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.

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