Sunday, April 24, 2011

Reflections


I’m a long way from India.

I'm sitting in the sun with an incredible view of the San Juan Islands, snow capped Mount Baker and the choppy white-capped water at Guemes Island (rustic) resort off Washington’s coast.  The sun is out, and it if we are lucky it may get above 60 today… the first full day resembling what spring ought to be since I returned from India a month ago.  

My friends have just left for a paddle with the seals and the bald eagles and the otters while the water is still calm and the currents are still.  Sadly, I’m benched from paddling letting my shoulder finish healing. 

(Remember the fall off the bike two weeks into trip where I cracked the helmet?  Turns out I also separated my shoulder AC joint …NO WONDER IT HURT! So now, three weeks into PT I’m regaining mobility and strength … and trying not to be stupid and delay the recovery. Luckily biking on it for 6 weeks didn’t seem to exacerbate the damage, though the doctor did proclaim it was “very impressive” which I think is the medical equivalent of “you are an idiot”.)

So instead I am using the beauty and solitude to finish this blog … I finally feel like I’ve digested this trip enough to articulate the final chapter.

I could tell the story of my India trip in two ways, and they would both be technically accurate but fundamentally incomplete on their own.  

India trip Version 1:  Amazing people, culture and adventure
  • Daily encounters with people who were so warm, curious and generous towards me it literally took my breath away and made me hope I behave half as well to those I meet.
  • Lovely countryside with beautiful, empty rural landscapes completely contrary to what I was expecting in one of the world’s most populous countries. 
  • Chaotic, interesting and vibrant cities that mixed the ancient with the modern-all with unending vibrancy, energy, sights and smells.  
  • Seeing the momentum of a frantically growing economy –for those who have benefited as well as those left behind … and the thirst for education and signs of people grasping to be part of it. 
  • Seeing the differences in the states and people as we traveled through, and really appreciating the diversity here – and being amazed by it.  
  •  Fascinating art and forts and palaces and history.  
  • Seeing – yet rarely understanding – the open spirituality and strongly held religion practiced openly and joyfully. 
  •  Some excellent riding days with beautiful scenery, gratifyingly sweat inducing climbs, and all the elements that make you feel like you cycled hard and were rewarded for the effort.  
  • Fabulous complicated fresh food that allowed you to literally taste the culture.   
  • An aliveness that makes my home and routine seem so painfully dull and predictable in comparison punctuated by the constant stimulation and guaranteed surprises literally around any corner on any given day – very addicting. 
  • Overcoming problems (like getting lost, bike repairs, sickness, injury and frustration) and the satisfaction of moving forward anyway that makes it sweeter. 
  • A trip challenging enough it forced me to think about my actions and reactions differently. 
  • Probably most importantly, a fantastic group of interesting, exciting and accomplished people to ride with who I learned from, and many who were truly an inspiration due to what they accomplished and their spirit and attitude.  It’s rare to be lucky enough to encounter a group of people like this, and that’s also attributable to the company that organized this trip and the quality and energy they attract.
Version 2  India trip: Can't believe I'm doing this ...
  • A rough start where in the first two weeks the air pollution triggered a bronchial infection and a secondary respiratory infection that required two rounds of antibiotics to clear, set off multiple asthma attacks and required riding in a mask for the rest of the trip.  
  • A bike crash that cracked my helmet and painfully injured a shoulder.  
  • Constant damage and repairs needed on the bike due to the pounding it took on rough roads. 
  • Roads and traffic that made riding conditions difficult and occasionally genuinely dangerous.   
  •  Fewer glorious riding days than difficult days … the work to reward ratio with the quality of the cycling was flipped.  
  • Some serious injuries that sent riders home – which was a sobering and frightening wake up call for me.   
  • A country that is still developing with many things I found very contrary to my western perception of how things should be such as trash and litter piled everywhere and basic sanitation issues that overwhelmed with the sights and smells of open sewers and lack of basic sanitary facilities.  
  • Begging and poverty (though less conspicuous than I expected). 
  • Rare but alarming encounters with rock throwing kids and groping, harassing men and boys that left me put off and grasping for explanations wanting to excuse the behavior.
Both versions are accurate descriptions. Neither is complete without the other.  

To gloss it over and only tell the good stories would be a disservice to the experience, the complexity of this amazing country, and what made this trip so memorable and something potentially life changing for me. At the same time I’m afraid the shock value of the negative may have overpowered the positive to those reading this, and I don’t intend that perception at all because I don’t feel negatively about this trip. 

But among the many things I’ve learned keeping this blog is how difficult it is to balance internalizing and understanding a complicated and intense experience without terrifying your family and friends or crossing undefined boundaries in how it impacts others sharing the experience.

What I can say is that I’m convinced that seeing India on a bike was absolutely the best way to experience it because you are thrown into the interaction with the greatest thing about India- the people. While in my opinion it’s not really a great country for cycling as we traditionally think of it at home, cycling forces you out there every day where you are totally exposed to the good and the bad with few buffers – and the experience is mostly good.  

It took me forever to realize this, but in India cycling was the vehicle to experience culture. Cycling was not the central experience or always a good experience.  

This is not what I expected, and was a source of frustration.  I realize how much I thrive on those good riding days – it feeds the part of me that craves a long beautiful climb and back-to-back long, challenging ride days and the technical skills of riding as a team with pace lines with other trained cyclists.  But once I finally recognized that was  not what this trip was about, I could fully appreciate it for what it was … the best possible way to experience India full on, all the time, no buffers. And that is pretty great.

The experiences that stand out for me are like the women in Ft. Dahmli who gave me the arm band as a blessing.  The family I met at the ferry at Ft. Cochin for a fun and friendly ferry ride where the 10 year old girl gave me a friendship ring and a kiss at the end. The parents of the bride who invited many of our group to his daughter’s wedding- and the guests who made us feel welcome.  The schoolboys in Rajasthan who gave me a personal tour of all the wells, vegetable gardens and important places in the village and introduced me to dozens of relatives and friends – including their teacher who was less than amused about them skipping class to visit with me.  The constant chorus of hello from children as you ride by and waves and cheers and smiles.  The countless people who cheerfully pointed me in the right direction or asked: What is your name?  What is your country? Where are you going?  

I’ll remember these encounters forever and am grateful for them. They are not possible if you are traveling the backpacking circuit or on a regular tour where you are insulated from people. 

If it was an easy experience it would not have been as rewarding. Who remembers the easy things in life? If it was what I expected it would not have been as challenging and I wouldn’t have learned as much from it. 

Would I do something like this again?  Absolutely. Would I bring a more appropriate bike? Heck yes. Would I take better advantage of the invitations to tea and dinner and into schools rather than worrying about cycling the distance everyday?  Probably, because if the best experiences are the encounters rather than the cycling then part of making the most of it is knowing when to say yes to an invite and when to enjoy the ride. 


Monday, March 21, 2011

4000 kilometers - finished

I don’t particularly want to go home.

With apologies to friends, family and the dog, it’s going to be a hard landing back in the states this time after such an intense, alive, challenging experience.  I understand how travel can be addictive… I’m already pretty far along that path … and it’s safe to say this trip has moved me further towards being a professional nomad.
But tomorrow I start the long trip back after an incredible two months in India. I arrive back in Seattle late night March 23.

We rolled into Kanyakumari yesterday afternoon. Indian sparkling wine was liberally sprayed. Congratulatory hugs.  The end of ride posing and shooting.  And we were done.  Pretty anticlimactic after the daily unpredictable stimulation of this journey.  And yes - it was as hot as I look in this photo.

As we were lined up for our group shot (40ish cameras take a while), the Indian tourists took photos of us … and then started putting their kids and families posed in front of us. Pretty funny – they have never been shy about photos, often hanging out car windows or staked out on the side of the road with cell phone cameras. Sometimes even lining up the family for a photo with us or individually asking if they can take a photo with me.  We will be in scrapbooks all over the country as those crazy Western cyclists.  So this was an appropriate ending.

The last two riding days were relatively uneventful.  A trafficky, not so interesting route from Kollam to Kovalem resulted in frantic re-scouting (thank you TDA) and a much nicer coastal route for our last 90k ride into Kanyakumari.
Processing coconut hulls

The ride into Kanyakumari was full of coconut plantations, and the industry that collects and breaks down the used husks into grass.  I stopped and watched 6 people make rope from the coconut fuzz.  One man cranked a three headed spindle, while three other people simultaneously placed a mound of coconut “hair” on the spindle and slowly walked backwards 30 feet, forming a twisted rope. Then they joined the three strands to another hand crank and twisted the three strands together into a rope.  Very simple, very labor intensive, very person intensive. But I’ve noticed a lot of the work in India –weaving, building roads, etc. – is done using low-tech, human intensive methods. Which I guess is one way to keep folks employed.

We passed beaches, and many villages –the south in Kerala seems much more heavily populated than the more northern coastal areas. It felt pretty developed, a real contrast from the coast between Mumbai and Goa which was more pristine.  Most of this area seems relatively prosperous.

Kanyukamari is the most southern point in India where three oceans meet.  You can see the sun rise and the moon set at the same time.  It’s a very real town – few if any other westerners are here. It’s mostly Indian tourists on pilgrimage to the temple off the point and people going about their lives.  When I arrived I broke down and repacked my bike, did some laundry and other chores so I could spend my day free doing a little shopping for things I wanted … particularly fulfilling my obsession with silks and textiles.  The fabrics here are so lovely – I went a little nuts on the silk saris (no, I’m not going to parade around Seattle in a sari but they each have 6 meters of gorgeous fabric that is too beautiful to pass up).

 I also had a good time eating today.  Though sadly I have to dial that back given I won’t be burning thousands of extra calories a day anymore. Local towns serve food local style. For lunch I sat down at a restaurant, they put a banana leave on table in front of me and filled it with rice, a fried fish- head, tail and all, and various sauces, veggies and chutneys.  Everybody got the same lunch, we ate with our right hand, and it was delicious. And had a banana dosi for breakfast this morning – bananas in a huge flat pancake/crêpe thing with sugar and sides of sammar, yogurt buttermilk and some sort fabulous vegetable puree that surprisingly tasted wonderful with those bananas. I’ll really miss this food.

Tomorrow I go back to Kovalem for a night, and fly out from there the next day for a very tortuous trip back to Seattle: Trivandrum to Mumbai, 11 hour layover, Mumbai to London, London to Dallas (6 hour layover), Dallas to Seattle. But it was free on miles … I keep telling myself that.

I will post at least once more as I wrap my thoughts around the end of the trip and my experience here and add some more photos. I can tell you now this experience was unbelievably positive, despite some of the intense challenges and events. I’m overwhelmed with the generosity and kindness of most everyone I met here, truly admire and appreciate those who I journeyed with, and I know I will miss the vivacity and aliveness and color and chaos of India when I’m back.

Namaste.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Learning to cook this wonderful food ...

Haggling over today's catch
Green cardamom pods are better than the black ones. Never use the stuff in the spice rack labeled “curry” back home. There is such a thing as a curry plant and it can be found in the US – or at least the dried leaves are available.  Garam masala is actually the main masala (spice mix) for meat and now I’m lucky enough to have a homemade recipe.

I went to a cooking class in Ft. Cochin. I love food- I organize a supper club back home and to me India is one of the world’s premier cuisines and I’ve loved tasting my way through the country.

The class was nicely done – more of a demonstration than hands on except we did get to make chapatti. On the menu were all Kerala curries and style cooking (aka lots of coconut milk and coconut meat), including fish curry, fish in coconut milk, okra curry (I now know how to keep okra from getting slimy when you cook it),lentils (dal)and a veg dish. It was a great introduction to Indian cooking.

The food is generally very similarly based with subtle differences that make it work for what you put into it – vegetable or meat. Garlic, shallot, ginger, turmeric, curry leaves, and mustard seeds make repeat appearances in the base sauté. Masalas vary by the dish but generally include chili powder (she like medium heat, recommends Kashmiri), turmeric, cinnamon, cloves, cumin and coriander.

In India it seems most of the cooking is done at home. There are various places that have coffee or chia with baked goods or snacks. And some little restaurant you can sit down for a thali or dosas.  We were in hotels often where it’s in many ways a false scenario for eating. In tourist areas there are restaurants catering to tourists of course.  Out in villages and cities off the beaten path a restaurant as we think of it is hard to find barring little open stands where there are cooking limited things (that are also delicious).

The woman who ran the class, Leelu, also has a homestay house and rents rooms out and she teaches classes right out of her kitchen.  She has a servant (her word) who is new and she is training him to replace the one who worked for the family for 25 years and died recently. She still openly grieves for him. She and her husband will see to the education and care of that man’s three children. She says her new servant is Christian and fled the state he lived in further north (sorry, didn’t catch the name) because Christians are being persecuted there. She is testing him by leaving 100 rupees lying around to make sure he is honest and to be trusted with her home.  And she says all this when he’s in the next room assuming I suppose his English is so poor he won’t understand.

She’s incensed at the “tuk tuk mafia” that has arranged commissions and treats visitors dishonestly and aggressively and is trying to organize other business owners to do something or pressure the police to act.  And she says when the Lonely Planet guy knocked on the door and asked her a lot of questions she didn’t know what LP was (it’s become the traveler’s bible, basically, and anything listed in there will see their traffic increase dramatically- and usually increase their prices accordingly.)  When Rough Guide knocked she had figured out she should show them her rooms, too and so her lodging and class are listed in Rough Guide. But NEITHER actually took the cooking class … hmmm.

The other five students in the class were pretty typical of the backpacker crowd-basically those who travel through India from major destination to major destination by train and immerse from one tourist filled center to another.  They started a conversation about how they felt that the only people in India who they interacted with wanted them to come in their shop or take their tuk tuk and how they almost dreaded interactions with Indians. And that made me realize how great it was to be traveling the way we are – into areas where travelers are so unknown that we would draw crowds and barring a few incidents I happily presume everyone will be kind and helpful.

Leelu’s homemade Garam Masala

1 cup cinnamon sticks
½ cup whole cloves
½ cup fennel seeds
5-8 pods cardamom (green)
1 tbl black peppercorns

Grind it all into a fine powder. Keep airtight.. Will last 8 months to a year.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Kochi to Allapuzza to Kollam



Yesterday we cycled 66km south along the coast to the town of Allapuzza which is an entry point to the Kerala backwaters.  Today we are on a boat all day traveling to Kollam though the canals that serve as streets and roads for the villages that line them.

It’s beautiful country down here with coconut and mango trees and wetlands filled with egrets and other birds feasting in this huge estuary. Cormorants are perched with wings spread drying them in the sun. Right now I’m watching white seabirds with grey heads dive towards the water to catch little silver fish jumping on top of the water to escape.  Even saw a real kingfisher – very fun after seeing so many pictures on the bottles of Kingfisher beer that tastes so lovely after a hot riding day.

Yesterday’s ride down the coast to Kollam short, easy and beautiful. We were heading through fishing villages, some with colorful boats pulled up on the beach and fisherman mending nets after being out all night with their catch laid out in the sun around the boats.  There were some lively fish markets and many folks with shrimp or fish laid out on tarps or sale.   (Only one had any ice, and some smelled a tad fishy for my comfort level).

I noticed a bunch of red, orange and blue yarn drying in the sun. Turns out it was a workshop where they were weaving bright colored mats typical of Kerala on ancient hand looms after dying, spinning and spooling the yarn on equally ancient spinning wheels. I watched a man operate loom for a while – a huge ancient wooden thing strung with bright threads. He had a wooden shuttle that he loaded freshly wound blue yarn and passed it by hand back and forth across the loom. He operated the movement of the loom with one bare foot – lifting his leg at least 2 feet off the ground and pressing down on one pedal, then stepping up onto the second pedal. When he needed to advance the fabric he stepped on an old gear that forced the cloth to move down into a large wound spool below.  Very physical- almost acrobatic work to operate that loom.



And this area is very heavily Christian.  It seemed there were churches – huge and colonial looking – every few miles all the way down the coast.   Also several trucks or vans with speakers on roofs driving slowly along with a guy in the back seat repeating the same phrase for miles like an intonation. I saw one of them pull into a church. One the only words I recognized wore North American and Telephoto … not sure what the chant was but it’s hard not to wonder if it was related to us.  Probably not… we tend to assume things are about us when they are not – just human nature to be self-absorbed.

Allapuzza has been called the Venice of India and is the gateway to the Kerala backwaters from the north. There are two canals running through the city with boat traffic, but beyond that it seems to be a bustling town where I saw tons of textile shops packed with Indians shopping for fabrics.

This morning we left on a boat for an 8 hour trip to Kollam. The canals we are traveling serve as streets and front yards, and people were bathing, washing and tooth brushing as we passed small black or brown canoe-shaped low-side boats tied up out front. Houses are colorful blues, pinks and purple and fronted by low rock seawalls. There are store where you can pull up on your boat for snacks. Kids are fishing and waiving.  We just passed a green street sign – 50k to the city.

There are plants in the waters- mostly one with light green leaves and a lavender flower, but also lily pads with red, white and purple flowers clustered together.

Right now we are passing dozens of inactive Chinese fishing nets set up in the middle of a larger waterway that are the perches of hundreds of white seabirds with colorful fishing boats filled nets and floats anchored in between.  There are men diving beside smaller boats pulling something up from the bottom and loading the center of boats. That must be exhausting.  And we’ve passed other shallow boats laden with grey mud or clay that must way tons but are being polled forward by just 2 men.

This is a wonderful place – a nice alternative to the flat bike ride on a national highway which was the original plan.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Kochi


Hot.  Really hot. Sweating through my shirt hot. Hiding under my scarf hot. Making decisions on food based on if they have AC or seating directly under a fan hot.

But that’s Kerala – one of two of the most southern state In India- and we are getting into the Hot season.
Perhaps I'll make fishing by Chinese Nets my second career

I’m in Kochi (Cochin) and we have a rest day today.  This is a fascinating area – it was fought over by Dutch, Portuguese and then finally the British for control of the spice trade.  I’m sitting in Fort Cochin now, which was originally the Portuguese fort before the Dutch took it.

There is a very diverse history here.  I spent the morning walking through the old Jewish quarter – Jews settled here and founded an enclave under the rule of the maharaja after fleeing persecution. There are still less than 100 Jews living here, but the synagogue is still active and decorated with Chinese hand painted tiles, beautiful chandeliers from Belgium and a gold pulpit.
Dried Ginger

The area around there – after you jostle past the touts for the tourist shops – is filled with spices and other commodities traders. Bags of cardamom, nutmeg and ginger scent the air. Tea syndicates and tea wholesalers take in bags of teas and re-distribute it. Up the street are grain merchants –with bowls of sample rice on display. Big lorries squeeze down the narrow Bazaar Street for men to unload huge bags which they lift on their heads and disappear down long dark passageways to warehouses off the street. It was bustling.

I also went to the old palace which was built for the local (and displaced) maharaja to appease and keep the spice trade deal coming. Had some amazing Hindu murals, but what I found most interesting was that the royal lineage – and society generally here I presume - was also matrilineal. So it was the women who determined the line of succession.  The women were the first who went to college. The men who married into the family came to live in the wives household, not as it is now where the women leave home and live in the husbands’ home. The women and girl children were more valued – or at least were equally valued – as the boy children (unlike now in India where the population is 53% men –many say due to aborting females though that’s now technically illegal).   Women overall had a more equal status  that still influences society  here,  even after  Hindu “reformers” sought to end matrilineal traditions.

So I have to ask how a more gender balanced perspective influenced the development of Kerala, which is the most socially and economically advanced state in India. It has a 91% literacy rate, the lowest infant mortality rate by far and it’s off the charts comparatively to the rest of India and other developing nations in all the basic statistics for development.  They did democratically elect a communist government that set into motion many of the systems and reforms that led to their advancement.  Not sure if women could vote then.  But I can’t help but wonder if this progressive mentality is in part due to the tradition of gender equality.

After exploring the palace and Jewish quarter I wandered around the top of the peninsula toward old Forth Cochin.  Fishermen still use huge ancient Chinese nets that require 4 men and hundreds of kilos of counterweight to lower and then hoist out of the ocean. The catch this time year is minimal- they told me the best time to fish was June and July after the rains.  Right now they are catching tourists, but I didn’t mind giving them a  ”donation” for the fun of chatting, helping hoist up the net and asking lots of questions and getting a close up view of the nets and fishing.  They were a nice group of men.
Chinese fishing nets

The shipping channel into Kochi is busy, filled with huge tankers to tiny canoe-shaped fishing boats.

The town of Fort Cochin itself is very touristy. It has the old Catholic Church and Dutch cemetery, and many buying opportunities and eager tuk tuks eager for commissions.

I’m taking refuge in a very western coffee house with the air conditioning on full blast. A nice place to hole up till my cooking class starts at 6 pm.  Very excited about that - we will eat what we cook so hopefully I won’t ruin it. I’m especially interested to learn about the spices and how to make the base of some of these wonderful curries I’ve been feasting on for two months and will be sad to leave.

You Seattle folks, prepare to be experimented on. I foresee many attempts at curries and naans and roti and other Indian deliciousness in my future.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Munnar to Kochi


What is that fog?
Sun rising over the mountains

As I got lower, I figure it out … it was steam created as the hot air from the hot rainforest below hit the cool air from the mountains I was descending. Wows… talk about a sudden climate change.
Dam and mountain reflection

Lovely ride today – the mountains at Munnar are just spectacular. Truly one of the most beautiful places I’ve visited. Covered with tea bushes, lovely trees covered in purple flowers with lakes created by a series of dams, the mountains are huge and views go down the valley.

I took my time and savored the descent of 30+ kilometers. We passed a dam and started following a river as it sped over boulders. It heated up quickly –at the top I was in a vest and chilly- by the bottom it was sweltering humid jungle.

Riding through the rainforest was full of sounds… birds, monkeys, insects chirping and frogs. The air in a rainforest even smells different – moist and alive.  I really enjoyed today … one of the best rides of the trip.
Tea bushes

Today we were supposed to ride 85km and then gather for a shuttle bus into Kochi.
But I missed the turn at 75km and Stephanie made the same mistake I did. We continued to ride along for another 15km both thinking that since the other was on the same route it must be right.  Ummm … nope.  By the time we figured out we were lost and figured out where we were it made more since to get ourselves to Kochi than try to meet up with the group which was about to head out.


Not really a big deal. We just went on a route that came in a little north of the city and when we reached a busy highway coming into town I flagged down a big tuk tuk.  Someone fluent in English stopped and helped explain to the driver where we wanted to go.  So we took the wheels off the bikes and piled them in the back and put the wheels in with us and off we putted 16km into town.   Actually it all worked out pretty well.  I avoided the bus and we got in a respectable 115km ride. Though this wasn’t really a clever passive aggressive bus avoidance strategy … really.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Elephant Attack and Fallout

The day we climbed to Ooty, a rider/staffer was attacked and trampled by an elephant as we rode through a wildlife reserve to begin the climb.  He is injured but OK and going home early.   We are thankful he survived.  You can read his account of the incident here.

My understanding is the incident was triggered by a car that honked and scared an elephant by the road which then attacked.  Elephant attacks happen, but are not common - it's probably the statistical equivalent of going hiking and being attacked by a bear.  I wasn't there so I won't publish details from hearsay.
Bus
The fallout of that incident over the last couple of days has impacted all of us – not only worried about him but it’s changed the entire spirit of the ride.

Today we had to sit on a Bus on what would have been the most beautiful ride of the entire trip.  The ride up to Munnar, along with the decent today, would have been the perfect end of trip climax to a challenging and often difficult 2 months.  It would have been the perfect combination gorgeous scenery, a challenging climb for the physical stimulation I love about cycling.

I was so sick and disappointed about it I started crying on the way up as we went through miles and miles of wilderness, forests, wildlife sanctuary, mountains, valleys, waterfalls, flowers and beautiful tea plantations that made the mountains and slopes a gorgeous geometric green.  Honestly, this was some of the most beautiful country I've ever seen.  Ever.  I just felt sick.  I never cry.  It was sheer frustration.

They are doing their best in a difficult and stressful situation.  It is not easy when your boss has just been trampled by an elephant to step back and make truly informed decisions and not overreact.  I don't blame staff. 

The explanation for busing was that we were going through another wildlife park with elephants.  The rangers said there had not been an incident there in a long time and we would have been through outside the times when wildlife is most active. However, I understand erring on the side of caution, and appreciate that.  But it would have been very possible to just bus us through the park or let us take any of the dozen of jeeps stationed outside the park to get through the elephant section.  It was not necessary to ruin the entire day. I'm sure it also had to do with liability issues - if an injury happened again TDA would be wide open for a suit. 

The other explanation for bussing was that they were short staffed and worried about providing adequate support. And this I would agree with, too.  Though the reason for being short staffed is not only is one staffer out, but we have a weird dynamic of a huge percentage of people (1/3 to 1/2) choosing not to ride full days.  This requires staff to spend a lot of time coordinating pickups and transport.  Most are not sick or injured - why a support van exists - most just aren't capable of doing the distance, or decide they don't want to if it gets too hot or too hard - like a big climb. 

Up till now, this has not impacted my world.  But when we were bussed up that gorgeous ride, I'm convinced that if most riders were willing and able to manage the length and climbing we would have had many more options to allow at least the stronger riders to do the ride.  Instead, those who were prepared had to bus it due to the needs/demands of those who weren't prepared for or capable of doing this trip. 

So I'm struggling with that.  As a dynamic that was allowed to develop on this trip and not personally about any rider, all of whom I truly think are genuinely interesting, delightful people.

In all the ride prep materials the company made it very clear that riders held a significant level of responsibility for taking care of themselves on the roads. That included bringing what you needed to navigate, communicate, repair the bike and being fit and capable of physically accomplishing the ride. Support was there as backup, if needed, willingly given and available for those sick, injured or with other needs.  But you as a rider should be self-sustaining.  I like that – I hate being nannied.

So when we rode through roads and traffic that I thought were dangerous, I did it with the understanding that if I thought it was too dangerous I could call for a pickup or figure out another way in. But it was on me to make that judgment call and act on it.  I dealt with my equipment problems. I dealt with my health issues. I was happy that TDA was there as backup and did help when I asked, but it was on me to take responsibility for myself. And I made sure I was fit enough to do the mileage required … even in a Seattle winter.

But the elephant attack has resulted in a real change in that approach, and now the choices and ability to make informed decisions have been taken away, and I’m afraid we will be bussed more often than ride - or even re-routed to accommodate the weakest riders, most of whom have not been riding full days anyway.
Now tomorrow we are being bussed into a city, too. 

So … the rest of the trip.  What’s there to say? On that horrible bus I was entertaining thoughts of leaving early and just doing my own thing. When the bad things about group travel out way the positives it’s often time to leave. I don’t know.  Not much time left anyway..

Today after the GD Bus I got on my bike and went through Munnar and the gorgeous country around it and blew out some frustration.  Felt somewhat better, but still have too much negative inside. I’m trying not to let my disappointment and anger impact others, and trying to recognize that while everyone is doing their best, hopefully next time they can either be more prepared to accommodate weaker cyclists so it does not impact those of us who are prepared or make different decisions about how they present and screen riders for this trip.   

Photos of beautiful Munnar Hill country:
Tea trees
Tea Processing Building