Looking up into the sky it resembled two things, one: a churning black sea, infinitely deep and black and vicious, untamed and heavy. Two: the cloud that was bringing Mufasa’s head to Simba in The Lion King – thick, layered, weighty and rolling.
It was 10pm, pitch black except for the continuous flash of electricity. My dynamo and my phones flashlight shone weakly as I wiggled a path through the water filled pot holes, avoiding the football sized rocks.
I had abandoned camp 30 minutes beforehand.
When I pitched my tent that afternoon atop a hill I decided solitude and a view instead of choosing something wisely, this was a ride for pride after all, I didn’t want to have people helping me with dinner and shelter. I pitched my tent sharing the grassy hill with unmarked graves, rectangles of stones each with a tiny tree poking out of the grave. Curiously the trees were all the same size, and the graves also seemed like they had been created around the same time…ominous.
I have been keeping frustration at bay for weeks now as India Post juggles my parcel around India, temping me each day with news that it is coming, ‘it is on its way’, ‘it’s in Guwahati’, ‘it’s been released from customs’.
3 weeks later I have started jogging in the evenings to stop the flushing of fitness and muscle from my body, and the days are spent on my laptop working on writing, and making short films.
I decided to take charge and planned a 3 day bike ride in a loop where no traffic with any kind of direction would take. I set off with my fully loaded bike, in case my package came.
I love Cherrapunji; it has allowed me to mentally recover, to rest and find peace with now being a solo woman. Each night I watch the mother of all storms theatrically roll through town with torrential rain, hail, gunshot cracks of thunder and unpredictable winds. The clouds are small, you can stand on the porch watching the rain flying sideways, the clouds so thick like an entire universe lived inside but poke your head around the building and the moon and stars will be shining. It passes in 10 minutes and another 10 minutes the next storm rolls in push the street signs closer and closer to the ground and hailing golfballs.
I was blinded by my need to go cycling I forgot that each night it storms like this.
Somewhere between 7 and 8pm that night after I had cycled away from Cherrapunji I realised that I was going to have to leave camp. I had called Dan to tell him about my day of winding around the plateau 1,484 meters atop a mountain, about how the wind had started as the sun went down and how I was holding the tent up against the wind with both hands as I watched The Queen of Versailles on my laptop.
I was frightened it was going to hail, which of course would shred my tent. When I peeped out I saw the moon and stars, and rich, black blanket of cloud and electricity and power swelling around it. There was a break in the rain at 9 o clock and I had packed up my sleeping bag and mat, deciding to turn back to the 5 house village 1km back. I took down the inside of the tent leaving up the fly incase it rained and shoved everything into different bags. Ribbons of cloud where flowing through my now open air tent.
I never like to make any noise when I am alone, there is something about breaking the silence that unsettles me. I am in the middle of a conversation in my head, if I hear something come out of my mouth it scares me the same as if someone said hello from behind.
Everything felt like it would be picked up and taken by the wind, I was shaking and breathing deeply trying to remain in control, the tent was loudly and wildly flapping and bending and lifting into the air. It took me 15 minutes to put everything on my bike, and a final search the ground on my hand and knees for the pegs of the tent. I pushed my bike towards the direction I had laboured my belongings up the hill a few hours before hand, already feeling my muscles were sore from being so tight with stress.
There wasn’t a path and between me and the road were about 50 graves. I couldn’t see through the fog, but I rolled my bike over the graves apologising and thanking each one as I did so. I was pulling my bike too far left and looked down a steep fall. I knew if I took too many wrong turns there was a chance I could get lost in the fog on the hill.
As the lightning struck it lit up the large tombstones that I knew were closer to the road so ignoring the instinct to look away from the horror movie style tombstones I pushed my bike over more graves, twisting my ankles on stones and trying to keep my bike upright. My clothes were whipping around me and my rain jacket thrown over my head.
Back onto the rocky road which was unridable in the day time I swung my leg over and scootered my bike pushing with my foot 200m back to where the tarmac began.
Cycling is always the easy part. As soon as I am able to ride I feel safe and calm and reassured.
There wasn’t any lights on in the village. When I had cycled through the town a few hours ago it had a spooky edge, people averted their eyes from me, no one said hello, grandma was squatting in the middle of the road apparently waiting for something and the church had been burnt down. I decided I wasn’t going to knock on anyones door and I quietly passed onto my next idea.
There was a small tourist spot about 4 kms back, where a channel of water weaves itself through cracks in the rock and off a waterfall. There were some concrete, almost soviet style shelters there that were large enough for my tent.
I reached the shelters and rolled my bike up the hill to it, over broken bottles and stones, and found the shelter to be completely covered in broken glass and piles of ash left over from fires. I couldn’t sleep here.
The rain had stopped and the lightning was flashing without noise, I decided to keep on backtracking, I ignored the feeling of wanting to look over my shoulder knowing it would make me nervous to look behind me. I put my headphone in, first to Jamie XX and quickly switched to something a little less complicated because the warped voices weren’t appropriate.
I could almost feel my pupils trying to cope with the deep darkness and the blinding brightness. I saw into the long distances when the sky lit them up for a split second and darkness engulfed again. No houses, no dwellings at all, just long landscapes and then gone again.
A truck came up the road, slow and heavy. I pulled over to the side and lowered my head not wanting my soft rosy cheeks to be seen, he slowed and looked like he was going to stop but I pushed my peddle down and rolled on before he levelled up to me. It’s not that I thought the worse, ok I did, but I don’t think like that normally. I just didn’t want to have to explain why I was out here in the middle nowhere in the middle of the night.
I have always been more afraid of the dark then I have ever cared to admit. I wouldn’t like to get up out of bed to use the toilet in the night because the darkness seemed to be hiding something. I would walk through my house in a forced, torturous, slow, calm walk that got me to my bedroom door where I would bound in wild leaps to get under the covers in fear.
It’s blackness that frightened me; blackness is nothingness, nothingness is endless, and endlessness is frightening. Like being dropped into the pacific ocean, with nothing above, side to side and down below. Even standing in the middle of my house in blackness would feel like I was floating in an ocean.
But not lately. Couriering gave me attitude and capabilities but cycling around the world gave me bravery. I’m not afraid of the dark anymore. No less than the next person, perhaps even a bit less than the next person.
I watched figures of hulking trees flashing up on the mountain looking down at me, I played with these figures shaping them into characters of the video clip I was in, we would all be singing Heartsigh by Purity Ring together. The stars were still visible next to the swiftly moving next freight train of a storm I was riding towards. I passed a small village waking up the dogs who made chase, and as I picked up the pace trying to disappear into the fog hoping they would loose sight and therefore be too lazy to find me. The rain drops the size of grapes hammering, loud under my rain jacket. As I was riding along my dynamo lit up a funnel of fog one metre in front of my wheel, the rain would cut through the light. It looked like the way the sun shines through a swimming pool.
Now I’m not religious in any way, but I like to bend reality to take any shape. When I get déjà vu I pretend it is a sign of being on the right path, not because I believe it, but because it is a positive way of thinking. Same with the idea that everything happens for a reason, I don’t truly believe it does but damn it is a good way to spin something around so you can get the best out of a situation, there is always something good if you look hard enough. Most of the time it’s just that it’s a lesson learnt.
So just like this magical, twinkling, moving light apparently showing me the way, I could easily place my grandparents in that light and make it comforting. Talk to them a little bit, tell them I realised I was dumb.
In the morning I woke up in the bed of one of the rooms and felt completely washed of fears and anxieties that I had been unknowingly carrying these past few weeks. My muscles and my back ached but it felt so good.
I was sitting on the threshold of my room, making an early lunch, trying out my new stove since I picked up my parcel on Friday! The power had been out for two days and I had run out of power on every single device, all I had left to do was lovingly caress all the items that had been thrown around India on their way to Shillong.
I was watching my baby potatoes boiling when someone poked their head around the corner of my door and said ‘hello stranger!’ in that oh so relaxing Australian accent that makes me swoon after so many months of listening to all manners of accents speaking english. The one that speaks clearer than any other was coming out of my friend Tai.
I knew he was coming to this part of India for a wedding I was invited to, but we hadn’t spoken for a few weeks about it, he was driving past in a tourist taxi seeing the sights of the area that were that day covered completely in fog, and since the sights are canyons and waterfalls it was a little fruitless to be there.
Anyway, he had recognised my bike on the balcony, and stopped the car in what I hope was a dramatic yell which lead to a screeching halt. We hugged like old friends even though we aren’t, just that morning I had told Heprit how much I would love to see an Australian.
So tomorrow (Sunday) I head towards the wedding in Guwahati where I will have my fill of festivities and because I have burnt my Indian visa here in Cherrapunji I have to catch a train over to the ‘mainland’ and start cycling up to the north west.