An Inauspicious Beginning (Feb. 1, 2006)

When the alarm sounded at 4:30 am, I slapped it quiet and rolled over for a few more hours of shuteye. But when the sun woke me hours later, I was mad at myself for oversleeping. My plan to leave before the morning traffic grew to gridlock fizzled as I looked at the clock – 9 am. I glanced around the room wondering what to do first. My saddlebags rested in the corner, packed and ready to go while Kali leaned on her kickstand two floors down.
Thomas and Luise were up, making coffee by the time I dressed. I’d been staying at their home since giving up my own apartment and while they were in Germany; then for a few more weeks preparing for my departure. They were kind people but I’d overstayed my time and needed to go.

Luise made me a cappuccino and Thomas helped me carry my saddlebags downstairs. Once Kali was loaded and I was fortified with a jolt of caffeine I took off. The roads were packed, as I knew they would be at this time of the day and I was nervous. I’d not been riding all that long and was not very proficient at it. As I maneuvered between Ambassadors and Tata buses, I found it difficult to stay seated in the saddle. The day before I’d washed and waxed Kali, rubbing silicon into her saddle, which now made it slippery. When I went to stop at a red light, my inner thighs rode up the tank as I felt the front wheel bump into the auto rickshaw in front of me. The driver and his policeman passenger poked their heads out. I smiled apologetically, but they couldn’t see because of the dupata, helmet, and sunglasses I wore over my face. I wasn’t trying to disguise my femaleness with the scarf; I was just trying to keep out the dust. They muttered something in Hindi, and then laughed. I felt like an imposter. Could they see this woman had no place in their world?

It took an hour to fight through city traffic and onto National Highway 8. A stream of overloaded trucks lumbered along like brightly painted dinosaur. Some struggled to stay on course as their bent axles charted other directions. Life along the road was busy. Trucks lay crippled and crumpled on the side with henchmen huddled, guarding the goods and waiting for help to arrive. Men in polyester slacks and button-down shirts strode along the shoulder, carrying small leather pouches or briefcases. Women, a more rare sight, waited to cross the highway, massive bundles of cut grass piled on top their heads. How they sensed an opening in traffic mystified me.

It didn’t take long for my body to tire. It refused to settle into the vibrations of Kali’s engine, but I pushed on for few more hours, unwilling to allow myself to be so weak so early into my journey, but when it began to sprinkle, I took it as a sign to rest. The landscape had been flat out of Delhi, but since crossing into Rajasthan, hills swelled around me. A red and green sign advertised “Turist restarant. 15 kms head.” The spelling was off, but I got the meaning, thinking a cup chai would help sooth my nerves.

The road presented more dangerous than I’d anticipated. It was nothing like riding in an empty parking lot in Southern Indian. No one prepared me for this. I was run off it six times within the first fifty miles by trucks and cars passing each other, leaving me no where to go but the shoulder. Each time, vitriolic curses spewed from my mouth.

The monsoon’s sweeping, southwest journey across India started six weeks ago, and I was catching the tail end of it…a time of steady rains. On a motorcycle, rain pelts you like tiny cannon balls, stinging any exposed flesh. By the time I reached the restaurants entrance, the rain had turned into a deluge, flooding the drive and soaking me. I couldn’t judge the depth of water pooled before me, and looked around for someplace else to escape into.

A gas station on my left offered hope, but not much. It had no awning over the pumps, or a garage -- just a slim strip of cement jutting from the roof. I edged Kali as close to the wall as possible and dismounted. I covered the bicycle panniers I’d had a tailor fashion into saddlebags, the black and white hand-woven bag by women in Orissa (now strapped to the rack where my pillion – uh, lady’s seat -- used to be) and my sleeping bag with a rain poncho before looking for a dry place for me.

A phone booth attached to the building seemed the most promising, and I stepped into it. Time passed and the rain grew stronger. Water began to rise in the booth, creeping over the toe of my boots, so I stood on a narrow baseboard until water covered that, too. The rain didn’t look as if it was going to let up and I needed a better place to stay dry. That’s when I noticed the booth had a sliding window leading to the inside of the gas station. And, rather than walk around to the front door in the rain, I slid the window open and climbed into the warm, dry office of the gas station.

A thick-set man sat behind a wooden desk, reading a newspaper while two thin men in rolled up pant legs, tried to push the water rushing in the front door back out with squeegees attached to long poles. My climb through the window didn’t raise an eyebrow as I dropped my soggy body into a plastic chair along the wall. My chattering teeth didn’t elicit an offer of chai either as I’d hoped. My failure to understand my position in society as a woman must have unnerved them. With nothing left to do but wait, I fell asleep. When I woke an hour had passed and the rain had relented to a fine drizzle. Six miles down the road I found it bone dry. In another twenty, I too, would be dry.

© 1997-2006. C.L. Stambush, All Rights Reserved Worldwide


Storm said...

The romance of riding in the rain has never really touched me. I'm sure the trip was much better once the monsoon ran out of its mojo.

Its lovely reading your blog. Waiting eagerly for the next installment.

Hari said...

Great to know that you are riding,
where do you post your photos??
where are you now.
Send me some more details.
S Hari Iyer

damnfool said...

Congrats. You are living (or have lived) my dream. I hope to do this someday.

Shruthi said...

What a start :) Helmets off to you for doing this and for sharing your experience :)
Can't wait to read the rest.

David Smith said...

Very good website. I liked it very much.

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