“I’m going to succeed because I’m crazy enough to think I can.”
I have just spent the last few days on what is known to be one of the worst roads in India. To give you an idea how bad it really is, another cyclist described it as, “One of the top ten worst roads in the world, a road so bad even goats avoid walking on it.” It was so rough, in fact, that even on the flat sections I could only manage 7 or 8km/h. The “road” was a rocky trail that often passed through nalas (streams), and in some sections, it became so rough I was forced to slowly push my bike. The hardest part about this terrain was that I was unable to zone out or get into a rhythm because I was constantly having to navigate my route. This left me mentally drained by the end of the day. Many roads here in the Himalayas have small sections that are this rough, but they never last more than a few kilometers. This section was over 100km of tedious unpaved mess.
“Don’t be afraid to give yourself everything you have ever wanted in life.”
After I arrived up and over the pass I decided to spend the night in a dhaba instead of camping since my gear was soaked and another storm was on its way (plus it costs less than two dollars). Dhabas are tea side stalls that sell rice and dal (the most typical meal here), along with a few basic snacks. It costs less than a dollar for an all you can eat meal (they refill your plate as many times as you want), which is definitely a hungry cyclist’s dream. Dhabas are found just outside of cities, or in the middle of nowhere, and out here, they are especially popular amongst truckers. In this area, two or three dhabas make up a village. These “villages” are only inhabited for four months of the year, because starting in October, this mountainous region is snowed in.
“Everything’s impossible until somebody does it.”
For those of you who think I’m a bit crazy, listen to this. Starting from Leh, the town I have been stuck in while sick, there is a half-marathon, marathon, and even crazier, a 72 km ultra marathon that runs up and down the highest pass (5,600m). Sure, there was part of me that wanted to do it, but besides being sick and untrained, I struggle to comprehend just how these amazing athletes are able to run, any distance, never mind an ultra marathon, at this altitude. It was mostly Indians (especially locals), though there were a few westerners as well. It was great fun watching them finish, and then, true to India, the whole area turned into a giant dance party! I have a few great videos from the dancing, but, I can’t figure out how to upload them (I am not quite as tech savvy as I should be considering I grew up in the “Age of Technology”), so for now, you will just have to settle for a few pictures.
“The greatest part of life is to go to places you’ve never been before, and to live dangerously.”
As I was sitting outside a cafe chatting with friends, two motorbike touring fellows I had briefly met on the way to Turktuk ask me if I wanted to ride up part of the pass with them in order to watch the sunset above the city. Motorcycle ride and a sunset, of course!
“The cure for boredom is curiosity. There is not cure for cuiosity.”
As I am curled up under my down sleeping bag sick in bed, I have decided to share with you some of the funny or unusual things I have encountered here in India.
“Never trust anyone who has not brought a book with them.”
Well unfortunately my cycling had been postponed a few days because the morning I was set to leave, I came down with a fever. At first I was frustrated, I wanted to be on my bike again, camping, out of the city of Leh which is such a tourist hub. I realized though, that attempting to cycle up a pass with a pounding headache and fever is just about impossible. My health is crucial to this trip as I am relying on myself, and only myself, to get me from place to place, and with three years of open road ahead, I guess taking a few extra days off really isn’t that bad. So I decided to look on the bright side and spend a few solid days reading great books, and listening to interesting podcasts. For the first few days it was nice, like a little vacation in a vacation. I thought I would have ample time to read everyday throughout this trip, but bike touring has turned out to be a full time job (in the best way possible) so it was nice to have a few days to get some reading in. By day three though, I was sick of always being too hot or cold due to my fever, and I wanted nothing more than to get rid of my constant pounding head ache.
“And then I realized, adventure was the best way to learn.”
Though I could spend months exploring the mountains and valleys in Ladakh, unfortunately it is time for me to start heading south in order to beat the snow which typically starts near the end of September. To do so, I will be taking the one road that leads down, the Leh to Manali highway (the same road I drove on to get up here), and I will be adding on a large loop detour in order to explore two beautiful lakes. All in all it will be over 700km, and I’m guessing it will take me close to three weeks. I will not have internet (seeing as I will literally be in the middle of nowhere, there is not even electricity or permanent civilization in most parts), so I will continue to write blog entries and post them in a few weeks once I have reached the town of Manali.
“The camera is an instrument that teaches people how to see without a camera.”
The lady who ran my guest house (and her baby cow).
“And then there are times when it doesn’t need to make sense. It just simply is, and it is all you need to believe in.”
Instead of cycling the 200km back to Leh along the same route we had just accomplished, my British cycling buddy and I decided to try our luck at hitchhiking. After two hours without cars, a few army trucks passed where we were waiting and graciously picked us up. As we hopped into the back of one of the massive trucks, we were greeted by a dozen very friendly Seek Indian army men. They all had dark green turbans and goggles, and smiled and laughed at us as we joined them for a ride until the next army base camp. From there, the driver hooked us up with another truck who was going another 50km farther, but not before shaking our hands and handing us each a bar of delicious chocolate. Our second ride of the day took place amongst many boxes and gear, with two other soldiers, in the back of an equally massive truck. During both of these rides, each time we passed through a village the children would run after the trucks with their arms out wide asking for candy. I have never wished I had a bag of lollipops to hand out more than whilst in those trucks.
“May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view.”
After climbing up and over the highest pass, the English lad I had adopted along for this four day adventure and I rode into what is referred to as Numbra Valley. Because this road approaches both China and Pakistan, the military presence is very heavy, though there are not many other inhabitants. There are few villages between Leh and Tukturk (200km), and Tukturk is the end of the road (unless you are Indian military) north into the Indian Himalayas. Since most of the valley is no higher than 3,300m, there are animals, such as donkeys and large yaks, who roam freely along the river, and where there are people, there are trees and a bit of refreshing green. The rest of the landscape is barren rock with a few sand dunes between the high peaks.