Plans go wrong all the time on the road. As much as we prepare for things to go smoothly – sometimes shit just happens. It usually starts with something small and reasonably insignificant – but then something else happens. Then another thing, and another thing – until it all gets too much and we’re ready to book ourselves onto the next flight home.
But, if we do as our mothers taught us and take a deep breath, count to ten, and reassess the situation with an open mind, sometimes the lessons learned and the stories you’ll have to share outweigh all the shittiness, and you’ll be more glad than ever that you kept going.
I’d been with a friend, Shane, in the bustling Thamel district of Kathmandu for about 10 days. Pokhara, the country’s second largest city around 200km away, was a clear favourite for our next destination – but we hadn’t yet decided how we’d get there. An easy, but not necessarily comfortable, option was a seven hour bus ride through the winding, mountainous roads of Nepal. It didn’t take long for us to reach a unanimous decision after we stumbled upon page 293 of the Lonely Planet Nepal edition, where we found, written in bold blue text under Mountain Bike Routes: Katmandu to Pokhara.
With our two-wheeled stallions hired and our five day plan (courtesy of page 293) at hand, we set off through the midday Kathmandu haze full of optimism. With the madness of the city behind us, we were on our way.
We were quickly brought crashing back down to Earth, however, when a blow out stopped us in our tracks after 20 minutes of pedalling. My back tyre couldn’t handle the rough Kathmandu roads, but luckily the bike hire company had thrown in a couple of spare tubes, so a quick refit on the footpath had us back on track in no time.
Climbing up through the Shivapuri Nagarjun National Park with a few members of the local wildlife tagging along, it seemed the early hiccup was behind us. But it wasn’t long until puncture number two struck – coincidently, same tyre, same bike. With light fading and an ominous cloud on the horizon, we quickly got to refitting the tube. We were like a well tuned pit crew this time around – but were stumped when the pump didn’t quite fit the valve on the second tube.
By now the cloud was overhead and the warm, heavy raindrops had begun falling faster than anticipated. As we sheltered under a nearby tree, the faint sound of shouting in the distance became louder and louder. We quickly realised it was a Nepalese family living close by calling us to take shelter in their home. It didn’t take much convincing. We scampered down the bank and ran to the front porch to take cover from the pouring rain.
After we unsuccessfully gave the tyre pump another chance, we managed to use the family’s cellphone (circa 1995) to get hold of the bike hire company. As we waited or them to show up at the side of the road and darkness fell over the National Park, we realised we could be waiting quite a while…
Luckily, and rather surprisingly, the Nepalese Army stepped up and came to our rescue. Although their regular duties include patrolling the borders of the Parks to prevent poachers from cashing in on the wildlife, when they stumbled upon two bedraggled and disheartened looking travellers, they inevitably took sympathy on us. After “chatting” with them as best we could manage, the two troops invited us down to their base where they fired up their air compressor and – once again – we inflated one of our bike tyres.
Returning back to the family’s home, we were greeted with the warmest hospitality you could wish for. Despite insisting we had our own food, a never ending supply of Dal Bhat (a Nepalese staple made from rice and lentils) and homemade rice wine was offered to us. As we filled our stomachs and the rice wine began to take effect, we exchanged stories through their neighbour who had much better English than our Nepali.
By now it was pitch black and we had nowhere to stay – but luckily our surrogate family came to our aid, insisting that the small room at the bottom of their garden filled with blankets and pillows was to be ours for the night.
After a solid night’s sleep, we knew we had some time to make up for after a testing day one – so it was on the bike early with breakfast in the saddle. It’s hard to repay genuine generosity, and we didn’t have anything of real significance to give them, so we gladly parted with a few rupees.
What proceeded was a series of ups and downs – both literally and figuratively. For the next 10km we wound our way down the mountainside, with vast, uninterrupted, panoramic views of the surrounding Himalayas. This time, we really thought we’d put our teething problems behind us. But we couldn’t have been more wrong.
After coming off the incredible downhill section, I suffered yet another flat tyre. Not long after, a broken chain left me hitching a ride to the nearest town in the back of a truck with 12 locals – with Shane riding along behind. After assessing the situation in small, unknown Nepalese village, we reluctantly conceded defeat.
With the adventure over, we were back where it all began. We arrived back in Kathmandu on a local bus, the bikes strapped on top, along with someone’s poor goat. Debriefing the previous day’s events in our all too familiar six bed dorm with a couple of strangers a few hours later, it seemed to them that our expedition had been a total and utter disaster.
But personally, I couldn’t have disagreed more. We learnt two very valuable lessons that day. One: no matter how bad things may seem, they’ll always work out for the better – all it takes is a positive attitude and a bit of rational thinking. And two: people the world over hold the same, fundamental morals – and we can all connect with each other, irrespective of our culture and creed.
In case you’re wondering – we did eventually make it to Pokhara. Although admittedly it wasn’t by bike, but via the less than comfortable seven hour bus ride through the winding, mountainous Nepalese roads.