Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Long Road Home - revisited

Make it stop, please make it stop. The unending shaking side to side, back to back, bump up bump down and lurch seems to never end. While all roads may lead to Katmandu as the local saying goes; all roads within 35 kilometers of Pokhara wind their way to Pokhara first.

When one attempts to fly from a new site that you have flown to from a remote site the effort to return to home is much more arduous than a typical 100 degree Eastern Washington hitch hiking to The Rock affair.(The Rock is where we leave our car’s at our home flying site.) Launch altitude was 1750 meters, low to medium by hills standards and right on the boarder for sustaining lift. There seems to be a level, on stable days, where, if your above it your golden and below it it is real hard to maintain altitude. I was maybe 250 meters above the “bottom” of lift and when I left my meager 100 fpm climb looking for a better climb my fate was sealed.

The bowl to the left of Singdi, my take off site, looked to be perfect, it was at the end of a valley, well actually a branch of a valley, which I think was the problem. The bowl had a SW facing orientation with a lovely slope and high peak. I entered it with the expectation of blasting to the sky but found myself sliding ever deeper and ever closer to the point were there was no more lift. As I pushed round to the full East side of the bowl now oriented perpendicular to the overall valley flow I hit a solid 20 kph head wind and sink at the same time. This feeling, of getting truly stuffed in the mountains is heart-wrenching. I first experienced it at the Rat Race in Oregon with much the same results, although at the Rat Race there was a retrieve van that picked me up. Here I faced a sinking feeling that came with a “man your screwed” realization as I sunk to encounter a small LZ.

The LZ was a singular spot of flat/terraced earth in a sea of steep cliffs, jungle clad hills which lined the jagged valley for as far as my eyes could see. The terrace sat at the crux of the valley at the branching of my bowl of hope and the continuation of the valley up towards the Annapurna region. One stream joined the main river at this point with a 70 meter dropping face on the river sides of the terrace making coming in short a very bad option. There were trees that ringed the terrace anyway so dropping in was a bit more tricky. Terrace landings on the flat are difficult in a different way than those on the high hill. The space seems large but it slope downward making it difficult to spot a singular landing point. You don’t get to decide until the last moment which of 100 smaller, say 2 by 30 meter patches your going to land in.

Sleeping Buddies

Sprinkled among the 100 possible LZ’s each flat as a pancake but bound by 1 to 1.5 meter wall/steps, big enough to do damage if encountered on landing, were grass drying stations. I don’t know what they are called but they are ubiquitous made from of a four post structure with a long pointy stick coming up through the middle to about 10 meters high just for fun. Nice little search and avoid on landing to make life more interesting. Anyway the landing went off without a hitch, well maybe a stumble, as I have found that such small spots require an aggress stall at the end which tends to drop you a bit rather than a normal tip-e-toe landing for the cameras.

Once on the ground the full impact of my fate began to become clear. Not a sound of any human activity. No welcoming parting of yelling children, no honking of motor bikes just the noise of a stream and wind in the trees. It was sunny, which was nice, but other than that I was alone and a long way from home.

I took my time packing up and before I was done a young man came walking down the path. He did not seem particularly interested in me at first but we began a “chat.” Mostly with our hands and 5 word pigeon English. His left eye was red and he was complaining that it hurt quite a bit. I was asking / begging for help with carrying my wing and he eventually acquiesced after I flashed big enough Rupee notes. We continued our negotiation on the trail as he wanted to go home and I needed his strength. – We stopped by his “home” where his buddy was making lunch/dinner with lots of peppers and other ? things. His buddy didn’t want to help me get to more people and I was thinking this could be where I spend the night.

Fortunately Buda, his name, agreed to take me to a near by gathering of houses. Not a village but one of them was a “store.” This was to be my shelter for the night. The road/bus stop was three hours hike from where I landed and I landed at three in the afternoon. Only one bus leaves the valley system and it leaves at 12:00 noon each day. Spend the night it is. I was given a store room, a couple of blankets and some nice dohl bat for dinner – Rice and beans.

The next day the journey continued early in the morning with a different porter going the two hour down hill hike with three river crossings by foot and three over wire bridges. At the bus stop the boys were playing their game and I found myself engaged in a political discussion over a beer with a man who I figured was a democrat. BUSH bad bad war, what was he thinking? – Bill Clinton very great man but Monica. Obama: “what can you do, what can you do?”

After an hour and a couple of beers, the kids had pineapple drinks on the Preach the bus which was sitting at the end of the road began to attract attention. The driver mounted the powerful but ancient beast. Four or five friends ran to the back of the bus to push start it. Wow what a way to begin a bus trip. I was told to wait by the hut and they drove the bus up to the raised loading spot, actually the road was just lower by 2 meters or so. I tossed my bag on top and joined it.

Now for four hours I held on for dear life as the mountain road pounding proceeded with vigor. Back and forth up and down and happy to have a soft bag to sit on. We stopped to overload the top with straw, then unload 45 minutes later. Stopped for well dressed couples heading to wedding parties and the occasional group of children on the way home from school. The view from the top of the bus was stunning but my arms and hands became very tired in the effort to keep me on top. Riding inside is also bad but in a different way. While you may be one of ten when the trip begins a bus headed for the city is full in short order and you not only get the pounding of the road but the impact of fifty people in a bus made for thirty. I chose the top.

Finally after two days of effort the bus was swapped for a taxi and 300 rupees later I was in a solar fired hot shower and off for dinner. – At dinner Brad Sanders called and told me we were on to give it another shot at eight the next morning – Yippee here we go again.

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