Who Dat?

Back in the 80s, long before the X-Games existed, Tom Haig traveled the world as an extreme athlete. He visited more than 50 countries as an international high diver, doing multiple somersault tricks from over 90 feet.

That life came crashing down one Sunday morning in 1996. While training on his mountain bike, he smashed into the grill of a truck and became paralyzed from the waist down. But less than a year later he completed a 100-mile ride on a hand-cycle and traveled by himself to Europe and the Middle East.

Since then he has continued to travel the world as a consultant, writer and video producer. He spent six months launching a Tibetan radio station in the Himalayas and shot documentary shorts on disability in Bangladesh, France, Albania, Ghana and most recently Nepal.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Out in the Cold Rain and Snow

(Thanks to all of you who emailed wondering where I was. We had a nasty snow/ice/wind/thunderstorm and I haven't been able to get access since Monday)

Ever since I’ve come to India two months ago I’ve had nothing short of hall-of-fame weather. There was one day of rain in Delhi and one day of rain in Dharamsala. Period.

Aside from that it’s been sunny and relatively warm. Most days it floats up around 60, but I work in a cement box with windows facing away from the sun, so I’m cold most of the day. We’ve got a propane heater at the studio that keeps us around 60, provided people aren’t coming in and out. I get home around 6:30, just as the sun is setting and the temp usually drops to freezing. I’ve got two big blankets and the  infamous Chinese heater keeping my room right about 60 degrees.

The weather's been pretty much like this ever since I arrived.
In my pre-accident days, I liked keeping the room temp low, but ever since I cracked my back, my natural thermostat has gone haywire. If there’s no sun, I’m pretty much shaking unless the temperature is above 75. At work I’m always in a sweatshirt and winter hat and at night I’m either under my covers or hovering dangerously close to the heater which, after my burn, sits above the skin I can’t feel.

On my days off, I wait for the sun to warm up Dharamsala and I head out for a push to McLeod Ganj. The sun has been so consistent and spectacular I don’t even wear a sweatshirt. (I’ve got it in my bag for when I go inside, where it’s always freezing.) The buildings here are either cement or brick with no insulation. The locals all seem to worship the cold and keep the doors and windows open no matter how cold it is outside. The door to my guest house, for instance, stays wide open until 11:00 at night. I have a screen window to my bathroom that has no glass option. Seeing as my bathroom door was removed so I could wheel in, I’ve got an open window at all times. There’s a red felt curtain that keeps some of the cold out, but until the front door is closed, there’s a nasty draft in the room.

So during the work week I’m pretty much chilled all the time and on the weekends I bask in the sun until I can’t stand it.

Until this weekend when, for the first time, we got a dose of rain. Saturday morning I smelled the rain a few hours before a dark cloud drifted up the valley and we were privy to a sprinkle. It smelled great, but rain here means the cow-monkey-dog poop soup can get on my wheels, my hands, and through the process of the catheter, directly into an inner organ. So I don’t go out in the rain if I don’t have to.

When the rain comes McLeod Ganj can turn into a swamp.

Sunday morning the rain went from drizzle to constant stream followed by intermittent downpour. I rolled out of bed up to the open front door of the Akash Deep and was chilled like a banquet jello. I returned to my room, turned on the Chinese heater, jumped under the covers and flipped on one of the eight English TV channels.

HBO India was playing the Schwarzenegger Rambo counter, Collateral Damage. Watching TV in India is kind of like eating camping food. When you’re at home you rarely go digging around for white beans and rice or chocolate, graham cracker, marshmallow treats. But out on the mountain, it’s a feast. If I were in the States with TIVO and 200 channels to choose from, I never would have stopped the zapper at a Schwarzenegger flick. In India it was that or reruns of cancelled American sit coms (was David Spade in every sit com last decade?).

As it turns out, it’s not such a bad flick so I settled in to watch Arnold running around Columbia trying to catch the drug lords who killed his wife and kids. I got about an hour into the flick before I remembered the golden rule of TV watching in India: Never get attatched to what you’re watching; the power can go out at any moment. Which of course it did.

I should have known that a fresh downpour would lead to a power outage, but seeing as we’d had so few power breaks in the span of nice weather, I forgot that it could happen. I was told by the owner of the Akash Deep that the power grid in Dharamsala had improved over the past several years. Seeing as this was my first movie harshout of the trip, I was inclined to agree.

I assume Arnold got his killers, but it would have been nice to see. About two hours later, after I’d exhausted a long set of tunes on the guitar, the power popped back on and I settled in to a series of English Premier League Soccer Matches. Between the Indian and English channels there were three matches so I could randomly switch between them and not get really attached to any of them. I’d learned my lesson from Arnold. I caught three goals, but none of the finishes as again, the power went out.

As the day grew, the rain increased, the temperature dropped and my boredom level ramped up. This was my precious day off and I was wasting it like a slacker home on Christmas break. I went to the restaurant and pretended I was being social, although I didn’t speak to anyone but the waiter. I stretched out my egg-fried rice and newspaper for 90 minutes, when finally the cold from the open front door was too much and I returned to my cocoon.

After some BBC, CNN and Cricket highlights it was time for the Sunday movie of the week which was The Wrestler, a flick I’d missed on it’s original run. I watched the grotesquely disfigured, but excellent acting Mickey Rourke make a shambles of his life until again about 90 minutes into it: Power Failure.

This power failure, however was a black out leaving me in the dark with the warmth of the Chinese heater fading with every second. My mom sent me away with a hand-crank lamp which I wound up, hoping it would give off enough light to read by. My brother Dan sent me off with Sun Tzu’s The Art of War which kept me both entertained and enlightened for a half hour until my nose started to freeze off.

Just then the lights, heater and TV flashed on and I saw the Wrestler at some sleazy strip bar hitting on Marissa Tomei. As I was putting together the missing plot pieces, a massive lightening strike shot through the valley, rocked the building and zapped out the power again. Outside my door I could hear a half-dozen Indian tourists yelling at the top of their voices for candles, blankets and anything else they hadn’t brought with them. Between the lightening strikes, thunder bangs, window shaking and Hindi yelling, I was fairly entertained. I managed to fall asleep just in time for the second power tease of the night. This one lasted less than a minute, but managed to jolt my adrenalin enough to keep me staring into dark space for the next two hours.

The power stayed off all night and I woke up shivering to the continuation of the downpour. For eight weeks I’d woken up to bright sunshine, but for the second day in a row I was afraid to get out from under my covers.

But it was a work day, so if I got up and brushed my teeth the reward would be a trip to the office with a back up generator and that propane heater. I bundled up and waited for my driver Suresh to scoop me up and haul me to the hospital to have the doctor redress my burn wound. Surely the hospital would be warmer than the Akash Deep.

Once I mounted up the infamously long and now slippery ramp, I realized for the first time the hospital didn’t have a door; only a sliding gate to close and lock at night. It was a cement ice chest just like my hotel and office. The doctor showed up in a dawn jacket and mittens. He replaced the mittens with sterile gloves, then redressed my wound taking breaks to blow into his freezing hands.

I made it to my office where the propane heater was cranking and the auxiliary generator was giving us not only light, but broadcasting capability and Internet connectivity. For seven hours I was relatively warm (still wore the sweatshirt, jacket and winter hat) and felt in control again. Outside, however the temperature was dropping and the rain was pounding even harder.

In preparing for my hourly news blast I looked at the Dharamsala weather site and, for the first time, saw snowflakes on the screen. It was going to get colder and in higher elevations (that’s Bhagsu!) it was going to snow. At quitting time the students lifted me down the 20 steps to my car and we sped away through the muck to the Akash Deep.

Luckily power had been restored so when I got to my room, I quickly turned on the Chinese heater, ordered room service and ducked into the covers. I caught a rerun of Conan then was psyched to see the Diane Lane film, Untraceable (filmed in good old Portland, Orygun), was playing in an hour. I whipped out the computer and started writing this very post until the flick started.

This time I got all the way until the final 10 minutes before a massive wind, lightening thunder blast blew everything silent. Almost instantly my room became an ice box. I realized the wind blast had blown open a window with a high latch that I could not shut. I hopped in my chair to get some help, but the desk was empty with the door of the Akash wide open, and snow coming in.

While my room was pitch black, Bhagsu was turning white.

I shut the door then navigated the dark hallway back to my room and tried to seal the window by jamming a curtain in it. I crawled back under the covers bundled up only to get the next violent wind, snow, lightening, thunder blast blow my window and curtain wide open.

I refixed the curtain and leaned my guitar case up against it which held for the next three or four blasts until it too finally gave way. At this point I had to give in and take refuge under the blankets and pray for slumber.

At some point over the next eight hours I got some sleep, but I awoke to no power and a freezing room. I donned two sweatshirts and two pairs of sweat pants and wheeled out to the front door to check out my environment. The door, which of course, was wide open, revealed six inches of slush getting hammered by a 32.5 degree down pour.

Hindus are not often equated with snow, but the two workers at the Akash Deep Hotel just love the stuff. In fact, they won't even close the front door when it dumps!

I was hoping to be able to go to work and warm up, but my driver said if there was snow there’s no way we could get me up to the office. And he was right. Now it’s 12:30, it’s still ice-raining, there’s still no power and I am about to lose the remaining battery power on my computer. So bye for now!

Believe me, this vehicle has no business being on these roads in this condition!

Btw – if anyone knows how Collateral Dammage, The Wrestler or Untraceable end – cough it up now!

My new backyard!

1 comment:

  1. wool wool wool wool! they gots wool in those stores, sweaters that in the states would cost four times as much! get yer self some wool sweaters and thick, thick blankets. i gave dan a yak wool sweater when we were there and it's super warm.

    you might be able to seal of the open window with plastic bags and tape? i used to stuff the wall fan in the kitchen with plastic bags because that was a gaping hole to the outdoors.