Thursday, January 10, 2008
I’m not sure if I’ll ever travel again without at least some sort of athletic agenda. No matter what I’m distracted by, I spend most of my travel time wanting to be active. Conversely, I think the only way that I can relax and actually enjoy my new experiences is if I’ve been able to placate those demons that keep demanding that I push my body to the wall.
Yesterday I finally got a free day in Nepal and needed to do something that would hurt. I’d inquired with some trekking companies but they didn’t seem to understand my needs. The major treks from this area were all too long (15 days to Everest Base Camp) to be seriously contemplated in a day. The minor ones all seemed way too easy.
One of the minor treks visited an “Everest view point” in the range outside of town. It involved a two hour drive to the start and a pick up at the end. None of this sat well with me. However, looking at the course on the map I could see how it might be good on a mtn bike. So I decided to have a go at it.
I found a shop that rented mountain bikes and began going over their stock. I felt like an old west gunslinger picking a weapon as I brushed aside the sales clerk and began rifling through the bikes. I looked at components, tires, condition of each bike before choosing one. I gave it a quick once over, inflated the tires to the proper pressure, then rode it out the door, down the steps, did a bunny hop turn in the hallway and rode back in. The entire process had taken me about one minute. “I’ll take it.”
They gave me a map and inquired about an itinerary. “Nagarkot viewing platform,” I said. His reply was to ask me how many days I needed the bike. “What time do you close?” He tried to tell me what I was trying was “not possible” so I just said “maybe I’ll go somewhere else then. See you before 5,” and was off.
I hadn’t been on a bike in a month and it felt so good I can’t even describe it. I rode into the crowded streets of Thamel and began what was, essentially, a trials ride (for me) through the traffic. Out of the inner city I hit commuter traffic, which was a hoot. Driving in Asia is rather crazy. There seem to be no rules at all. But, as I’ve said before, a survivalist world is one that I thrive in and I’m quit certain that I was the fastest moving vehicle in Kathmandu yesterday. I bobbed and weaved my way through carts, busses, autos, motorcycles, and trucks. This “Sega game”, a term made up by some French guys who we’ve been hanging with who travel around on motor bikes continued for about an hour until I reached the tourist town of Baktapur.
Outside of town thing began to slowly change. I gradually moved up out of the smog and into open countryside. My breathing, which has been erratic and clunky for most to the trip, began to normalize. I stopped coughing for the first time in weeks. As I gained elevation I became more and more at ease and soon my body felt like it was reaching a state of homeostasis for the first time since I’d been in Asia.
My bike, a low-range Giant mtn bike, was perfect. It made me again realize how much money we waste on the highest grade of components and other silly stuff. This bike probably costs less than my friend Dustin spends for monthly upgrades on his race bike. And it was fine. It was reasonably light, well tuned, shifted and brakes well, and the pedals turned without interference. Sure, I’d be a touch faster on something else but no amount of money could heighten the experience I was having.
My first break was when I crested the hillside and got my first fairly close view of the Himalaya. It was breathtaking. A bus of Bulgarian tourists stopped and spoiled my solace, but it at least offered a chance to get a photo with me in it. One of the women looked around and asked, “are you alone?” After my affirmative and that my destination was “wherever the road ended” she added “you don’t mind being up here not knowing where you’ll sleep?” Man, haven’t any of these people ever heard of the Tour de France? I was probably only 30 or so kilometers and 3,000’ above Kathmandu. You’d have thought I was in Tibet.
The final climb up to the viewing tower had some seriously steep pitches and my legs were getting wobbly. It took actual effort to ride it non-stop, which was exactly what I wanted. Unfortunately, the clouds were rolling in and my Everest views were a bit skewed. The place was trashed, literally, and kind of depressing. But you could still see the majesty of the range—and this was a range I’d been reading about since I was a kid. I was okay with the downside.
On my descent I explored some dirt roads and found some off swanky hotels with Himalayan views that were filled with rich-looking tourists sipping cocktails or something. I’m not sure why but this blew my buzz. It all seemed so… Imperialist or something. So I headed down.
The ride home kinda sucked. Dropping back into the pollution was pretty miserable. It made me want to go home to my mountains. I was just wearing normal trousers and had decent saddle sores, which weren’t helping. I also hadn’t eaten and had a little bonk going. I only perked up once I got back to my bike messenger-esque riding through traffic where I felt it my duty to remain the fastest vehicle on the road.
I turned the bike in at 4:30. The guy asked where I rode. I told him but am pretty sure he didn’t believe me.