Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Shark Week X - Fuck You, China!


Shark Week X is on! 

For the uninitiated, Shark Week is not about fish and (so far) has nothing to do with the Discovery Channel.  It's a namesake given to an event attended by fans of a particular motorcycle.  My motorcycle is a 2010 Harley-Davidson Road Glide.  I named her Hester in reference to the paint color - Scarlett Red.  There's a bit of double entendre in the name, but you have to have read The Scarlett Letter and think deep about bikers to get it.  But I digress.

Shark-Nosed Hester



Road Glide fans refer to our bike as the "sharknose" or "shark" due to the shape of the fairing. [pic]  Back then, appreciating the Road Glide was an acquired taste.  In fact, many people hated it.  I am a function-over-form rider and there are numerous physical and functional aspects of the Road Glide that I appreciated.  I knew in 2009 that I wanted to upgrade my ride to a touring platform (some call it a Geezer Glide) and it wasn't long thereafter that I could comfortably ride 1,000 miles a day - repeatedly.  Beyond that, I like the distinctive look.  Turns out, I discovered I was in good company through on-line forums and other dedicated Road Glide groups.  Then in 2015, Harley-Davidson released a redesigned version of the Road Glide and its popularity skyrocketed.  Prior to 2015, spotting a sharknose was uncommon.  Now, it's the most popular Harley-Davidson model.  As I mentioned above, Hester is a 2010 with the original (less popular) fairing.  I hang on to Hester for four reasons:





  1. We've ridden to 49 states together on all the scenic routes.  We have history.
  2. I have plans to retire in four years and dropping $30,000 on a new motorcycle is not in my financial plan.  I plan to ride Hester till the wheels fall off.  New wheels are cheaper than a new bike.
  3. I rebuilt and repainted Hester in 2016 after totaling her in an accident and rebuilt the motor in 2019.  She's a beauty.
  4. Riding a pre-2015 year model reminds the world that I knew the Road Glide was cool before the masses caught on.
Back to Shark Week.  Every year, a group of us gathers somewhere in the country to celebrate favorite motorcycles, ride the local scenic routes, bust each others' balls, and most of all, just enjoy each others' company.  As this is our tenth year, this is Shark Week X; hereafter referred to as SWX.

The first Shark Week (SWI) was held in Gettysburg, PA in 2011. Roughly 30 Road Glides showed up from as far away as California, Florida, and even some from Canada.  I missed it.  I wanted to go, but had just returned from my Alaska trip.  Had I known then what I know, I would have made the trip.  The camaraderie is as close to family or military bonds as I have ever experienced.  Outsiders think it's just a small rally.  Shark Week has to be experienced to be understood.  Just as I was content riding the "ugly duckling" in 2010, I am equally content being part of the Shark Week weirdo crowd.  A review of the first nine Shark Weeks follows:

SWI       2011    Gettysburg, PA
SWII      2012   LeClaire, IA
SWIII    2013    St. George, UT
SWIV    2014    Gorham, NH/ME
SWV     2015    Kerrville, TX
SWVI    2016    Canmore, Alberta, Canada
SWVII   2017    Cherokee, NC
SWVIII  2018    Durango, CO
SWIX    2019    DEadwood/Sturgis, SD
SWX     2020    Gettysburg, PA

I've been fortunate to attend all of the Shark Weeks except SWI and SWVI.  I already discussed SWI.  I missed SWVI because I was recovering from shoulder surgery after my Australian Outback adventure.

Thanks to the Wuhan China virus, SWX almost didn't happen.  In fact, as of this writing it still hasn't.  I'm typing this on Tuesday night and am scheduled to ride out Friday morning.  Our country's politicized handling of the China virus has thrown a wrench into our tenth anniversary event and many of our attendees have canceled.  Some bailed out of financial hardship.  Some bailed on legitimate fears of the virus. Others can't go due to work restrictions.  A few others refuse to go because they say wearing a mask infringes on their personal liberties.  I call bullshit on that.  Not going to Shark Week because of a silly mask is a far greater infringement on my personal liberties.  Again I digress.

SWX is heading back home to Gettysburg - where it all started.  I will ride out Friday, July 10th and head back home Friday July 17th.  My itinerary will have me stop somewhere in northern Kentucky Friday evening with a shorter ride into Pittsburgh, PA on Saturday.  There, I'll join a group of riders from all over the country for a pre-SWX get-together and then on Sunday, we will all ride to Gettysburg via the historic and scenic Lincoln Highway.  Those who know me know that I don't do well in large crowds of bikers riding slow and stopping often.  I make exceptions for Shark Week and the ride into Gettysburg is only 300 miles.  I can handle it for one day.  I'm mulling over the idea of riding straight home (1,400 miles) on Friday.  That will depend on how the week goes.

Here are some images of my previous Shark Weeks.

SWII - LeClaire, Iowa 2012

SWIII - St. George, Utah 2013


SWIV - Gorham, Vermont 2014

 
SWV - Kerrville, Texas 2015














SWVI - Canmore, Alberta Canada 2016


SWVII - Cherokee, North Carolina 2017
SWVIII - Durango, Colorado 2018


SWIX - Sturgis, South Dakota 2019


If you want to follow along as I ride to, from, and around SWX, you can follow the link below.  It requires me to remember to enable tracking form my phone and updates might be delayed a bit as I ride in and out of cellular service.  But if you want to play along at home, use this LINK.

I'll try to upload pics and updates from the event during the week, but I promise nothing as I tend to get sidetracked by the activities.

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

A Possible Break in My Direction?

“They say a person needs just three things to be truly happy in this world: someone to love, something to do, and something to hope for.”
Tom Bodett

The article below is from The Nepali Times.  It breathes life into the possibility that I could actually travel in September.  That said, I'm not holding my breath (pun intended) as I wait.  I am continuing my anaerobic and oxygen deprivation training regimen and have continued to eat a strict Keto diet.  I expect to be fifty pounds down by the end of June.  Fifty pounds leaves me room to start tactical weight training for specific muscle groups.  I was wearing size 38 (waist) pants and am now comfortably wearing size 33.  People who haven't seen me in a while say I look skinny.  I'll never be skinny; nor do I want to.  I'm just happy to not be the fattest guy in the room.


The Coronavirus Control and Management Committee (CCMC) is finalising a plan to lift the lockdown in five stages when the latest extension expires on 14 June after nearly three months. This comes as many businesses started defying lockdown rules in the past week, and increasing calls for the restrictions to be eased.

Following three days of deliberations over the weekend, the committee headed by Defence Minister Ishwar Pokhrel is taking the plan to completely lift the lockdown in phases over the next two-and-half months to the Cabinet this week.
Earlier, the committee had planned a 6-stage opening up over three months, but has reduced it to five phases with each lasting a fortnight. The first stage will lay down the guidelines for partially opening businesses and services in the dairy and agriculture sectors.

“The strategy will be presented to the Cabinet on Wednesday, and will go into effect starting 15 June,” a source in the Committee told Nepali Times.
 
Monitoring and implementation of the strategy is being handed over to local governments, people’s representatives, Nepal Police and Armed Police Force. The Nepal Army will also be on standby if needed.

Under this strategy, within the first fortnight after 15 June, department stores, corner provision shops, gas depots and drinking water supplies will be eased. Restaurants will be allowed home delivery within their locality, and construction activities can resume, as well as banking services with limited staff and physical distancing measures in place.

Although some of these facilities have already been opened, the new element in the plan is the re-starting of domestic flights with 40% occupancy from next week. Regular international flights are on hold till 1 July.

All medical services and hospitals will be allowed to open in the first stage while maintaining distance, but only after all health care staff are tested and quarantined if necessary. Government offices and the private sector can start opening, and newspapers will be allowed to distribute.

The conduct of the first stage will be evaluated, and the next phase will go into effect with necessary tweaking. Private vehicles will be allowed back partially in the second fortnight, and some scheduled international flights will be allowed to resume.

The second stage will also permit small industries and factories to re-open but only after staff are tested and required to stay and eat in the premises.
The third stage will let all stores to be fully open, transport for essential services will be allowed back on the streets and more private transport allowed in cities with odd-even number plates and only allowed to travel within district boundaries.

Public transport will be allowed, but with only half the passenger capacity. Schools will be opened with precautions and distancing measures in place, and they can start admitting new students.

Also in the third stage, the government will designate districts on the basis of confirmed coronavirus cases and start implementing full opening in districts without cases. However, only six of Nepal’s 77 districts do not have confirmed cases.

In the fourth stage, which will go into effect in mid-August, cinemas, colleges, gyms, hotels, bars, and other business will be allowed to reopen, and all regular international flights that have been grounded since 22 March will be allowed to fly in and out of Kathmandu, according to the CCMC’s strategy.

The Committee also foresees challenges in enforcing the rules, and people ignoring the restrictions. There could also be a bigger influx of Nepalis at the Indian border or at Kathmandu airport than anticipated, with a shortage of medical personnel and test kits.

By mid-August, even if the country opens fully, Nepalis will be required to wear masks and maintain distancing in all public places and vehicles. Implementation will depend on the coronavirus caseload in Nepal, the source said.

Whether this strategy will be endorsed will now depend in the Cabinet. In the past, Prime Minister Oli has refused to go with the Committee’s plans for partial easing. How many of these new rules for each stage will be approved by the Cabinet on Wednesday also remains to be seen.

As of June 8, Nepal has has 4,085 cases and only 15 deaths.  I don't know if that says something about the resiliency of the locals, or if the reporting is flawed.  Perhaps they are just not paid to attribute deaths to the Wuhan virus like U.S hospitals are.  Nevertheless, those numbers are encouraging.

I have been in almost daily contact with
an ex-pat who has lived and operated in Nepal for years.  He has been quite critical of the Nepali government's handling of the crisis and appears to have well-informed connections.  Even he is saying these newly-announced measures might stick.  The question I face is what restrictions/requirements the Nepali government might levy on inbound international travelers.  A mandatory 14-day quarantine would screw me and I refuse to take some new, untested vaccine.  I should add that neither of those have been mentioned...yet.
 
The Kathmandu airport has undergone numerous modifications to prepare for the resumption of international arrivals.  The presence of these obvious measures (and likely many not-so-obvious) are a means of identifying potentially ill travelers and preventing them from entering Kathmandu.

So for now, I continue to  wait and to train.  I have another motorcycle trip to Gettysburg in July with my annual Shark Week crowd.  I will ride 1400 miles up in two days and probably a thousand miles touring around while up there.  I'm thinking of iron-butting it back in one long day; just for the challenge.   Riding in and back home at those paces requires  stamina and conditioning.  For now, that is my focus and motivation.


Saturday, May 2, 2020

A Texan Stuck in Texas

Well, shit.

I was supposed to fly to Nepal today.  I've known for months that this trip would be delayed at best, if not canceled altogether and I'll admit I'm a little depressed.  Still, I honestly can't think of a better place to be "stuck" than Texas and especially here at my little piece of paradise.  I have family, friends, horses, my motorcycle, miles of woods to roam, and a never-ending list of property care chores.

My focus on continuing my conditioning and preparations for September is equaled only by my skepticism of the United States' reaction to the Wuhan virus.  I remain cautiously optimistic that September will be a go.

Saturday, April 25, 2020

A Texan in Tibet - Conditioning Update


I pushed my soul in a deep dark hole and then I followed it in
I watched myself crawling out as I was a-crawling in
I got up so tight I couldn't unwind
I saw so much I broke my mind
I just dropped in to see what condition my condition was in
- Mickey Newbury


If you've been reading along, you'll recall that I started conditioning for this trip back in December.  Even in February when it was looking like it might be canceled, I was determined to stick with my routine; not only as a hedged bet on the trip actually happening, but because I really needed to shape up.  Since December, I've dropped over thirty pounds, my clothes fit better, and I  have significantly increased energy.  Somehow, I've managed to do this while playing the quarantine game at home.  Having gym-quality elliptical climber and rowing machines really helps.  Having 200 acres of pasture and woods to wander doesn't hurt either.  I still row four miles mornings and climb three miles on my elliptical every Monday through Friday.  I have so many physically demanding chores to do around my property on weekends that I usually take those days off from structured exercise.  If the weather is crappy out, I will go up and knock off a few miles climbing while watching heavy metal concerts or military special ops documentaries on the big screen. 

I have continued to train with my oxygen deprivation mask and have gotten to the point where operating at less that 82% oxygen saturation feels normal.  My personal results from the anaerobic effect of these training sessions has me hooked to the point where I would train with the mask even without a high-altitude trip on my (potential) horizon.  Along with the exercise, I continue to eat a low-carb/keto-ish diet.  I say "ish" because I don't believe it's possible to eat 100% keto or to truly put one's body in a state of ketosis.  I've also refrained from alcohol completely until this last weekend when I gave in and enjoyed a frozen margarita.

Now I have an additional five months of conditioning time - assuming I really get to go in September.  I'm not holding my breath, but I am holding to my determination to continue to my physical improvement.  I can't allow myself to get undisciplined on the longshot that this trip actually happens and I find myself facing the physical challenges I endured in the Outback.

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

A Texan in Tibet - The New Schedule

I was just days from my departure when I wrote this.  Now I am 144 days out.  Do the math and you will see I am now scheduled to depart DFW the evening of September 12 and arrive in Kathmandu at 2:00am on September 14th.  My return is scheduled for October 1st.  The eleven hour time difference puts me home on the same day as I depart.

There is some good news.  Both of my flights are still on Qatar Airways in business class seats, but now they are direct flights in and out of DFW Airport.  This eliminates almost 24 hours of connection time that I had in my original itinerary.  Truth be told, I would gladly endure those 24 hours - even in coach class - just to be taking this trip when it was scheduled.  But these are cards I've been dealt and I'm just happy to be back in the game...to whatever extent that I actually am.  Now I have another 144 days to hope the world gets its shit together.



Sunday, April 19, 2020

A Texan in Tibet - Star Wars Episode IV

Some may remember that the story title for Star Wars Episode IV was "A New Hope".   Well, it appears that I have a narrow slither of hope that might actually allow me to realize this adventure.  This certainly won't happen in May as originally planned, but the last few weeks of September are looking promising from an air travel perspective and where in-country logistics are concerned.  September is after monsoon season, which is obviously a good thing.  My riding routes could be challenging because monsoon season really does a number on them.  Given the questionable state of the world today and projecting forward to September, who knows if maintenance on the more challenging mountain passes will have been completed - or even started.

I've confirmed that I can get a bike and the monasteries I was planning to use for accommodations have indicated that they believe they can host me by then, assuming Nepal opens its borders again.  Even though my departure wouldn't be for five months from this blog entry's date, many pieces will have to fall into place before I arrive.  It's not lost on me that that is asking for a great deal of coordination, cooperation, and progress from numerous and disparate global agencies.  I give it a 50-50 chance at best.

All of this of course, assumes the world (especially the third world) is open for business by then and I recognize that is a tall order.  But anyone who knows me knows I need something to look forward to.  In short, I gotta have hope.

When I last checked, China had canceled the Everest climbing season for all of 2020.  However, access to the base camp might be available if the Tibetan border is open.  Time will tell.  If the border is closed, I would defer to the alternate route I had previously described here.

My fingers are crossed!

Thursday, April 2, 2020

A Texan Stuck in Texas - Last Hopes Dashed

Quite frankly, I can't think of a better place to be "stuck".  Texas is generally a common sense state led by legislators who (for the most part) realize that we citizens know what's best for us and who govern accordingly.  Texas has a few liberal whackos who feel the need to try to control the masses, but I am fortunate to live out in the country where people are generally good to one another and common sense typically prevails in daily life.

That said, it's clear to me that this trip is a no go.  Qatar Airlines has canceled the overseas segments of my flights.  Nobody is getting into Nepal these days.  I receive daily U.S. State Department updates on the situation there and it is really bad.  Really sad, actually.  Hundreds of Americans have been stuck there unable to migrate to any other countries and there are no direct flights from the States.  Our government has begun flying Americans out and hopes to have everyone seeking to get home back in another week or so.  Those returning will face strictly-enforced quarantining upon stepping foot on American soil.

My departure is (was) scheduled for May 2nd...exactly one month from this typing.  I suppose it's possible that things could significantly improve in 30 days here in the States, but I'm not holding my breath (no pun intended).  Even if things improved here and our transportation and distribution systems are capable of leveraging those improvements, I don't see the rest of the world catching up; especially in the 3rd and 4th worlds.

I had a conversation with my in-country fixer and was offered a motorcycle in August or September.  Honestly, I don't think things will have improved over there even by then.  Businesses in the States can - and will - recover and resume reasonable operations almost immediately after citizens here are cut loose.  I don't believe businesses in Nepal are that resilient or that fortunate.  Furthermore, I don't see foreign governments allowing mass international travel into their borders; nor do I see the U.S. allowing just anyone (back) into the States.  I could be wrong if Wuhan flu testing becomes more widely available and the accuracy and timeliness of results improves.

So for now and most likely until next year, I will remain in the States (unless my work takes me to south America).  Make no mistake, I realize how fortunate I am in many respects.  I am gainfully employed. I have food, shelter, and toilet paper!  Most importantly, I am healthy!  In fact, I am in better shape than I have been in probably two years.  Despite it being clear to me that I wasn't going anywhere, I have continued the conditioning and eating regimen I started specifically for this trip.  I am still working out twice daily with my oxygen mask and am also walking miles each week.  I have dropped thirty pounds and am close to the condition I was in just prior to my Australia trip.  These results inspire me to continue the routine and approach the summer riding season with more vigor and enthusiasm.

Lastly, this trip has inspired me to write again and rest assured, I have a lot on my mind.  I'll do my best to empty my mind here.

Thursday, March 19, 2020

A Texan Stuck in Texas - Not Looking Good, Folks

My, what interesting times these are!  It seems selfish for me to even be concerned about taking this trip in a time when so many are sweating their next paycheck and even their jobs.  But I am concerned.  I have pretty much written off any chance of going anywhere in May, much less Nepal. U.S. and international governments have (wisely) shut down international travel at least for the foreseeable future and even domestic travel has almost ground to a halt.

The government of Nepal has issued a multifaceted decree that all but shuts down immigration there.  The Visa on Arrival program has been stopped, meaning entry visas can no longer be obtained at the airport.  Visas are available through the usual process from Nepali Consulates in the States, but the application must include a Wuhan flu test with negative results and then upon arrival, travelers must provide another test with negative results that is less than seven days old.  As important as this trip is to me, I'm not so selfish that I would take up two tests that others with more imminent needs could use.  As of this typing, such a test isn't even available.  And even if all those obstacles were negotiated, the Nepali government has instituted a 14-day quarantine on all immigrants upon entry.  That, my friends, is the final nail in my trip coffin.

Also as of this typing, I have 44 days before my scheduled departure.  The optimist in me says that anything could happen and that travel restrictions could be relaxed.  The realist in me is siding with the pessimist in me who is expecting to be home throughout the month of May.

I have been in regular communication with my fixer in Nepal and have been advised that August and September might be months in which I might make the trip.  There are many variables to consider including air travel, lodging, and weather over there that time of year.  Indeed, some of the Nepali and Tibetan businesses on which I would be relying may not even exist in six months.  The Unites States' robust economy prior to the outbreak will see us through to an economic recovery.  Other countries are not so fortunate.  I also have doubts that China will open up the Everest region or if Nepal will open their Tibetan border crossings.

The largest obstacle I face is where the world will be in terms of dealing with the Wuhan flu.  The entire planet is singularly focused on beating this virus.  With such an unprecedented response, I am confident a treatment will be found.  The question is how long it will take to distribute and for its effects to become effective on a global scale.


Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Wuhan Flu & Media Hysteria

“Hysteria is impossible without an audience.”
- Chuck Palahniuk

I am sick.   Sick and tired of the Wuhan flu media frenzy and the knee-jerk panic that ensues from it.  Don't get me wrong.  I believe the Wuhan virus is serious and I understand that it's more contagious than other flu strains.  What I don't believe is the liberal media doom and gloom which is fueled by their perceived opportunity to blame President Trump.  Remember, these are the same hacks that welcomed an economic recession if it would take out the President.  It's as if people have never heard of the concept of washing their hands.  I was avoiding sneezes and coughs six months ago.  People are stupid.

Sadly, it's not just liberal wackos that are acting irrationally.  I have some new first-time parent neighbors who have made it clear (repeatedly) that anyone having traveled abroad must stay away from them for 30 days.  The irony is that one parent manages a large retail store and the other spends eight hours a day surrounded by germs in an elementary public school Petri dish.  To top that off, their baby is cared for while they're at work by a staunch anti-vaxxer with a houseful of her own unvaccinated children.  I'm thinking my neighbors present more of a contagion threat to me than most people exiting an airport.

It's no longer a matter of if; it's when.  People need to expect that they will be exposed and that some of them will experience symptoms.  People who are generally healthy with uncompromised immune systems will likely fare better from Covid-19 than from the common seasonal flu we experience in the U.S.  Over 60,000 people globally have successfully RECOVERED from the Wuhan virus.  That's almost double the number of 34,000 victims who died from the common seasonal flu in 2019.

Wash your hands, avoid touching your face, stay away from sneezes and coughs, and carry on.

A Nerd in Nepal - In Case Everest is Closed

“Dost thou love life? Then do not squander time; for that’s the stuff life is made of.”
- Benjamin Franklin (Poor Richard’s Almanack, 1746)


IF my Everest route gets squashed and I get redirected, it could happen after I depart Texas for Kathmandu, after which and without sufficient forethought and planning, I could arrive in country facing a real crisis.  Unless there are dramatic changes with the Wuhan flu pandemic, I think I'll likely make the final decision after I arrive.  After all, access to the latest and most accurate news from the region will probably come from within Nepal itself.  With that in mind, I'll need to be prepared to change to plan B on the fly.  Rest assured I will be.  I'll admit the thought of having to figure things out on the fly adds a degree of adventure to it all...as if this trip wasn't adventurous enough already.  I enjoy the added sense of excitement, but I dislike the uneasiness I feel knowing that actually getting to experience this adventure is essentially out of my control.


Some good news:  I've determined that I can still secure the same bike for whichever route I take.  The challenge I'll face if I'm forced into the Mustang option is getting up there and back within the confines of my current flight itineraries.  I'm hesitant to make any flight changes because I have such prime seats.  My travel insurance will allow for changes, but the availability of business class seats could force me into flying coach for twenty hours and I would lose access to the posh business class lounges during my layovers.  I'm delicate and I need my posh.

The Mustang Alternative
I've sketched out a potential route from Kathmandu to the Mustang region (and back) from online maps.  I also found some old-school paper maps on Amazon commonly used by trekkers that I will bring along in case of GPS failure.

Route for Riding Days 1 through 4




Riding Day 1 -   Kathmandu to Bandipur
Riding Day 2 -   Bandipur to Pokhara
Riding Day 3 -   Pokhara to Tatopani
Riding Day 4 -   Tatopani to Muktinath
(This is where identified "roads" appear to end.)








Possible Route for Riding Days 5 through 9



Riding Day 5 -   Muktinath to Geling
Riding Day 6 -   Geling to Lo-Manthang
           Day 7 -   Respite from Riding
                         Explore Lo-Manthang
Riding Day 8 -   Lo-Manthang to Kagbeni
Riding Day 9 -   Kagbeni to Kalapani via Marpha
 
No fancy Google Earth blue route line here.  The mighty Google says it can't locate a route for this portion of the trip.  Honestly, this portion of the trip will likely be a seat-of-the-pants navigation experience based on weather, road conditions, delays, and my condition.  If trekkers can do it. So can I.








Route for Riding Days 10 through 13




Riding Day 10 - Kalapani to Pokhara
(This is where identified "roads" begin again.)
           Day 11 - Respite from Riding
                             Explore Pokhara

Riding Day 12 - Pokhara to Nuwakot
Riding Day 13 - Nuwakot to Kathmandu






Should global events beyond my control dictate that I take this route instead of Everest, I will likely make it back into Kathmandu with only enough time to return the motorcycle, repack my gear for my flights home, and then head to the airport.  That's a small price to pay when I consider that the alternative is canceling the trip altogether.

Sunday, March 8, 2020

A Texan in ??? - Itinerary Alternatives

"Only the really young are fearless, have the optimism, the romanticism to take unimaginable risks."
- Olivia Wilde

What If???

I'm far from young, fearless, and very far from romantic, but I am optimistic about this trip.


I wrote in a previous entry that Everest may be out of reach because of the possibility that the entire country of China will be locked down from (or by) the outside world.  This sucks, but it's not the end of the world...at least where my trip is concerned.  According to some, it could be really the end of the world. But I digress.

When I first started researching a riding trip in the region way back in June of 2019, there were a few locations on a short list that I knew I wanted to explore.  First and foremost was obviously Everest.  

Another is Khardung La Pass in India; known as the world's highest motorable road at nearly 18,400 feet. If there's a commemorative sign there, a pic of my bike in front of it would be awesome and the altitude conditioning I've been doing would still be beneficial.  Getting to and from the pass would be great because India has some of the most challenging and breathtaking riding in the world and the people are said to be gracious and welcoming to Americans.  The primary obstacle for the Khardung La Pass option is that it would likely be a one-way route and returning a rental motorcycle would be a logistical and financial challenge.


One if By Air. Two if By Motorcycle.
The third route/destination on my list was the Mustang region in Nepal.  Formerly known as Kingdom of Lo, Mustang is a remote and isolated region of the Nepalese Himalayas with few real roads in or out.  To get there, I could ride "roads" northeast out of Kathmandu for about 300 km, but then I would be following yak trails and ancient military supply routes that meander over and between mountain ranges and grassy plateaus for the remainder of the journey.  Most tourists get to Mustang via aircraft, arriving at a small airport there.  Where there's an airport, there's fuel, food, and lodging, so those logistical challenges are checked off.


Royal Palace Lo-Manthang - Built circa 1400
Forbidden Kingdom
The Mustang area was a tightly restricted demilitarized zone until 1992 and as a result, remains one of the most pristine regions in Nepal, if not the world. Mustang kept its "kingdom" status until 2008 and is said to have been preserved from most outside worldly influences by its isolation and lack of access by most four-wheeled vehicles.  Some of the locals like to say "The land is so barren and the passes so high that only our fiercest enemies or our best friends would want to visit us."  I may be fiercely motivated and driven, but I like to think I am no one's enemy.  Maybe I'll make a friend instead.


Rest assured, riding to Everest remains number one on my list. But me not being one to leave anything important to chance, I'll probably spend countless hours plotting out alternative routes, places to sleep, locating fuel, and many other ancillary details - all the while losing sleep over it.  Even after all that thought, hope, and stress, I could still find myself grounded and canceled.

I Can Envision Myself Riding Across This Bridge
If Mustang becomes my only option, that obviously still beats canceling altogether.  Despite my careful planning and efforts to be self-reliant, I will likely have to depend on my in-country fixer to help me sort out the logistics.  I loathe depending on others for important personal matters, but compromises will have to be made.

My cursory review of locations and potential routes to the Mustang region indicates that the highest pass I'll have to negotiate would only be about 12,000 feet.  My oxygen saturation conditioning has been going swimmingly and it would be a shame to waste all that preparation.  The good news is that training with the mask provides an anaerobic workout that yields better weight loss results than training without it.  I'll continue training with the mask irrespective of my final chosen itinerary.

Whichever route becomes the route, I will remain cautiously optimistic that there will be a route..

Wednesday, March 4, 2020

A Texan in Tibet - In-Country Customs & Travel Tips

"Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts." 
- Mark Twain

Let me preface this entry with the fact that I'm continuing to train, eat, hope, dream, and prepare for this trip as if the Coronavirus pandemic didn't exist, but I'm very aware that my dream (along with my soul) could be crushed anytime between now and my scheduled departure date. Acting on positive thoughts, I've been researching the details that any competent traveler needs to be aware of in order to get the most out of traveling abroad in Nepal and Tibet.

First and foremost: There's money!
The Nepalese Rupee (NPR) is Nepal’s currency and as of this typing, 1 US Dollar = about 113 NPR. With that in mind, here's what some common things cost in Nepal:

Cup of Chiya - 70 NPR / .60 cents
Cold Beer - 200 - 300 NPR / $1.50A

Simple Meal - 300 - 400 NPR / $3.50
Hotel Room - $8 to $150

Shopping & Haggling
Nepal is said to be very inexpensive, with prices fluctuating during the height of tourism season. This year’s season is on track to be decimated by the Coronavirus pandemic, so I suspect prices could be at their lowest since the SARS outbreak in 2003.  I suppose that's good for people like me, but I feel for the locals who rely on tourism to support their families.  I also wonder about the quality and/or hygiene shortcuts that might be taken in order to meet minimal margin needs.  The cruise industry is notorious for it, which is just one of many reasons I'll likely never sail on a cruse ship again.  I've read that many Everest climbers and trekkers buy their weather gear from the local bazaars because the locals can tailor whatever you want on the spot at a fraction of the cost, and then sew in whatever brand label you like.  If I were climbing Everest, I seriously doubt I would risk my lifesaving warmth over saving a few dollars.  I still have riding gear from my Outback crossing, but I may spring for some cold weather riding gloves at a local bazaar because mine were literally worn through during my 18-day crossing.  Piloting a motorcycle over 17,000 foot high mountain passes with frozen fingers and numb hands sounds about as appealing as it does safe. I'm not a patient shopper and I'm an even worse haggler. Haggling is apparently an expected part of life in Nepal markets as long as it's done with respect. I don't expect to buy much in country because I'll be on a tight budget and I'll have limited capacity to carry anything with me beyond necessities.

Tipping
Apparently, there isn't a strong tipping culture in Nepal. Rounding payments up for taxi and rickshaw drivers is common and I've read that sometimes a 10% service charge is included on restaurant bills. I tend to be a generous tipper, so I might be taken for another sucker tourist over there. I just feel like that extra dollar will have more impact on the life of the person working in the service economy than on me.

Currency Exchange
Locations for exchanging money in Nepal are said to be plentiful, so I suppose the trick is to find the best rate.  The pain is accurately forecasting what local currency I'll need; how much in NPR versus Chinese Renminbi (RMB, the currency in Tibet).  I always feel like I get screwed on the exchange back to USD.  Whatever amounts in whatever currencies, I have read that I will have to exchange any NPR back to USD before leaving Nepal because it’s actually illegal to take their currency out of the country.  Also NPRs aren’t accepted or exchanged anywhere else. This fact makes me wonder how Pat Healy got hold of the coins he flashed in "Something About Mary".

Right-Handed Culture
In Nepal, the left hand is literally viewed as the poop hand and its purpose is solely reserved for wiping one's butt!  Apparently, the right hand should be dedicated to writing, eating, hand-shaking, and other polite, social functions.
Also, gifts and payments are to be handed-over with the right hand.  I’m ambidextrous, but I write and eat with my poop hand.  It will be a challenge to eat right-handed.  As if the Coronavirus weren't enough cause to keep an eye on people near me, now I'll be eagle-eyeing anyone serving my food to see which hand they use.

Toilets
I'm used to taking my time sitting until my buns are numb on a nice western porcelain throne while reading a magazine or surfing the Internet and being stared at by three boxer dogs.  As such, squatting awkwardly over an unsavory hole in the ground with flies buzzing around it to take a dump might be a little a bit off-putting the first few times. But the reality is that squat toilets are common throughout that part of the world, and when in Rome... Besides, I've used a Squatty Potty and squatting really does make for a much nicer dump.  I can't imagine the expressions on my dogs' faces if they witnessed me executing a wide-legged standing dump.


Temple/Monastery Etiquette
Nepal is a deeply spiritual and religious country with centuries-old temples scattering the landscape and monks wandering everywhere. I find some of the customs related to temple respect interesting. For instance, temples are always navigated clockwise. That means I would have to walk around the temple again to get to something I might have left behind me. Shoes are considered the most degrading form of clothing (to me, that would be bras) and must be removed when entering temples or a local’s home. I've also read most temples don't allow photography. Walk to the right, lose the shoes, and keep the camera tucked away. Got it.
Water
Despite the clear and crisp glacial streams flowing in the nearby mountains, the overall water quality in Nepal and particularly in Kathmandu isn’t the greatest. In fact, it sucks.  I suppose I can use it to shower, but the tap water there is said to be a funny color and it often stinks. I'm taking a Camelbak and a refillable water bottle and have read that clean bottled water is available everywhere. I would like to have one of those Grayle GeoPress bottles that can purify 24 ounces of water anywhere in the world in a few seconds, but I'm on a budget and the $90 cost of a GeoPress will buy a lot of bottled water.




Bring AC Power Adapters
I've researched this one closely and have learned that there are a variety of AC plugs used in Nepal and Tibet.  I've planned for the worst and picked up an adapter for any outlet I might encounter and I have a multi-outlet power strip that takes 220VAC power and has USB ports to share.




Don't Let Bacteria Die! 
This one sounds odd, but makes sense when fully understood.  Stomach bacteria that are important to human digestion quickly die at high altitude because of lack of oxygen.  Even acclimatizing three to five days ahead doesn't help because the bacteria will be dead by then.  These microflora can be restored by taking probiotics.

Carry Accommodation Information
Don't leave a hotel without its business card listing its phone number and address. 

Don't touch anyone on the head and don't show anyone the bottoms of the feet.  With the Coronavirus, this won't be a difficult rule to follow.

Avoid Yaks - No explanation needed.

Bring extra Passport Photos 
They are required to acquire a Visa at the airport, for trekking permits, and to purchase cell phone SIM cards.

Avoid Shady Dance Bars 
I avoid sunny dance bars.  In fact, I dance like a white guy and generally avoid bars altogether.

I'm sure there is much more to look out for, but encountering challenges and discovering ways to overcome them is all part of the adventure.  I'm not terribly bright, but I consider myself clever enough to get by and deal with adversity.  I just hope I'm actually allowed to take this trip and experience those challenges. 

Got tips?  Email me!

Monday, March 2, 2020

TEXAS!

Independence Day!


A Texan in Tibet? - Encouragement & A Mustang Alternative

"Chance is the providence of adventurers."

- Napoleon Bonaparte

I don't leave things that are important to me to chance.  If it affects me and it can be influenced by planning and preparation, then rest assured it will be planned and I will be prepared.  The collective response from those reading this who know me is probably "no shit". As I stated in my elephant entry, I am closely watching the science, economics, and the politics of the Coronavirus pandemic. In my head, I've pretty much resigned myself to the fact that I will likely not get to take this trip.  In my heart, I'm holding out hope that I will.  In my day-to-day life, I'm training, eating, and planning as if my head is wrong and heart is right.

If information is knowledge and knowledge is power, then I am empowered at best and encouraged at least by the details I've learned over the last 24 hours.  I have reached out to a few tour operators in Nepal and India from whom I've read comments on blog sites and who have been gracious enough to respond to me directly, even though I'm not using their services.  I am not unaware of the fact that a rosy outlook could just be a self-serving position for them as their livelihoods depend on tourism from abroad.  That said, I have avoided asking them questions about the virus itself and its spread in their region.  I prefer to rely on objective sources for those details.

My queries to the local experts have been focused on travel policies irrespective of the current health situation and with particular interest in border crossings from Nepal into Tibet and back.  I'm painfully aware that if I show up at US Customs and present a passport with a visa stamp from mainland China, I will be rewarded with a 14-day guest pass to what I'm sure will be a lovely CDC quarantine facility.  This is very likely despite Tibet being 5,000 kilometers from Wuhan.  Remember, to the Chinese, Tibet IS China and the visa stamp does not delineate Tibet from mainland China.  I reached out to my in-country fixer - the guy over whom (in a previous blog entry) I expressed reservations about giving my passport in order to secure my Chinese visa to enter Tibet.  I'll explain his encouraging response.

One of the reasons he collects passports from travelers like me with similarly-aligned itineraries is to process them all at once for a group visa.  This is also why we have to cross the border as a group.  Think of it like taking a cruise.  You can pass into and out of the various ports of call without the formal Customs screening you experience at an airport, but every passenger has a finite time frame to do so under the terms of the group visa agreement.  Your citizenship and travel plans have been pre-validated by the Cruise line, who is an acknowledged and government-trusted agency.  In my case, the group visa obtained by my fixer will cover the entire group of riders whose itineraries are aligned to match the prearranged entrance and exit dates that the group visa covers.  Two copies are issued. One with a list of travelers is for entrance into Tibet that is handed over to Tibetan Customs upon entry.  The other is handed over upon exit from Tibet back into Nepal with the same list of travelers.  The two copies are reconciled and away we go.  Under this process, neither my individual passport, nor those of whomever might be in my group will be stamped with a Chinese visa!  While I'm encouraged by this news, I will continue to investigate.  The online resources I've found seem to corroborate this process.  Thus, I am slightly encouraged that I might indeed see Mount Everest.

That bit of (potential) good news covers me as long as the Nepali/Tibetan border remains open, allowing me the chance to actually ride to Everest.  But what if the border is closed and Everest is out of the picture?  I have an alternative riding route in mind that stays entirely in Nepal and offers breathtaking views along the Himalayas and the local culture.  Riding only in Nepal, I expect the terrain to be far rougher than in Tibet and this excites me.  I can ride on pavement here without flying thirty hours to get to it.  Tougher terrain demands a tougher motorcycle.  Thus, I have tentatively secured a Honda CRF-250 dirt bike to better navigate the paths to the places I want to see.  Leaving nothing to chance, I will start researching potential day-by-day routes that best align with my flight schedules and will try to post them here with maps, similar to those I posted for the original Everest itinerary.  If this becomes the case, I suppose I'll need a new name for these blog entries.  "A Nerd in Nepal"?  I'm open to suggestions.

Of course, this is all fine and dandy as long as Nepal itself avoids a significant Wuhan flu outbreak.  I'm well aware that Nepal could find itself on the CDC Warning Level 3 List any day now, or in the two months between this writing and my planned departure date.  I'm also aware that Qatar could restrict travel through its borders with little to no notice.  The planets which were once neatly aligned in my favor through my thorough diligence and planning are now in an epidemic-induced disarray and spinning out of orbit.  Realigning these planets depends on great deal of luck and on decisions over which I have no influence going my way.

I loathe depending on luck.  I'd rather eat organ meat sauteed with mushrooms and fish.