Tuesday, 22 June 2010

The last charge to the majestic city of Kathmandu – Genesis of the Commonwealth Challenge – Part 4

The morning after the night in prison I had finally made it to Nepal. There was no strike problem stopping me from entering this time. The riots were over for the time being. Almost instantly - as is the norm when crossing borders- everything changed. The flat plains of crop growing fields of India rapidly transformed into an undulating terrain covered by forest. The roads started off good and the people were even friendlier. For the first time in weeks the women were talking again. I was on my last push with only another few hundred miles and me and Pinny would make it to the fabled city of Kathmandu!

I had one more night out in the tent before Kathmandu in Bardia National park. I was quite uneasy with it. Firstly due to the stories from the gov’ner the night before of foreigners getting stabbed and secondly I had just found out that Nepal has bears in their national parks. I remember being terrified of bears on the cycle expedition I had just recently completed with the cycling for charity team from Ljubljana to Istanbul. The thought of encountering one out in this jungle filled me with fear. What was it I was to do if this happened? Make a loud noise, lie down, throw rocks at it or maybe beside it. I really didn’t know.

It turned out to be an uneventful night. No man or beast had disturbed my sleep and I didn’t even have a crowd stop and stare in the morning. I was actually a little disappointed. So the stage was set for the last 135 miles. I was going to make it to a nice hotel and a hot shower in Kathmandu. That was my motivation. The day was bright and warm; the roads were quiet and easy. As I entered a valley following a turquoise river for mile after mile over rolling hills I was happy. Pinny was in good shape and I was feeling great if not just a little tired.

Then the last day turned to night. I was within 40 miles of Kathmandu. The road turned from easy to extremely difficult. The blacktop surface deteriorated rapidly to a tarmac warzone. Trench size pot holes hampered my already slowed progress and fastened my worsening mood. It was this hill; a hill I didn’t know existed that was the source of my foul mood. “Why had my hand drawn map not warned me of this dam monster of a hill?” I cursed and made a note to draw better maps in the future.

Due to the nightly ritual of burning rubbish and the inability of drivers in this part of the world to flick off their full beam lights the view ahead was very limited. It was also at this point I decided to have my first ever crash on a tour. Well more of a fall really. I was still heading uphill and I was pushed to the sand covered bank at the road side by a truck. Pinny’s wheels lost all traction and skidded out from underneath me and I toppled on to the hard tarmac below me. If it wasn’t for the truck driver’s fast reactions behind me then I would have been under its wheels. It was also lucky that at that point there wasn’t a truck coming down the hill. Now that would have caused quite an accident. I picked up Pinny, checked myself and continued up. I was a little shaken but otherwise okay.

Nearly two and a half hours later I had reached the top. The dirt trail that had substituted as the main road had finally topped out. I had made it 900 miles in ten days. Below was the Kathmandu valley. I was exhausted but elated and all I had to do was roll into town. Well so I thought. As always is the case there seemed to be one more challenge! In this case it was the welcoming party that Kathmandu had arranged for me. It was dogs, packs of crazy bike chasing dogs. Pinny and I don’t get on well with dogs. I was furious.

I hurtled down the dark downhill at full speed. I did not want to get to know these dogs personally. Out running them was my best option. As soon as I out ran one group another would join the chase. If this was during the day it would not have been a problem. I could have seen and avoided any pot hole with ease. But it was night; Nepal doesn’t do street lighting and pot holes were a danger as real as the dogs and were going to be inevitable. But I never hit any. I was like a Jedi cyclist. I knew which route to instinctively take. I flew past dogs and pot holes none affecting me. I picked up speed and soon the city was within reach.

Finally I had just out run the last pack of dogs for the night. Surely nothing else could go wrong I now thought. I was using the force after all. Confident I kept up the downhill charge and all my attention was focused on finding a hotel. Food, beer, a shower and a warm room were all so close. Then to my surprise I hit the largest pothole I have ever experienced. I almost disappeared into it. The resulting collision had terrible consequences for Pinny.

The rack holding my pannier bags came flying off. It swung around on the lower fittings that was still attached to the bike and crashed into the gears. The force of this collision had destroyed the gearing system. At this point I was too tired to consider the consequences or even inspect Pinny properly. For some reason I was more concerned that I might get robbed. This was strange considering I had nothing to base these thoughts on. So on the very last few miles Pinny had been mortally injured and it was not repairable. I patched up the rack and limped into the city in search of a hotel.

With the help of an army escort (don’t even ask), the same ones that caused all the problems in the country, I was guided to a hotel. But effectively my attempt to cycle to Everest Base camp was over. Without Pinny this plan was on hold. It was time for a new plan.

To be Concluded in part 5....

Sunday, 13 June 2010

A night in the Jail - Genesis of the Commonwealth Challenge Part 3

This was the moment on the last trip in India that really got me thinking about doing something grand. If none of this happened I very much doubt that I would be in the exciting situation that I am the now. So to better understand why I thought about taking on this challenge do read on.

There I was, the sun had long since set and from the complete darkness of night I had arrived. In front was a foreboding vision. A man dressed in half army, half causal uniform, with a hat distinguishing him as someone of importance. He spoke to me in Hindi which I translated as, "this is where he wanted me to put Pinny". The shine off the large sharp, silver bayonet on top of his antique riffle hung over his shoulder made the instructions all the clearer. I dismounted Pinny and was directed towards a brightly lit room. Now how had I got myself into this situation......

It was at that moment that a conversation that I had had with a young man, a few days earlier came to mind. I was in my usual routine of asking for directions. It was midday and comfortably warm. I had not long left Bobasa, near the Nepal border and was heading east across the north of India. I was disappointed that I was not heading into Nepal. The riots and trouble that had closed the border would go on for days yet. It wouldn't be till much later that I would found out that this was almost a monthly tradition. It was bad timing for me though.

The problem was I found out that I was going the wrong way. I was way off the distance I needed to cover that day and I had run out of Indian rupees. I had spent them all at the border anticipating being in Nepal by then. I only had four pounds worth left. There nearest ATM was 150 miles away. This meant there was no time for delays. With my hand drawn map I discussed a possible shorter route, though the young man wasn't so confident that this was a suitable way to go. "There is jungle, wild animals and robbers this way," he said. I gave a shrug, I had become used to been told that further down the road that there was danger, only for it to never show.

Then he said "Is time precious or life precious?" Now this could have led to a very in-depth conversation. I would have loved to have had time to argue both the pros and cons of both. Sharply I answered "time". He directed me and I was off on my own again. Off to face the danger. This was just my attitude to the tour from the start. Rarely believe local information about risks, never turn back, always go forwards and usually risks are worth taking.

As I had predicted I never did come across the dangerous robbers. However the wild animals and the jungle were most certainly real. As I trundled along this route the normal crazy traffic disappeared. I was alone and surrounded in dense jungle. Bizarrely the road wasn't empty. Stretches were full of monkeys and I was acting like some kind of Tarzan shepherd dispersing huge packs of them. I must have seen at least three hundred monkeys in under an hour. It then dawned on me that India was the inspiration for the story the Jungle book. I remembered a particularly mean tiger. To settle me nerves I randomly came across a WWF sign with an image of a huge tiger filling the sign.

I picked up the pace. Even though the tarmac road had descended to nothing but a dirt path. If it wasn't for the actions of a small boy a few days earlier there would have been no way that Pinny could have taken the beating that the jungle trail was throwing at us.

I was glad that two days after leaving Agra and the magnificent Taj Mahal I had been stopped by the most unsuspecting character. He was like one of the many children I had past so far, riding their way to big for them bike, though maybe a bit more podgy. They would normally stare at me with curiosity. Some might even start a conversation, "Hello, name? country? age?" With that done they would say "nice to meet me" and be on their way.

This one was different. He spotted straight away the state the Pinny's back wheel was in. Though it was that bad it was hard not to notice. It was in a ridiculous state. Made much worse by the attempts I had made trying to repair it myself. This boy did something different and for some reason I listened to him. He ordered me to slow down. So I did. The next town of Khatima was close and from what I understood was that this boy was going to help me find someone to fix Pinny.

The bicycle is a very important method of transport in India. The roads are full of them, simple single speed solid bikes. So it's no surprise to find out that each town has a number of bicycle "shops". I had tried to visit them to solve Pinny's pains myself. The sexy looks of Pinny had dazzled the mechanics and all I got was usually a nice chat and a tea. But this boy did the talking for me. He bought me a tea and explained the situation. I hadn't even said a word to him. The first mechanic gave the usual dazzled expression. Never mind the boy took me to another. Result! The boy got the wheel repaired, not only that he paid for it. A boy younger than fourteen had solved Pinny's problems, paid for it and asked for nothing more than my name and country. I was amazed.

This was not the only time this had happened. The night before I rolled into a town called Kancjar. As usual I was taking risks and riding at night. But by the time I had got to this town I was getting a bit concerned. The traffic was crazy. I could not see in front due to the driver refusing to dip their lights and I didn't dare look to see what was behind. I decided to stop and check where I was going. A man came to my aid, he would not let me go ahead, too dangerous. Instead he took me to a hotel. He was a priest, he sorted my hotel. I don't think the owner liked the looked of my filthy pollution tan and if it wasn’t for the actions of the priest I wouldn’t have been allowed to stay. He even bought me dinner and then blessed my meal and said he would pray for me everyday of my trip. (Did I now have god on my side?)

As I entered the brightly lit room I wondered if the many faces I could see behind the thick rusted bars were cursing their gods for their situation. I had arrived at a large prison. The police had caught me cycling at night, stopped me and would not let me continue. Though my visit to this place I must say was a bit different to the other guests. Inside the brightly lit room was man I had met an hour earlier. He was the warden the Gov'ner of this prison. This was my first time ever to a prison and I was a guest of the Gov. He was another Indian man that would not let me continue during the night. I found out rightly so. Only a few months earlier a Germany tourist had been robbed and stabbed on this very road.

I explained my lack of money and need of an ATM. Before I knew it I was being escorted down the dark road at full speed to the prison by two jeeps and a motorbike. Surely this would be better that the tent for the night.

It was it was amazing. I settled in for a night of sky TV and awesome food and chat with the Gov. He was a good man and gave me a good insight into India. I had the best night sleep so far. Pinny even had her own guard! Best hotel so far, I highly recommend staying in an Indian prison.

To be Continued.

Friday, 4 June 2010

The Challenge Needs YOU!

Basically this is your part in the Challenge. I am trying to get 10,500 people from around the world to join me for a five-mile cycle.

My route will take me through:
Scotland, England, Holland, Germany, Poland, Belarus, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, China, Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, India, Nepal, China (Tibet), Laos, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, USA, Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, Portugal, Spain, France, England, Wales, Ireland, Northern Ireland and then after 20,000 miles on the road back to Scotland. (Route)

Along this route I will go through many towns and cities and it is here that I hope to meet as many people as I can to join me for five miles. I will record your name then we shall ride the five miles and you will become part of this world wide team.

When I set off on the 23rd of July I will have a tracker accurately stating my position so that you will be able to follow my progress. This will allow you to get in contact for when I get close to your town or city to organize a five mile ride together.

For the time being if you want to get an idea of what it is like going for a cycle with me then why not watch one of my two cycle expeditions films:

1. Malaga to Marrakech (2008): a journey covering 697 miles from Malaga (Spain, Europe) to Marrakech (Morocco, Africa). (45 mins)
2. Ljubljana to Istanbul (2009): The second cycle expedition is a 1600 mile journey from Ljubljana (Slovenia, Europe) to Istanbul (Turkey, Asia). (50mins)

Soon I will be getting in touch with as many cycle team and people from around the world as I can, maybe you! If this challenge interests you and you want to help create this 10,500 strong team then please don't hesitate to get in touch.