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October 28, 2006

Meeting Life Head on...

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LOCATION: Harkatwa, Nepal
Longitude: N: 27.57°
Latitude: E: 083.79°
Miles from Singapore: 5021

'Ccrrruuunch'. The dreadful sound of metal colliding at speed on metal just 50 feet behind me brings my legs to a sharp halt. Drivers from other vehicles are already running down the road in the direction of two buses slewed at awkward angles across the road from each other. Both front ends are caved in from the impact of a head on collision and some of the passengers and both drivers are clearly badly hurt. This is the third accident I've seen on the road today since leaving Kathmandu just 80km away.

A few seconds prior to the accident several buses had passed me on the downhill stretch going incredibly fast and veering way off into the opposite side of the road. Some of them overladen with goods and people sitting on the roof leaned over at frightening angles and I remember thinking what an especially dangerous section of road this was. I've become quite used to the appalling driving standards in Asia: drivers have a particular penchant for overtaking at the most hair-brained sections in the road such as blind corners and the brows of hills (ideally both at the same time). Faith in the next life and the unquestioning assumption that whatever might be coming the other way is smaller and can therefore squeeze off the road in time are perhaps two key factors in the successful outcome of this fatalistic equation in the minds of drivers. To my mind it presents an impossible collision between the fixed laws of physics and [lack of] common sense.

The main defense mechanism I have for avoiding getting caught between these two deadly phenomena is the mirror on my handlebar. The butt of several jokes from other cyclists I've met along the way (they think it looks too clunky and old-fashioned) this $5 device reduces the chances of getting hit by several fold in my opinion. The main problem on these narrow roads is the limited space for two vehicles to pass immediately adjacent to me. And if there's a slower vehicle, such as a tractor or horse cart, coming the other way as well the width is further reduced. The mirror allows me to monitor the size and speed of vehicles coming up behind and what the likelihood is of there being a tight squeeze at the point in the road where I am pedaling. If it looks like they'll pass too close I can veer off into the ditch at the last minute (something I've done few times since leaving Singapore).

I've been told however by a couple of cyclists heading in the opposite direction that if I think Nepal is bad then wait till India. I'll find out just how bad later today when I cross the border and start the final 2000km stretch to Mumbai (Bombay) which I plan to hit by the middle of next month.

It turns out that another major expedition will be finishing around the same time. On November 12th Tim Harvey of Vancouver to Vancouver will be completing a two year epic to circle the world without fossil fuels. Follow the progress of the final stretch of this amazing journey that seeks to promote a greener future where all of us burn fewer fossil fuels. Tim's constant adherence to this higher goal over just the physical adventure is a great example to all wannabe expeditioneers.


Posted on October 28, 2006 4:29 AM