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The ride that went wrong

The ride that went wrong
Over a cup of coffee at a roadside café, I proposed to Raju, my cycling mate, a ride to Sailung in Dolakha district. He jumped at the offer. The big day arrived and we left in the morning, our mountain bikes stowed into my car for Mude (148 km), a hill town, on the way to Dolakha. From there on, we intended to ride to Sailung, 28 km southeast. I felt good behind the wheel after a long spell (because of the Covid-19 lockdown) as we sped along the Arniko highway. The beckoning turquoise Sun Koshi kept us company from Dolalghat until Khadi Chaur.

We took a turn at Khadi Chaur and got on Jiri road, negotiating past a maze of twists, turns, loops, and hairpins on wooded hills. Small sleepy towns shot by as we made our pit stop at Mude (2,500 m)—a highway settlement flanked by crummy hotels and motley shops.

After a hearty dal-bhat and a brief respite, we hopped onto our saddles. The dirt road cut across small towns, hill country, and forested areas. We often stopped for tea and snacks, followed by a spirited chinwag with curious local folks gathered at the tea shops. We stopped by a village town called Dhunge since a biker friend in Kathmandu had advised us to rest there for the night. He explained the last leg to Sailung ran through an uninhabited stretch of forested hills with unrelenting climbs. As we had three hours of daylight, Raju pressed us to push along. I don’t know why I felt foreboding when we hit the track. The towering pine-studded cliff before us appeared strangely ominous. Soon, the climb got harsh, and we had to get down to push. Darkness closed upon us, and we fixed our lights on the handlebars. There seemed to be no break on the incline. Soon, the pitted track with rocks and gravel entered dense woods—no soul or habitation in sight. The hush seemed spooky. We had no clue how long it would take to Khola Kharka, our layover for the night, but we needed to figure it out. The ordeal didn’t end there. We ran out of water and food after devouring the last packet of biscuits. Disoriented, bone-weary, and starved, we plodded on. Then, I freaked out. Tired of hauling the bike uphill, I jumped into the saddle to pedal. Raju led a few paces ahead, shoving his bike. The rear tire of my bicycle struck the edge of a rock and I wobbled and lost my balance. The bicycle veered to my left, and before I could stop, the front tire rolled over the edge. Everything happened in the blink of an eye. Before I could gather my wits, I was sliding down the ridge—still straddled on my bike. I must have blacked out for several seconds. It was pitch dark when I snapped out of it. I heard someone call my name, though it sounded far off. Raju had come looking for me with a flashlight. Little by little, I got my bearings back. I lay on the steep slope on my back amid thick bushes. My bike lay tangled in dense foliage several feet down. Raju sounded anxious when he asked if I was okay. Though uncertain, I nodded. He appeared relieved. I still seemed to be in trauma. My mind cleared as I squatted on my haunches. My right flank and left hand hurt. After several seconds, I rose to my feet and ran my hands all over my body. Contrary to my worst fears, I seemed alright—no broken bones. I nodded yes when Raju asked if I could manage it to the road and Raju lugged my bike up. Later, he told me I’d slid some 30 feet down the road. We pressed on to Khola Kharka. My left hand was throbbing, and my right flank, close to my ribs, hurt a lot. Every step was agonizing. After an hour, we spotted lights on the darkened hill. We had finally made it. I got a big scare when I examined my hand at Chyangba Baje’s homestay. It had swollen to the size of a tennis ball. To nurse our aching bones and my injury, we tried the Chyangba couples’ special jhwainkhatte (a blend of millet homebrew poured into a sizzling pan of rice grain fried in ghee) and got drunk. The ride went horribly wrong. But we made it to Sailung the following day. Miraculously, the swelling in my hand lessened, and I even rode my bike back to Mude. [email protected]