still had to cover the same distances as them each day, with my personal stuff and my camera equipment. Sometimes this was in a jeep or on one of the local buses, but these would travel slower than the bikes on the rough and dusty jeep tracks. It helped me appreciate the difficulty people face when they have an objective to achieve and a responsibilty to their sponsors.

So photographing the race itself was difficult, one of the things I was worried about was missing that defining shot, but in retrospect no one but myself would know! Paul was on a bike... ok it was only a single speed (naturally a Genesis i0), but he was still quicker than me on foot! Realistically I would have about 20 seconds each day where I would be able to photograph him racing... slightly longer if he was slogging up hill with the bike on his back! Faced with stages of 17 to 30 kilometers and with no idea what each stage would be like, I would set out early and try to find a good spot, sit down and wait. Sometimes this spot coincided with good light conditions, it really depended how far along the trail I had got by the time the riders had caught me. If there was a better spot along the trail.. well I would have missed it but that was how it was.

Before I started I had a rough idea in my head about the types of shots I was after. Nepal is an amazing location to race in, so it was always going to be more than just about the race itself, it had to be everything that went along with it. There were the crucial shots obviously, like the bike itself, I knew something like the Genesis logo on the front of the bike was a strong focal point so I kept this in mind throughout the trip. Also important was the racing, Paul in amongst the mountains doing what he does best. Coming so far it was important to get some good location shots. Then there was everything else, what it means to race in Nepal. The preparation, the changing terrain, coping with the changing conditions, heat, cold, altitude. The people. It all puts the race into context, why these events are so different than others. There is no way that Paul on his own would have been able to document the event and race at the same time. There was a very limited time frame in which I would see him on each of the stages, so it gave me the opportunity to explore.

In total I was on the road for 2 weeks. For that amount of time it is difficult to stay focused, to soak in the atmosphere, the culture.. but by the end of the trip I did have a good idea of the best times of the day in which to work and the times to relax. It was much easier to photograph Paul in the evenings or on the rest day, but this introduced other problems. Paul was racing and had other things on his mind. I did manage to pursuade him to cycle around Manang a couple of times for the camera, but I am sure he just wanted to rest up for the ride over the Thorong La. I got on well with Paul, I think it is important to develop a trusting relationship. It is not always easy having a camera in your face at the end of a long day..

On a slightly different budget a Swedish team were accompanied by a film crew.. they were preparing to fly up to Everest Base camp when I left, yet they too had trouble with the logistics of keeping up with the riders. It just goes to show that no matter what your budget you will still come up against problems, but then anything is possible with some imagination.

So here I am back in the UK, it was a great experience and I even got an official Yak Attack Trophy. Paul is still in Nepal taking a few days to relax before starting training for the last race left in his series.. the hot Simpson Desert Bike Challenge. Some of my images will be used in the new Genesis catalogue later in the year and maybe some promo stuff. In the meantime I am back at my desk and facing a pile of sponsorship requests with a new perspective.

The Coldest, Highest and Hottest series

Paul's participation in the Yak Attack was supported by Genesis Bikes. We asked Genesis Product Manager James Olsen how he saw the trip from a sponsor's perspective.

Paul is undertaking a series of 3 events during the year which include the coldest, highest and hottest mountain bike races in the world. The influence for our bikes comes from getting outside and exploring, blasting the fun trails and just enjoying yourself. The events Paul does are part XC racing and part travel-adventurer by bike and that appeals to us. Sending not only a rider, but someone to cover the event is all added expense, but looking at the pictures from the first two events I’d say it is definitely justified! It means Paul can focus on his riding and we get to see the world in a way that a video-camera can never capture. A good still of the area, the people or the incidental things along the way can capture the trip perfectly and it inspires us all to go new places. Or, to train hard and get on the team!!
James Olsen Genesis Bikes.

The Alpkit fast thinking guide to travel

You have to get to Kathmandu and cover the Yak Attack bike race, one of the most demanding races on the planet over the highest pass in the world. In effect you will be trekking the whole of the Annapurna Circuit in half the normal time. Most people take a few months to prepare for a trip like this, Col had just two days.

So, Col what is absolutely essential?

Easy... passport and wallet, these will get you anywhere. A big hug for my wife and daughters Isabelle and Esme! Ooh let's not forget the camera!

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