Motorcycling the Rohtang Pass

This happened.

In June 2018, my high school friend (let’s just call him Terry because that’s his real name) told me he was going to Northern India to take a motorcycle over one of the deadliest passes in the world through the Himalaya. Having never driven a motorcycle before, I booked a ticket. From there, I spent three weeks learning how to ride – taking courses and earning my motorcycle license the day before the flight to Delhi. A 20-hour drive later, I made it to Manali, India, to rent the motorcycles and acclimatize. Terry couldn’t figure out how to ride the motorcycle. Even though I’d been hit by an SUV during my training run, which bent my fuel cage, I decided to ride the Rohtang Pass with a stranger Terry met in a hostel. His name was Wes, and was from outside of Atlanta. He had a lot of experience with adventure motorcycling and taught me a few of the finer points of riding a motorcycle that I didn’t know how to do on my own. Using my rear break on hills, for example.

We made it up and over the pass, through the rain, and rode to a beautiful monastery town called Keylong. I can’t recall all the close calls, but there were several. One that stands out: The rain had picked up, and I was taking a left over a switch back up the mountain. I had a car on my left and there was a car on his right tucked against the mountain. I felt as though I was being edged off the pass as I made the turn. There are no guardrails, of course, so I had roughly six inches of clearance on my left side before a steep drop. I still flash to that every once in awhile.

I hired someone from the rental company to ride my Royal Enfield back to Manali and sent the stranger on his way. Terry found a seat for us in a van for the 20-hour trek to Leh, India, far north near the Chinese border. As we wound through the mountains up to 17,500 feet, my climate medication wore off, and I suffered altitude sickness. And heat stroke. And motion sickness. Terry carried me to a guest house. I spent less than 12 hours in Leh before Terry woke me up to a message from my wife. My youngest cat of a year-and-a-half, Busta Rhymes, had FIP and only days to live. I packed as fast as I could and found someone to take me to the airport. After buying the ticket, I was out of Rupees and forced to drink the water. I made it home in time to spend a brief time with our cat before my wife and I said goodbye. A week later, my blood tests came back. No Malaria.

And that’s the story of how I drove a motorcycle over the Rohtang Pass, a story that feels made-up but somehow isn’t. If you’d like more detail about it, DM me on Twitter. If you’d like to donate to FIP research so we may better understand the disease and find a cure, I recommend The Bria Fund.

Matt Kellymotorcycle, story, rohtang