Saturday

The Beginning (Sept. 26, 2005)

I should start by telling you that I was not a motorcyclist when I decided to ride solo around India -- a journey that would last five months and carry me over roads stretching nearly 4,500 miles; a journey that would take me across scorching desert tracks, monsoon washed-out roads, and up mountains via switchback lanes. Before any of this happened, I had a good job and considered myself the girl-next-door type because my life had followed a predictable path; but there is one thing I need to clarify, I was not a girl. I was a woman, and in some countries I would have been considered a middle-aged woman. I was also someone who had been handed the opportunity of a lifetime and took it, even though I didn't know at the time what I was getting into.

I was 32 years old when the company I worked for announced it was downsizing and relocating from the Midwest to the East Coast. At first it seemed a dream come true (I loved the life working in corporate America afforded me), but after a hard look at what my new life would be like after the move, I decided to give up my 14 years of employment with the company, sell my car/suits/furniture, and buy a backpack and an one-way ticket to Germany. (Germany won because of a coin toss: heads was a cheap ticket to Frankfurt and tails was where I really wanted to go -- Ireland. Cheap won.)

At the time I decided to take off, I was a person who liked fancy living. I earned a good salary editing and I liked spending that money. In the 16 years I'd been driving, I owned seven cars -- three of them were brand new. I liked fine hotels when I traveled (once, I refused to stay in a major chain hotel because I found it dirty) and fine food -- nothing served on Styrofoam -- when I ate out. I want you to have this little snapshot of my previous life so you'll have some perspective when you see where I end up. But before I can end up anywhere, you need to know how it all began.

Remember, I told you I was not a motorcyclist. My only riding experience was the weeklong ABATE motorcycle training course I took in an empty parking lot in Evansville, Indiana, two months before buying the Bullet. I'd been living and working in New Delhi for a couple of years after wandering through Europe for two years. While that is another story, it was in Turkey I was first struck with the idea of riding a motorcycle. I'd been confined to public transportation and was frustrated with constantly traveling on someone else's timetable. One day while riding a bus, I spied a little road out the window. In a flash I saw myself riding free and unfettered on a motorcycle. It was one of those mini daydreams that I have but never expect to act on, and even if I did I would never choose India to ride a motorcycle in. In my daydream, I was the only vehicle on the road; this is not the case on India's roads. India has the highest rate of accidents and fatalities of any road system in the world. (This might be disputed by other nations, although why any nation would want to claim such a dubious honor is beyond me.) In a country like India where population figures are sketchy and accidents go unreported, the fact that the government can account for so many crashes to claim the number one spot was frightening enough when I read the reports, but beyond comprehension once I was mixing it up on the roads with trucks, Ambassador cars, three-wheel auto rickshaws, two-wheelers (both with and without motors) and pedestrians. But let's get back to why I was there.

In India, I freelanced first for national papers both in the United States and abroad before taking a job as an editor for the Women's Feature Service, an international wire service based in New Delhi. At WFS, I edited stories written by women living in Third World countries so they could be published in mainstream media, so their voices could be heard around the world. The more I read and edited, the more I learned about conditions in India, the more I wanted to see for myself how the people lived. That is when the motorcycle daydream I’d had on that bus in Turkey resurfaced. What better way to see a country and meet its people than on two wheels? When my one-year contract ended, I bought Kali -- my 350cc Royal Enfield Bullet motorcycle and developed a plan: to ride along the coast of India, meeting as many people as I could in hopes of understanding where I fit in this world.

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

8 comments:

Melvyn Garcia said...

Well, ok, I'd love to read your book. Please put me on your email list and let me know when it's published, I'll buy a copy.
melvyng3@comcast.net

Mel

C.L. Stambush said...

That is great, Mel. I'll will put your name on my mailing list and let you know when it is published.

Rodger said...

Just read the first part of your story where you've bought Kali. I also purchased a 350 Enfield in Chennai where I am working for the year training Indians to speak "North American" English. My purchase was basically for the same reason: I got tired of relying on someone else, especially rickshaw drivers. The roads are a little nutso here, but after observing carefully for the first three months, I figured I was ready for my own transport. I started small with a Honda Kinetic just to run back and forth to FoodWorld. After three months of that I moved up to a Bullet and couldn't be happier. I look forward to reading about your adventures and eventually your book.

Chetan said...

I'm the same age and caught between work and Home. I could begin now but ain't sure where I might end up!
-Chetan

Grandma Honey said...

Ruth Ann Cash-Smith sent me the information on your blog. She was at my house for our 40th class reunion in Oct. I have a 650 V Star Yamaha. She thought I might like to read it. I am hooked and cannot wait to go on to the next one.
Janet Pratt
Salem, IL

Evie Fisken said...

I like a motorcycle ride . if you want to sell your used bike you can post an add to Motorcycle and sell your bike easily.

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