Point6 Ambassador, Naresh Kumar, has seen a lot of the world on two-wheels. He completed the Silk Road Mountain Race, an adventure that took him 12 days to finish with over 28,000 meters of climbing through the mountains of Kyrgyzstan. We got the chance to catch up with Naresh recently. Enjoy this Q & A about the race and about the causes that inspire him to get out on the bike. Oh, and guess what? One pair of Point6 Merino Wool socks helped carry him through!
Before we get into your recent competition, could you give our readers a quick background of what inspired you to transition from a corporate career to riding your bicycle to raise awareness for Modern Day Slavery?
I grew up in a bad suburb in poor conditions in Chennai, India. Education is your passport to escape poverty. I got a scholarship to study engineering. I had to work hard to care for my family and that journey brought me to the USA where I worked as a consultant for some top tech firms in California. I left it all behind in 2014 wanting to live a life bigger than myself. That journey took me to Nepal when a man was soliciting sex to me with young girls in Kathmandu. That got me thinking about slavery and how young children are being sold like commodities.
I decided to put my engineering, storytelling, project management, and my extreme athletic endurance skills to raise awareness and funds for the victims of human trafficking. I founded an organization in India "Freedom Seat Foundation" and went on extreme human-powered missions to raise awareness, build relationships to increase advocacy, and generate funds to help the victims.
So you just completed the Silk Road Race, what are the stats on this event:
- Distance - 1708 km
- Elevation - 28000+ m
- Total number of participants (and how many actually finished): 131 riders in Solo and Paired category. 71 finishers
- How long did it take you? 12 days, 13 hours and 30 minutes
Have to ask, you’re most frequently spotted on your tandem offering the second seat to strangers and friends, did you use the tandem for the Silk Road Race?
I wish but the Silk Road Terrain in Tian Shan Mountain range is so hard that it would really hard to 1. Ride a tandem as there are several hike-bike sections and 2. Find a random stranger in remote mountains to hop on.
If no, did you miss it? Absolutely. Maybe I will attempt to do Silk Road on a tandem with a good friend in the future.
For now, I wouldn't wish Silk Road Mountain Race even on my worst enemy.
Tell us a bit about the course and the route:
The Silk Road Mountain Race is a fixed route, unsupported, single-stage bikepacking race of Tian Shan Traverse through the mountains of Kyrgyzstan and it uses gravel, single, double track, and old soviet roads that have long been forgotten and fallen into disrepair. There’s very little tarmac and there are several long stretches of hike-hike section and at times there will be great distances between resupply points. There are several river crossings and some sections had an elevation profile of 40%. The clock did not stop and there were no prizes.
The race started on the 17th of August, 2019 from Bishkek, the capital of Kyrgyzstan. Riders followed a 1708 kilometer fixed route that passes through three staffed control points. Riders needed to get a stamp in their brevet card at each, before finally heading to the finish line in Cholpon Ata, a beach resort on the north shore of Lake Issyk-Kul. To earn a successful finish, riders needed to complete the course before the end of the after-party on the 31st of August.
What made you want to participate in this race?
For the inaugural year of the Silk Road Mountain Race in 2018, there were less than 30% who crossed the finish line. The race was termed as the World’s toughest Mountain Bike Race. A challenge can’t be a real challenge unless there is a possibility of failure and this race looked like a real challenge.
As you just mentioned, this race has been called the toughest race in the world, what did you find the most challenging?
Terrain - So rugged and wild. The hike-bike sections are very steep and involve lots of river crossings.
Weather - You get to experience 4 seasons within a matter of a few hours. Extremely unforgiving conditions.
Unsupported - The unsupported nature of the race makes it even harder. With resupply points spread across miles away, carrying enough fuel to carry you through between the resupply points was challenging. Most of the tiny shops in the villages are closed in the evening. If you don’t time it right, get ready to experience starvation.
What did you pack for the race? How much did the gear on your bike weigh?
1 Shorts, 1 Top Merino long sleeve base layer, 1 Bottom base layer, 1 lightweight windproof/rain jacket,
1 Puffer jacket, 1 Point 6 socks (hiking essentials 3/4 crew light), 1 Bandana
1 Solar panel, 2 Battery bank, 3 headlights with 10 aaa batteries, iPhone X for photos and navigation, SPOT GPS tracker, Tent, Sleeping bag, Bike tools, Spare tubes, 3 water bottles with total capacity of 6 liters
1 stove and gas with a small pot and spork for cooking
1 saddlebag, 1 top tube bag, 1 half-frame bag, and 1 front bag was used to carry all gears.
It’s a rigid 29er all steep bike. The bike plus all gear weighed about 16kg.
Where did you sleep at night?
2 nights in a tiny hostel in a small village. 1 night I had to camp on the side of the Chinese highway as the weather got terrible. 1 night when the weather got nasty a very friendly Kyrgyz nomad family took me under their wings. Most of the nights I slept in my tent in the Tian Shan Mountains.
I showered only once during the entire duration of my race.
What kind of weather did you encounter?
All kinds. For example, day 1 started with a beautiful sunny day in the upper 70s. Soon the wind picked up followed by frigid rain. As we started gaining elevation to Kegety pass, it started to hail and snowed the rest of the way. Rainstorm, Thunderstorms, hail, snow, hot sunny day causing sweat blisters, you name it, Kyrgyzstan mountain delivered :)
What did you eat?
A lot of snickers and peanut butter. There were also these local candies that were loaded with fat and sugar. I drank lots of soda when I would go through civilization. I carried dry meat and noodles to cook at night while camping. I also consumed lots of Khan bread, Mares milk (horse milk) and Kumis (fermented cheese made with horse milk). These are local delicacies of Kyrgyzstan. It’s an acquired taste and it made me throw up the first time I tried them but got used to it eventually. Out there, you take anything that’s available. It’s just calories and you need a lot of it to sustain the energy levels needed for the adventure.
I lost about 23 lbs during the duration of the race.
Did you have any bike trouble?
Yes. I had some issues with the tire and it only got worse after the first flat. The front tire’s sidewall had some structural integrality issues and it developed this huge crack on the side exposing the tube. I had to ride on low pressure as the high pressure would cause the tube to herniate and would make it run against the fork. The nearest bicycle shop was in Bishkek which was about 15 hours away in a car.
I Mcgyver’d the hell out of the tire and somehow made it work but I couldn’t really shred the downhills and rugged sections. I had to be very conservative. At one point, I had to empty the contents of my wallet which is made out of fiber from recycled sails and use that to as a liner between the faulty section of the tire and tube.
Fear was my biggest motivator. I kicked into survival mode and had to be resilient. I still had 3 days to finish before the cut off and I told myself that I am going to cross the finish line even if I had to push the bike the whole way. The situation worsened as I got closer but after the last big climb, I put the hammer down and sprinted to the finish line. It’s very disheartening when your competition starts passing you but it’s those moments that you can’t allow yourself to get discouraged but instead be resilient and fight your own battle.
Anything else about the race you’d like to share?
There are very few occasions in life where you are thrown in to face a real challenge. Silk Road is one such race. A challenge that makes you dig so deep within that you end up finding something about yourself that you never thought existed. That grit, resilience, and determination not only changed me as a person but also carried me to the finish line.
To close, I’d love for you to share some information on the cause you’re raising awareness for, Modern Day Slavery. How can people help support your efforts?
Human trafficking is a real problem. There are over 40 million people in slavery and 80% of them are women and children. They are exploited sexually or through forced labor for a weekly wage of $2.00. Advocacy is key to raise and be the voice for those who don’t have a voice.
That’s what I tried to accomplish in my very recent expedition “Freedom Seat - India to Germany”
I rode a tandem bike from India to Germany on an intercontinental tandem bike adventure spanning 5500 miles across 13 countries in two continents to raise and awareness and funds for the rescue and rehabilitation of the victims of bonded labor slavery in Southern India. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zddi2zmxhbk&t=)
Detailed story in the second part of the podcast episode “Tandemonium” from Dirt Bag Diaries. Check it out.
180 people from 18 different countries joined me on this mission and helped to raise funds/awareness to #EndSlaveryNow. The funds we raised helped in providing shelter to the victims of bonded labor slavery in South India and for relief efforts of various projects around the world.
Please visit freedomseat.org for more info.