Thursday, March 26, 2009

Up and down

Up to Sikkim!  Whirlwind flights and buses landed me in Gangtok, launching point for another mountain biking event in this tiny Indian state tucked up against Nepal, Tibet/China, and Bhutan.  Late, of course, due to little information on schedules and transportation in any event literature.  But in time for dinner and meeting up with many people from last fall's MTB Himachal, putting my bike together, and preparing for the next day's start.

After the usual speeches and bagpipe band, we wound through curving mountain streets until spitting rain and the realization that we were ahead of the guide vehicles (and off route) drove us under whatever eaves were nearby.  An hour, much confusion, and two false starts later, we arrived at the starting point for the first timed stage.  This is the second year of the race, and things were still not worked out properly.  Start times were 4 minutes apart to ensure good timekeeping and rider spacing.  But with two at a time, 50 riders, and 10-minute gaps between categories, that meant the last people were waiting for 2 hours!  Cold and bored...  Things were better next tim, but some folks still got in after dark.

The second day was nicer, and a little smoother, but I managed to get not one but two flats on the downhill race stage, the only kind of terrain I have any chance of getting a decent time on!  Sheesh.  That's as many flats as I've had in all my cycling days!  Then a long uphill race stage, followed by another big uphill grind to camp.  Are we having fun yet?  I elected to ride in the Army truck once done with the racing.  Yup, wussed out.

By this time, however, my lower ribs, strained by so much coughing recovering from bronchitis, had worsened from the exertion of mountain biking (OK, and skiing, but it didn't bother them much at the time!). I didn't want to quit, but sneezes were excruciating and it was starting to affect day-to-day activities, like lying down to sleep.  No more riding for me.  Boo.  I lent my bike to someone with a really crappy cycle for the rest of the ride and gathered emails from some of the various Indian, Canadian, etc riders that are the real reason I come here...

But to distract from that: as I was riding in the support vehicle the next day, taking a rest/decision day, a friend that I had finally met on this ride had a bad crash.  Arriving on the scene before the ambulance, which never actually came, I and several other people ascertained that nothing was life-threatening, but definitely messy.  Knees, elbows, side, and particularly face were pretty well scraped, and half of one front tooth gone!  The army doctor eventually arrived to treat him there, and a visit to the local hospital finished cleaning him up.

With Harsh out of commission and headed back to Delhi, I decided to follow to discourage myself from foolishly opting back in.  After the drive back to Gangtok, we were able to take a chopper back to the Bagdogra airport for only Rs 2000, about $40!  Nice views, though the high Himalayan mountains so close to Everest were clouded in.

Back in Delhi, I've gone to a recommended doctor who frowned, ruled out cracked ribs with an x-ray, and basically said I'd pulled all my lower rib muscles.  Rest until they get better - nothing that uses them.  Huh.  That's pretty much everything I do, and definitely out of line with my scheduled activities!  But I have to be completely better by the time I'm scheduled to work again in early May, so hopefully that motivation will keep me in line.  Ah - travel, reading, and sitting around eating too much, my favorite.  I'm still going up north to Uttarkashi to meet with some mountaineering institute folks about future work/collaboration - I'll just be careful... *grin*

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Solang a beautiful mountain retreat from the dust of Delhi, just outside the resort town of Manali. At 8500', it accesses peaks to 14,000' from the front door (that's a long day hike, but lots of ski turns!), and higher stuff with a few days' travel. Despite the low snow year there was plenty of good skiing, you just had to hike for it. And the mountain air has (almost) finally kicked the last of the lingering cough. Whew!

After a dayhike or two to acclimatize, Lin, Larry and I lugged our own gear up for a camping/skiing trip on Mt Patalsu. We set up camp in a beautiful a ski-in, ski-out location at 10,500' on dry leaves right next to the snow - nice to be fully out of civilization. Three days of skiing sun-softened spring snow tired out Balu the now-Delhi-based dog. She hasn't seen snow for a while!

The next trip was fully supported - carrying heavy loads is fine, but if someone else can do it... Four porters and a guide (Rinku) joined us for another 3-day camp on Brigu Peak, this time with a big tent and fresh veggies, dinner and tea provided. A rolling pin for the chapatti flatbread, iron handtool for digging platforms - these guys don't mess around. And they didn't use the backpack's shoulder straps - instead wrapped a wide strap around Lin's pack and carried it traditionally on their heads!

Lin and Larry headed back to Delhi while I stayed for a couple more days of skiing and socializing with new and old friends there. Sunil and Ravi and Khem and I skied/boarded Gulaba peak, up one of the most harrowing roads I've survived (and there are a lot here!), complete with one-hour delay because a frontloader was, well, reconstructing the road. It took a couple tries, but the Gypsy truck did make it out... A beautiful day with great people.

A mad dash to the bus following lunch with the same folks, and a trust-requiring 13-hour bus later, I landed back in Delhi in that dim orange sunrise that comes from so much dust in the air. Funny to stuff my skis in the back of an auto-rickshaw here...

Manali/Solang is growing on me, and I might have to find a way to spend more time there. I'm looking forward to skiing next winter, hopefully with more snow!

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Layover in Delhi

Ah, travel. For fun and profit, yes, but currently blurring the line of fun. Though not taking care of myself is my own fault! Mostly over the bronchitis from Aconcagua, I've caught a nasty head cold on the plane to make up for it. My four days in Delhi have involved a lot of sleeping and wishing this cough would hurry up and go away. Sigh.

But it's spring here, so the scent and sight of flowers is wonderful - my October visits didn't afford such luxuries. And the exchange rate is at an all-time high/low - 51.8 rupees to the dollar, which makes my surviving this trip on tips from Aconcagua much more likely.

I got to catch up with a few friends here - lunch with Darvesh, tea with Dickie, and an evening gathering of several riders from last year's Himachal bike race. Fascinating conversations for those of us still trying to figure this place out - the nature of Bengalis, assignment of irresponsible development blame, the significance of hindi script on sweets.

Tonight Lin and I head north to the Himalayan foothills in Solang, just north of Manali, for some backcountry skiing. There's eventually going to be a short lift at the local ski slope, but it's been scheduled for opening "next year" for about ten years...