"In late spring I received an open invite to race the 2017 edition of Rumble in the Jungle, billed as one of the toughest stage races in the world. With life being so very fragile for me and Sarah, I wasn’t 100% sure I was up for it. However we decided we should travel to Sri Lanka without too much thought, ride the race and live for Charlie" - Nick Craig
Neither of us had been to Sri Lanka before. On arrival we had a three hour drive down the south west coast to the small marina and water sports village of Bentoto. The first thing you notice is the chaotic roads! Cars, bikes, motorcycles and old leyland buses. The craziest of them all is the tuk tuk, darting in and out of every space. Every few seconds we’d hear the echo of a horn as a tuk tuk swung left and right with no indication. The bull on the road is definitely the local bus, he will not give way and the next overtake seems destined for disaster, but it just seems to work out. It's just the way they roll…
76% of the population practice Buddhism and the rest follow Hinduism, Islam and Christianity with all living in harmony. I’ve learnt a lot in our 10 days here and I can honestly say that Buddhism makes a lot of sense. I believe their values help the people of Sri Lanka to be very kind, friendly and have a mutual respect for one another that just flows out of them.
After two nights alone, we transferred up the coast to Negombo and the race hotel. The race director and an old friend from mountain biking in the early nineties Phil Evens greets us with his relaxed smile along with Lanka Sportreizen (LSR) logistics manager Ryan Fernando, who instantly made us feel very welcome and relaxed. We then met the other riders from Sri Lanka, India, Canada, France, Austria, Germany, Spain, Nepal, South Africa, Australia, Colombia, Holland, Wales and ex-pats from England living in Japan, Abu Dhabi, Singapore, Hong Kong and Sri Lanka. A very diverse and multi-cultural line up if ever I saw one!
Stage One, 76km 
Dedicated to the memory of Charlie. The temperature was 39c and a humidity of 80%. Racing through dense, hot jungle and then climbing up through Lipton’s Tea Plantation, it was a tough day. After seeing a wild elephant near the start of the stage, this part of Sri Lanka felt more like a safari tour and I had wondered what was lurking in the high elephant grass that we soon found ourselves riding through. We set off quick and soon became a group of around 7 riders. Ajay from Nepal setting the early pace, soon followed by Cory Wallace the current 24hr Solo World Champion.

He set a rapid pace along the fire road, but as we headed in to the dense jungle I moved forward and could not believe I was pulling away from the pack. I had a small lead but then got a stick jammed in the rear jockey wheel which took some getting out. Maybe two or three minutes lost. Moving again I soon caught the leaders and just rode away. This felt strange, but I just tried to pace myself as it was super hot and a very tough day with a lot of climbing to finish in the Lipton Tea Plantation. I finished with a lead of over seven minutes, far exceeding my expectation given the quality field of riders.

I had a tough day, but Cory suffered with the heat. Either that or Charlie had tied two invisible tractor tires to the back of his bike!
Stage Two, 66km 
This stage started and finished at the same place in Haputale, an amazing  loop with amazing views from Lipton’s Seat. Two huge climbs and two big descents that were never-ending. Cory took off from the line as if a mosquito had bitten him on the backside and set the record straight by taking 9 minutes back and the overall lead. I had the lead for a period of time but Cory was on a mission. His overall lead was just two minutes, all to play for!

Stage Three, 68km 
The day began with a rolling start before we took on the Devil. 17km of climbing to the plateau of Horton Plains. This was an amazing climb past a huge water fall, up through tea plantations and on to a eucalyptus forest. After the long descent I somehow missed the feed and with no fluids I soon over-heated. Not a great place to be mid stage! After a quick sit down, a Torq Gel and a sharp word with myself, I carried on slowly. It wasn’t long before I soon heard a motor bike, lucky for me he had two bottles of water in his back pack. Cory took the win again with Alexander from Germany taking third. A tough day in the saddle.

Stage Four, 69km 
The stage started with 18km of descent, an 8km climb and then 40km of ‘mostly’ downhill to Kandy. Finally a stage that has more down than up! A great trail on some very varied terrain. As I descended through the forest, a 4ft snake rushed out right in front of me, did I scream? That’s for me to know!  I rode in alone a few minutes behind Cory. I tried to hold his wheel earlier but just faded a little. I finished just ahead of Alexander to take second on the stage, and second place in the overall.
Post race we were whisked off to a 5 star hotel for the prize presentation and amazing buffet lunch, kindly hosted by Sri Lankan Air. I felt like Crocodile Dundee, but felt so welcomed even if we might have been slightly off the mark with the dress code and our odour!

The trophy was a beautifully hand carved Elephant that will remind Sarah and I of our amazing journey. We’ve seen some amazing sights, wonderful people, experienced an amazing culture and loved every minute of the 2017 Sri Lankan Air - Rumble in the Jungle.

Meeting so many wonderful people from around the world in this amazing and diverse country with its previous Portuguese, Dutch and English rule each leaving their mark from the walled cities to Dutch canals and fine tea plantations. 

Our trip was made complete by a tuk tuk taxi to the temple at 6pm for the evening ceremony. With our thoughts always deep in the memory of our much loved and missed special boy, Charlie Craig X
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