Saturday, January 14, 2012

The best year of my life

2012 is shaping up to be the very best year of my life. "Why," you ask, "isn't it a bit early to make that judgment?" My reply is a resounding, "No. It is most definitely not too early to tell."  Because, in the first week of this year, I survived getting hit by a big, yellow bus. Twice. And both I and my bike remain relatively unscathed by either incident. “Just what the hell are you doing to provoke them?” you might ask. “Riding in India,” I'd reply. 

The first occurred on our way to Khajuraho. We were creeping through a particularly rough and potholed section of road at no more that 5 mph, and I was trying to pass a tractor in the few seconds when there was no oncoming traffic. I began my pass, and the next thing I knew, I felt myself being pushed from behind.  Thankfully, I managed to keep the rubber on the road (since I was going so slowly, I would guess). I looked back over my shoulder and saw yellow. I apparently wasn't moving fast enough for the tour bus that was behind me, and the driver attempted to punt me out of his way so he could go round both the tractor and myself. I gave the bus (since I couldn't see the driver's face) the stink-eye and then turned face forward and continued on my way. Colin and I stopped to refuel shortly thereafter, and I told him rather proudly that a bus had hit me, but that I and the bike stayed upright and were fine, just annoyed. I think it must have only caught the spare tire strapped on the right rear side, because there were no marks anywhere. 
My second run-in happened three days later (our next day of riding), leaving Khajuraho for Sarnath. The day started out just fine. The weather was cool, the air so full of condensation that everything appeared to glow gold, and we were on the road early. The first section of the ride was through beautiful farmland and a nature preserve, so the scenery was nice, but the pavement left a lot to be desired. 

Once we were through the nature preserve, the road surface improved dramatically, so we made good time for the next couple of hours until we got to the outskirts of the city of Satna (I have nothing to recommend it). The traffic load increased as we headed into the city. I was riding behind Colin in the usual pack of other motorbikes at the left edge of the road, when a bus with a most impatient driver approached from behind, blasting his horn, and attempted to pass the pack of traffic that included us. It apparently made it around some of the vehicles, but I, once again, felt myself lurching forward. This time, I was going faster, probably between 15 and 20 mph and was unable to keep it upright. I don't honestly remember the few seconds (or however long it was) before I hit the ground. The next thing I do recall was feeling the impact. I landed, tangled under the bike (it landed on its left side) and my head snapped forward and I hit the crown of my helmet on the pavement. I did a quick extremity check to make sure everything worked before I looked up to again see YELLOW. Another goddamned fucking bus in a hurry. And this one was slowly driving past me. He wasn't even going to stop. Nice, really nice. Colin heard the distinct sound of plastic bodywork scraping behind him, stopped, and yelled to ask what happened (since for once, he didn't witness my mishap). I yelled back, “that bus hit me!” He asked if I was okay, and I said yes.

Colin then got off his bike and ran alongside the bus, yelling and pounding on the plexiglass window to make the driver stop. Colin apparently grabbed hold of the door handle and tried to get on the bus. But the driver wouldn't stop and only picked up speed, so Colin let go after giving the window another hard punch and ran back to me. In the ensuing matter of seconds, a large crowd formed and picked my bike off of me and then helped me up. Colin was very soon back at my side asking if I was alright and where on my body I landed. I told him I hit my head and my right arm/shoulder (again), and showed him that everything was working fine, I was just a bit sore. About this time, a very kind man emerged from the crowd and motioned for me to sit on the ground and remove my helmet. Not really knowing what else to do at that particular moment and needing some guidance since I was really shaken, I did what he wanted. He then gently squeezed and massaged my head while Colin looked over my bike. 

After a few minutes, I'd calmed down enough to stand up and get moving. But one young gentleman in the crowd kept asking what happened. I told him that the bus hit me from behind, and all he could do was chastise me for riding on the road (apparently I should have taken to the shopfronts instead?) and for not learning to speak Hindi before coming to India, since the other men in the group were unable to understand English. Since I really didn't need his “encouragement,” we got back in our saddles, after I again assured Colin that I was fine, and rode away. 

A couple miles down the road, I started gasping and sobbing when it actually occurred to me what had happened and just how badly it could have turned out. My crash in Namibia was my own fault through inexperience. When I hit the wall in front of the hotel in Thanjavur, it was also my own fault due to inexperience and my short fuse. But this time, I did everything I possibly could to ride safely- I checked my mirrors, did head checks, I used my horn to signal, I stayed with traffic, I rode at the edge of the pavement to give all the bigger vehicles room to pass, and still, I got rear-ended by a bus. I am extremely thankful that we have such good quality protective gear, because without it, the situation could have ended in a whole lot more tears than the few I shed in my helmet. Colin noticed that I was lagging behind and pulled over to see what was wrong. I told him what I had been thinking and how shaken I was by the morning's events. He said that from Varanasi, we could put the bikes and ourselves on a train to either Delhi or Calcutta and fly home. He would totally understand and not be disappointed in me if that's what I wanted to do and said to think about the option. I only had to think for about ten seconds before I said no. I did not want to let this beat me. If we went home, I would always wonder what amazing things we missed by cutting the trip short. Plus dammit, I want to go to Nepal! Colin assured me that there was time for me to think about it and decide, it didn't need to be right that minute, and we continued on down the road. Oh, and the best part of all? As the bus pulled away from me, I saw that it was... a schoolbus. Nice, supremely nice

We stopped a couple miles down the road at an Indian Coffee House for coffee and to take a few minutes to decompress.  As I got off my bike, I asked Colin to take a picture of me post-bus wreck.  I took the camera out of my jacket pocket and handed it to him.  He turned it on and said, "Oh no."  It was at that moment we discovered the only casualty in the accident- the camera.  The LCD screen on the back has fracture lines and no longer displays.  We shall see if the camera works at all and if the screen can be replaced when we are someplace with access to better electronics (or anything other than those made by Bajaj or Tata).  What a bummer!  In the meantime, we'll have to live with photos on my iPod.

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