Saturday, January 21, 2012

Friday the 13th Part: INDIA

After nearly an hour-long search for chicken soup and nearly crying when I finally found a place among the stalls of big metal pots of dhal and whatever was the vegetable curry of the day last night, we decided that we needed to get out of here. Colin's 101 degree fever broke sometime yesterday, and we both woke up feeling well enough to ride. So after loading our gear on the bikes and my pockets with snot rags and cough drops for the ride (after an unsuccessful search this morning for more cough syrup since I polished off an entire bottle already), we began our ride to Nepal on Friday the 13th (not a good idea, as it turned out). It was about 9:30 by the time we left, and traffic was heavy and chaotic in the city.  

We had to ride through Gorakhpur to get to the highway to Nepal, and traffic was insane. Before we could make it to the highway, I was struck by another motorbike. We were riding on a (barely) two-lane road and I was hugging the left edge of the pavement since everyone was overtaking everywhere. I noticed a motorbike pull up on my right side and match speeds. After riding for eight weeks in India, I really do not like it when other vehicles ride next to me because it cuts off some of the few options I have. Consequently, I tried to shake him. I sped up, he sped up. I slowed down, he slowed down. And then, the inevitable. Right in front of us, an oncoming bus pulled out to pass, and the rider to my right swerved to avoid becoming a grill ornament. Unfortunately, he swerved into me at about 35 mph. I felt the lurch from the back of the bike and suddenly found myself to be a passenger on the Ohshitthisisgonnahurt Express. Surprisingly, it didn't hurt that much. I came free of the bike before it hit the ground and gently glided through the air until I reached my final destination. I landed face down, fairly flat, and thankfully, no one ran over me. I hopped up, checked myself over and heard Re yelling to see if I was okay. I told her I was, and Re and a couple helpful folks got my bike stood back up. The other guy had picked himself off the ground and I just shook my head at him, while Re screamed at him. He looked rather stunned and actually may have been, since I am sure he hit the ground as hard as I did, but of course, his helmet was made of a scarf. Dumbass. I checked over my bike and found, once again, that Symbas crash well, just a slightly bent right footpeg.

I must say, I don't like turnabout.  In his many years of roadracing, I never saw him crash, I only heard about it secondhand and saw the aftermath when he'd come riding to the pits in the bed of the crash truck with the bike. This is the first time I have actually witnessed one of Colin's crashes. I was right behind him when the other rider passed me and rode alongside him, hating every second of it. I saw the other rider swerve to avoid the oncoming bus, right into Colin, and heard myself screaming, “What the hell are you DOING?!?” to the other rider as they made contact, wobbled, and hit the ground. I asked Colin if he was alright, he said yes, and then he asked if I saw what happened since he wasn't sure what hit him. I'm sure I was screeching like a banshee as I yelled the answers to who, what, when, and where and pointed at the guy sitting on the ground in front of his bike trying to figure out what broken plastic went where. I was so afraid Colin was hurt, but he said he was okay, everything worked, and he just wanted to get the fuck out of this country.

We made it out of the city, and the highway opened up some. Traffic was still very heavy, and we had to take to the shoulder several times to avoid oncoming traffic. Maybe thirty minutes after my crash, while passing through Small Town number elebenty billion, we came upon a truck stopped perpendicularly across both lanes. He didn't appear to have plans to move any time soon, so I rode onto the shoulder and went around the rear of the truck. When I glanced in my rearview mirror, I saw Re had apparently hesitated before deciding to follow me. Unfortunately, by the time she pulled behind the truck, the driver woke up/put down his cellphone/had an idea/I don't know, and started backing up. Re was valiantly blowing her horn and trying to get past, but didn't make it. The good news was, she was going less than 5 mph when the truck backed into her.

This one really made me mad.  I made the choice to follow Colin by riding behind the truck instead either riding in front of the truck, putting me directly into oncoming traffic, or waiting for who knows how long for the driver to figure out what he was doingI hit the horn and stayed on it, made what I thought was eye contact with the driver to be sure he saw me, and then went for it.  When I got behind him, he started backing up.  I rode onto the dirt shoulder to avoid, but he just kept coming.  He hit me and knocked me over, I swore A LOT, and the ubiquitous couple of bystanders helped me pick up the bike.  I had checked it over and restarted it when Colin got back.  And once again, the truck driver vanished into thin air (fancy that). 

I saw her tip over, jammed on the brakes, and spun around. I was a few hundred yards up the road when I turned around and rode back going the wrong way against traffic on the edge of the road since all the oncoming traffic was stopped by the now leaving truck and the crowd that had gathered around Re. I wasn't too concerned about it until I spied a motorbike riding in from the dirt “parking” area on the right. He was riding from my right to left, from the dirt to the paved road while texting. I quickly realized that I was riding too fast for conditions, and that if I did not avoid him, we were going to collide. In my haste to get back to Re, I did not realize how fast I was going until I hit the brakes. I was not slowing fast enough on the pavement, so at the last minute, I eased right, onto the dirt. What I did not do was let up on the front brake when I transitioned to the dirt. The front end immediately snapped right, and I found my head striking the dirt, followed by my shoulder, the rest of me, and then the bike. I estimate I was going somewhere between 20 and 25 mph when I hit, but I hit hard. I was dazed for a second, but eventually noticed that my right foot was trapped under the bike, and I could not get up. Once again, the helpful passersby in India, who must do this several times each day, came over and lifted the bike off me. I'd had the wind knocked out of me, so it took a few seconds to recover. I stood up and found that while my shoulder and ankle both hurt, they seemed to work okay. I took off my helmet, checked it for damage, and saw none. I looked over the bike and found that the front brake lever was slightly bent and that the ball end had snapped off, but amazingly, no other apparent damage. I re-situated the load that had shifted and looked for Re. She was still lost in the crowd a few hundred feet further down the road, and I didn't know her condition. I hopped on my Symba and it fired right up, and I rode back to Re. She was okay, no damage, just double extra ready to get the fuck out of India – like me. She said she had checked over her bike and everything looked hunky dory, so we kept riding. 

In the first few miles or so, I did find three problems. The first and most minor (but irritating nonetheless) is a shattered right mirror. The second and more problematic is that my rear brake lever is, once again, bent, and it sounds like my rear brake might be dragging. I discovered the third and most problematic bit of damage when I hit the first pothole and felt the unmistakeable pain of fractured ribs. When I fell, I landed on my right side with my arm trapped under my body. It appears that the impact was hard enough for my trapped arm to fracture a couple of ribs. Having had a similar landing after a crash at Road Atlanta many years ago that resulted in fractured ribs, I recognize the sensation. I pulled over to have Re run her fingers over my ribcage to see if she could feel any displacement of the bones, and she found none. It ain't an x-ray, but she is an x-ray tech (amongst other things). By now I had also noticed the tip of my pinky on my right hand was numb as well. She felt for a boxer's fracture and thankfully, found nothing. Since we still had an hour and a half or so to the border, it was time to ride. When I used to roadrace, we had a phrase at the track that was, “Nut up, shut up, and ride.” While I did ride, I will admit that there were more than a few whimpers inside my helmet as we bounced through the potholes and broken pavement to the border. Shortly before 1:00, we reached the outskirts of Sunauli and stopped to fuel up. I had read that Nepal was suffering from a petrol shortage that began just before the New Year, and I wasn't able to find anything that said it was over, therefore, we made sure the bikes were full and that our fifteen liters of jerrycan space was also full. That would give us plenty of fuel to make either Kathmandu or Pokhara depending on what we found. As expected, the border was chaotic on the India side, and the Immigration post is a series of card tables inside an open shopfront with four guys just sitting around. A guy ran out in the road and yelled that we needed to pull over for Immigration. Re and I stopped, looked at the setup, and both immediately thought that it was some sort of scam. But no. we got through Immigration, changed our India rupees for Nepali rupees at a kind of bad rate, and then, went to Customs. Here is where the wheels came off. Apparently, today was training day, and they directed me to a guy who had never done a Carnet before. For the next hour, he read what little there is to read in the way of instructions in the Carnet itself, flipped through the souches, folded the covers of our Carnets, asked if I wanted any tea, had a guy draw some pencil lines in a ledger eventually started filling out stuff in the ledger, but several times, he asked me what stuff I thought should go in there. After an hour or so, another Customs official came over and finally told our man how to finish. That's India. With everything stamped and souches torn out, we crossed into Nepal. The Nepal side was no more professional, but they were faster and very friendly. At Immigration, we paid our 40 USD each for 30-day visas and were in and out in under ten minutes. At Customs, I had to wait a minute or two for the guy who does Carnets, but twenty minutes later, everything was stamped and we were good to go. Other than the 80 USD for visas, there were no fees on either side of the border. 

We were riding again by 3:30 pm (which is actually 3:45 pm Nepal time, since they are fifteen minutes ahead of India) and made Lumbini in about an hour. My ribs and I were happy to find that the roads in Nepal are in much better shape and have much less traffic. One problem we are going to have with Nepal is that we do not have a current guidebook for it. Oh, we have a copy of the latest edition of Lonely Planet Nepal sitting in a storage room in Portland. Why, you ask? While planning for the motorbike trip, we purchased a copy but then decided that winter in Nepal seemed like a stupid idea, so we left the book at home. Now that we're feeling stupid, we don't have it. We do have the 2006 edition in PDF format on the laptop, but it's not very handy to use while riding. The accommodations in Lumbini are spread out over a large area around the Development Zone, so we were riding around looking for something likely. In front of a not very likely looking location, I spied an Enfield and its western rider. While Re pulled out the laptop to try and figure out where we needed to be, I rode back and spoke with Patrick. Patrick gave a halfhearted recommendation of the place, so I called for Re to take a look while Patrick and I chatted. Re came back and said the room was basic and relatively clean, with a hot shower, and wonder of all wonders, wifi in the room. I could tell by the rivulet of snot running out of Re's nose that she was feeling worse. My ankle, knee, hip, shoulder, and ribs were all also voting for not riding anymore. So for about 9 USD, we checked in for the night. We talked with Patrick for quite a while longer since he had ridden in Nepal before and had just come down the Siddhartha Highway from Pokhara today. He was a wealth of information on what to expect in Nepal and a very interesting guy to boot. He's French but has been living primarily in India for the past several years supporting himself by playing online poker. We unpacked and had dinner in the room. The room came with two beds, and Re and I decided that between her coughing and my battering, that we ought to make use of both of them. Re was kind enough to dig out my Big Agnes pad and blow it up for me for some extra comfort tonight. Given her respiratory problem, it was a very nice thing for her to do (I am, however, concerned that my Big Agnes is now filled with 80% air and 20% snot).

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