It was early March when I started getting phone calls from the riders who would be joining me later in the month in Kathmandu. All of us were excited about our upcoming 12-day adventure to find the Stairway to Heaven in the Mustang Valley, Nepal. The questions were all the same “Is the trip still going ahead with the Corona Virus situation?” The answer was “Of course, Nepal doesn’t have any cases of the virus, she’ll be right”.
We started the adventure, by walking the streets of Kathmandu, taking photos of the toilet paper supplies in the local shops to post on social media as it seemed the virus was turning people into panic buyers and hoarders. Being isolated from the madness was great, however, the talk around the table each night inevitably turned into a Corona conversation. After a few beers, it turned into a zombie apocalypse conversation but that’s another blog post.
Sitting on the banks of the Rapti River at Chitwan National Park, enjoying a well-earned Gorkha beer while watching the sunset on the backs of crocodiles, we were interrupted by an excited waiter who was shouting “Rhino, Rhino!”. A bull Rhinoceros had decided to walk through the outdoor restaurant we were sitting in. It was a great start to an adventure but once the excitement died down, the conversation circled back to whether we would be able to get out of Nepal.
Our intermittent internet access was telling us the virus had taken hold in Australia and was out of control in the UK. With a few days to go, a few of us got word that our return flights had been canceled. Now we weren’t just scrambling on the Himalayan roads but were now scrambling to find replacement flights. Our wives and partners took the reigns and came to the rescue, speaking to travel agents and scouring Skyscanner for any available flight so we could concentrate on getting back to Kathmandu as quickly as possible.
I was able to book a flight (at double the usual cost) with Singapore Airlines who promptly told me that they’d overbooked and I needed to find another flight. “No problem”, I said, “just refund the money and I’ll keep looking”. To which they replied, “Sorry, we can’t offer a refund but if you jump through all these hoops, we can offer a credit in 3 weeks”.* There were 4 seats left out of Kathmandu so I grabbed one at 3 times the usual price and I caught the second last flight out before Nepal went into total lockdown.
Arriving home to surprisingly no temperature checks at Perth airport it was straight into 14 days of self-isolation. I used the time to notify all riders who were booked for 2020 that all adventures were postponed until 2021. It was obvious that we were in this for the long haul so I needed to find something to do. I enrolled in a short course at RMIT University (just graduated yeeha!) and started looking for work (what the hell is LinkedIn!) and I noticed that the non-profit organisation Linear Research was looking for volunteers to participate in a Covid-19 Vaccine trial.
I’m always up for an adventure so thought that I’d step up and see if I could contribute in some way. I went to the screening and was selected as a suitable participant. My first dose was on the 24th of June and there were zero side effects. The media were very interested in the vaccine study so I was interviewed by three TV stations about my role and motivations. The second dose was on the 15th of July and again zero side effects. If it all goes well, we might have an idea of its efficacy by the end of 2020.
In short, the 3 reasons I decided to get involved are…
- The sooner we can find a vaccine, the sooner I can get back to doing what I love which is exploring amazing countries with fantastic characters from around the world. If that means I have to put my body on the line then I’m up for it.
- I learned early on that when you give, you feel better about yourself. These are incredibly stressful times, especially in tourism where the two other Austalian-led motorcycle touring companies shut down leaving thousands of riders without trips and thousands of dollars out of pocket. We all found ourselves with zero income overnight. It isn’t doing anyone’s mental health any favours so I know that if I’m helping others (potentially millions of people) then I feel better about myself.
- Of course, getting compensated for your time spent in the trial is a nice bonus.
I can’t wait to get back out there on a motorcycle to explore the Mongolian Steppes with Kate Peck, the Karakoram Highway in Pakistan, and ride through Tibet on BMWs with friends. Having a cup of hot chai while at Mt Everest Base Camp is going to be an amazing reward in 2021.
Keep looking to the future and I hope to ride with you soon.
*As of 30th July (17 weeks later) Singapore Airlines still has not responded to a request for a refund or credit for a future flight.