The Last Secret: First Installment (2nd try)

Okay I went to town to get some wifi.  Enjoy more amusing musings on the race:

We made a pit stop after lunch to tour the Punakha Dzong. As I walked over the covered bridge to get to the entrance, I dodged a mob of dogs and Indian tourists. People from India do not have to pay the daily tourist rate of $250 (!) to visit Bhutan so they are the most noticeable tourist subset.  People were throwing crackers off of the bridge which caused a feeding frenzy of the river trout below. Looking down into the water, it looked like a moving pit of dappled brown.  Walking towards the steep entrance, I was met by the fragrance of spring flowers. There were beautiful showers of purple blossoms hanging from the trees. Above the doorway, there were strange looking dark oblong shapes hanging down. They were actually giant bee hives!  I’ve never seen that shape of bee apartment before. A bell was softly chiming in a steady rhythm. It was coming from one of the giant prayer wheels as it lazily spun around in a clockwise direction. The main temple was absolutely spectacular. 30 foot statues of the Buddha and other important figures looked down imposingly. A wild orgy of colors covered every wall and tapestry. A quiet hush mingled with the scent of incense to lend a meditative atmosphere. I smiled when we boarded the bus in the parking lot once again as there was a young cow out there plaintively mooing at the passers-by. He was facing the parking lot between two other mini-buses like he had backed into the space.  I wish I could have had the foresight to snap a photo of him.

After a little bit longer of getting beat up by the erratic road conditions, we finally pulled into camp. It is in the same location as last year – a tiny village of tents huddled close to the river bank. After the heat of mid-day, a strong wind started rushing down the valley at us. Dust and dirt was swirling despite the local staff’s best efforts to throw water onto the hardened ground. Jenn and I had the inaugural edition of setting up our tent complete with sleeping pads, travel pillows, sleeping bags. It takes me a few days to get into the rhythm of setting up and taking down my little portable life, and so I spent a lot of time tearing through my duffel bag and backpack only to realize that I had forgotten to get out what I had gone in there to get in the first place. Jenn helped me look over the medical briefing to make sure that I had not left anything out. And tried to advise me how to tell everyone that we didn’t have the resources between the two of us to tape everyone’s feet every night without sounding cold and heartless. She is always much better than me at telling people “no” without coming off like a big meanie.

Opening briefing time – action shot:

Despite it being only 7pm, I was desperate to pull my kindle out and crawl into my sleeping bag. Tomorrow is race day number 1.  
On the road again – Stage 1
The start was absolutely moving. As we pulled up to the Dzong, there was a gauntlet of students lining the bridge, rhythmically clapping. 600 of the local high schools students came out on a Sunday to wish our runners luck. We lined up on the steps of the imposing fortress for the opening ceremony. The students were to sing us their national anthem and it was charming how they all cleared their throats before uttering the first note. Their lilting voices rose and fell with the mysterious melody. Some of the students looked bored and almost embarrassed to have to sing in front of these foreigners, but some had their eyes turned inwards and were quite serious.  

I could barely handle this mangy little face:

Local woman at the race start:

Scenes from Stage 1:

Stage one went off without a hitch. I went directly to the finish while Jenn manned Checkpoint 2. Everyone was all smiles when they arrived into camp. The runners commented on the beauty of the course. I was nearly floored when the afternoon drifted by without a single runner asking for anything medical. A girl could get used to this!  
We stayed at an isolated monastery this evening.  Here are little mental snapshots of the experience: the clouds clinging to the mountain side on the ride up, little smiling monks in red, quiet, fresh air, so peaceful, absolute blackness of the night.

This black and white dog followed us the following year from this monastery for another 2 stages of running.  She amazingly made her way back to her home monastery!

Stage 2 – to the taxi driver’s

 I left bright and early this morning.  We had to drive 4 hours around one of the mountain passes in order to be at the finish before the first runner made it there.  This was my really long day last year.  One of the docs has to walk 28 km of the course since no part of the trail is accessible by vehicle.  Jenn gamely volunteered!  I was only too happy to give her the reins on this one as last year left me exhausted and with a giant leech on my wrist.  At the finish, the first half of the runners were elated with their day, the other half looked kind of beat up.  It was nice to hear how impressed everyone was by seeing Jenn out on the course.  And despite scaring the bejeezus out of everyone at the race briefing about the impressive amount of leeches on the course, there were only a few small spots on people’s feet and one oozing scalp wound.  And otherwise on a medical front, all that was asked of me was the distribution of a few Tylenol – winning!
So the funny thing about this camp is that it’s at a farmhouse in a small village.  Okay that’s not the funny part.  The funny part is that this particular farmhouse is owned by a taxi driver who is a well-known polygamist in these parts.  Okay even that’s not the funny part.  The really funny part is that he wrote a book about his life and I actually read it.  He gave it to me last year and it has been sitting on my book shelf for the right moment I guess.  Well I read it once I got to Bhutan and it was pretty ridiculous.  I gleefully read Jenn passages out loud regarding the author’s perceived prowess with the fairer sex and how he thought it would continue on well into his 60’s.  It was a little hard to interact with this guy given my oddly intimate knowledge of his life but I pushed through.  Jenn later found out that this book was taught in local secondary schools!  Maybe that’s the funny part.

There was a beautiful little girl in his home who became my little buddy.  She walked around hitching her pink camo fleece pants up with one hand while smoothing her dark hair back with the other.  Her mother kept scolding her to come back into the kitchen but once her mom was occupied with another task, she would slip into her high heeled pink sparkly sandals and sit with me.  It was incredible to see how quickly she picked up how to play games on my iPad.  Angry Birds turned out to be her favorite. 

Stay tuned for the rest of the race coverage.  Thanks for reading!

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