Fathers Day Memory: Himalayan Mud Wrestling

Sep 1, 2013 by     No Comments    Posted under: Motorcycle adventures

Me & Dad

I saw a crazy video of a car tangling with a rockslide in Japan (see below), and it took me back to the epic journey with my Dad across the Indian Himalayas.  Given it is Father’s Day in Australia, it is appropriate to recount and celebrate the adventurous spirit my Dad has had since birth to now in his late 70s.

We (Dad, me, my buddy and fellow motorcycle novice Will Travis, and Dad’s almost lifelong friend and fellow moto racer Tony Martin) were on the legendary month long ride through India with Ferris Wheels.  72 at the time, Dad had for many years wanted to ride across the Khardung La, the world’s highest motorable road at over 19,000 feet.  And on this particular day, I came close to an early death.  When he had booked the trip several months before, I thought what an incredible experience to share an adventure like that with your father.  So I booked it, and wrangled my buddy Will, a fellow adventure traveller, to join.  Never mind that neither of us had ridden a motorbike before (my experience dated back to the age of 8 when I used to ride a Honda Pee Wee 50 around Mittagong football oval). Will was comforted by the fact that my Dad was 72, Will being under 40.  I guess I neglected to tell him my Dad used to compete in TT races, scrambling, motorcross and even football soccer.  Needless to say the 3 months learning to ride hardly prepared us for the challenges of riding on Indian roads, let alone the mountains of the Himalayas.

To make this particular day even more challenging, we had hit the edge of a 600 year flood in China, causing washed out bridges, loss of lives in the thousands, and riding through water at times up to our seats.  It was around day 18, and due to the flooding we had been forced off our planned route, and ended up spending the night in the minus 10 star Chiterkoot hotel, beside a raging brown river and surrounded by packs of hundreds of baboons.  Dad slept in a bed that looked like someone with ebola virus had bled out in, and I had wrestled some bizarre thousand eyed spider during the night.

Will Spanking the Monkey

So it was an ominous start to the day.  The dark clouds still swirled around, but at least, for now, the rain had eased.  Our target stop for tonight was the hotel at the top of the cable car at Parwanoo.  After many nights of “roughing it” we were all looking forward to what had been described as a bit of luxury.  It was meant to be a short, relatively easy day, with some lowland roads and picturesque mountain climbs.  It turned into something else entirely.

wet ride

I will skip the days various misadventures and road diversions, but after many more hours than expected we hit the mountain pass up to the cable car.  We were able to navigate around the endless snake of gridlocked cars on a single lane road, by using the muddy outer side, with only thousands of feet of drop to oblivion inches away from our tires.  Until we hit a major mudslide.  Apparently this is quite a usual thing in these parts during monsoon season, and hundreds abandoned their cars to take a closer look at the problem, and perhaps to inwardly laugh at some of the feeble attempts to move many tons of debris and mud out of the way using not much more than a teaspoon.

Indian mud games

Wood chopping

 

I think Dad had the bright idea of attempting to carry the 400lb Enfields across the mud, but after the first effort of around 6 of our strongest men it was declared a folly, and so we opted to wait (indefinitely) for the arrival of a bulldozer that somehow was on the way and making its way magically through the endless jam traffic of vehicles.

P1040336

It is at this time that the crux of this story occurred.  I stood, holding my bike, with a few cars and the large mudslide in front of me, some of our group standing on the other side.  About 200 yards behind me was a smaller slide.  My wet and maudlin silent wait was suddenly, and violently, interrupted by something akin to an explosion, followed by a comet flying a few feet ahead of my head.  It took a couple of seconds to realize what it was – a boulder around the size of a 44 gallon drum had flown off the hill side, bounced off the roof of the car next to me, and rocketed a couple of thousand feet off the cliff.  Had I been standing just a few feet nearer to the car I would, no doubt, have been carried off the cliff clinging to the boulder like Wilie Coyote  while Roadrunner bleeped in mirth.  While my brain freaked out, I looked up the hill and saw something that took my adrenaline-addled mind a while to figure out.  It is a weird feeling when something so abnormal happens that it is incomprehensible, but that is what I saw.  Directly uphill from me, accompanied by a most unnatural rumble, dozens of trees were literally “walking” towards me.  Or rather they were sliding.  In fact the whole mountainside was sliding – trees, rocks, soil – everything.  And because it was all sliding together, all thousands of tons of nature, the trees were staying upright in the very spot they were growing.  As soon as my brain realized I was about to be caught in the middle of a mudslide, I threw my bike to the ground like some ancient sacrifice, and sprinted down the road towards the earlier mudslide as fast as my booted feet would carry me.

As quick as the rumbling and moving mountain started, it all stopped.  The trees once again inanimate.  Scared the shit out of me!  To this day I think that the display of nature in destructive mode was the single most terrifying moment of my life, largely because it was completely uncontrollable and unpredictable.

Indian News

Much of the rest of the day was spent being thankful for survival, and even the wonky cable car ride up to the Timber Trails resort swinging a thousand feet above raging torrents seemed tame.  And so, to my Father, thank you for my existence and thank you for some of my life’s most memorable moments.  Happy Fathers Day.

P.S. Here is the Japanese inspiration for my story: http://youtu.be/8wWuH7MIeCA

 

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