Birds squawking, motorbikes, people talking in foreign languages, and footsteps in the hallway are just a few of the audible sounds from my room in the Kathmandu GuestHouse. After 2 days of traveling, including a 10 hour layover in Doha, Qatar and a series of flights (4 hours, 12 hours, 4 hours were the flight legs), we landed at the Kathamandu airport. The airport is made of red brick and we are shuffling down the hall with hundreds of people from different nationalities as we enter customs. A fresh stamp of ink went on a page in my passport, a stamp that will be more than just fading ink when I look back at it.
We wait at the baggage claim with Jeff and our new friend, Peter, holding our breaths and making nervous jokes with our eyes glued to the conveyer belt expectantly waiting for our luggage and bikes. The last time Jeff and I traveled internationally, our bikes and luggage were lost barring total disaster. We were excited and relieved when we saw the familiar shape if all our stuff.
As we exited the airport, we were greeted by the friendly smile of Yak Attack promoter, Phil Evans, and an entourage of very helpful Nepalese. We got on the bus to get to the hotel and I realized the that the steering wheel was on the opposite side. Here, they drive on the left side of the road. The traffic was unlike anything I have ever seen. I’ve been on some crazy roads on the Caribbean islands, but this made those look tame. There are no lanes, no stop lights, no stop signs, with tons of buses, motorbikes, cars, bicycles and pedestrians going every which way. Honk and go. The streets are also not marked and I was thankful I didn’t have to drive. We would get a taste of it the next day. The city was very hazy from pollution and all you can see were outlines of mountains in the distance.
We arrived at the Kathmandu GuestHouse and built our bikes. The EVOC case did its job. Our bikes made it halfway around the world without any damage. The room is small but cozy. Some of the lights work, but the power for the fan and the outlets works very, very sporadically. We have a private shower with hot water and a flush toilet.
Peter, Jeff, and I went out for some food after building bikes. We stepped out into the street in Thamel (the tourist district of Nepal). The street is lined with shops sporting all the local wares including prayer flags, singing bowls, icons of Ganesh, and pashmina, pashmina, pashmina. We also realized that it’d be easy to get lost since everything looks like same and there are no street labels. We chose a restaurant for its rooftop garden and climbed about ten flights of stairs. From there, we could see across the other rooftops of Kathmandu. A lot of people have rooftop gardens, hand wash and hang their clothes, and we even saw a goat on the adjacent rooftop being fed.
The travel fatigue and 13 hour time difference kicked in. We had been up for almost 24 hours and despite getting decent sleep on the Trans Atlantic flight, I was curled up and passed out at 6:30 PM. I woke up at 3:30 AM starving and realized it was dinner time at home. After a nutrition bar and laying awake for an hour, I went back too sleep.
We were up at 6:30AM for breakfast. I was curious what a Nepali a breakfast would be like and was surprised to see mini pancakes, scrambled eggs with veggies, potatoes, granola, and mini sausages. I am not sure if that is a “westernized” menu for tourists, or if that’s also traditional breakfast food here. We met with Mangal Krishna Llama, a local racer and Yak Attack veteran for a ride. Peter, Per (a Swedish rider here to race), Jeff, and I set off.
In the back of my mind, I thought “ahhh, we have to ride our bikes through town in all that traffic?” It was surprisingly not so bad. I think it’d be the biggest challenge in a car, but everyone knows how to deal with pure road chaos. The hardest part was riding on the left side of the road and passing on the right. I definitely swerved the “wrong” way once! I was thankful we were in a small group, but it was definitely had some sketchy maneuvering. That was probably the highest my heart rate was the whole ride with several shots of adrenaline! We headed into the hills above the city. There is tons of pollution, even just outside of the city. The climbs are very steep (and Mangal made it look effortless with his snappy spin). We stopped at the top of the climb at a small cafe and had some Nepalese black tea. The small steaming glass of liquid was sweet and fragrant on my tongue. We watched children walking to school, all in uniform with little neckties. A packed bus would go by and slow down, but not to a complete stop and a local would jump on. There was a lady hand- washing dishes outside. We continued on our way and rode a really fun piece of singletrack. There was a huge drop off on one side of the trail and we kept popping out in between houses. Old, weathered ladies were carrying large baskets on their back full of plants up the hills. There was a section where you had to go right behind a cow. I cautiously scooted by. Per wasn’t so lucky – the cow flinched and Per got pushed into a shed. There were lots of women outside hand washing dishes and clothes, cute kids, men with colorful hats, baby goats, dogs, chickens, and honking motorbikes were our obstacles. The women were all dressed in colorful traditional attire. There were rows of yellow flowers.
Coming back into town, I made sure to wear my helmet cam for the “technical” riding through the city. The scariest was trying to go across a busy street because the cross traffic never stops completely and there is so much traffic that there is never a window. You have to confidently jump out into oncoming traffic and take your line. I was feeling normal in the morning, but around 3 PM (2AM) at home, I feel the lag. Mangal took us to a restaurant for lunch and I had my first Dal Baat – a platter with white rice, spicy lentil sauce, a reddish color sauce, chicken, spinach, hot sauce, potato, and pickle. Mix it all together and you have a plate of goodness. The traditional way to eat it is with your hands.
The race starts on Saturday. Tomorrow will be a day of planning.
We have wifi at the guesthouse, but I will it not be taking my iPad during the races so I will be updating this site post race. We will get two more days here where we will immerse ourselves in all the tourist sites. I will try to do some Facebook posts during the stretch of racing, but connection will be limited. I posted some photos on my athlete Facebook and twitter pages if you want to have a look. www.twitter.com/looneysonya and www.facebook.com/looneysonya
Thanks for reading. I will have an arsenal of photo and video when I get back that I can’t wait to share!