Monday, March 29, 2010


Well, things are rarely what you expect - that's really true of almost everything (OK, except maybe some 9-5 jobs ;-). Nepal had been built up so much by other people and other people that the reality of what I found here on my own did not help my mood much for the first few days, but eventually the walking meditation that is long days and lots of distance helped bring me back to center.

In all honesty, I've found Nepal to be very much like India with two very important distinctions. One, there's a tiny fraction of the population, and two, there haven't been roads built to every village town. Yet. This means that you can have the idyllic trekking experience, away from roads but with lovely lodges and tea houses, in the high mountains, and there's a lot less waste and crowding. But there's still trash in the ravines and ditches. There's still one guy trying to fit his wife and two kids in the bus seat next to me. There's still tons of pollution, particularly in the city, and people still try to rip you off. They just do it with a smile instead of indifference.

All that said, it was beautiful most of the time, and I know how to get most of the above-mentioned drawbacks. I think many people who love the supposed Shangri-la of Nepal skip all the dirty parts, and just fly straight to Lukla and the Disneyland version of Nepal that is the major trekking circuits. There, kids don't bug you for handouts, the trails are wide, and businesses abound to serve your every desire as a trekker: chocolate cake, hot showers, telephone... you're still trekking, living rougher than we do at home, but things are pretty much oriented toward getting the trekker what he/she needs, and in a beautiful place.

The rhododenderons are in bloom, as well as white magnolia trees, and it's cool to see a forest sprinkled with white and pink and red across the hillside. I took a bus to Jiri and walked past Lukla (the fly-in point for our upcoming trek) to the edge of the park at Monjo in four days, then walked back in five. I didn't get to start seeing the really high mountains, but some glimpses here and there of snow-capped peaks are making me look forward to the scenery we'll get to soon.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Treading water

Not literally, but the last week has just been spent visiting with friends and trying to figure out what on earth to do with my two weeks of free time. A few plans made and fallen through, and ultimately my frustration with feeling like I was just here taking up time prompted me to change my ticket to Nepal. I'm tired of trying to figure out how to spend my time when I could be walking in the mountains!

I've basically just been hanging around Bangalore and Delhi, being social. Good to spend time catching up with people here - went to see the movie "Up in the Air" (interesting), met with some of the people involved in making Samim's RAAM ride a reality, finally went to Qutb Minar (a beautiful stone minaret in Delhi), and otherwise did a whole lot of... not much. I've gotten to exercise a little, but it's hard in crowded cities with bad air quality. So as always I'm torn between spending time with the people I want to catch up with and needing to take care of myself. Almost two weeks here reconnecting with friends, and it's time for me to run off.

So, tomorrow going to Kathmandu, then off to the hills. To avoid the possibility of being stuck in Lukla by weather, unable to fly back to Kathmandu to meet our trekkers, I'm going to take the bus to Jiri and trek to Lukla, then as far up the Khumbu as I can with the week and a half I have, walking back through Lukla to Jiri and the return bus to Kathmandu. That's the plan, anyway! I'll let you know in a week or two how it worked out...

Sunday, March 7, 2010

24 hours, 701 kilometers

You know how sometimes you hear about people doing crazy things, amazing things that you can't actually imagine achieving, and you wonder how they got there? Samim Rizvi, a good friend here in Bangalore, has done exactly that, and it is even more amazing to watch someone you've seen work to get there actually achieve what they've set out to do.

I met Sam in 2008 at my first attempt at MTB Himachal here in India, his first time on a mountain bike. (He was in my posting then, and in the CNN-IBN video clip.) Some weeks later I visited him and several other new friends in Bangalore, and over the last year and a half we have become close friends. He's actually a road racer, and has had his share of drama and thwarted plans since then in getting to this point - a 24-hour time trial to qualify for the Race Across America (RAAM).

There's no qualifying races in India or close by, European races are prohibitively difficult for Indian nationals to get visas for, and the Cycling Federation of India is so mired in politics and chaos that it is non-functional for the purposes of officiating an event. So his sponsor, Bulldog Sports (for whom he also teaches fitness and training classes), organized a solo event with media and the support of the many people who have been there for Samim. At 8:14am on Saturday, Sam started riding 70km loops on the highway just outside town with a vehicle and several other riders following in support. The rules for a time trial prohibit drafting, so there would be no pace line, just one rider with his head into the wind.

The weather here in March is hot, so by 2pm he had slowed a bit, suffering in the heat (maybe 98 degrees?). Finally the sun went down around 6:30 and things cooled off a bit, but that's when the 12 hours of cycling in the dark start. Much of the hype has died down, the other riders are gone, and just the people staying for the duration are around to lend encouragement. His family and sponsors and cycling friends (and I) took turns riding in the support vehicle, taking video and trying to help with positive energy, biding time at the Cafe Coffee Day in between. If there are any support heros in this event, it is the driver and crew of the van who stayed up and functional for the entire duration. These seemed to be the hardest hours.

At 3am, six other riders arrived to join Sam on his circuits and provide mental and emotional support. You know who your friends are when they get up at 2am to ride 140km in the dark with you!! Wow. Again, no one was allowed to ride ahead, but talking to the rider beside you and knowing there are more behind helps keep the remaining energy in your legs flowing.

As the sun came up again, Samim completedin 23 hours the 425 miles (668km) required to qualify for the RAAM, in the middle of the plains with the crew and two riders who had stayed with him. What an amazing moment in the journey - a sweaty hug can mean so much. Then, he got back on his bike and kept riding to complete the 24 hour trial.

Back at the start point once again, Sam got off his bike at 8:13am, having cycled 701 kilometers. His sponsor was of course there, Mom and Dad and most of the people important in his life had come, as well as the media and a famous actor in local film, to congratulate him in this enormous accomplishment. No rest for the weary: interviews, questions, autographs both given and received, all these kept everyone busy for the next three hours. Those of us who got no sleep were nodding off on the way home, and I fell into bed at 12:30 and slept for 16 hours. I can't imagine Sam's exhaustion, and hope he has gotten some rest amidst the excitement of family and media.

More on the RAAM later, but in short, it's a race from Oceanside, CA, to Annapolis, MD, about 3000 miles in under 12 days. The qualifying committee still has to accept this ride to accept his entry, but he seems to be poised to come, with Ronnie of Bulldog Sports set on making it happen. The same crew will be coming with him, and I'll be joining the team, for the start on June 9. Until then, sleep, planning, and, oh yeah - more training. :-)