08 May 2013

Learning to Ride at Hearts and Tears Motorcycle Club

 Don't worry mum, we put on helmets when we left the training ground.

Readers will know that I have wanted to learn to ride a motorcycle for quite some time, but I have always been slightly afraid. Ever since an ill fated scooter attempt in Goa during which I nearly crashed into a cow and was almost side swiped by a tour bus I have been reluctant to get back in the saddle. 

When I learned about Hearts and Tears Motorcycle Club in Pokhara, that all changed. The owner, Matthew Gardner, claims to be able to take people from "zero to hero" in just a few short days, and he didn't seem even slightly put off by the fact that I don't know how to drive a car or have a license (bad Vancouver girl. Bad!). He was confident that he and seasoned instructor Fern Hume would be able to get me on a bike and onto the road in just two days - and they were right.

I have a little experience with sidecars...(and empties)

I booked the "Expat Weekend" which included one full day of instruction on a Yamaha RX135 and a trip through the mountains the following day. I was nervous - other than skateboarding and cycling, I have never operated a wheeled vehicle without a driving instructor sitting next to me with his own emergency steering wheel and panic break pedal. (Which he had to use. A lot.)

Oh, you pretty girls.... learning how to ride an Enfield is my next goal.

We met on Saturday morning - my birthday - at the shop, and were briefed on the schedule for the day. I was joined by my Kathmandu pal Benjamin, a pilot and novice to motorbikes himself. He had managed to recruit a third attendee, a gal named Katie whom he had met while climbing to the Peace Pagoda the day earlier. 

I wasn't sure what to expect and had fears that I would be thrown into the deep end right away, but Fern walked us through the bike and the theory of how to ride in a logical, step by step manner. Within an hour we were seated on bikes and learning how kick start, operate the clutch and work the revs. As we wheeled around the training ground slowly my confidence grew and I began to think I was a natural. 

This feeling did not last long. 

For my next feat...

I was the only one of the three students who did not know how to drive a car, and so the clutch and the gears were genuinely confounding for me. I stalled once, twice and then three times - this was enough to undermine my newly gained confidence. Remembering to let the clutch out slowly, change gears and rev the engine smoothly all at once, and having my hands do two different things at the same time? This started to confuse my tired, hot brain and I fell behind the others. As they zipped around the training grounds I began to regress, get stressed and stall, stall and stall again.

My nerves were not helped by the myriad pointing children and picnicking adults gathered around, staring and treating us like a sideshow attraction. After lunch Matt arrived and decided that Benjamin and Katie were ready for a spin on the local roads. Fern stuck with me, gave me a new bike with a less sensitive clutch and walked me through all of the skills we had been working on. With her kind, patient one-on-one attention I was back on track, and within 30 minutes I too was ready to get out of the park and onto the road. We cruised around the lake and my spirits were high and my confidence boosted.

While on a thirty minute refresher on the busy Pokhara roads we learned how to navigate the Frogger-like traffic of Nepal (bus, child, goat, cow, cow, child, bus). Fern was impressed by our prowess - the hectic, chaotic nature of the streets didn't phase the three of us, as Ben and I are seasoned expats who know how to walk in the stuff, and Katie has been traveling in India for 5 months. We were all experienced with the strange, swaying nature of the traffic and the neccessary liberal use of the horn. Soon we were ready to set off into the mountain roads of Sarangkot to spend the day honing our skills on the bikes.

Matt led the way, followed by Katie (who, despite her complete lack of previous experience, was a complete natural and a babe to boot!), Benjamin and then me with Fern bringing up the rear. At first, Matt and Fern prompted us when to change gears, but before long it began to feel intuitive and I was zipping up into fourth on my own accord, overtaking buses and beeping my horn at children and dogs to shoo them out of the road. As we began to ascend into the hills, I practiced slowing down around hairpin corners revving like a madwoman to get up hills. I had a few stalls, but nothing too serious and though I was the slowest of the group, I managed to keep up quite nicely and maintain my speed.

You all know this was the best part of my day.

The only real complication of the day was a particularly brutal rocky off-road path that led up to our lunch stop, the idyllic Indreni Cottages. I stalled going up the treacherous terrain and couldn't pull off a hill start, but Fern was to the rescue and made sure my bike made it up the hill. After a visit with the dogs and (satanic) pet monkey and a delicious dal bhat, we were ready to get started on the descent back down into Pokhara.

This monkey actually wanted to see Matt's blood on its paws.

Downhill was definitely more of a challenge, as the dirt roads featured countless winding curves and gravelly scree that required concentration and lower speeds. Fern made sure that I was confident and safe at every stage along the way, and we made our way back down to Lakeside just as a huge thunder storm edged at the corners of the sky.

By the time the rain began to pelt down in earnest we were sitting back at the shop, safely under cover and downing Jack and cokes, discussing the day and beaming with pride at our newfound biker skills. To quote Fern, "when you are driving a car you are watching a  movie. When you are riding a bike you are in the movie." Amen.

Benjamin had no idea that his jacket announced that he was a "Pro Biker" and was mortified when I pointed it out to him.

Wearing a ridiculously huge jacket to protect my delicate skin (re: tattoos)

Learning to ride a motorcycle was one of the most fun decisions I have ever made, and I couldn't be happier that that I chose the folks at Hearts and Tears to teach me. In fact, I am so enamoured with the activity that Benjamin and I have planned a daytrip to Pharping this weekend - hopefully one of many to come. My ultimate goal? To get more confident riding bikes and set off on a loooooong solo journey. The 'stans? Russia? China? South America? On a bike, the sky is the limit.

Now to learn to drive a car. Sigh.

1 comment:

Pat said...

I think you are very brave to try this and I am so happy you accomplished this goal! Fern sounds like an angel and I'm glad she took the patience to train you or this could have easily left you frustrated and wanting to quit.

You go, girl!