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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.
The 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 staff. 
The explanation for busing was that we were going through another wildlife park with elephants.  The rangers said there had not been an incident there in a long time and we would have been through outside the times when wildlife is most active. However, I understand erring on the side of caution, and appreciate that.  But it would have been very possible to just bus us through the park or let us take any of the dozen of jeeps stationed outside the park to get through the elephant section.  It was not necessary to ruin the entire day. I’m sure it also had to do with liability issues – if an injury happened again TDA would be wide open for a suit. 
The other explanation for bussing was that they were short staffed and worried about providing adequate support. And this I would agree with, too.  Though the reason for being short staffed is not only is one staffer out, but we have a weird dynamic of a huge percentage of people (1/3 to 1/2) choosing not to ride full days.  This requires staff to spend a lot of time coordinating pickups and transport.  Most are not sick or injured – why a support van exists – most just aren’t capable of doing the distance, or decide they don’t want to if it gets too hot or too hard – like a big climb. 
Up till now, this has not impacted my world.  But when we were bussed up that gorgeous ride, I’m convinced that if most riders were willing and able to manage the length and climbing we would have had many more options to allow at least the stronger riders to do the ride.  Instead, those who were prepared had to bus it due to the needs/demands of those who weren’t prepared for or capable of doing this trip. 
So I’m struggling with that.  As a dynamic that was allowed to develop on this trip and not personally about any rider, all of whom I truly think are genuinely interesting, delightful people.
In all the ride prep materials the company made it very clear that riders held a significant level of responsibility for taking care of themselves on the roads. That included bringing what you needed to navigate, communicate, repair the bike and being fit and capable of physically accomplishing the ride. Support was there as backup, if needed, willingly given and available for those sick, injured or with other needs.  But you as a rider should be self-sustaining.  I like that – I hate being nannied.
So when we rode through roads and traffic that I thought were dangerous, I did it with the understanding that if I thought it was too dangerous I could call for a pickup or figure out another way in. But it was on me to make that judgment call and act on it.  I dealt with my equipment problems. I dealt with my health issues. I was happy that TDA was there as backup and did help when I asked, but it was on me to take responsibility for myself. And I made sure I was fit enough to do the mileage required … even in a Seattle winter.
But the elephant attack has resulted in a real change in that approach, and now the choices and ability to make informed decisions have been taken away, and I’m afraid we will be bussed more often than ride – or even re-routed to accommodate the weakest riders, most of whom have not been riding full days anyway.
Now tomorrow we are being bussed into a city, too. 
So … the rest of the trip.  What’s there to say? On that horrible bus I was entertaining thoughts of leaving early and just doing my own thing. When the bad things about group travel out way the positives it’s often time to leave. I don’t know.  Not much time left anyway..

Today after the GD Bus I got on my bike and went through Munnar and the gorgeous country around it and blew out some frustration.  Felt somewhat better, but still have too much negative inside. I’m trying not to let my disappointment and anger impact others, and trying to recognize that while everyone is doing their best, hopefully next time they can either be more prepared to accommodate weaker cyclists so it does not impact those of us who are prepared or make different decisions about how they present and screen riders for this trip.   

Photos of beautiful Munnar Hill country:
Tea trees
Tea Processing Building
Leigh Pate
Leigh Pate is a writer, former political consultant and two time cancer patient and cancer research advocate living in Seattle, WA

8 thoughts on “Elephant Attack and Fallout

  1. Oh Leigh, I can feel your frustration. It sounds like this is a very different situation from your bike across America; that for some folks this has turned into more sightseeing tour than bike tour. I do hope that you don't wind up feeling that your experience has been ruined by so much bus-riding. I'm sure that the staff is stressed out beyond measure.
    Take care of yourself, emotionally as well as physically. Although I am not Buddhist, when I try to put myself in your situation I wish for much Buddhist enlightenment around the second noble truth. Good luck, Leigh. I hope better days are on the way.

  2. Oh, Leigh. I am so sorry to read all of this. I'm glad Henry is ok but I completely understand your frustration. I hope today is better for you. We're thinking of you often. Jackson is fascinated by India and chose it as one of the five places he wants to visit in the world for a school project. I'm showing him all your pictures!

  3. Wow Leigh. I am sorry to hear about this. Am glad Henry is doing all right. I do hope that you will be able to physically, mentally and spiritually be able to regroup and enjoy the rest of the trip. From my vantage point, it has been a wonderful journey and I am glad you shared it. Rose

  4. Hi Ms Leigh,Sorry to hear about what had happened to Henry and the change of plans due to that.I am happy that you had liked my state of kerala,especially munnar and on 17th you will be experiencing our wonderful backwaters,in a boat.Most probabaly I will meet you guys tomorrow in Alleppy or definitely in Kollam on 17th.

  5. Leigh I can imagine how frustrating this would be for you!! I agree that if riders aren't able to do a whole day of riding, they really have no business being there and ruining it for others. I was one of the slower riders on our crossing, but I certainly was ready to do the distance at my pace. I would have been horrified to think that I was the hold-up that ruined other rider's experiences. I do understand the misfortune of the injured Henry and am glad he will be ok. But, I can't help but wonder if the organization couldn't have brought someone else in to help out.
    As far as crying out your frustrations, I hope it helped – it often does for me in the difficult situations. Hang in there and try to enjoy the rest of your trip!!!

  6. It's all OK. No one to blame, just circumstances. Many of these riders are much more accomplished than I am having crossed Africa, Asia, the US multiple times or done Ironmen races. It's all good.

  7. Hey Leigh,
    I really appreciate how open you have been about the struggles on the trip. I think it helps all of us to remember things happen on these kinds of trips. Delving into our feelings about it can be healing in itself. It's also good to get the frustrations out even if it's due to bad luck circumstances. Since I'm responding to this a few days late, it's great to see the trip has resumed well.

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