[From November 2007.]
On the approach to Kathmandu, once again into a maelstrom that I perversely enjoy, construction dust and half pavement, boiling traffic, trucks, scooters, jeeps, dogs. Marcin and I have left Tzarek and Agata well behind, him on my wheel as I aggressively, letting go into a slurry, slip through holes in the chaos that open briefly then close again like troughs in crisscrossing speedboat and jetski wakes on a too-small lake. Even with the pollution our lungs rejoice at the low altitude air. Under the flight path of the jets now, their roar is hardly audible through the clamor of horns, horns!, ill-tuned engines, air brakes and shouts. We stop at the turn to wait for our companions, and Marcin’s face is covered with black dust, startlingly broken by white when he grins or takes off his sunglasses.
We ask directions to Thamel where we know we can find cheap lodging ensconced in the contrived ecosystem of exotic adventure tourism fantasy, but the buildings and temples and stink are real enough. We pedal into these neighborhoods of services that are both fascinating and unnerving — pseudo hippie era stitched together pants and Buddha eye t-shirts and knockoff mountaineering shells and European chocolate and Carlsberg beer. Marcin exclaims at a banner across the sagging four story buildings: Welcome Mountain Bikers to the Nepal National Championships. Exchanged glances, raised eyebrows, hmmm. The race is a bit over a week away, long enough to ride to Pokhara, as I was planning to do, and back to compete. We’ll toast our timing and our successful Tibet span together that night and the next, and we’ll even hook up with some locals to pre-ride the course. Oche meets us outside of Dawn ’til Dusk at 6am in the misty cool, and we ride full throttle through the narrow alleyways, then next to a foetid trash filled river, up a steep paved climb to get to the race venue six miles away.