Adventure in Xinjiang
I'm writing from home in New Zealand after 2-days of traveling from Altay in China.
Well ... that was a peculiar experience.
If you didn't already know, the race was cancelled, here's what happened.
I traveled to China with the Avaya team, Joanna Williams, Chris Forne & Stu Lynch for the round of the AR World Series. We were chasing world ranking points, a team race in build up to the World Championships and of course an adventure, going to far away places, for exotic and different experiences. As it turned out, the experience will most likely be one of the most memorable adventure racing ones we've had, but not for the reasons expected.
We arrived in the Altay region after almost 3-days of planes, queues and buses. Nestled in the far north of Xinjiang (formerly East Turkestan), Altay is very close to the borders of Kazakstan, Russia and Mongolia). I can only assume that throughout history that the borders there have been fought over numerous times and there still remains some level of conflict with the indigenous people, which is made up of a few minority cultures. I don't claim to know much about the situation there. It's certainly a pretty area, the mountains, lakes and rivers are spectacular and within a small area, it is very diverse. A large part of Xinjiang is Gobi Desert.
The team spent 2-days preparing for the race, packing the race logistic boxes and supplies. We were feeling good and ready to race. We went to bed on the eve before the race start with a 5:00am wake up, at 5:30am the race maps would be issued which allowed us a few hours of planning before the 9:00amstart.
This is where things went west.
We were told that there was an issue and that the race would be either;
A. postponed until later in the day
B. postponed until the following day, and would be shortened
C. the race would be cancelled
No other information was given, only that it'd be updated at 10:30am.
As you can expect, speculation and rumors went wild. There was talk that local protest groups from the minority cultures had made a security threat, talk that the permitting was not approved, talk that the organiser had left things to the last minute and was declined access, talk that there was political games happening with local government, and some wild theories about snow melt and slips.
At 10:30am there was still no decision but it was looking increasingly likely the race would be cancelled, updated at 12:30pm. It was then the official announcement was made that the event was cancelled.
'Sorry about that folks, thanks for coming'.
Still no explanation was given but I think the theory that it was government and politics is the most sound reason. I felt sorry for the event management team as they really felt bad and were trying their best to deliver the event. They are trying to take accountability and looking at ways to reimburse teams some travel and expenses, but for teams racing for world ranking points or trying to qualify for the World Champs, the event failed them in that regard.
We decided to go and climb a mountain, burn off some energy and explore the area. With a few hours of hiking we could climb close to 3000-metre peaks and expansive snowfields, we're pretty sure we saw brown bear foot prints in the snow, the area was certainly worthy of an adventure race. It was disappointing that we couldn't race, for many reasons, but at the same time we needed to accept the situation and take it for what it was. We had traveled to these lands to explore, connect and understand more about this part of the world, and that's what we got.
When we returned to Race HQ we were told that we had one more day in the region before the transport would start to begin the journey home. We spent the next day on a biking day trip and packing gear for the return trip.
It was a long way to travel for a hike and a few bike rides, but life deals some random things and after 20-years for adventure racing, about 50-expedition races that I have done, this is the first time one has been cancelled so it's a very unique situation.
We're not sure yet if we will do another race before the World Championships in Reunion Island, in November.
With winter in New Zealand approaching it may just suit us best to settle in and focus on training.
We're very thankful for the support from our sponsors and sorry we didn't get to race.