Where No Scooter Has Gone Before

The original plan was to go spelunking in a cave just outside the ring road. We ended up at the peak of one of the mountains that surrounds the Kathmandu Valley. About as much of an opposite as you can get.

When we were told that we weren’t allowed inside the cave today, my friend and I decided to keep driving. He gestured to a nearby mountain and told me there was a good restaurant somewhere over there. Spoiler — we never found it. Instead, the same thing happened that always happens when I try to find something specific here: we got lost.

There’s a point on every road that leads away from Kathmandu where the pavement gives way to gravel and dirt, which eventually gives way to expanses of fist-sized rocks that loosen every piece of my scooter that can be loosened. Once we were weaving our way through the rocky minefield, I figured we had seen the worst of it.

Then we veered off the main road onto a smaller one that led up the side of the mountain. It was cobbled with huge rocks that wouldn’t have been a problem for the jeeps and dirt bikes it was clearly meant for. But for my scooter and even my friend’s motorcycle, they were a problem. The bigger problem, however, was the fact that the road seemed to be ascending at a 45-degree angle with no sign of leveling out.

My 100cc automatic scooter was no match. I smelled smoke just before my scooter started rolling backwards down the mountain, and we had to stop while it cooled off. But we weren’t alone. It seemed that none of the brave souls who followed us were equipped for such a steep incline. As we sat on the side of the road, several cars struggled their way past, audibly overworked. Even small bumps in the road (of which there were many) were enough to stop the SUVs in their tracks. One pulled over while its unfortunate passenger vomited into the ditch along the road.

After a period of time that was probably not long enough, we decided that our bikes were good to go again. It was another 15 minutes before the road leveled onto a large expanse that would’ve been a wide open clearing, had it not been for the dozens of brand-new Fords and Volkswagens that were being showcased there. How the event organizers got so many up that road is beyond me.

We pushed on through the trees, pine needles slipping under our tires as we made our way to the next part of the road. Eventually it split into three ways, and we took the one that seemed to go further uphill. It quickly narrowed into a path meant for trekkers, mountain bikes, and goats. Thick vegetation whipped at my legs as my scooter pushed uphill, lurching over the tree roots and rocks that saturated the trail. We eventually broke away from the thick underbrush and onto a rocky ridge trail that was far steeper than anything we had seen yet. The new method was getting off our bikes and using the throttle to propel them uphill as we ran alongside, holding onto the handlebars. But even that failed, and we conceded that this path was, in fact, not meant for the motorized.

That was alright though, because we really didn’t need to go much further. Sprawling out below us was the entirety of Kathmandu, the snowcapped peaks of the Himalayas looming above the haze. Prayer flags fluttered in the wind all around us, and the wind carried music to us from the village below. I propped my scooter against a tree to keep it from falling down the mountainside, and set off with my camera.

We stayed for some time, and even walked a few miles down the trekking route that we had been driving on. But as the sun went down, so did our energy levels and we decided to head back while we still had daylight.

Actually turning on our bikes didn’t become necessary for nearly 15 minutes. We just coasted down the mountain, melting our brake pads like they were marshmallows. Once we reached the initial rocky road that first led us up to the wilderness car show, the difficulties began. The only parts of the road smooth enough to not threaten our tires were the dirt boundaries that separated the road from the steep mountainside. We switchbacked down the mountain, occasionally stopping for the intrepid souls first starting their ascent. Letting off our brakes for even a moment sent us hurtling down the road, each bump nearly throwing me off my bike.

Finally, it dropped us unceremoniously back on the gravel road that led us there. The moment that we reached solid pavement again was godsend. The road continued to snake downwards as the sun set behind the Himalayan horizon. We pulled over to a roadside restaurant, scaffolded to the mountainside on stilts and prayers, and had tea and chowmein. It was some time before we actually got inside Kathmandu again. Our paths split at the ring road, and I drove home, getting acquainted with all the new rattles coming from my scooter.


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