Monday, March 2, 2020

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.