Saturday, February 25, 2012

Man down on Bike - A history of crashes!
My first tryst with the road occurred when I was zipping along on my sister’s trusty Luna Double +. 65 cc of unrestrained capacity had it tooling along at an amazing 60 Kph when I saw a bright light coming toward me and then all went white and dark. As events turned out, another kid was riding a TVS 50 XL at similar speed on the wrong side (Honest he was) with disastrous consequences for both! I was in mortal dread, having totalled my sis’s steed (chetak she called it) and not possessing a DL. My arm and butt and all else hurt. A kindly gentleman hailed an auto and the driver ferried me home and didn’t even ask me for payment. They don’t make autowalas like that anymore! Dad and sis then went to fetch the broken machine.
Many years passed after that fateful night, we left Bangalore for the Himalayas, Learnt how to walk (Think you know how? Come hither and I shall make you rethink.) And acquired a brain too. No chances of crashes on vehicles when there aren’t any! Back in civilization after 8 years, I happened to acquire an Enfield Bullet (A friend helped out with the purchase $$$$) A couple of days after the first ride, Accompanied by a close friend, I rode up to Mussorie. On the return descent, I was a bit fast and some @#$%^& had leaked diesel round a curve.  Squealing rubber met diesel slick with the now familiar result – a low side, no protective gear and superior quality road burn on the arm, fingers, knees and right thigh. Got up, rode home slowly, got the mandatory tetanus shot and called it my second crash.
Vivek had come down to Doon and it was time the bike saw the road to Sankri. We made good time till Naugaon when I thought Vivek could ride awhile. It was his first time and he couldn’t hold the bike on a curve. Again the skinned knees and forelimbs. Rode painfully into Purola, bought some dressings , stopped out of town, patched ourselves and carried on for another 70 Km and walked 5 to get home and heal.
I was a much better hill road rider, thanks to numerous trips between Doon and Motwar and managed to keep the bike on 2 wheels through many close calls on those lonesome rides. My luck ran out one cold December night when, delayed by a puncture, Guddu (a close friend) and I were climbing up towards Kempty falls. Speed, Darkness and a patch of frost that looked like water but was ice caused a skid through an inside left curve vectoring the bike towards the open side of the road. The bike dropped off the road, falling for an interminable time went tumbling through brush and scrub and came to a halt in a small puddle of icy water. I was faithfully clinging to the bike this entire time (hey I didn’t have the benefit of the internet telling me to throw myself off the bike). The bike apparently had fallen 15 M downhill and had stopped in a small mountain stream. I felt alive and well, all parts of me seemingly ok. I managed to pull the bike upright when Guddu called out for me. He had been thrown off the bike early in the fall and was fine, both of us owing our health to the layers of clothing protecting us from the cold. I primed the engine, kicked 10 times and the big beast was alive (my knee hurt terribly after but who cared). The light worked and we used it to look at our surroundings. Dad was on a jeep loaded with luggage about 45 min behind us. We ran up to the road and waited for them. They arrived and with help form 4 men and the bike in first gear, we dragged, shoved and skidded the bike up to the road on an incline. The clutch yoke was broken and I used a hanky to tie it up. The bike would not shift to 3rd or 4th and I had to ride it down in 2nd. I am still troubled some times by the ligaments I tore that night in my right knee.
The next crash was typical city style. Roaring down Rajpur Rd at 11.30 PM with Mimroo ( another victim of my biking) I hit a slow moving Cielo that had just made a U turn at the orient chowk, slowed down painfully in the right lane. My brakes didn’t do what they couldn’t and I rammed the bike into the car’s rear bumper. Fractured my right thumb and ran away to Sankri to heal.
2 years later, Vivek had moved to Chennai, Sankri was no more homes and I was living in Ddun with a very good friend (still do today, 10 years later). He had acquired a Thunderbird and we decided to ride it up to Srinagar (Garhwal) where he had some official work. This was a 130 odd Km ride each way and we were to do this round trip in a day. Going up, Raju was riding pillion, the sun was shining and I was feeling it! Coming down, he decided to take the bars and 20 km down the road, a combination of speed and sand on a curve (coupled with a !@#$%^ front tire) had the bike down and both of us tumbling. Smashed headlamp, dented tank (I hate that high tank design) and 110 Km from home in the dry heat of summer. Multiple skinned fingers, knees and what not. He started the bike and we rode off, stopping for water en route. Tore up a hanky and tied it over our wounds as best as I could and aided by a cold shower( blessing from the pain of  burning heated wind on wounds) we reached home by 7 PM. Having picked up first aid in town and a couple of ATS injections, we went home and fixed ourselves, injected each other and slept the sleep of the broken.
A few weeks later, same bike same pair, me in front, 120 Kph toward rishikesh, I crested a slope only to find a battered up scooter crossing the road diagonally with great difficulty. Went to full lock on both wherein the bike low sided, slid 25 M and slammed into the scooter. Again, skinned knees, busted fingers and broken instrument pod and headlamp. The new tank was scrap once again. Raju took the bike since I was in worse shape than he was and rode us home.
I must have matured a bit as a rider since I did not have any major incident for a couple of years. I moved to Bangalore with Vivek who had had a major crash in Chennai and continued to ride in town and between Sangama (where my company used to have adventure and outbound camps; I was a trainer) and Bangalore. No major incidents except for a rear wheel blowout on the ring road when the Big Iron 535 was over 130 (indicate). Amazingly I did not crash or go down under one of the zillion trucks that ply that road.
I moved back to Dehradun, started working as a teacher of Design (still do) and rode the now modified t Bird to work daily. The road struck back one warm May morning as I went round a right hand curve @ 80 Kph. The road had a reverse camber after the curve and the front lost grip, throwing me off (Dell Precision on my back and all). I must have tumbled 10 times or more said one passer-by (he was heard stating that I must be dead before I got up). I was helmeted but in a full sleeve tee shirt. I lost a huge amount of skin and flesh from my right forearm (probably the most pain caused by an accident for me). The tachometer had shorted and the wiring was smoking. I had to yank the harness apart and the bike started. I rode home, cut all the shredded skin off my arm, used a razor to remove hair off the wound (nearly passed out with the pain), patched my arm up, took a couple of Diclofenac tablets and went off to get the bike fixed. That injury and a summer vacation spent in Bangalore caused me untold misery before it healed with permanent scars.
I acquired myself and shiny black C5 (I was a launch customer getting the 5th bike delivered in Uttarakhand) with greater potential for speed and crashes. April 2010, we were planning a ride to Leh (My first) and on my way to work, I over cooked it a bit on a narrow country lane. A bus appearing suddenly around a blind corner left me no braking room or road and I had to try squeeze through. A parch of slush and lousy nylogrip zappers (no grip in slush at all) had the bike doing all sorts of crazy things eventually depositing me on the road. I felt ok and waved the bus away. Trouble was my right arm failed to work. Taking a closer look, I realized I had dislocated my elbow in the fall. Called Raju and waited for help.  A month in a cast is torture! Suffice to say that with physiotherapy and sweat I recovered, made it back on to my bike and the rest as they say is riding history (leh and all that).
2011, I was too hot going into a sharp left, braked on gravel with a bad rear brake that would not release quickly( rust in the cam it appears) caused a rear wheel skid and running out of road too fast, panic disk braked into a high side. Smashed headlamp and no other injury 2 weeks before another trip to Leh. I sure pick em fine!
2012 was awesome (not counting the 3 falls on ice in Dhanaulti) till a week back when riding back from work, climbing up a curve, I was confronted by a mule bang in the middle of the road. The startled beast spun desperately seeking to escape the black monster attacking it. Full controlled braking failed to scrub off the speed (I was doing 70 when I started to brake). I slammed into the mule hard (poor thing is ok).  Was in full riding gear, breezer jacket, helmet, tundra gloves, Swiss gear boots and all. I hit my right shoulder hard into the tarmac and then the head. I have no memory of the events that followed and apparently picked up my bike, reset the ECU (rollover sensor will cut off the engine in a fall and needs to be reset to start again) and rode off without a word. How I rode home or whet I did, I do not recall but at the home gate, I thought I imagined the fall. The missing rear view mirror and the jagged edges of the headlamp told me a different story. I was concussed, my head hurt as did my hip where my belted Leatherman caused severe bruising. Additionally, I have mild whiplash as I write this and my ribs are tender.
Having had so many falls, a few, life threatening, have I mellowed down in my style or pace? I would think not and I would hope not. My accidents did not put a third person at risk (thankfully) and I have not suffered permanent damage yet.  Part of the joy of living for me is to ride a bike hard and fast and to give that up would probably make life a little less worth living. I swear to be more careful and control my right wrist but the speed freaks amongst you know that that battle is lost before it begins. I have a good feel for the road and my bike and can ride very fast even on the mountain roads as some of my biker friends will testify. Maybe I will meet my end at the controls of a fast bike and hope for a few more long rides before that.
Dedicated to fast bikes and the lessons learnt (painfully) from the road!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Monsoon 1994

I guess it was the monsoon of 1994, the incessant torrent from the sky had made small springs raging rivers and the river that we knew and loved was no longer recognizable, a malevolent raging monster bent upon destruction and ruin. The smell of tree sap and mud choked the riverbank and we had to go to a small stream uphill of our home for our watery needs. The roads were washed away in numerous places till even the indefatigable jeeps called it quits and retreated to the closest towns and villages. The buses came up to the hamlet of Mori, 22 Km from home.

Vivek and my sis were due to go down to Delhi and they were to carry some luggage that also included a full size typewriter. The heavy iron machine crated and packed had to be lugged down to Mori in advance as it would be impossible to carry down in the rush to the bus on the date of departure. Govindram and I left after a heavy meal in the morning after an all-night rainstorm, carrying the beastly load. Taking turns up the mountain, we trudged down the road, rounding the ridge of Bingne Dhaar. The sight that greeted us was straight out of a disaster movie. Huge mudslides peppered the road, in places up to 3 feet of slush. Time and again, we sank past our knees into the fetid ooze and had to help each other out. We resorted to carrying a stout branch and a piece of driftwood to use as a stepping “stones”. We reached Mori well past 3 , put the luggage in a safe place , and hurried back home , with a few precious litres of so called “ Lemon oil”( so called lemon oil is essentially kerosene as the initiated will inform you).

That night saw the skies open up again and a deluge that would have impressed “Noah” had that gentleman chanced upon those mountains; poured upon the hapless inhabitants of the valley. The next morning, packed and ready, Vivek and my sis and I were on our way, negotiating the treacherous uphill path and then the glop fields which were freshly wetted and churned. We made good time and had some locals for company and managed to make the bus rendezvous point by 4 that evening. Meera and Vivek on board the bus for the night halt at Mori and then to the plains beyond, I left to darkly brooding clouds and a stiff breeze. The exertion of the days past combined with today’s walk had induced lethargy in my steps that I was unfamiliar with. The 16 KM home seemed too long even for my iron will. To this mix of fatigue, loneliness and hunger, the skies added their load of icy water. Drenched, shivering and dragging my steps, I made what was normally a 4 hour walk to me, last all of 9 hours. The failing light of the torch and a fever that was imminent goaded me to that last bit of effort, till I dragged my sore limbs onto the beautiful beautiful Bridge well past 2 AM.

I slept the sleep of the dead for most of the next day, and the next and so on till I lost count of the days and the nights between. A high fever, with splitting headaches, no meds and the nearest pharmacy, 5 hours away by walk, No fuel , No dry wood , The 10 days I spent between consciousness and hallucination probably passed easier for me than for the person I will call “A”. From bringing water to finding float wood for a fire, from nursing me to arranging for a few precious tablets of crocin and disprin , the constant blowing on a smoky cold flame , drying the soaked wood as much as possible , I loose count of all the ways in which the effort was made to make me comfortable, an effort that I can never repay in a hundred lifetimes. I recovered, a shade of my former self and the sky seemed to relent too clearing into swarm sunny weather in the verdant valley. Vivek and my sis had their share of adventure on this trip that is better heard from them.

In the years since, I have had numerous not so pleasant experiences but never have I had occasion to dig so deep into my reserves of strength and the will to continue, to carry on, to prolong the suffering to reach a place, a place we called home. In those days in the waterlogged mountains , in the midst of a frightening beauty , I was tempered, tempered and hardened to such a degree that most hardships that I face now make me laugh, laugh in the memory of the monsoon of 1994.