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Reflections

I’m a long way from India. I'm sitting in the sun with an incredible view of the San Juan Islands, snow capped Mount Baker and the choppy white-capped water at Guemes Island (rustic) resort off Washington’s coast.  The sun is out, and it if we are lucky it may get above 60 today… the first full day resembling what spring ought to be since I returned from India a month ago. My friends have just left for a paddle with the seals and the bald eagles and the otters while the water is still calm and the currents are still.  Sadly, I’m benched from paddling letting my shoulder finish healing. (Remember the fall off the bike two weeks into trip where I cracked the helmet?  Turns out I also separated my shoulder AC joint …NO WONDER IT HURT! So now, three weeks into PT I’m regaining mobility and strength … and trying not to be stupid and delay the recovery. Luckily biking on it for 6 weeks didn’t seem to exacerbate the damage, though the doctor did proclaim it was “very impressive” which I think is the medical equivalent of “you are an idiot”.) So instead I am using the beauty and solitude to finish this blog … I finally feel like I’ve digested this trip enough to articulate the final chapter. I could tell the story of my India trip in two ways, and they would both be technically accurate but fundamentally incomplete on their own. India trip Version 1:  Amazing people, culture and adventure Daily encounters with people who were so warm, curious and generous towards me it literally took my breath away and made me hope I behave half as well to those I meet. Lovely countryside with beautiful, empty rural landscapes completely contrary to what I was expecting in one of the world’s most

4000 kilometers – finished

I don’t particularly want to go home.With apologies to friends, family and the dog, it’s going to be a hard landing back in the states this time after such an intense, alive, challenging experience.  I understand how travel can be addictive… I’m already pretty far along that path … and it’s safe to say this trip has moved me further towards being a professional nomad.But tomorrow I start the long trip back after an incredible two months in India. I arrive back in Seattle late night March 23. We rolled into Kanyakumari yesterday afternoon. Indian sparkling wine was liberally sprayed. Congratulatory hugs.  The end of ride posing and shooting.  And we were done.  Pretty anticlimactic after the daily unpredictable stimulation of this journey.  And yes - it was as hot as I look in this photo.As we were lined up for our group shot (40ish cameras take a while), the Indian tourists took photos of us … and then started putting their kids and families posed in front of us. Pretty funny – they have never been shy about photos, often hanging out car windows or staked out on the side of the road with cell phone cameras. Sometimes even lining up the family for a photo with us or individually asking if they can take a photo with me.  We will be in scrapbooks all over the country as those crazy Western cyclists.  So this was an appropriate ending.The last two riding days were relatively uneventful.  A trafficky, not so interesting route from Kollam to Kovalem resulted in frantic re-scouting (thank you TDA) and a much nicer coastal route for our last 90k ride into Kanyakumari.Processing coconut hullsThe ride into Kanyakumari was full of coconut plantations, and the industry that collects and breaks down the used husks into grass. 

Learning to cook this wonderful food …

Haggling over today's catchGreen cardamom pods are better than the black ones. Never use the stuff in the spice rack labeled “curry” back home. There is such a thing as a curry plant and it can be found in the US – or at least the dried leaves are available.  Garam masala is actually the main masala (spice mix) for meat and now I’m lucky enough to have a homemade recipe.I went to a cooking class in Ft. Cochin. I love food- I organize a supper club back home and to me India is one of the world’s premier cuisines and I’ve loved tasting my way through the country.The class was nicely done – more of a demonstration than hands on except we did get to make chapatti. On the menu were all Kerala curries and style cooking (aka lots of coconut milk and coconut meat), including fish curry, fish in coconut milk, okra curry (I now know how to keep okra from getting slimy when you cook it),lentils (dal)and a veg dish. It was a great introduction to Indian cooking. The food is generally very similarly based with subtle differences that make it work for what you put into it – vegetable or meat. Garlic, shallot, ginger, turmeric, curry leaves, and mustard seeds make repeat appearances in the base sauté. Masalas vary by the dish but generally include chili powder (she like medium heat, recommends Kashmiri), turmeric, cinnamon, cloves, cumin and coriander. In India it seems most of the cooking is done at home. There are various places that have coffee or chia with baked goods or snacks. And some little restaurant you can sit down for a thali or dosas.  We were in hotels often where it’s in many ways a false scenario for eating. In tourist areas

Kochi to Allapuzza to Kollam

Yesterday we cycled 66km south along the coast to the town of Allapuzza which is an entry point to the Kerala backwaters.  Today we are on a boat all day traveling to Kollam though the canals that serve as streets and roads for the villages that line them. It’s beautiful country down here with coconut and mango trees and wetlands filled with egrets and other birds feasting in this huge estuary. Cormorants are perched with wings spread drying them in the sun. Right now I’m watching white seabirds with grey heads dive towards the water to catch little silver fish jumping on top of the water to escape.  Even saw a real kingfisher – very fun after seeing so many pictures on the bottles of Kingfisher beer that tastes so lovely after a hot riding day.Yesterday’s ride down the coast to Kollam short, easy and beautiful. We were heading through fishing villages, some with colorful boats pulled up on the beach and fisherman mending nets after being out all night with their catch laid out in the sun around the boats.  There were some lively fish markets and many folks with shrimp or fish laid out on tarps or sale.   (Only one had any ice, and some smelled a tad fishy for my comfort level). I noticed a bunch of red, orange and blue yarn drying in the sun. Turns out it was a workshop where they were weaving bright colored mats typical of Kerala on ancient hand looms after dying, spinning and spooling the yarn on equally ancient spinning wheels. I watched a man operate loom for a while – a huge ancient wooden thing strung with bright threads. He had a wooden shuttle that he loaded freshly wound blue yarn and passed it by hand back and forth

Kochi

Hot.  Really hot. Sweating through my shirt hot. Hiding under my scarf hot. Making decisions on food based on if they have AC or seating directly under a fan hot.But that’s Kerala – one of two of the most southern state In India- and we are getting into the Hot season.Perhaps I'll make fishing by Chinese Nets my second careerI’m in Kochi (Cochin) and we have a rest day today.  This is a fascinating area – it was fought over by Dutch, Portuguese and then finally the British for control of the spice trade.  I’m sitting in Fort Cochin now, which was originally the Portuguese fort before the Dutch took it.There is a very diverse history here.  I spent the morning walking through the old Jewish quarter – Jews settled here and founded an enclave under the rule of the maharaja after fleeing persecution. There are still less than 100 Jews living here, but the synagogue is still active and decorated with Chinese hand painted tiles, beautiful chandeliers from Belgium and a gold pulpit.Dried GingerThe area around there – after you jostle past the touts for the tourist shops – is filled with spices and other commodities traders. Bags of cardamom, nutmeg and ginger scent the air. Tea syndicates and tea wholesalers take in bags of teas and re-distribute it. Up the street are grain merchants –with bowls of sample rice on display. Big lorries squeeze down the narrow Bazaar Street for men to unload huge bags which they lift on their heads and disappear down long dark passageways to warehouses off the street. It was bustling.I also went to the old palace which was built for the local (and displaced) maharaja to appease and keep the spice trade deal coming. Had some amazing Hindu murals, but what I found

Munnar to Kochi

What is that fog?Sun rising over the mountainsAs I got lower, I figure it out … it was steam created as the hot air from the hot rainforest below hit the cool air from the mountains I was descending. Wows… talk about a sudden climate change.Dam and mountain reflectionLovely ride today – the mountains at Munnar are just spectacular. Truly one of the most beautiful places I’ve visited. Covered with tea bushes, lovely trees covered in purple flowers with lakes created by a series of dams, the mountains are huge and views go down the valley.I took my time and savored the descent of 30+ kilometers. We passed a dam and started following a river as it sped over boulders. It heated up quickly –at the top I was in a vest and chilly- by the bottom it was sweltering humid jungle.Riding through the rainforest was full of sounds… birds, monkeys, insects chirping and frogs. The air in a rainforest even smells different – moist and alive.  I really enjoyed today … one of the best rides of the trip.Tea bushes Today we were supposed to ride 85km and then gather for a shuttle bus into Kochi. But I missed the turn at 75km and Stephanie made the same mistake I did. We continued to ride along for another 15km both thinking that since the other was on the same route it must be right.  Ummm … nope.  By the time we figured out we were lost and figured out where we were it made more since to get ourselves to Kochi than try to meet up with the group which was about to head out.Not really a big deal. We just went on a route that came in a little north of the city and when we reached a

Elephant Attack and Fallout

The day we climbed to Ooty, a rider/staffer was attacked and trampled by an elephant as we rode through a wildlife reserve to begin the climb.  He is injured but OK and going home early.   We are thankful he survived.  You can read his account of the incident here.My understanding is the incident was triggered by a car that honked and scared an elephant by the road which then attacked.  Elephant attacks happen, but are not common - it's probably the statistical equivalent of going hiking and being attacked by a bear.  I wasn't there so I won't publish details from hearsay.BusThe fallout of that incident over the last couple of days has impacted all of us – not only worried about him but it’s changed the entire spirit of the ride.Today we had to sit on a Bus on what would have been the most beautiful ride of the entire trip.  The ride up to Munnar, along with the decent today, would have been the perfect end of trip climax to a challenging and often difficult 2 months.  It would have been the perfect combination gorgeous scenery, a challenging climb for the physical stimulation I love about cycling.I was so sick and disappointed about it I started crying on the way up as we went through miles and miles of wilderness, forests, wildlife sanctuary, mountains, valleys, waterfalls, flowers and beautiful tea plantations that made the mountains and slopes a gorgeous geometric green.  Honestly, this was some of the most beautiful country I've ever seen.  Ever.  I just felt sick.  I never cry.  It was sheer frustration.They are doing their best in a difficult and stressful situation.  It is not easy when your boss has just been trampled by an elephant to step back and make truly informed decisions and not overreact.  I don't blame

Masingudi to Mettuppalaiyam

Today a cow stepped on my bike and I completed the hardest climb I’ve ever done.  Sunrise over the mountains we are about to climbWe stayed in a jungle lodge at Mudumalai National Park last night and rode out early to climb up to Ooty, over the mountains and descend into Mettuppalaiyam.  The climb that was described as “memorable” was truly memorable.  I sweated and huffed up an 8+ mile climb to Ooty.  I’ll even go as far as to call it the hardest climb I’ve ever done, which is saying something after tackling the Rockies and the High Sierras.  Very steep, much of it over 10% grade.  There were 36 switchbacks on the way up. I know this because someone decided to post a sign that said “Hairpin Turn” with the number (12 / 36) so we could count along as we slogged up.The valley below was beautiful as I wound up the mountains and west. I tend to cycle alone on hard days with big climbs … I find I do better at my own pace when things are really challenging.  But even I had to walk my bike – which I NEVER do.  Hit a village in the last quarter of the climb which was filled with people and busses and local transit and had a road running through it that was unbelievably steep. So steep that my calves and hamstrings cramped while walking.  So steep that trying to pedal meant I was going so slowly I was afraid I might topple over sideways if someone stepped in front of me.  They’d clearly just paved the dirt path that ran through the existing village. It was like they just dumped a truck load of hot asphalt at the top and let it run down the hill in the most direct

Baggy drawers and saddle sores

Warning: This entry may fall under the category of “too much information”You would think I would be experienced enough riding by now to prevent this problem.  But nope … my general ignore it and hope it goes away philosophy just isn’t working the way  it did 10 years ago.  But today I figured out why my bum was getting sore. And no, a sore butt is not normal even with all the hours in the saddle we are doing. That’s the number one question I get about endurance cycling, btw … “Doesn’t your butt hurt?” The answer is normally No.I’d been blaming the consecutive long ride days or wondering if the chamois padding in my bike shorts was wearing out. But today I belatedly figured out the culprit was the pants I’ve been wearing over my bike shorts for sun protection and to be more respectful of locals in more conservative areas – particularly when off the bike and walking around. Thing is those pants are too big now (which is remarkable given the unbelievable volume of food I shovel down the gullet every day) - not that I’m complaining that there is less of me filling them up.   So the pants have created problems in the nether regions by bunching up and creating pressure points …and a dreaded saddle sore.What is a saddle sore, you may ask? Well, it’s a nasty little red sore spot that forms somewhere in the area where your butt touches the saddle that can become a raw spot or worse can get inflamed, swollen, and even burst. (Yes, I know, disgusting).  The goal once you have one is to do whatever is necessary to keep it from abscessing, because once it’s an open wound it won’t heal unless you actually stay off the bike a few

Tour d’Afrique blog

Updated: If you are interested in reading my blog about cycling through India on Tour d'Afrique's (now TDA global cycling) first India bike ride in 2011, click on the blog category "cycling through India" for stories and ride descriptions.  Photography from the trip is available under Galleries.  Thanks ----- If you haven't already check out http://www.tourdafrique.com/blog/indianadventure (Now a dead link, sorry) This is the blog Henry Gold the head of the company is writing on the trip. The last post has a photo of me surounded by Indian guys titled "Love in India". Hysterical.  Lots of photos up, too.

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