Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Wrapped up

Our half of the group made our way through the dam construction project on our way to Rampur. Water trucks kept the dust down and the ride was more enjoyable than the first time. 

Jason got a flat just as we got through the construction zone. Matt and I stayed behind to help him repair it while the rest of the group (our half, that is) pushed on the last 50 km to secure lodging because it didn't make sense for everyone to ride in the dark, especially when Anthony didn't have a headlight.

Riding in the dark was worse and better than I'd imagined. Worse because of little things like being unable to see holes in the road until you were on top of them, praying that your forks would hold together and marble-sized pebbles raining down occasionally on your helmet, making you wonder what else might be falling. Some traffic didn't use headlights, so you wouldn't see them until they were right on top of you.

Driving at night naturally gives you tunnel vision so you only see a sliver of the madness. Who knows how many cows you drove by or how big that drop was if I'd have missed that corner? Never mind, keep riding.

The rest of the group caught us in Shimla. We made our way to Chandigarh for the final push to Delhi. The drive into Delhi was pretty easy compared to leaving. We were hardened by a month of motoring around. It wasn't scary, it was, 'Oh yeah, I remember this.'

We lost Anthony by the Outer Ring Road,  the highway that circumnavigates the city. We waited as long as we could but traffic was so thick that he may have ridden right past us and we'd never have known. We kept our fingers crossed that he had a good back up plan.

A crowd gathered when we pulled up to the C Park Inn. Several Indians asked how our journey was. The rockstars of the neighborhood had returned. We unloaded our bikes, giving our spare petrol cans to two women gathering recyclables(while officials debated banning plastic bags, some suggested making the bags thicker so they would be more attractive to the city's recyclers because they would weigh more and therefore be more valuable. Recyclers pick through the swept up trash piles, grab the plastics and corrugated cardboards before the sweepers burn the piles.)

We'd only been there about forty-five minutes when Anthony showed up. He had hired a tuk-tuk driver to follow into our neighborhood, Karol Baugh. So we all made it safe and sound.

Now I'm back home in Girdwood, where it's in the twenties, there's a bit of snow on the ground, and more trees than people. 

Monday, October 20, 2008

Death Ledge Again

I had my bags on my bike by half past six to be ready for a 7 a.m. breakfast of bread and tea. We planned to be clutch out by 8 so we could get at least as far as Recong Peo, maybe Rampur 200 km away.

People were warming engines and it looked like we might actually make it when we noticed that Kagen's bike had a rear flat tire. The pit crew got after it and quickly found the problem, a nail most likely picked up at the welder's yard the day before.

OK, so it was clutch out at nine. The roads were dry, the air brisk, the traffic non-existent. The only folks on the road were highway maintenence people. Women were shoveling sand onto burlap. Three ladies would grab the ends of the burlap and carry it to a pothole. They would dump the sand into the hole and head back for another load. Without any binder, that sand would only stay in the hole until the second tire hit it and spread it to the four winds.

All the jobs seem to be that way, too many people working harder than they need to, but I guess the government is trying to provide as many jobs as possible. We watched a group of what can be described as the first wave of road builders. We were on a road that was slated to be flooded upon completion of a hydroelectric dam looking up and across the valley as they trundled material down until it reached its angle of repose. Think about that for a career option, rolling rocks down a mountain in the hot sun, all day, every day, for the rest of forever.

We climbed the last of the switchbacks and made it to the beginning of Death Ledge, the steep, narrow, muddy section of road with women rolling rocks in front of you as you pass.

Bill, Phil, and Mariska were a bit behind, but we pushed on hoping to reunite for a tea break in Nako. We had to wait for a dozer to do some work. He had two spotters looking up for falling rock as he worked. It was obvious that he was sending some sort of vibration upslope because a constant shower of pea gravel came down around him with the occasional baseball size piece.

They waved us through as soon as he had the pile flattened. Rocks rained down, workers yelled at us to go as fast as we could, and we struggled to keep the bikes upright on the sand and sharp rock combo.

After that short stretch, it was smooth sailing to the watercrossing. We were in the shade once we crossed the water. I could see ice and frozen mud in the left lane(or the left side of the only lane), but that still seemed safer than the sand on the outside, at least if something goes wrong you can dump your bike into the mountain instead of off a thousand footer.

A truck sat at the top of the icy mudded section. One man told us that they had been working on the truck for two hours to get it running. The truck started up, he put it in gear, let out the cluth, and moved six inches before it died.

The same routine played over and over. Men hurried to put rocks behind the tires each time the truck died. The twelfth time's a charm in Incredible India. The truck stayed running and kept moving. We were off the ledge and drinking tea in no time.

We turned on our radio because we thought that no matter how much lollygagging the other three were doing, we should have seen them already. Sure enough, Mariska answered our query. His bike would only run at full throttle the last time they had it running, which was a while ago. We sent Kagen back over Death Ledge to save the day.

They radioed that they were up and running. We waited and waited. No traffic moved on either side of the ledge. We heard several explosions and assumed that the road was temporarily closed for blasting.

A couple that we met the day before in Kasza pedaled down the last switchback to Nako. Carl went to see what they knew.

Two trucks were stuck at the apex of Death Ledge. One looked like it may roll over the edge. The bikers were able to carry their bikes around the chaos. They said people were getting out of their trucks and making fires, like it may be some time before the situation was resolved.

We decided that the only thing waiting for them would do is give us another night at altitude, so we headed to Pooh. Josh called the place we stayed in Nako to see if they had any idea about the other half of our group. It was a small place, once the goats were in for the evening nothing went on. The whole place would know if four crackers rolled in on Enfields.

The manager handed the phone to Phil and he and Josh made a plan for the next day.

4551 Meters

We rode across a wide open plateau before we started the switchbacks. The bikes struggled with the steepness and the altitude. I had my throttle goosed the whole way to the Khuzumla Pass.

Josh greeted each of us with snowballs at the top. Someone built a shrine ontop of the pass. We took photos and tried to catch our breath as it started to snow.

Going down the other side was just as steep. The snow intensified a little and began to stick on the pass. We got out of the switchbacks and the road detoured because landslides had covered it.
The detour took us through round rocks the size of volleyballs. You could barely make out the ruts as the road weaved along. The rockfield trail brought us back to the good road and we began to climb again.

I brought up the rear and was on the first switchback when I saw Carl coming toward me. His headlight was covered and his riding jacket was caked with snow. He said the storm continued to intensify and that we needed to turn around before we got stuck between passes for anywhere from overnight to all winter. I agreed and turned my bike around.

Returning to the rock trail was surreal. It started snowing about an inch an hour. I couldn't really see the road, so I concentrated on following the bike tracks in front of me. Each time I looked ahead, bikes weaved to and fro appearing to turn back on each other.

Two inches of snow covered the road by the time we got to the switchbacks. You had to keep the throttle up to keep the bike running, but each time the rear wheel slipped on a rock, it tried to force the back end around. When you had to help a buddy pick up his bike, yours would start sliding backwards because the front brake couldn't hold on the steep pitch. Eight of ten riders went down, some of them several times, before it was all over.

We made our way back to Losar and stopped for the night. We were cold and hungry. The woman that ran the guest house let us gather round the woodstove while she got us tea and quick bread.

The snow gradually slowed and had stopped by the time we went to bed. Carl cleaned two inches off the bikes in the morning. We loaded up and headed to Kasza to see the welder.

He sat on his heels smoking a bidi and banging on a piece of rebar when we showed up. The welder grabbed his sunglasses and layed a piece of metal that ran from the bike he needed to weld to a pile of scrap metal to act as a ground.

We pointed to a broken spot, he zapped it with the stick and we pointed to another until each bike was semi-solid again. The whole affair took less than twenty minutes so we pushed onto Tabo.

Nako to Kasza

I walked around taking photos just after six. The stone work was incredible, walls, water channels, fences, terraces, and homes. Many, many hours of hard labor. But they make it work, the little bit of water becomes the lifeblood of a village.

The women going onto the roofs early in the morning to carry in some hay for the evening when the goats will be back inside to provide heat and as a defense from the snow lepoard. Hay,dung, and firewood piled high on every rooftop to lay in against the coming winter.

They let the goats out en masse just when the sun hits the plateau. We ate our warm milk and muslix, followed by two fried eggs, sunny side up. The bikes started well and we set out.

Two kliks out of town the road turned scary. One lane talcum powder sand with road crew folks, mostly women, rolling rocks and making sand and carrying gravel that other women were making from bigger rocks using hammers with bamboo handles while you're trying not to hit them, stall your bike, slam into the mountain, or go off the 1700 foot drop on the left.

It ended with a short downhill to a water crossing on a hairpin. After that, bam, incredible India, we were back on sweet tarmac. There was a shrine about three hundred meters onto the tarmac. We gave thanks.

Shrines are everywhere you look. Try to find a peak without prayer flags on it. You can feel the love of the land here, mountain people. Pastural people, connected to the seasons in a way most of us have forgotten.

They make the most of a harsh environment. It must take a hundred acres or more to grow a goat here. Aside from the redirected water, there isn't much for grazing. They raise lots of wheat and maybe a lentil or two. Apple trees fruit if they get enough water.

The air got cooler as we rode, reaching mid-fifties, maybe. Wind cranked through the valley, picking sand from the river banks in mad tempests. We ate a breezy lunch of cashew cookies and marsla madness cheetos. Finally, we had the breakdown.

Marisa's rack fell apart. We rerigged it, strapped it, and hoped for the best. When we got to Kasza, they found a welder. He fixed Mariska and Josh's rack and Jason's foot peg for seventy Rupees. Now we're fueled up for a ride over a pass and down to a plateau full of firewood and good views.

Brokebrake Mountain

The shortcut to Kullu turned into a longcut. The road turned into a pair of ruts as soon as it began to climb. Josh got a brake pedal caught on the side of one ruts and ripped it off. Kagen ran ahead to catch Anthony so we could turn around.

We chatted about the road with some locals. We pointed ahead and said, "Kullu?" They gave us the sideways head nod so Phil asked again. One of them showed his fingers doing the walking. Phil returned with invisible handlebars and asked, "motorcycle?" The local rolled his hands rapidly over each other. We got it and planned to turn around as soon as Kagen and Anthony returned.

Anthony had his own adventure up ahead. He broke his brake pedal in a rut. He sat stuck in the rut wondering what to do when a local on a Yamaha 100 came over the hill in Anthony's rut. Anthony couldn't move and the local couldn't turn or stop so Anthony braced for the collision.

The smaller bike broke Anthony's headlight but glanced off and jumped out of the rut and over the side of the road. Luckily, some trees caught the local and his bike so he only tumbled a few feet.

Anthony dropped his bike and went to see if the non-helmetted flip-flop wearing rider was alive. The local smiled up at him. Anthony helped him get his bike back on the road. The local helped Anthony get his bike up and turned around then they parted ways.

We had to find two different welders to get the brakes fixed. The repairs took three hours so we spent the afternoon watching a family move a pile of sand down river and festival goers from all over the valley walking to the beat of their drums.

I can't quite figure out the sand moving. The pile was one of many dumped over the edge along a retaining wall. What the piles do as far as reenforcement is a mystery.

India has 82 nationally recognized festivals so it's common to see a group of men decked out in regalia carrying altars of some sort. Even festival walkers are horn crazy here. Two men run ahead and blow these four foot Dr. Seuss tubas at each intersection.

Chillin' in Manali

Mariska's clutch incident gave Anu another day to get the correct wiring harness, so Bill's bike is ready to roll. We took a rest day while Anu had a look at Mariska's bike. Our tentative plan was to leave the next morning with Mariska on Anu's Enfield. We would do the loop in reverse order. That way we would be able to return to Manali and Mariska's bike would be fixed so we could do the switcheroo.

I spent the morning on correspondence and laundry. Once the emails were sent and the socks and boxers drying I set out on a ride to have lunch somewhere down valley. I ran into Matt and Carl instead. They had scouted a shortcut(which in India means narrow, steep, mud-filled trails) to Recong Peo and were headed to chat with a local that had invited them for tea.

I decided to join them. We drove up valley about 10 km past Manali to meet Himal. He heads up the Himalayan Ski Village project. They hope to be operational by 2010. Office buildings and a patrol/equipment shop dot the base area.

A gondola will rise two thousand meters from the base to the summit. Himal pointed to the beginner terrain and Matt raised his eyebrows at me. They either need to do some serious blasting or they consider advanced intermediates "beginners."

The project began in 1990 as a heli-ski business. Heli operators from all over the world, including Theo Minor of Valdez came to explore the opportunity. The company ran the heli operation until 2003. Himal wouldn't elaborate as to why they no longer heli-ski.

Himal and his staff have been sent all over the world to learn the ski industry. The investors want all the key staff to understand the whole business from instructing to snowmaking to real estate development.

Himal has what he calls "the alpha team" that will serve as the patrol/snow safety crew. He brought AMGA instructors down for an entire season to teach snow science and to augment their rescue skills. The alpha team serves as Manali's rescue squad and deal with landslides and buses full of tourists on a regular basis.

I looked up at the mountain and all its starting zones while I sipped my lemon tea. I asked Himal how they planned to do their control work. They will not use artillery or explosives. They think they can do it all with forecasting and area closures. I think they've been drinking too much bhang lassi.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Rhotang Pass

We headed to the shop at 9, loaded for a go at Rhotang Pass. Bill rode two-up with Matt and we split his gear. Getting to the shop required a moderate water crossing with traffic that would serve as a prelude to the day. The part for Bill's bike arrived after eleven. Anu tore off the newspaper and said that it was the wrong wiring harness. So we turned to plan B.

Classic British bikes shift on the right with a one up, four down pattern. Phil took one of Anu's Enfields and after switching gear we got at rolling quarter to one. Phil realized by the second corner that if he pushed down on the right pedal going into a corner, he sped up because he was in neutral.

The road ran along the valley floor for a couple of kilometers before climbing. A rock slide closed the road just past the Rhotang Pass Avalance Center. The road was diverted onto the dry river bed. Volleyball size rocks jut out between the sand for a half km. before we got back onto the tarmac.

We drove through the village where one-piece ski suits go to die. The road rose quickly with a series of switchbacks on good pavement. We saw a road crew patching asphalt. Two women carried a couple of buckets of tar suspended from a stick between them down to some men that were chipping rocks and bricks to fill the hole. The women wore scarves over their faces and kerchiefs down low on the forehead so only the slits of their eyes were visible. The asphalt plant, a barrel set on bricks with a wood fire under it, was one switchback up.

The smooth tarmac gave way to the occasional hole over the next twenty km. The views up and down valley were spectacular. We caught glimpes of the climb on every switchback. Traffic was light with easy passing opportunities.

The pavement deteriorated to mud over the course of a couple of km. First you could string together a solid line if you only had two wheels to worry about. The tarmac disappeared when the switchbacks steepened. It had been paved at one time but the broken pieces of asphalt got pushed into the goo and vanished.

Sharp hunks of granite stuck out of deep holes. Hundred foot water crossings with trucks and buses on the right and thousand foot drops on your left became common place. We soon realized that those spots were the safest places for motorcycles to pass. The four-wheeled vehicles needed to stay in a track while we could piece a decent line together on either side of the "road."

Imagine taking a Harley Sportster up a muddy logging road with slick tires through deep water holes filled with helmet-sized rocks around blind corners in heavy traffic and you'll get the idea.
Rain fell and made anywhere but in the packed rut a dicey proposition. The front tire pushed the mud rather than cut through it because our bikes were loaded with all we'd need if we got weathered in. One had to stay on the gas or the peanut butter would get you.

The rain turned to sleet, then hail. Traffic increased because all the day-trip buses started going down. The temperature dropped and the road became gooier. The first wave of us reached the pass at 3:15.

We swung the blood back to our fingers and did jumping jacks while we waited for them. The wind blew a consistent 15 with the occasional gust to 25. The hail began to accumulate. Carl tried to raise them on the radio after a fire-roasted ear of corn. Mariska answered that his bike was down.

He lost the clutch some time ago but was able to speed shift and keep it going. Braking uphill without a clutch meant that he needed to maintain a speed much faster than traffic. Jason ran blocker for him, clearing passing lanes, forcing folks to wait, and the like.

Even with the help, Mariska had to kill the engine a few times. Eventually it refused to start or shift. We decided to go back as a group and get the bike down. Mariska's bike had the good graces to die in a widespot.

Kagen had a look at the gear box. The clutch accuator was sheared off. The problem doesn't have a roadside solution. Phil, Josh, and Anthony headed off to secure shelter in Manali while we set about flagging down a truck.

The second one stopped and said he would do it for 500 rupees. We agreed and pointed for him to pull over. He misunderstood our pointing for a finger shake and left. We couldn't believe it. Mariska said he would coast it down as far as he could.

After watching Mariska negotiate the first corner, Matt ripped off to catch the truck. We set up a tow rope from Kagen's bike. The slipknot kept sliding from under Mariska's boot so progress was slow. We sure were glad to see Matt had the truck pinned by his bike and was throwing ropes and a Ralph Lauren tarp out of the back.

We loaded the bike. Bill wanted to set it on the center stand. The driver signed that they would poke holes in his bed. I believe it because I could feel it flexing under my feet while we tied the bike down.

Mariska bounced off with the same three songs from the driver's mix tape playing all the way down. Every time he turned around he could see his bike shaking and rattling apart. The rack broke off in the first km.

We caught up and passed our tow truck once. He would manage to pass all of us again while smoking cigarettes and making cell phone calls. The holes and mud seemed easier on the way down because the traffic lightened. It didn't get slippery until we got back on the sleet covered pavement.

Several of us had brake issues on the way down. I didn't take it out of first gear for fear I might not be able to downshift. Pumping worked but I decided to save it for something really scary.

I turned on my headlight as dusk fell. The beam pointed at the sky so all it did was blind me. It worked better once it got dark.

Meanwhile Phil and company led the pack. They were able to get around a dead truck jack-knifed on a corner so they had smooth sailing down to the river bed.

Josh came to a stop on orders of a little kid waving a red flag tied to a stick. Ten minutes later an explosion to clear rocks went off and the kid waved them through.

We got to the shop and unloaded the bike, had chai, and learned that Enfield, along with all Indian manufactures, exports their quality goods and keeps the inferior products in country. That makes sense in a country that uses bamboo for both scaffolding and rebar.

Monday, October 6, 2008

The Run to Manali- Stage Two

We woke up just south of Kullu. The map said 54 km to Manali, so a leisurely start was the name of the game. It started pouring about 9 a.m. The northbound lane had six inches of running water. The brief burst turned into a steady rain, so we loaded up.

Rain and wet roads didn't make the riding any more relaxing. The road isn't as busy but is of lower quality so the going is the same, except with splashing.

I guess except the only noteworthy thing besides the novelty of riding in the rain is that Bill's bike caught on fire. We all made it to Manali but Bill's wire harness is a melted pile of spaghetti goo. And he has another story about loading an Enfield in a truck.

The bike is at a shop right now and may be done this evening. If so, the mad dash to Leh begins tomorrow.

The Run to Manali- Stage One

We stayed in Shimla two nights so we could get our inner line permits. Each man we asked pointed us to another building down the hill. We finally found the right building and filled out the forms.

While we wrote, the six or seven government agents argued amongst themselves as to which permits we needed and whether the road was even open. They decided that we should get the permits in another town, ripped up our completed forms, and thanked us. Classic. Turns out the extra night being chewed on by Hotel Victory's bedbugs was all for naught.

We woke in the morning to no water which meant no shower and no breakfast. We loaded the bikes with Manali the day's goal. Kagen's bike needed a bump start then we were off and running.

The map showed our road turning from primary to secondary at Kiar, where we decided to get fuel. Traffic was thick and dusty to that point but thinned considerably. The nice boys on motorcycles formed a line to the fuel pump. We were quickly corked by all the locals cutting us off to jockey for position. It took about half an hour to fuel up. I saw an empty petrol station three hundred meters down the road.

As soon as we turned on to the secondary road the riding turned into what I had imagined. Narrow, winding roads climbing up and down valley after valley. Steep hillsides terraced with corn, barley, or rice and sprinkled with homes and two thousand foot drops to the valley floor.

Road conditions were a mixed bag. Asphalt(some of which was being repaved using a wood-fired furnace), gravel, and sand. The sand turns to peanut butter with just a small amount of moisture. The sand and gravel come from landslides which seem to happen every time it rains.

Road crews constantly work to replace what the rains have taken away. They fill gabions with rock they chip by hand from the uphill side of the road. Several corners have rocks piled to guide you to the inside lane because the outer half of the road has undercut and sunk.

People are everywhere, it's almost impossible to look at something and not see a person. The men repairing roads, women in bright attaire cutting hay, hauling ridiculously large loads of said hay, or moving goats and cows to new pasture, or just sitting on a corner watching the day go by.

I saw such a man on a corner and we made eye contact. I let out a toot of my horn for the blind corner and had to hit the brakes because a backhoe loaded some of the sloughed hillside into a waiting dumptruck. At least the shovel leaners in the states will give you some sort of a slow down wave.

Most intersections aren't on our maps so we point and shout out the next town. After six or so decisions using this method I asked a woman standing by a shack at a paved intersection. She seemed confused so I tried a bigger town. She pointed two directions, one of which was the way we had come.

We flagged down a twenty-something on a bike for a second opinion. He agreed with her, we could get there each way but the way we had come would take eight hours, the other only four. Apparently we missed a turn somewhere and took a two hour detour.

We asked the biker to point where we were on the map. He couldn't but was adamant about which way we needed to go. We thanked him and stopped a truck full of park rangers. They couldn't find us on the map either but agreed with the man on the bike. They were also headed to Manali so we figured it would be safe to go the same way they did.

The detour took us over 3233 m high Jalori pass. The road up was steep, I kept wishing I had a lower gear to shift into, and rocky, like driving up a dry riverbed. We met some great folks at a little store/shrine at the top. We snacked on cheeto-like chips and hard-boiled eggs before the downhill.

We made it back to the highway and the madness picked up right where it led off. We could have pushed another hour to Manali but decided that after a hard ride it would be smart to stop at the first town with a decent place to stay.

Into the foothills

Chandigar to Shimla-elephants, vespas, monkeys and more. We got a leisurely start because we only had to go 150 km. Judging by the day before we thought it would take three hours max so we'd roll into town about 1600, get our bearings, acquire shelter, and find a great place for dinner.

Traffic refused to thin out even though we were driving away from the bigger cities. Roads narrowed to exacerbate the issue. We had a lot more pedestrians to deal with because we went from village to village.

I thought the smog would be better because we were leaving the city and gaining some elevation. The tuk tuks in Delhi run on natural gas, but that isn't the case outside the city. Every tuk tuk I saw needed a tune-up. I've been waking about 3 in night to have a ten minute sneezing fit/pollution cleanse and last evening was no different.

Whitey is becoming more and more rare. Our lot is obviously traveling together and heads turn, people wave with the enthusiasm of a ten-year-old, and practice their English as we ride by. Men come up to shake our hands when we pull over for breaks.

A man approached me at one such break(while we waited for Jason to film the elephants) and said, "These bikes are from Sunny Motors?" I nodded and took his outstretched hand. "I am Soni." Senior that is, he was returning from guiding the last trip of the season on the route we hope to complete.

He gave us some inside information on road conditions, accommodations, petrol and the like. Soni, sr. also told us to find his mechanic at the Radisson so he could give our bikes the once-over before we leave Shimla.

Josh and I were the first to reach Shimla and the rendevous point, Hotel Victory. I guarded the bikes (got hounded by salesmen trying to get us to stay at their hotels) while Josh checked out the rooms and prices.

When he returned I drove to check out another place. Apparently I took a wrong turn because a few guys chased me at a corner. I ignored them, assuming they wanted to sell me something. The road climbed and when I rounded the bend a group of five men ran at me waving their arms. The ones behind caught up and I was surrounded.

They told me I needed a permit to be driving that road. I have no idea if it's a park, religious/holy site, or a gated community. I just apologized and turned around. Then they chased me all the way down the hill offering hotels.

I flipped on my headlights. Maybe I should explain; in the states headlights on bikes can not be turned off for safety reasons. In India people yell or flash lights to let you know that your lights are on. Pedestrians stop and flip your lights off for you as if you'd be driving a motorcycle in Delhi if you didn't know where the light switch was.

I turned on my lights because it was dark, the road was potholed, pedestrians were everywhere, and earlier in the day I thought I was gonna smear bacon all over the highway when a black hog made a poor decision(perhaps he thought he was a cow). But people flashed me all the way back to Hotel Victory. Maybe Shiva lights their path, who knows, but I need lights at night, call me crazy.

The gang was all at Victory when I arrived and taking turns driving bikes up a steep, narrow sidewalk with a hairpin in the middle to park on the patio. Jason explained why he, Anthony, and Mariska were so far behind.

He couldn't get his bike to start after the elephant stop, it turned over but wouldn't catch. He assumed it was the spark plug. Jason rolled the bike down the hill until he found a mechanic only three storefronts down. The man looked up from the headlight he was wiring and Jason pointed to the plug.

The mechanic put down the light and went to work on Jason's bike. He gapped the plug, checked that it was firing, and since it wasn't, replaced it. No go. So he took apart, basically peeled back the wire casing and found a break at the point where the wire attaches to the plug. He didn't have a new wire to sell Jason so he rewired that one by taking a little slack out of the line.
The mechanic mimed that Jason should take it for a test drive. It worked just fine so Jason asked how much he owed. The whole thing took about half an hour and the guy wouldn't put the old spark plug back in. He asked for 70 rupees, about a buck seventy. It would've been a hundred bones and two days in the States, easy.

While we watched the helmet cam footage of a Vespa driver falling into Phil(don't worry Phil's fender cushioned the blow) we heard an Enfield. They are as distintive sounding here as a Harley other places. Carl looked out the window and saw Bill and Kagen. We were ten again.

Their side adventure involved dinner at a religious festival, riding three-up on an Enfield, loading a motorcycle into a tuk tuk, a tuk tuk tow truck pulling the bike which was being piloted by an Indian in flip flops, and a professor that was so excited to meet foreigners that they had to lose him in traffic to be rid of him.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

No wonder this hasn't been done before

Today was hectic and dirty but most of us made it to Chandragargh.
We packed last night and woke early. Mariska and Bill walked over to Soni's at six a.m. Wrenchs and hammers flew, but the bikes weren't ready. As soon as they finished a bike one of us ferryed it to the hotel to be loaded. We loaded three bikes by 8, but didn't get the last one until 10:30.

Traffic was mad by the time we attempted to drive out of the alley. Anthony's bike quit because it was out of gas. Soni offered to send a boy to get a can of fuel, but the heat was already oppresive so I siphoned some fuel out of my tank just so we could get going.

We rode the same route to the gas station as yesterday, which was nice because there was plenty to think about aside from where the hell I was going. Bill pulled up to me at the petrol station asked how it was.

I told him, "My front end is fucked, I think the boys forgot to tighten something."
He said, "Mine too, I think it's the way they are." They aren't so bad once you get moving. It reminds me of driving a jet boat. You can't turn until you get up on step. Then it isn't so bad it's just that you need to fight the instinct to slow down.

Too bad it's almost impossible to stay on step if you ever get up there because traffic is utterly insane. One good thing is that now that the bikes are loaded they are about 18 inches wider. That doesn't seem like alot until you realize that we are splitting lanes, wedging tuk tuks, dodging cows, and rubbing concrete barriers.

Soni agreed to lead us out to Highway One. He was happy to do it because we are the only customers since his dad started the business that have even seen his shop. He supplies the bikes for companys like MotoHimalaya and none of them want their clients to ride in Delhi because leading a tour out of that city would be all but impossible. All Soni's clients start and end their trips in Shimla. If all goes well we will reach Shimla tomorrow.

I was toward the end of the pack, constantly chasing to get to the next intersection so the group didn't get spread too thin. We had a harder time because we were fatter than yesterday, the holes were harder to find, and closed sooner.

After a roundabout Soni took us on a shortcut the wrong way down a one-way. Two blocks felt like two years worth of riding. I saw Kagen turn down a dusty alley. We made eye contact and he took off.

I waited till I was sure Phil saw me and rode away. The alley bent to the right and when I came around the corner, Kagen took off.

Phil should have been twenty seconds behind me but showed up two minutes later. Mariska was MIA. Phil went back to look for him and I checked my watch, 10:53. Phil and Mariska were back in just a couple of minutes. Phil gave the thumbs up and I merged in a hurry.

I hoped to see one of the gang waiting on a corner or the beginning of a roundabout. Even standing on the pegs, I couldn't see over the mass of traffic. It didn't take long to realize that our group was split in two. I made my way to the edge of the road so Phil, Mariska, and I could have a pow wow.

Phil felt confident that if we beared in a westerly direction we would run into Highway One. Mariska and I wanted to go north because that was the shortest way out of Delhi, distance-wise. But Phil was more adament than we were confident, so we agreed to give Phil a chance and stay as close together as possible.

We let Phil follow his nose and he brought us to the Outer Ring Highway. It took what seemed like forever to get out of Delhi, trucks, buses, scooters(with four people on them), cars, bikes(that's pedal bikes loaded with vegetables,plywood, rugs, etc.), and tractors fought the heat and each other to get onto the main road. I might fly down to L.A. when I get back so I can have a leisurely rush hour experience.

After a bit of sand riding, we skirted a concrete embankment and found ourselves on Highway One, northbound. We pulled over to have a drink, a pee, and to make a phone call. We left a message on Bill's phone to let the rest of the group know we were all right.

Traffic thinned substantially the further we got from Delhi. That's not to say that it ever got slow enough for us to relax. When you mix trucks, tuk tuks with up to four people standing on the bumper, scooters, motorcycles, cars, pedal bikes with carts full of rebar, and walkers on a road full of potholes where cows have the right of way, you can't let your guard down.

Phil signaled that he wanted to eat and I gave him the thumbs up, not so much because I was hungry but because I needed a break. We found a roadside stand that serviced truckers and ordered lunch.

They probably don't get too many whiteys. All eyes were on us. But they were nice, the food tasted good, actually damn good, sphinter challenge be damned.

We saw the group go by and ran to the road to wave them down. Carl saw us, turned around, and made sure we were all good. We hustled into our riding gear. It's not to fun to put all that stuff back on when it's well over ninety degrees, let alone hustling into it.

I saw them on the side of the road and waved but carried on. We didn't get out of the city as early as we liked and had to think about darkness. Chandragargh is a million souls strong and I wasn't looking forward to arriving at night.

The group caught and overtook me. We headed to a fuel station. I counted heads and realized that we were still missing two folks. Kagen and Bill were last seen in Delhi. But the agreed upon meeting place was Picadilly's in Chandragargh so we carried on.

Somewhere along the way we lost the Brits but they turned up at Picadilly's. We called Bill on the off chance that he may be on the side of the road. He was and he was standing next to Kagen and Kagen's blown up motorcycle about fifty km north of Delhi.

They are 200 km behind us waiting for Soni's boys to bring a new cylinder head. We will see Bill and Kagen in Shimla.