RoadNews Newsletter: Up The Road to Darjeeling, India With My New
30, 2011 (Sent From Darjeeling, India)
Previous letters can be found at
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 www.DownTheRoad.org, 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 (http://bit.ly/90xo0b)
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.
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,
(http://amzn.to/ignx3Z) 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
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.
http://bit.ly/90xo0b I wish everyone well and thanks for
sticking around to catch my continuing adventures.