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Greetings from Nepal

Greetings from Nepal. I’m currently in the town of Surkhet, located in western Nepal. I’m here helping a new airline, Goma Air, get their feet off the ground. They have a crew of experienced Twin Otter pilots but no C-208 drivers. That’s why I’m here, to give the pilots some practical experience in the Caravan. It’s a pretty interesting area, especially for a climber like me. There are numerous Himalayan peaks visible on the horizon as we fly outbound from Surkhet, all shouting to be climbed.

The flying here reminds me a lot of Western Alaska. The villages and operations are somewhat similar. The pilot house is almost exactly the same, and the runways are short and rough. The big differences here are that the runways are at 9,000 feet MSL, and they bring you tea at every stop. That you don’t see in Alaska.

As my first dispatch from the field I was planning on writing a chronological account of the ferry flight over here from Seattle, and sharing my initial observations about flying around Western Nepal. Unfortunately my brain doesn’t always think in nice linear straight lines. So instead, this post is going to be about my first bike ride in Nepal!

We arrived in Shurkeet about two weeks ago from Kathmandu, and after looking at the roads and dirt trails that carve in and out of the surrounding hills and valleys I was itching to get out on my bike (which I brought with me on the ferry flight) for a ride. The next day the winds picked up at the airstrips and we were finished flying by the early afternoon. Hurrying home (a two minute walk from the airport), I pumped my bike tires full of air, grabbed my iPod, and headed out.

Soon I was miles down a dirt farm road waving at the local kids, who either shouted “hello” and laughed, or stared at me like I was a crazy person. As would be expected in a rural area there were a great variety of farm animals lounging beside the trail. Due to past experience I kept a wary eye on the mangy dogs that were concealed among the cows, pigs, goats, etc. I was ready to jump into a full sprint at the first sign of movement from any canine!

After several miles my diligence was wavering. Not a single dog so much as raised a paw as I whizzed by. Evidently the Nepalese dogs did not have the same training as their American counterparts. Rubber tires and Lycra just didn’t interest them. Sweeeet!!

In blissful ignorance I pedaled on. Rounding a corner and passing yet another little homestead I waved at the kids who were laughing and keeping pace beside me. I slowed to answer the question that all the kids seem to know in English: “Hello, what’s your name?”

I was unaware of the danger lurking just ahead.

Still chatting with the kids I rolled past a large pig. Out of the corner of my eye I just caught a red blur heading in my direction. Standing on the pedals I tried to get a better look, but the blur was moving way too fast for me to get a clear view. The red streak collided with my front fork, knocking the front wheel sideways. A quick foot on the ground saved me from a fall, but not from the furious assault of a very angry red chicken!

Killer Chicken

I’m not sure what had pissed her off, and I didn’t stick around to find out. Fending off the perturbed avian with one arm, I struggled back onto the trail and pedaled  madly. Soon the chicken had to be content with head butting my rear tire. Turning the speed up a notch I finally pulled away and looked back. There stood my attacker square in the trail fluffed up to the size of a Doberman. Clearly she had no intention of moving. I was pretty certain it was a fight I wouldn’t win and sought out another route back home.

It’s clear that on future rides I will have to keep an open mind about the hazards to be found on the Nepalese road system!

In my next dispatch or two I’ll get around to talking about the flying: the places we go, and the people who walk for miles to pick up the cargo we’re carrying. Cheers.

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