Tibetan Sisters, Nima Tibet 2011

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Is that you, Death, sleeping at my side? (or The Last Day of Freedom in Tibet)

Place: U-Tsang, Tibet Autonomous Region
Time: September 2011
Approaching 20th day since illegal entry

The days on the plateau were calm and peaceful. Spending my days alone, on the saddle or pushing up over ridges, headed towards the horizon. The view of my route leading right up to the heavens. Lifting my arm up in the air knowing that if I were to stretch my skinny, frail and knotted body just a little further…I could pluck a cloud right out of the blue sea I’ve been swimming in.

The past couple of nights, sitting in my tent and looking up at the sky, questioning how much longer I could endure this. I was starving, my drive for food had nearly vanished. The ringing in my ears being the only sound that kept me constant company. Hunting for water by climbing to the top of hills and finding the fresh, bubbling source…while avoiding the run off that interweaves around yak and elk tracks (maybe wolves). Fingers and toes taking on a purplish hue and a constant lethargy, my daily desire to find somewhere to sleep away the days.

Death…what will you feel like? Perhaps I have an idea.

As I zipped myself into my green down coffin, inside my green tomb, I envisioned myself not waking up from this life but continue to live on in this glorious dream. I was in the most magical and beautiful place in the world. Alone and free…and I have never felt such a rush of true happiness in my life.

Awaking that day with a rain shower, camping next to a lake, as I unzip my tomb, I am overtaken by a bright and transparent azul lake with a range of shimmering glaciers.

To the West, I can see thick storm clouds touching the horizon with the winds prickling against my face as I question my agenda for the day.

Exhausted, I zip up and fall in and out of sleep with the sound of the rain and wind against this green tomb, my home.

Moments, the storms would subside and silence and brightness would enter the tomb. Some time would pass and it would become dark again and I would fall into a dream, the sound of the rolling water down the nylon.

It wouldn’t be so bad to spend the day here, I could set off tomorrow for Nima, as I was only a day ride away. Having a little water and some snacks for survival, yet my belly is getting smaller and smaller and more difficult to force something down. What is happening to me?

Late afternoon, after the storm has cleared, I stick my head out in the sunshine and see the Tibetan family approaching. Nothing to worry about. My concern is on the massive storm clouds coming closer and closer from the West.

A few men, a child, and a woman come over to me. The younger man can speak a smidgen of Mandarin and I’m directed I need to get going, that I can’t stay. This is the ONLY time this has ever happened to me. All other times I would have been invited into their home for tea.

My conscience tells me that these folks may not be like all the other souls I’ve met along this path so without an argument or pointing at the storm clouds I crawl out in my pjs and begin to pack up. I’ll go a few kilometers up and set up camp for the day.

I’m moving so slow, slower than I’ve ever moved before. The family sits about 2 meters from me and watches my life in slow motion. They have brief discussions when I shove my bag into a tight bag or break down the tomb poles. Just a sentence or two…nothing more.

Slipping some clothes over my pjs with my intent to go back to dreaming in just a couple of hours. What’s happening, all I want to do is zip up into my green lit tomb and dream…….

The storm clouds are black and they are nearly hovering over me.

The winds are whipping everything around and I have to move fast to prevent my possessions from being blown over the plateau.

We are engulfed in darkness and the air temperature drops fast. The Tibetans and I say goodbye and they watch me walk fast towards the West and they begin to run home to duck out of the storm.

I’m hit with cold ice from all sides. It’s painful. It’s cold. Battered…it’s a hail storm.

There is a bridge going over a stream of glacier melt behind me.

I push my legs as fast I can, and backtrack, past the Tibetans to hide under the bridge. They watch me pass without an offer of help or shelter. Being pummeled by ice, I jump off my bike and duck under the bridge.

Trying to stay dry, I press my body against the cold and damp concrete of the standing structure. It’s this or be misted from the sides and ice dropping down between the wooden slats above.

I watch cardboard boxes and other miscellany fly by with a great speed, tumbling over what ever stands in it’s way. When I stick my head out from under the bridge, my hair is whipped around and my face stings as if I’m being attacked by an angry swarm bees.

Early evening, the sky opens up and the plateau has returned to its near blinding light. The dark clouds are to the South East of me and perhaps if I move fast enough I can stay out of this storm.

The remainder of light is spent going up and down over the plateau, avoiding glacier melt, ditches, and trenches. I may have had a Tibetan or two pass me on his motorcycle, that part of this memory is not so clear. My soul was elsewhere, a place that’s not on this earth.

Nightfall arrives late on the plateau, after 9:30.

There is a brilliant full moon. She lights up the sky and earth for me. Never have I experienced an evening like this. I am Moon bathing and her energy is lighting up everything for me to continue on. Never have I seen such a clarity.

I recall having a feeling of “the end”. It had been visiting me for the past couple of days but that night, under the stars, I remember thinking, “this is my last day”. It wasn’t some starved, crazy woman thought…it was very clear, as clear as the night sky that had engulfed me…womb like. It was calm, I was not scared or anxious. This was the end.

Pushing through the moonlight, I hear this “huff…huff…huff…huff…huff”. What is this deep breath I continue to hear. I stop, I listen…it has stopped. I start pedaling again and I hear “huff…huff…huff…huff”. Am I delusional or am I hearing this…can someone tell me if I really heard this? “huff…huff…huff…huff”…

It must be the Tibetan deer or elk. What else could it be? I had seen them in the fields for 100’s of kms. All alone, with no soul around, there is not even an instant of fear. “Huff…huff…huff…huff…huff…”, this breathing continues as soon as my feet make their revolutions. Stopping when I stop.

Perhaps it was my “Animal Guide”, the Moose, did I finally slow down enough for him to catch up with me. Our first encounter under the silver flecked night sky.

The plateau is a very tricky place to estimate how much road is ahead.

I had seen motorcycle lights weaving along the horizon, like shooting stars. Further ahead I could see spotlights dancing in the sky, they must be coming from Nima.

Repeatedly telling myself, “just a little further, just a little further”.

Close to midnight, I gave in to the calling of sleep.

There is a Tibetan village. No lights but I hear a couple of dogs and watch the single light drive off the road and up to the ridge. The moonlight exposing the little concrete buildings to me, with a grey smoke slowly rising above.

I never feel comfortable entering a village at dark, especially around midnight.

The village is about 1km South of the road…I set up camp about 2 meters North of this road. In the morning, we will be able to clearly see each other.

One reason I camp close to people is because if something were to happen, I can find help. I’ve had practice with my “War Cry” so I know the glass shattering sound will pierce their ears.

As I set up camp, for the final time in Tibet, a single light approaches me. I squat behind the tent, to avoid any interaction and hopes they will just leave. It works. They pull up about 1 meter away to look at the tent and move on without a word.

I stand there and I look up into the sky. Trying to photograph this moment doesn’t work…it shows “nothing”. What I see and feel can not be described in a photograph, it barely can be scribbled down on paper, let alone, being pecked into a blog entry.

Curling up in my tent after gazing into the heavens for nearly an hour, I fall asleep…questioning, “is this all a dream” and knowing…it’s over.

Near Nima, Tibet (U-Tsang) September 2011

I heard a crack the day before while riding. The bike didn’t stop and didn’t really notice anything different – so I continued on.

The previous night I had stayed with a Tibetan family in a very very small village. This morning she filled my bottles with tea and sent me off with a plastic bag of tsampa!

A few hours of riding there was another loud “crack” and I immediately felt my new Brooks saddle change under my booty.

I had just thrown out my old Selle Italia saddle and replaced it with a beautiful double rail Brooks B72 in Xining. This gorgeous beauty only had about 1000km on.

Dismounting and without skipping a beat I look directly at the double rails of the saddle. Both broken…snapped right behind the saddle clamp. Shit.

Really? I’m literally in the middle of nowhere. YES. LITERALLY!

There is no point in shouting or crying and actually maintain a very cool and collected demeanor. Gently setting Nelly on her side, I step a meter back and think about this situation.

This is exactly the point where I set the bike down and what I also had to decide on – which road?

First things first. I take out the multi-tool and skootch the saddle forward so the jagged breaks are in the seat clamp. This will hopefully get me somewhere for a shitty weld. I’ll have to take my weight off the saddle while riding, especially over this terrain. It will prove to also be the noisiest saddle ever.

I plop down in the fork of the road, feeling a little proud of myself for resolving this problem so quickly and not a peep of frustration coming from me.

Looking ahead, which road should I take. Again, the only map I have is a horrible tourist map of China with only main roads shown. It doesn’t even have Chinese written on it.

After gulping down some tea…wait…does this tea make me even thirstier? What is with this Tibetan tea?…and eating some tsampa I stand up and examine the road to the right.

It heads into the hills. There is a good chance it actually heads more Northeast, where at this point I want Northwest. I walk about a quarter of a kilometer down the road, closely…CLOSELY…examining the path. How fresh do the tracks look? Are there jeep tracks or just motorcycle tracks? How is the gravel thrown about?

After looking down near 16,000km of tarmac, gravel roads, cow paths, fields, I feel extremely competent of road judging skills.

I walk off the road to cross to the road to the left. Ahead, I can see that the road is pretty damaged from ice melt run off. This part of the road becomes about 3 meters wide from automobiles and motorcycles veering off the road and even another road has been made to the left. Further beyond, the road seems to wrap to the West around some large stones.

This road shows slightly more signs of travel BUT I notice multipele sets, and obvious, jeep and truck tracks. Yes, this is the choice.

(I want to state that the Brooks saddle was repaired by Brooks for free. If you use a Brooks B72 you MUST use an old style seat post or a “seat sandwich”.)

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