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Sri Lanka – Swerving the curve balls on the path to The Rumble in the Jungle.

Sri Lanka – Swerving the curve balls on the path to The Rumble in the Jungle.

The “Rumble in the Jungle” is the latest instalment of the newly formed Yak Attack World Challenge Series.
Regular readers will be fully aware of my compulsion for the original, and highly acclaimed, “Yak Attack” race held annually in Nepal; I have competed in the last three, and to be honest it’s becoming something of an obsession! 😀
The Sri Lankan chapter, however, wasn’t entirely on my radar. I had taken a look at it out of interest but was undecided as to whether it was my thing or not. I enjoy the brutality of extreme events, I like the challenge of mastering the demons that shadow you and, perversely, I’m also fascinated by observing the way other racers cope (or not) with the mental and physical demands that such events throw at you and the way that preconceptions can completely disintegrate over the course of a few hard days.
I just wasn’t sure if it was extreme enough.
The stages certainly looked tough enough, lots of hard climbing, some great looking descents, river crossings & jungle to be negotiated, a couple of 80km+ days, and my personal nemesis – heat & humidity. I just thought that four stages wouldn’t be quite enough; from personal experience the breakdown process for most people starts at around 3 – 4 days and gets interesting from there onwards.
There was also the spectre of minimal preparation; I broke my elbow and several ribs in August which would mean that I would only have a few weeks back on the bike before racing!
However with the thought of a reunion with friends from around the world, some less than subtle persuasion from Team Yak Attack (Phil Evans & Kate Hobson), and the offer of a reduced entry fee (or a reward, as Phil put it, for my support, championing, and promotion of Yak Attack over the last couple of years) finally saw me click on the entry button. Thank you for that Phil & Kate, it is much appreciated.
It was then that things started to unravel…!

Oh Yeah! Welcome to Sri lanka!

Initially I considered flying out a couple of weeks before the race so that I could acclimatise to the time difference and the heat, and to get in a bit of quality training to help better prepare for racing; and then fly back home straight after.

My son Daniel was having, let’s call it, “girlfriend troubles” so I changed the plan and asked him if he wanted to come out with me for a four week trip. We could have a couple of weeks cycle touring, I would then go off and do the race and we could meet up at the finish in Kandy before having a week of R&R in the beach resort of Negombo. He wasn’t entirely convinced about the bicycle touring part but I didn’t give him an option on that one; I needed the base miles and I was paying!
I duly emailed the race contact, Dominic Samarasinghe, at Sri Lankan Airways to enquire about booking the flights. Sri Lankan Airways were the official race sponsor and were offering a discounted flight package. As it turned out this was only for racers and anyone accompanying them on the race. No problem I thought I can still get the deal for myself and pay full price for Dan. So I once again emailed Dominic with our travel dates, unfortunately these didn’t qualify either! The discount package was only on offer between specific dates either side of the race and our generous four week trip was way out. Bugger. In the end it worked out £100 cheaper for me to book directly on the Sri Lankan Airways website. That was my first BIG mistake!
The next big mistake was not sorting Dan’s travel insurance out straight away. He is covered with an annual multi-trip policy through his bank account but this is European only so I needed to buy him a single trip policy for Sri Lanka.
Being the eternal procrastinator that I am I had set aside the Sunday a week before we travelled to tie up all the loose ends. That is when it all went tits-up!
Unfortunately, in his wisdom, Daniel spent the weekend partying, as any self-respecting 22 year old should do, and left his contact lenses in for 2 1/2 days which resulted in a trip to the hospital with (as it turned out) a serious eye infection. He had Corneal Ulcers on both eyes and by the time I dragged him to hospital it was bad enough for them to admit him for a rather prolonged stay. He spent the next 3 days (and nights!) having antibiotics administered directly to his eyes every 30 minutes and was eventually released on the Friday with strict instructions not to fly on Saturday! Neither were the Doctors in a position to say when or if he would be able to fly in time for the race.
F**k, F**k, F**k, F**k…!!!!!!!
And so started a long process of emailing, negotiating, and extremely expensive telephone calls to Sri Lanka. Ouch.
Now I’m a pretty laid back dude and it takes a lot to get me flustered but this was turning in to some serious stress. In a relatively short period of time I’d gone from indifference to “why not, it’s a cheap trip” to a potentially deep money pit sucking away at my hard earned savings and being a couple of grand out of pocket.
I was left scratching my head wondering how on earth this had all happened? 😀

Fortunately the company I’m currently working for were great and allowed me the flexibility to change everything around, and at the eleventh hour, after a bit of to-ing and fro-ing, Sri Lankan Airlines re-booked the flights at no extra cost, something they had no obligation to do. I emailed Dominic and expressed my eternal gratitude for all of his help.
And so we confirmed the flights on Wednesday afternoon, took off from Heathrow on Thursday evening and arrived in Sri Lanka on the Friday before race registration! Phew!

The days catch drying in the sunshine on Negombo Beach.

We grabbed a taxi from the airport to Negombo Beach and eventually tracked down our hotel, Oceans Edge. It was labelled as a “boutique hotel” and cost us the princely sum of £14 each and included a simple Sri lankan breakfast. It was a nice place but I think the owner may have been stretching it a bit with the “boutique” label, it was more like a nice guesthouse but it was nice and clean and in a great location; and the owner and his staff couldn’t have been more helpful.
So we spent the next few days eating well, enjoying the sunshine, meeting new racers arriving each day, meeting old friends, and spinning out on the bikes here and there.

We were in Asia and it was hot and sunny, the beer was cheap, and the food was amazing. Oh yeah!
Welcome to the jungle!

All smiles. Ajay, Kate, and I. 
Danny and me on the beach at Negombo.
More old friends. Phil Evans, Kate (Hobnob) Hobson & Andre Deplechin.
Lucky Seven! My race number for “The Rumble”
With my great friend and adversary, Eric Coomer (USA)

About The Author

Neil Cottam

Neil is the founder of Chase The Rainbow. He has spent a lifetime exploring the outdoors, from a childhood climbing trees and scrambling his bike around old pit heads to hiking in the Himalaya and backpacking around Europe and Asia.

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