Day Fifty Two: Eduardo’s Road To Fitness

I was lying on the Dave’s sofa after quite a heavy night out in Girona.  Dave looked a little hung over but was putting on a brave face.  He had an unenviable day of house hold chores ahead of him.  Not great when all you want to do is chill, re-hydrate and try to remember the night before.

I was asked an unusual question.  Had I ever been ‘lost and really scared?.” I racked my brains.  I was linking  ‘lost’ and ‘scared’.  Lost, yes.  Scared, yes.  Lost and scared, no.  I ended up telling a story about a time when I was sea kayaking and my arms stopped working.  I was drifting out to sea with two cramping arms, stuck in a strong current.  That was quite scary but I was not ‘lost’.  I knew where I was.

On my motorcycle ride back from Girona I started thinking of when I had been ‘lost’.  By definition ‘lost’ is :-

having gone astray or missed the way; bewildered as to place, direction, etc.

The most epic case of me being lost occurred quite some years ago on a mountain bike trip in China.  I was living in Hong Kong and had realised that upon my doorstep lay a vast country.  I decided to explore some of it on my bike. And set off into China.

I flew up to Chengdu, the capital city of Sichuan province and decided to cycle towards Tibet.  I was not alone.  I was with two friends of mine.  We all got lost. Lost in the sense that we had no idea what road we were on, no idea if we were headed the correct way and no idea where we would be at the end of it.

The road was beautiful.  It was rugged. It was not paved. Well it was paved, but with rocks the size of filing cabinets. It was steep, but not so steep that it could not be ridden on a mountain bike.  Just steep enough that each night you collapsed into a heap, with your energy levels at zero.

We were climbing up towards the Tibetan plateau.  Heading towards the famous ‘Tibetan Blue Skies’. High altitude stuff.  Five thousand metres up.  A sky that was almost space.  Where you could watch shooting stars in the evening, where local legends told of yeti like creatures that lived way up above the tree line.  A great place for a couple of young travelling mountain bikers.

We had taken a wrong turn.  We had climbed all day, and with every hour that past we realized we had taken the wrong turn.  The road got worse; the average size of the rocks grew larger, from grape fruit sized, to loaf of bread size, to filing cabinet sized.

It was getting dark.  High up in the mountains twilight lasts about fifteen minutes.  The sun drops, behind the high mountain peaks and then, bang, its pitch black.  A soon as the sky becomes red; you realize that you have to find a place to ensconce yourself.  You have very little time.

The sky was pink when we spotted the monastery on top of the hill in the distance.

About a thousand steps led up to the top of the hill.  Ancient steps, worn out by sandaled feet.  Next to the steps was a smooth concrete ramp that followed the steps.  We put our bikes on the ramp and pushed.  It took a good forty minutes to reach the top.  Sweating and aware of the rapidly failing light we were confronted by a male guard.  He looked stern.

In no uncertain terms he told us we had to leave and that we were not welcome.  In response we smiled and shook his hand.  I think I hugged him.  We pulled out a guidebook.  He grabbed it and started trying to stitch together a sentence that said we were not welcome.  We pretended to misunderstand and hugged him, we thanked him profusely.  Just as this was going on, the drawer bridge was lowered and several female monks appeared, smiling.  The guard faltered, then smiled and let us pass.

The monks took charge.  The whisked us onto a patio that over-looked the valley far below.  They made us sit on small wooden stools.  I was lost for words as I looked out over the valley.  Mist was rushing in, covering the lower hills, obliterating the small villages below.  Somewhere in the distance wild dogs began to howl.  It was eerie.

The monks removed our shoes and began to wash our feet in bowls. We were all pretty embarrassed.  We had been cycling for days and our socks were disgusting.

With clean feet, we were ushered into a  large, dimly lit dining room.  A single orange bulb glowed above a massive, circular wooden table. Plate after plate of food was presented to us.  Vegetarian food.  Delicious, full of flavour.  We ate.  As fast as we ate, more plates were delivered. My two friends began to falter.

C’mon guys we have to finish this stuff.” I said, forcing myself to another helping of rice and vegetables.

Eventually we were beaten.  We had done well.  We had eaten almost everything.  I pushed my plate away from me and patted my stomach, shaking my head, showing that I was absolutely stuffed. A monk began to distribute the remains of our food amongst the fifty or sixty other monks watching us. They were still smiling yet we had eaten almost all of their food.

To say we felt bad, would be a bit of an understatement.  We bowed our heads in shame. The monks finished their meal pretty quickly and we were shown to our room. I went to sleep.

At about three in the morning there was a loud knock at the door.  I rose and had a look.

It was a monk.  She was about three feet high. She mimed ‘eating food’ –  Breakfast.  I woke the others and told them it was time to eat. They could not believe it.

Needless to say we did not eat much.  The monks however ate well.  They had a huge breakfast. It was exactly the same food.  We smiled.  We left and went back to bed. We were still embarrased. In the morning we were also still lost but we were having an adventure.  We were certainly not scared and we were certainly full.

Sometimes being ‘lost’ is good.  Unless you are a hungry monk and are entertaining those that are lost.

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