Thursday, August 20, 2009

Bike Ride Day 2

So Day 2 begins, I leave PWD Guest House tired around 7:15am. Less than 4 hours of sleep and no breakfast yet. My groin hurts from not being used to sitting on a bike for so long. My thighs burn from pushing down on pedals with no gears for 70 km. I've clearly pushed myself entirely too hard, but I gotta keep going. So off I ride. I stop and grab some chai and biscuits because I am not really hungry, and buy 4 liters of water. I am ready. Tired, but I feel I can do this. Hopefully I will reach Kozikhode (Calicut) by night fall. I have twice the amount of time, and only a little more distance than yesterday, so I can take frequent rests to regain my strength. I'll be fine. Let's go. Stop being a baby.

That's what was going on in my head as I was leaving.

Oh, the naivety of youth. How we all think how invincible we are. How at 21, in 60 years things will be so different for myself. In health, in mentality, in family. And that's such a short time in the grand scheme of things. Let me explain how being naïve of this situation got the best of me.

So after purchasing some basic amenities, I rode. At first uncomfortably, but I moved past it. The pain in my groin eventually left, and the pain that was in my thighs became more of a dull, numb, pulsing sensation. The terrain began to change too. I started to encounter slow, gradual inclines. At first, they weren't so bad. And the inclines meant there had to be declines as well, which was great. I could cover a great distance with almost no effort, thanks to gravity, and barring that it wasn't a rough road.

The morning sun beat down on me, and in no time, I was losing fluids. I stopped often and kept hydrated, beginning to feel better and better about the day. At one point I stopped for some morning chai (I believe this was number 3 within an hour and a half), and grabbed my mp3 player to listen to some music. This also began to lighten my mood, and I was enjoying the music, the sun, the weather. Things were looking up.

For the most part of that day what sustained me was Chai, Indian snacks, and ice cream. Strange going from burning hot chai to ice cold ice cream, but oh was it delicious. I figured I should have felt some what hungry by this time, considering I still had had no breakfast.

Slowly, the hills began to get steeper. It made sense, as I was getting closer to the mountains and Wayanad.

So up I climbed. On certain inclines I felt myself getting burned out very quickly. It ended up being easier to just get off the bike and walk it up the hill. Then at the top I could just glide as far as possible. This is going to be great, I'll make it there in no time!

So on my morning went, gliding through towns and villages, and some more spacious country side. On day 1 the country side was quite dense, with trees and bushes hugging the road side. At one point I was going down this hill when I noticed it looked a little different up ahead. Open space.

To my right side, behind a giant billboard were rice paddy fields. Not enormous, but at least half a kilometer off the road, and maybe 100 meters wide. The green fields were surrounded by brown bark with large green palm tree tops. On my left it was similar, albeit a little more space for the rice fields. But what lay beyond the row of trees were hills in the background. A luscious background, with a semi-cloudless sky, the sun bright but not blinding; it all made for a beautiful sight.

It's when things like this happen that you seem to feel as if you regain some of your strength. The sun doesn't burn as much anymore, but instead energizes you. The wind on your face isn't that warm oven air, but instead it works with your sweat and feels like a natural air conditioner. “Float On” came on on my shuffle and away I rode. Strengthened, energized, feeling even better about the day.

At another point the road took a hard right turn, and I zipped around the curve, looking only feet ahead of me and my bike. As the road straightened out I looked up and just muttered under my breath, 'cool'. A long bridge was quickly coming towards me. A metal bridge painted an off color between beige and yellow, coupled with a light red, it stood out from the road. The road itself was still cement, and littered with puddles from the recent rain (which were on the side of the bridge) the water felt cool as it splashed onto my feet. The supports on the side of the road were a series of inter-locking dome shapes, with metal bars along the top of these domes, creating more support. It crossed a slow, lazy moving river that appeared to lead into a lake just a little ways west. I didn't stop, but tried to take in the view as well as I could without crashing. It was quite a sight. And the hills were growing.

The day wore on. By the time 10:30 rolled around the tiredness came back in full force. At 10:45 I had crossed over another simple cement bridge that ran over some sets of railroad tracks. And a small station as well. The large yellow sign, half in Malayalam and half in English said: “Kuttippuram”. Where ever that was. At the end of the bridge, after maybe 200 meters the road curved to the left. It also began to go up. And steeper than before. I stopped and stretched my legs and drank some water.

The map I had also been given by the hotel manager in Ernakulam was being used to write down where I was at certain points in the day. So when I stopped, I took out the map, and sure enough, Kuttippuram was right there along NH-17. I circled it and scribbled 'Day 2 10:43am'. By this time, not wanting to climb that hill with this bike and 20kg bag, and noticing the sudden increase in people slowing down to say Hi (or perhaps 'Get out of the way!'), I was looking for other ways to keep going.

A large truck was slowly passing as I was folding up my map, and I quickly took notice of it's empty bed. “Hi!” the three people in the cab yelled, heads half out of windows.

“Hey! Hey! Can I come!” I yelled back as they drove past me. The man in the passenger seat stuck his head out of the window and looked back at me, half smiling, half confused. I gestured with my hand for him to come here. In the States this might look like a hand at chest level, palm facing yourself, using your wrist and fingers to point towards the other person, moving to point at the sky, and then flicking them towards yourself in a smooth motion. In India, it's a little different. Here a hand above the head, palm faced downwards is more of what it looks like. The flicking of fingers and wrist is exactly the same, only going in the opposite direction. So fingers are pointing towards the person, then down at the ground, again in a smooth motion.

Why am I describing this? Seems like not a big deal. Right, I never thought it was a big deal either. However, when I tried the way I was used to, no one seemed to understand. Ethnocentrically (if I can use the term in this way), I would think, 'it means the same thing, it seems obvious!' But as soon as I used the same gesture in their language, everyone knew what I was talking about. And it worked, because I could see the truck slowing down and pulling off to the side of the road. It just goes to show you that language barriers are more than spoken word.

I stuffed the map back into my pack, and not even worrying if it was fully zipped up, or covered by the rain fly I kicked up the kick stand and ran towards the truck.

Panting, I asked where they were going. They motioned their hands down 17, and I asked if I could come. I told them I could just sit in the bed and would tell them when I wanted to get off. Despite how little English they spoke, they seemed to comprehend what I wanted. Some might respond to this statement as, 'Well of course, what else would a foreigner on the side of a road with a bike, a bag, and a map want?' But you never know, I could have just wanted directions for all they knew.

So two of the people from the cab jumped into the bed, and I heaved my bag (with bike still attached) up to them. I told them to just let it fall on it's side, either way in a moving truck, it was not going to stand steadily. I myself began to climb into the bed when they said “No, no” and motioned for me to get in the cab with them. It was nice having a window seat and feel even more fresh air on my face as we climbed the hill.

Like I said, they spoke almost no English. Communication was happening, basics like where they were from, where I was from, where they were going etc. I don't know if I explained Malayalam yet, but let me give you a little synopsis of the language in India. Statistically, the national language is Hindi, and most of the states speak that. However the big four, Karnataka, Andra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, and Kerala all speak their own languages; Kannada, Telugu, Tamil, and Malayalam, respectively. To native Indians from other states, the consensus is that Malayalam is the hardest to understand. It's like Greek to everyone else in India. This was the analogous description I was given of the language: It's like putting a bunch of rocks into a jug and shaking them up. I couldn't create a closer analogy.

They said they were heading to a beautiful (in their words) town of Koppam. They were all from that town, I suppose on an errand from work, or just heading home from work. I asked if it was on 17, and they kept saying 'yes, yes 17' but there was a good chance they would veer off the road at some point. Not all towns can be on this highway....

As we drove up the hill, I had the wonderful opportunities to see some sights. Hills and large escapes of palm tree rain forests covered the landscape. It went on for miles. There is not much I can describe beyond that, it was beautiful.

Some kilometers down the road we passed not one, but two accidents. One was a private bus had it's front completely torn off. As we passed, I was staring at the bus, when we passed the other side of the equation. Apparently it was another bus, but we passed two fast and I was not able to see the damage. A little further along a jeep was stuck in a ditch, with it's back and side windows all broken and cracked.

I'm judging, and a bad judge of distance, but I would say we must have driven around 5 kilometers, when they pointed down a side dirt road and said “Koppam.” This small dirt road was barely the width of the truck, was muddied and bumpy. It's amazing it's a road at all. They asked me, “You come to Koppam? Two hours this way.”

'This road went on for two hours??' I thought to myself. I forgot how deceiving roads can be in India. I'm sure the quality would change, would widen out, become paved – after all, the national highway was just as unpredictable as a side road – but still, it seemed almost incomprehensible at the time. They started to turn onto the road, and I had to think quickly. I kind of wanted to go with the flow, I mean I had no plan, but going into the country side meant even less lodging. And at two hours... that's at least 4 or 5, maybe more on the bike. I decided against it.

They stopped, helped me with getting my bike off the bed, and just like that we shook hands and they were gone. Being a foreigner, I was waiting for them to ask for money, but they smiled, waved, and went on their way. I drank some water, at some Tiger Cookie treats, and went on my way, back down 17.

Or should I say back up. They dropped me in this town near 'Valanchery'. I rode until it became too much to bear the up hill. Then I glided the downward slopes. Like a virus, the tiredness was spreading around my body, I could without a doubt feel it in my legs, but it was moving into my arms, chest and head. My arms grew tired from having to push the bike up hill. My stops became more frequent. I drank more water until I was basically out. With less than half a liter left I was walking up this one hill that had more and more stores on it's sides as I climbed higher. Where it flattened out, I stopped for one more minute, took a swig of water, and was climbing, or by this state it was more of clamoring onto my bike.

“Hello! Hi!” someone called out to me. Looking down with one arm raised, sweat fell from my brow to the floor in slow motion. I saw the single drop of water detach from my skin and hair as I blinked, and watched it morph and bounce against itself as it fell towards the earth. And like the crash of a thousand cars, it exploded on the arid rocks and sand below, it's little pieces of water shrapnel evaporating after only a brief kiss with the Earth.

“Hello” I muttered somewhat sarcastically. As I looked up and was getting back on the bike a man was coming towards me, waving his arm, not running, but not walking leisurely either. He arrived at my bike and said “Your good name, sir?” For some reason a lot of Indians say sir to me, as if I were still a British imperialist, or if I even deserved such a superficial title. This had been getting under my skin, so since then I have been saying sir to the Indians I meet as well. Most look at me kind of strangely when they hear it. To say that I hope it empowers them is quite a reach, but, well, that's hope I guess.

“Norm.” I responded.

“Please, come sit.”

“I should really be going.”

“Please sit, hot.”

After a pause, I figured that “Yeah, I could use a rest.”

The man owned a plastic furniture shop. There were many chairs and benches and stools and small tables. “Your shop?” I asked. He replied saying, “Yes, plastic selling, wholesale.”

He offered me a chair in the shade, and it was like sitting on a cloud. That is, until I put my back against the chair. It was then that I realized how the increase in altitude, the all day sun; I realized what it was doing to my back. I must have looked as red as a lobster. The metaphoric cloud I was sitting on quickly went away and it felt like the sun itself was on my back. No matter, I had a placed to relax for a minute.

Again, like most conversations, we went through the rigamarole of where everyone is from, what they do, where they are going, etc etc. We took some pictures, and complained of the sun. They, however, despite the heat, had not one drop of sweat on them. After some time, I told them I really had to go, especially if I wanted to make it to Calicut by night fall.

I took the empty water bottle off my pack and asked if he had a trash can. It's been difficult to find refuse bins in India, besides in Sikkim. He looked at me quizzically, and I motioned the gesture I thought would be most obvious for throwing it away, and his composure changed. He seemed to understand. And then, he printed across the street. I supposed he had no trash in his office and only in his home. As I awaited his return, I took out my other bottle and began drinking. As he returned, I was finishing it off. Only he didn't come back empty handed. He still had my bottle in his hand, but filled with water.

“This one too?” He asked. I looked at him for a minute, not confused, but just surprised and overjoyed with the random act of kindness by this man. “Filter water” he added.

“Um, yeah sure, please. Thank you very much!” I said enthusiastically. He told me to just wait here. And returned a couple minutes later with the bottle filled. 4 more liters of water to keep me alive. Good thing he stopped me and I took a rest. He was a savior for me on my journey.

He told me the next town wasn't far, maybe 3 kilometers away. As I began to ride, I was gliding down a small hill when I saw a sign for a hotel with lodging. I had remembered seeing an advertisement for it some kilometers back. Tired, no, exhausted, my knees were starting to really burn. It was no more a matter of time or distance, or regaining strength, bodies can only physically take so much.

I stopped at the hotel, the deserted hotel, and found the reception office. I asked how much a room was, and he asked me how long I would be staying. After some back and forth on how long and why it mattered, he told me “Well I just don't have the staff for two days. No one is here.” I told him not to worry, and asked how far the town was. He said probably 3 or 4 kilometers. Was I going backwards?

By this point, beyond my physical being quickly losing fortitude and low on endurance, my mental state was changing too. The sun was trying to close my eyes. Because of the lack of sleep, my body had not fully, or functionally repaired itself from the first night. It was becoming more and more difficult to balance the bike. My mind took note of this and said, 'oh people have suffered more than you, this is nothing' yet my thoughts also turned darker. If I wasn't thinking about where was a good place to be cool and find sleep, I was thinking about worse case scenarios. What would happen if I just passed out in this dry arid road? What would happen if I accidentally veered into a truck, car, or motorcycle. Not even music was saving me at this point. I began to think that even for me this was becoming a bit extreme. Who knows what would happen if I had to go to a local hospital.

I pressed on.

A little further I saw a hotel to eat lunch at. Maybe some food will regain my strength. Biscuits and tea can only sustain you for so long. So I sat and had a meal. Some Rice. Some Fish. Some Veggies. And finished it off with a nice cup of tea and an Indian baked sweet. I felt better. My thoughts would relapse into 'I can do this', disregarding my state right before I sat down to eat lunch. Still three kilometers to the town. While I thought everyone just didn't know, I realized it was my own change in thinking. I was so tired that the frequent stops I was taking were in actuality a lot closer together than they appeared. I had sworn I had traveled at least ¾ of a kilometer before stopping again. I could have very well been wrong. And apparently I was.

Either way, I had to keep going. I carefully straddled the bike, because if I did it quickly, I would without a doubt have hit my foot on the frame, fell over, knocked over the bike, made a scene, and all that jazz. So I carefully, put one foot on one pedal, stood straight, and began to ride. Almost immediately my knees felt like they were going to give way. One jerked, as if trying to tell me it was done with whatever I was trying to do, while my calf my muscle burned as it threatened to seize up and cramp on me. As it began to do this, I did whatever I could while still moving to stretch it out and get it to stop. Luckily it did, but at that same time my other knee was feeling the pressure too. They both felt like they were going to pop. Like two big kernels of popcorn baking in the dry heat, I was just waiting to hear two loud snaps and pops as the disc in my knees would not be able to take anymore and simply break away from the ligaments and tendons. For those of you that have seen the South Park episode where Kyle wants to play basketball and gets all that plastic surgery. Remember what happens to his knees at the end? Yeah, that's how I felt.

But I was still in the middle of no where.

I rode on. I was looking for the town called “Kottakal”. Specifically, I was just looking for bus stands at this point. I found one, on the opposite side of the road, and swung over and asked “Bus to Calicut?” A bunch of people motioned for me to just go back the next intersection and on the other side of the road would be the bus stand. I wearily got back on my pedals, and waiting for traffic to die down a bit, crossed over and rode up the slight hill past the intersection. Outside some small stores, a bunch of people were standing around and I asked the same question. One man who spoke better English stepped ahead and stood out from the rest saying “yes, wait here for the bus to Calicut.”

Fantastic, I thought, almost there. “Cycle okay?”

“No, no cycles on the bus” he plainly responded.

I was about ready to just sit on the ground and wait until sleep came, or until the Police came to see what I was doing. Then another man approached and said “no, no it's okay, cycle is okay.” With him were two men in lunghies and matching shirts. They were porters that helped people get packages on the bus.

Actually it's a pretty good method.

People come to the bus stand and drop off whatever packages they have. Some times medical supplies, sometimes news papers, anything. One man in a small van stopped at the bus stand and unloaded two large car batteries. What happens is you put a box of whatever it is you want to ship with an address on it and unload it at the bus stand. The porters then throw the packages on the bus, and they go to the big city. There, at the main bus terminal, I'm not exactly sure what happens, but I know they unload the packages, and I suppose the recipient better be at the bus stand to pick up his or her packages.

So this man and the two porters said that it wasn't a problem and when the right bus arrives, they would help me with the bike.

One, two, three buses later it was still not the “right” bus. By this time I had met quite a few people, including one man who everyone said was the head of a private bus company in Calicut. He assured me that we could put the bike on and it was not a problem. Eventually, the bus came, I saw my bike go up, and I put my bag in the back corner of the bus on a seat and sat down next to it.

The next hour and a half, I barely remember. Zooming by villages, in between rice paddies, I drifted in and out of sleep. Almost delusional, I felt at times, that I was awake, but my eyes would only open half way. I could barely acknowledge people at this point, and had no knowledge of how fast time was passing. I was not unfamiliar to this feeling, I had been this tired before, but in the heat, and considering once I arrive in Calicut, I still had the task of searching out a (cheap) hotel, this was not good.

What seemed like five minutes later, the buildings were all of a sudden taller and I shot up, asking the man next to me “Calicut? Last stop?” He appeared annoyed, way more annoyed than most people might seem and unhappily muttered, “yes.” I had arrived. Here goes nothing.

I got off the bus with my bike asking for Kallai Road. Three people told me the same direction, and I went that way. This is where things got hairy. Since at this point I was looking for any hotel, I stopped where ever I saw lodging. Place one – a mansion. And way too expensive. It was one of those hotels that big business people stay at that can afford all the luxury that the hotel offers. I figured most places would have rooms, so I said thank you for the information, and went onto the next place.

This place was busy. It was an afternoon, and Calicut houses a lot of domestic tourists. A big hub for that sort of thing, the streets were littered with shops. The same types of shops you might see in very touristy towns, only without the hassle and calling you to come to their shop. In fact, being a foreign tourist in this city was a strange thing... I was the only one. It felt kind of good to be in with the throngs of people, and not foreign tourists like me, native Indians being tourists in their own countries. It was sort of uplifting.

But this didn't make me less tired. 3 Hotels, all full. As I went from hotel to hotel I started to learn why there were so many people. There's a festival on September 2nd called Onam. Apparently business men from all over the country, but especially Mumbai come to Calicut and sell things. Everyone was pretty vague in helping me to decipher what they sell, but apparently its a festival and it's important. Too bad I'm going to miss it.

Dragging my bike, lugging my pack on my sunburned back, I shuffled my feet on uneven pavement towards my next destination. Where ever that may be. Anywhere at this point. I went to another lodge that seemed somewhat quiet and went to the reception desk. “Rooms?” I quietly mumbled.

“Sorry sir, all full.”

My head hit the counter. Not because of anything bad, but I was getting to the point where I couldn't take it. I put my arms on the counter and down my head went. I closed my eyes for a minute and thought. What could I possibly do, I've exhausted a good chunk of the hotels in my book, and I've been walking around for the past 40 min trying to find a hotel. My legs were about to collapse.

“Can I at least use your phone to call another hotel to see if they have rooms?” At first, for some reason, he thought I wanted to call the police.

“No, no not the police. This hotel, KTDC on SM Street, I just want to make sure they aren't full. I have to lug my bike there from cycling all day... wouldn't want to walk and they are full.” Seeing how raggedy I was, how sweaty, my white shirt turned brown, I think this manager was ready to kick me off the premises. I probably smelled horrendous, I know I looked like death, hair disheveled, legs covered in mud, grease, and asphalt. I was a walking mess.

“It's half a kilometer, I think you can walk.” replied the manager.

I went back to my bike, sat on the stoop next to it outside his hotel and put my head between my knees. I felt like crying, but being that I was so dehydrated I doubt that even if I tried, would tears form. There was nothing left in me. I felt broken. I sat there for a couple minutes contemplating my fate in that (then) horrible, vile, dirty city. But that came to be just a thought because of my situation. The city turned out to be wonderful.

Regaining any last remnants of strength I had left, I came to the conclusion of what choice did I have? If I stayed on his stoop any longer, the manager was probably going to call the police on me. I slung my pack back on, picked up the kickstand on my bike, and I staggered to the next spot. Asking for SM street and more specifically “Malabar Mansion” (which however, was not a mansion), I eventually found my way to the hotel. Stumbling into the reception office, I asked, “How much is a room here?”

“How many people?”

“Just me.”


“No A/C please.”

“A double or single room?”

I was about to kill the receptionist. Figuratively of course, but I just wanted a room and he was asking me a series of questions I really didn't want to answer.

“Please a single room with no A/C, how much is that going to be.”


“And you have rooms?” At this point, I was waiting for the irony to hit. After all those questions I was waiting for him to say 'sorry, we're full.'

“Yes, we have rooms.” GREAT! I'll take it, I thought, and enthusiastically accepted whatever room he had to offer.

Finally, I had a place to rest, a place to sleep, and I could go find dinner a little later on. When I showered, the water going into the drain was a mixture of soap and greyish black water. There were tan lines on my feet from the sandals, and I had to scrub the dirt off my ankles. My skin tone on my legs got three shades light after that shower. I was shocked. My back and arms still burnt, but that was okay, I was somewhere comfortable.

So, according to the distance chart on my map, I traveled approximately 224km in two days. Around 139 miles. Some hitch hiking, some busing, some walking, and a lot of cycling. Day two apparently came to about 83km of cycling. Give or take a couple kilometers, and I did catch that ride. Either way, day two, I also pushed myself way too hard.

Why did I do any of this? It all sounds very extreme, but it was only two days. Almost nothing in the grand scheme, and also comparatively to what some people have really done. I can't say yet what I learned from it. I do know that I did it to learn some lessons that only come the hard way, but only after some time will I realize the true lessons behind it. I did it because it was yet another challenge. Something to push against myself and see how I do when times get tough. And your worst critic is usually yourself. Or your mother. I don't think mine approves of all this, but either way, it was an interesting and worthwhile experience. Enough rambling on that though.

Either way, I still have my bike, my knees feel a lot better, and now that I'm back to normal I can use it on excursions and adventures that aren't as extreme. Try to see the sights and enjoy them.

But once I'm better prepared and better trained, I would like to do a longer walking or biking tour some place.

Who's in?

I'll go anywhere.


  1. Hi Norman,
    We got tired just reading your BLog of your bike, truck, walk today.
    Glad you finally got a place to put your head down.
    Tomorrow will be easier.
    As we walked this AM Grandma and I decided we wouldn't be able to do what you're doing but we are enjoying living vicariously thru your blogs.
    G & G

  2. Norman -

    I find that if I use IE I can post a comment, so the problem is evidently in my Firefox settings.

    My body almost aches after reading this post. I can really understand the physical challenge, the depressed moments, and the satisfaction of having found your way through it all. You should be proud of yourself.



  3. Hi Norm,
    I'm really behind in reading your blogs. So forgive me but I know you are well as we spoke on the phone a couple of times.
    Well that was a heck of a second day. I'm proud of what you did and yes you are right moms will let you know what they think, it's in our genes. You know my "motto" everything in moderation.
    You should pat yourself on your poor sunburned back that you made it.
    Just do me a favor? Please don't end up in the hospital. It's a long way off.
    Now take some time to enjoy yourself and explore your surroundings without rushing.
    Love You
    P.S. Remember our deal right??? Take the bus!!!!!!!!