Dec 042014

That’s what crazy people say. And if that’s true, then call me Samson with a lush head of hair.

I thought it would be a grand idea to take a countryside bike tour around the Kathmandu Valley.  My head imagined quaint country roads through farms and forest. Stopping here and there to take pictures, walk around. I did not expect 32 kilometers (20 miles) of the hardest bike ride of my life. Also known as the most beautiful bike ride from Hell.

We met at the Kathmandu Guest House at 10 am. There were just four of us. Shannon, a student from New Zeaand; Mike, a corproate accountant from Australia; and Dan, Mike’s friend and a business banker. These three had just climbed to Mount Everest Base Camp last week. I was way out of my league.

We were fitted with  our bikes and helmets. Surely there would be a car to take us out of the city. Another misconception in a day full of surprises. We hopped on our bikes and rolled out into the chaotic streets of Thamel. If you’ve read my earlier posts, you may have a fairly accurate picture of what these streets look like. Let me describe it from the vantage point of a tourist on bike.

Don’t bother looking left or right as you enter the street. You have a better chance of survival if you just close you eyes and pray. You must have just as much trust in yourself as you do the other drivers on the street, that they will slow down. Looking at your potential demise will just make it harder to take the risk.

You roll slowly into traffic and miraculously you are one with the stream of rickshaws, cars, and motorbikes. It’s best to pick a motorbike and follow it through the traffic. It will  part the sea of pedestrians for you. And take no caution zipping through narrow holes between cars. Otherwise you simply won’t make it through. You will be surprised how small of a nook you can squeeze through. Don’t pay attention to the honking either. Keep Dori’s mottto in your  head: “Just keep swiming.” Calm is of the essence.

Your next challenge (the crowded tourist streets of Thamel were easy) is crossing the major freeway into the outlying towns that will take you into the mountains. Be aggressive and keep your eyes ahead of you. Find a gap in the stream of traffic and take immediately, peddling as quickly as you can. Cars and buses will come within inches of your knees and head. The drivers will honk and yell at you. A black tar-cloud of exhaust will burst from th tailpipe of the car in front of you, temporarily blinding you. Let the adreneline propell you foward through the unorganized malay of motorized vehicles and pedestrians. Just keep swimming.

Somehow you’ve made it through with your elbows in tact. That’s important because now you’ve got to cycle up into the mountains and you will need every part of your body to fucntion properly.  The streets become less and less crowded as you go up. The buildings fewer and fewer. Almost seamlessly you are now on a paved road of moderate incline with the forest on your left and a cliff on your right. There is just enough room for one car to pass by. Hug the side of the road that doesn’t end in a steep tumble through shacks and rocks and shrubs.

The air is getting noticably cooler and thinner as you go higher and higher. Your heart pumps faster and you lungs strain to squeeze more oxygen out of air. But it is very peaceful. Almost quiet, with the exception of passing traffic every now and then.

The guide veers off to the right and stops at a vantage point. The group dismounts their bikes and you catch your breath, if it hasn’t been taken away by the spectacular  view of Kathmandu Valley. You can see three-story houses huddled together in the great bowl of the mountains. Every house is painted brightly with a different color. Sharp pinks, bursting yellows, and cerulan blues. When down in the valley, it’s hard to see the mountains because of the smog and clouds. But up here you can clearly see how green they are.

By now I hope you’ve got a sense of what it would feel, so I’ll switch to my perspective so I can share some of my thoughts along the ride.

The guide says “Jam jam,” which means “Let’s go!” And off we were again, up the steep mountain road. Eventually it levelled off and I was able to catch my breath and let my legs rest a bit as we coasted around some curves. Thinkin the worst was over, I was in a very happy place! Another misunderstanding!

The ride down was harder than the ride up! Our guide took us down a winding journey through the mountain villages. I’m sure they were lovely but I didn’t get much of a look because all of my focus was on the rocky, dusty, uneven dirt paths. I was trying hard to keep as much distance between my face and the ground. Which was rather difficult because the ride was so bumpy that I couldn’t  keep my eyes locked on one place!  Every now and then when the path was smoother, I managed to wave and say “Namaste” to the local folks, and they would smile and wave back.

Most of the ride down was like riding a jack-hammer. My brain jostled as the bike went kajug-a-jug-a-jug-jug over rocks and through pot holes. My hands were white with a tight grip. To make the ride even more adventurous, throw in the ferral dogs running and growling after us as we carried on. I found myself switching between “Good lord please let this be over,” and “Come on, Kristin, you can do this!” The only thing that kept me going was the fact that I would be stranded if I stopped.

The bumpy, dusty, jostling, dog-dodging ride lasted for 10 miles or so before the path turned into pavement again and there were more cars and motorbikes.  We were heading back into the city! Sweet baby Jesus I had made it! The guide led us back through the busy streets and soon the place began to look familiar again.  After defying Kathmandu traffic a second time, we rolled back into the hotel courtyard where the journey began. Jelly-legged and butt-numbed, I dismounted my bike, said goodbye to the group and hustled back to my hotel room, where I immediately shoved my face with a club sandwich, took a shower, and passed out for seven hours.

Mountain biking in the Kathmandu Valley was probably the physically hardest thing I have ever done. But now I feel like biking in NYC will be cake.





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