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(see all 3 book)'s RoadNews Newsletter: Up The Road to Darjeeling, India With My New Travel Partner
June 30, 2011 (Sent From Darjeeling, India)

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Greetings from Darjeeling, India - 2000 meters up in the Himalayas. The monsoon has started and I have settled down in an apartment to wait out the rains. I will write more about Darjeeling in a later newsletter, after I walk around and get to know the area better. I am working on reinventing, especially toning down the presence of my ex-wife. This is a touchy subject, yes, but seeing 'we' and 'us' all over the place doesn't seem right anymore.

The ride from Katmandu to Darjeeling was hard because my health has been run down by the months of stress and inactivity. Negotiating the divorce and finances took its toll on my well-being. But, as it has always been in my life, riding the bike breathed new life back into me. Sitting in the saddle is the only place where everything makes sense these days and riding again has brought me back to my old self.

I have another reason for my happier outlook these days, and that is my new travel companion. The time has come to let the cat out of the bag. Not that my girlfriend is a cat, nor do I keep her in a bag. Some sharp-eyed followers on Facebook ( may have noticed the presence of a little white bike in my photos and more pictures of me, obviously not taken by me. Truth is, I have a new travel companion, and not the platonic sort. I wasn't sure when to break the news. What is a respectable amount of time to wait after a divorce? It's not as if I can date in a normal sense. The type of woman who's attracted to my bicycle drifter lifestyle isn't so easy to find.

I'm afraid I had to go completely new-age to meet my new companion. Gretchen was already cycle touring in New Zealand and we were corresponding on Facebook with growing regularity. It started with a few random comments, some tidbits of advice, and somehow grew to regular Skype conversations. How shocking it is for me to be so modern and sucked into all these new-fangled ways of communicating, but there you have it. It even happens to us old folks, embarrassing as it is to admit.

Somehow I talked her into coming to join me in Nepal. Just to give us some private time, to make sure we were good at traveling together, I kept it quiet. Not that we had anything really to hide: I was thoroughly divorced before we got involved and Gretchen was completely unattached. In May we left Kathmandu together, our first trial on the road. I will admit, I don't like traveling alone. Besides the logistical difficulties (having no one to watch the bikes while I shop for food), it's just more fun to share the experience. And what better way to see if we were compatible: 600 km of hot hard riding through Nepal and a steep four day climb up to Darjeeling! I'm glad to say that we get along fine. I hope she'll stick around.

Here's a little more about Gretchen. She grew up in California, and moved to Taiwan to teach English in 2004. After shorter cycle tours around Taiwan, Bali and Vietnam, she decided to take a year off to cycle full-time. In 2010, she took off for Singapore and pedaled through Malaysia, Indonesia, East Timor, Australia and New Zealand. She's riding a touring bike she bought in Taiwan, is shockingly inept at bike repairs and rides uphill faster than she rides downhill. She's kept a journal of our ride through Nepal, which I will be posting soon.

So that's the big secret and now you all know. I've never been one to live my life according to what anyone else thinks I should do, and I'm very happy to have another weirdo to share my journey with. Although parts of our journey through Nepal passed through the tourist delights of the country, the majority of our time was spent in tiny towns and villages where no tourists tread. Off the beaten path is never as romantic as it sounds, as we spent numerous nights in bedbug-infested rooms so filthy we had to set up my tent on the bed to keep the bugs away as we slept. Nepal was experiencing some political unrest at the time. In the Eastern Terai region, we witnessed day after day of general strikes. These were never aimed at tourists and we were greeted kindly everywhere. The strikes kept all trucks and buses at a stand-still and I cannot describe the joy of cycling on car-free streets, surrounded by locals on bikes.

We entered India near Siliguri and started up into the hills. Riding up 2000 meters took us a good four days of hard riding. The hot plains gave way to cool forests of spruce and cedar. Following the excellent directions given by Laura Stone in her book Cycling the Himalayas, ( we finally arrived in Darjeeling, a hill station of the old British empire. Surrounded by fog and tea plantations, the distant whistle of the toy steam train and the chime of bells from the Clock Tower, this town is a moss-covered reminder of olden days. Already we've made some solid friends: the artsy couple who run the Petrichor Art Cafe, our excellent host at the Beatles-themed Revolver hotel, the kid with a dozen businesses at the Adventure Travel Internet Cafe, not to mention the many idealistic, wide-eyed backpacking students we've met. This is already shaping up to be a fine time, despite being grounded by the ceaseless monsoon rain.

I will try to put out more regular newsletters, including one that will outline my revised travel plans for the next two years. You can always catch my updates on Facebook.  I wish everyone well and thanks for sticking around to catch my continuing adventures.

Tim Travis
Darjeeling, India



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