We were flying via Mumbai this time, with a little under an hour and a half to catch the connecting flight, so there wouldn’t be much time to look around. We checked in with plenty of time, but the second leg flight, from Mumbai to Kathmandu, was full so we would not be sitting together. Luckily one of the seats had extra leg room. Now, for those of you that don’t know us, I’m about 6’2 and Pete is about 5’8. ‘Who has the extra leg room, please’? we enquired. ‘Mr Doherty’ was the answer. Typical.
Due to a delayed departure from Heathrow, and adverse flying conditions on the journey, we were left with under an hour to catch our connecting flight. At check in we had to hand in the boarding cards from our last flight, as well as for this one. We also had to get our hand luggage checked again. Pete got stopped due to a small bottle opener showing up on the scan, and security thought it was a knife, so it was removed and the scan repeated. This took about 10 to 15 minutes and we were worried we may miss the flight. Thankfully an airline rep had showed up to lead us to the gate where we had to queue again, for another luggage scan! At last we made it, Pete into his extra leg-room seat and me in the middle seat of three with a very large man to my left, who was trying to make himself small but it wasn’t really working. The guy on my right was much smaller but managed to spread his knees and elbows quite wide. Then the elderly gent in front reclined his seat and I was stuck. I swear I could hear Pete stretch, yawn and smirk…
We landed a little ahead of time in Kathmandu and once my legs worked properly we caught our internal flight to Pokhara. It was evident from the air that the ongoing building works since the 2015 earthquake were progressing well.
We were met and taken to our accommodation. A shower was called for which did the job. Mind you, I can confirm that despite any similarity between cans of shaving foam and antiperspirant, the two are most definitely not interchangeable. Another shower then…
The next day we met Steve Whitlock, Field Director of the charity, who explained a bit more about our task. When he interviews for field staff he often has females who are very well qualified for the role and board very well indeed, but lack motorcycling experience which is also an important skill. They ride scooters but aren’t used to the manual gearboxes fitted to the Honda XR150L machines that are used.
He has sought out volunteers and asked that they gain experience on the machines before attending this course. There are to be four of them, so with the two of us, that gives an excellent ratio and we should be able to do a lot in the 6 days we are with them.
Not so much ‘advanced riding’ this time round, just to improve confidence and develop skills. The training program is discussed, adapted and agreed upon.
The next day we meet our clients. All four seem very happy to be here but are a little nervous about what is expected of them. We have a chat in the morning about the layout of the course, then start from basics again. We cover everything from pushing it around to picking it up, walking around it whilst holding it up and getting on and off from both sides. All essential skills when riding off road. On tarmac it’s normal to get on and off the bike from the left, but off-road that may not be possible due to the ground conditions, rock walls, drop-offs etc. so we spend a lot of time practising these skills.
After lunch we ride a short distance to the local football field (still strewn with rocks etc, same as last year) where we can make a start. To begin with we just ask them to ride around a bit and get used to the bikes. It is apparent that they all lack confidence in themselves and the machines, and a couple are not as familiar with the clutch as we expected.
We start with some ‘confidence riding’ which is where we play follow my leader with myself or Pete up front, and the other at the back. The leader rides around and gradually does things like taking a hand off the bars and holding the arm out. Or a leg. Or stands up. This may well sound unusual to some of you, less so to others. The idea is after riding around like this for a while you sit back down and it all seems a lot easier. The tasks get gradually more difficult and this is where you have to be careful as the lead bike. It is important you don’t go to difficult too quick and allow time for consolidation. The idea is to build and improve confidence; it’s all too easy to destroy it and end up in a worse position than you started.
They all get involved and engage with the training and do just enough to stretch themselves. By the end of the day they are riding around , kneeling on the saddle, laughing amongst themselves and really enjoying it.
On the ride back, a lot of the trepidation has gone and it is obvious they have all improved greatly. Tomorrow we aim to go to a river bed and start some exercises to improve off road confidence in the same way.
As well as IAM RoadSmart celebrating ‘Women in action’ this month, it is also the Gurkha Welfare Trust’s 50th anniversary so there is a lot to celebrate. A fitting week for the first course of its type in Nepal.