Monday 12th May, somewhere on highway 11, Himachal Pradesh.
Find road across river onto highway 11. I say highway, more dirt track. 60km or so of it, up and down mountains. After starting the second major climb into the mountains it starts to rain. Recently purchased coat is not waterproof. I climb and climb. It gets very cold. I'm soaking. Starting to shake. Climb, climb. Lightning, thunder. Oh good, hail. Mud. Shaking, freezing now. Climb for hour after hour, will it never end? I stop for a second by the side of the road in a steep pine forest, the bike dies. Torrential rain. It won't start. Really? Now? Really? I'm slightly hysterical, I'm on the edge. I try to kickstart her and slip off the pedal and crack my shin with mind-numbing pain. I might be crying, hard to tell in the rain. I'm ready to get off and get the toolkit out and, do what? I have to do something. Hang on, the kill switch is kind of half on. I click if fully off. One more kickstart, possibly the last one I have in me, my leg is numb. It starts. Thanking the mighty Ant God I push on. Another 45 minutes in 2nd gear climbing. Colder... Finally, the summit. There's a cafe and a sign for a guest house but for some reason I ride past. The first sign of life in hours and I ride past, I think I was lunatic, beyond reason. The road goes down. Oh, that's steep. And muddy. Just mud and rocks. I slide. It's not possible to stop, just slide. For perhaps an hour. The challenge gives me focus and as I descend I feel the temperature rise by a degree or two - such bliss, that slight increase in heat! I slide on. And on. Eventually I hit a cluster of shacks, one with 'Guest House' written on it. I stop, barely, in the still heavy rain. A hill tribe woman opens a door. Room? Guest house? I ask and she nods. I can't get the bike on the stand as I'm so weak, she helps me. As I shiver and strip off my dripping rags she makes a fire in a bowl in the room. I wrap myself in a dry blanket and shake uncontrollably for half an hour as I drink hot sweet tea. Thank god for these people. Too close, this one, Ralph, too close.
People come. There is smoking. It is good natured. These are good people, I sense. One extra arrives, not so welcome. He asks me if I want whisky. We drink three doubles quickly. He gets drunk and talks to the others, who silently listen, for hours as I sit and watch people. Eventually I retire for a nap. Now listening to music in my room for the first time, and writing this. Food soon, I think, it's 6pm.
- looks at map*
Realisation that the muddy steep hill for the last hour is the wrong way. I have 14km to backtrack tomorrow. Oh HELL.
Nap. Room is full of people upon my return. Cyclists. Nice chat with them. Am told I can continue down the hill and take the tunnel on to Kulu. I'm prepared to take this at face value given that I have no idea where I am. Map-staring offers no clues. Worryingly, after being asked to start my bike by one of the cyclists, it wouldn't. :( The guy said, an Enfield owner, that it's because it's too wet and cold, it'll be fine tomorrow. No choice. Le sigh.
I hurt and ache all over. Dinner was chicken, I never thought to tell them I was vegetarian. Shit. Had awful dal, rice, a roti, some odd spaghetti pudding. Now just want to sleep. SLEEP PLEASE.