Sunday, September 10, 2006

Cold Rain and Snow

Snow. Probably the last weather phenomenon that I expected to encounter on this trip. When we saw our first flakes yesterday, a hazy memory of a conversation with my mother began to materialize. The conversation may be a total figment of my imagination, but I think it actually happened.
"Tibet? Won't there be snow and freezing temperatures up there?!"
"Aw mom, you're always paranoid. It's summer, there won't be any snow! Besides, we can buy any cold weather gear we need."
You're both right!

Moonrise on the Plateau

Our plans to continue camping were thwarted by frigid temperatures and daily downpours. I was really nearly at the end of my rope during the last camp-out. We spotted a good set of jagged mountains to do another Qingqi photo shoot. While we were shooting, George spotted a glacier that trailed down into the valley, declaring that with pure water and stunning landscape, this was the place we had to camp next.
The river looked to be a fair distance away, but the deceptively huge size of everything up here on the plateau proved that our destination was actually a great distance away. And while the terrain looked like smooth short grass all the way up the steep mountain, driving on it we discovered that it was actually incredibly rough, lumpy terrain. We snaked our way over the terrain towards the mountain, facing several creek crossings along the way. While I love the glory of driving across creeks and rivers, I absolutely hate that I soak my feet on almost every crossing. Drying out my shoes totally depends on the weather, facilities, and time before we hit the road again. While Mike and George seem to have infinite tolerance of wet, stinky feet, it's something I still struggle with.
So on that trek towards the camping spot, I was looking to minimize my water crossings, and a kind Tibetan pointed me towards his little footbridge that allowed me to avoid one crossing. As I came off the tiny bridge and returned to the lumpy ground, I turned around to wave and shout a "xie xie" to him, and in doing so, lost my balance and dumped my bike. Argh, just trying to say thanks put me in an embarrassing spot. So I picked up the bike, smiled sheepishly through my helmet, and continued along. Things were fine, despite now being separated from the group by a small distance, I crossed another creek and stopped when I heard a clanking sound. My bungees had come undone and all of my gear was now trailing between me and that last creek. The Tibetan ran over and insisted on helping reattach everything before reminding me a second time that we could have avoided all of this by taking a small road that led to the mountain, rather than off-roading it.
Eventually I caught up with the others, but eventually I was separated again, as I took my time on the gravel road we merged onto. One more water crossing, in which I dumped the bike again, and I needed to take a few minutes on my own to cool down. It was during this cool-down that I realized why I dump my bike so often when we're off-road. I have never had qualms with my height, but I realized that just a couple more inches on my legs would make all the difference off road on a motorcycle. As soon as my bike is on the smallest rock or lump, I can't touch the ground. On the street this doesn't pose a problem, but as soon as the bike is lifted and I need support on one side or the other, the bike has to tilt significantly before I can touch the ground. With the increased angle of the bike, the weight of the load is that much more difficult to counter, and with no leverage and not being as strong as the other guys either, all I can do is get out of the way and let the bike fall.
Eventually, I made it to the campsite, where George and I hurried to set up tents and scrape together some firewood while the others returned to town to find more wood and beer.
It was then that George mentioned that he wasn't feeling 100% and upon reflection I realized I wasn't either.

David During an Off-Road

Eventually David and Mike returned, with bad new all around. On the way out, David had crashed, having misjudged the dirt road. In town, Mike's helmet was stolen (the second nicked since we arrived on the plateau). They were unable to find wood, and 3 of 9 beers were broken and spilled over the rest of their bag on the rough road back to the campsite.
We eventually scraped up more than enough wood, and settled down to light the fire in a fire circle with a "nipple" created by Mike in which we scraped hot coals under the wok. I put on my rubber rain poncho and watched lightning storms move to either side of us as the valley walls on either side of us miraculously pushed the storms aside. Things were looking up: David had been clever enough to transport eggs pre-cracked in a plastic bottle so they'd be scrambled by the time we arrived. He set to work cooking some home fries in the wok.
But while David cooked, things started feeling uneasy inside me. Yep, I needed to find a rock and prop myself up for a glorious bout of Lou Stools. At least I could watch a beautiful lightning storm while I sweated on that stone.
I returned to the campfire and as soon as the potatoes were nearing completion, a torrential storm snuck right down our valley. We ran back up to the tents and ducked under the tarp to shovel down the potatoes with whatever sticks were available. Eventually the rain abated and we ventured out again: me to my rock, and the others to cook the eggs. Like clockwork, as the eggs finished up, the storm kicked right back in again. I was through. I felt like shit, downed two Imodium, and hunkered in for what was sure to be a wet and cold night.
In the morning, I kept my mouth shut as George declared that, despite his feeling ill too, we would be camping again that night.
"No more of this 'I'm wet, I need a hotel' shit," he declared. I had to be a good sport, and I knew I wouldn't die per se, so I rolled with it.
And as David cooked breakfast, the rain started right back in again.

A Little Sibling Rivalry

Thankfully, as we drove that afternoon, the rain and cold dissuaded even George. I never had to vocalize what probably could have been read in my eyes, and George declared that we would, in fact, be seeking a hotel. I realized at that time that while George is rather extreme and has taken me out of my comfort zone a few times on this trip, he is still entirely reasonable and human as well. All of my solo travels have taught me so much about relativity: about what cleanliness is, what a wait is, what hunger is, what heat is, what a human really needs to survive; and together these lessons make me more tolerant and understanding while I endure uncomfortable situations, and make me that much more thankful for the comforts of home when I return. What this trip has done is taken that lesson even farther. As I sit here typing, able to smell my own funk, feeling sand grit between my teeth, the smoke of a Chinese cigarette burning my eyes, short of breath from the altitude, knowing it is just about freezing outside and that I will be returning to a hotel with no toilets or running water, I realize that all of these discomforts are things I have worked my way up to. Now, being dirty after two days of camping doesn't seem so awful compared to camping in a downpour. A face- and hand-wash and toothbrush is enough to set me for the day. Eating my lunch with filthy road-grimy hands isn't as bad as eating with two sticks I picked up off the firewood heap. Shitting in the woods is actually preferable compared to the frightening, nauseating shacks outside these Tibetan hotels. And as I said, while I am being pushed, it has been within reason, and with lessons learned all along.

So that's why tonight we are staying in the aforementioned hotel with no running water. The past couple days we have made three ~5000 meter passes. The temperature has dropped to the extent that while the skies are bright blue with puffy white clouds, any moisture in the air freezes. Not enough snow to stick, but enough to freeze the fingers and toes. David turned us on to warming the hands on the motorcycle exhaust. I've layered up with most of my clothing, and we were, as I promised my mom, able to buy cold weather gear such as long underwear and leather gloves in the towns we've stayed in. Today, as we made those mountain passes, the wind blew cold, and when we reached plains, the wind blew so hard that we had to ride at an angle to keep moving forward. Rounding corners and having to adjust to the changing wind was a frightening challenge. And as we lost altitude, the terrain turned semi-desert and we rode through several gusts of sand that burned any exposed flesh. Eventually, we arrived in some sort of military town with barrack buildings that are eerily reminiscent of a concentration camp. Everyone wears camouflage, and the sandstorm continues, whistling as it blows sand through the vacant streets.
We're striving to get back to lower altitudes and warmer weather as soon as possible, to resume the camping and sweating.

Sorry, Blogger keeps blowing my photo uploads, so only a couple pics today.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh Adam....
Love, mom

9/10/2006 8:55 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Fred's ready to give you a purely platonic tongue bath here at home :)

E and J

9/10/2006 7:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I guess I shouldn't have read this while eating. Not so hungry anymore.

9/11/2006 12:53 PM  

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