When I Rode Alone
After the water break at the salt pans where Vinod had poured water over me and I drank too much of water, I was feeling drowsy and was barely hanging on to the end of the pack.
Shekharji then had met with an accident and there was an air of anxiety among all the riders including me. After we started riding again, with Shekharji in the backup vehicle, I was riding slowly at the tail. I was praying silently that no more mishaps or hiccups occur as it was getting dark.
Riding in one of the few places when one can see the horizon in every direction, I noticed that the northern and eastern horizons were getting dark and the western horizon was turning from yellow to orange. Suddenly when I looked up ahead I saw 10 to 12 brake lights illuminated together. My head was spinning again when I reached the spot and saw dirt and slush and muck (have seen this type of roads only in underground mines where bulldozers ply) due to which almost everyone was stuck. I knew that I was lucky for I had bypassed this sticky mud by taking a different track.
Gaurav and I decided that I would move ahead with the bikes that weren't stuck and the backup vehicle with Shekharji sitting in it. We had to setup the camp site at the Varnu temple or reach the village further ahead if possible and return back for the stuck bikes.
So Prem, Prashant and Freya joined me with the backup vehicle. We reached Varnu temple in almost darkness and knew that it was impossible to go ahead without the group as we did not know the route nor the distance to the village. So Prem and I decided to set up camp at the Varnu temple. Suddenly we realized that Freya was missing. I decided to ride back in the hope of catching her along the way.
Fired Monk to life and switched on the 100/120w headlamp bulb to high beam. It was smooth sailing for a few kilometers on the Varnu hillock, till I saw a headlight wandering about in the darkness and thought it had to be Freya. I stopped for a few moments to explain the route to the temple and borrow a cigarette lighter.
I started descending the hillock and as soon as I hit the plains, darkness engulfed me. It actually swallowed me; it distracted my mind, which started wandering...
Never before had I ridden in the Rann at night. Always thought myself to be a good navigator, but anxiety started taking over as I was riding alone not knowing anything about navigating in the Rann at night.
A mistake that I realized later was riding with the headlight on a high beam in the Rann. The headlight works by reflecting light off the road and other obstacles. The spot light reflector in the headlight focused the light from the 100/120w bulb into a powerful beam that used to simply vanish into the darkness, trying to hit a non-existent object in the horizon. Due to this, I had a perception that I was riding uphill.
All this happened in a few minutes, distracting my mind off the track. Got too worked up and my mind was not in tune with my body. Questions blazing through my head - Where am I? Am I on the right track? Will I make it? Should I turn back and return with Prem?
Suddenly I got the idea to switch to the low beam.
"F***!! Where's the track???"
Couldn't locate it for a few seconds and I brake hard and shift to first gear. Monk stalls and everything turns BLACK except for the speedo light. Wanting to fire Monk back on, I search for neutral when I realize that the bike was in third gear, not first.
I put Monk on the main stand and switched on the pilot lamps. I got off the bike when another barrage of thoughts hit me - What if I have a flat tyre? What if the chain snaps? What if the headlight goes out? What if I don't reach where I am required? Who will make tea in the morning?
I started sweating and shivering at the same time. Lighted up a cigarette and looked up at the stars. Wonderful, but scary. I walked a few steps away from the bike and only the pilot lamps and the shining chrome could be seen. Suddenly I look down and see the track illuminated in the moon light. The 100/120w bulb could not beat the darkness, but the moon light did. I threw my cigarette and ran to the bike, fired it up, switched to the headlight on low mean and started following the track. A few kilometers later I could see small lights punching through the darkness. Finally I made it to the breakdown site.
A deep breath.
A few tears.
Thanks to the darkness no one saw my fear and my tears. I donít know where all my knowledge of navigation vanished, felt dead for few seconds, lost all sense of direction for a full 50 minutes.
Those 50 minutes are what I will remember in this ride. It has changed me. It has shown me my real strength. And when I was asked why do I ride? Itís my Himalayan monk and I that won a small battle against fear and a wrong thought process.
I think my reason to not get lost was because I had to make tea in the morning.
Amol & The Himalayan Monk
Chai Pilao Yaar!