it’s just a bike, redux

This is hard to write — not because I’m sad, but because I’m scared.

When I read about bicycle touring in Sri Lanka before coming here, it was stuff like friendly people, quiet roads, good scenery. I did read warnings about dogs, and the dogs definitely suck here, but it’s probably not worse than Turkey or Greece or Romania. If elephants were mentioned at all, it was usually something like, “oh, and you get to see elephants too!” They’re often referred to as “gentle giants”. I was actually hoping to see some.

For example this website promotes mountain bike trips on the — I am not kidding you — “Elephant Attack Trail” near Trincomalee, “a jungle trail that takes you through the dry forests frequented by the gentle giants of the country”.

In Africa I bicycled near elephants 5-10 times in Tanzania, Zambia, Botswana, and Namibia. In Botswana, in an area with lots of elephants, we pitched our tent as far from an elephant track as we could, and then one walked by while I was making dinner. At a campground in Zimbabwe, elephants crossed the electric fences every afternoon to eat the fruit trees. The guards tried to chase them off by waving, clapping, and yelling. Not once did an elephant ever take a single step towards me. Gentle giants indeed.

With this background I had no idea I was walking (or literally cycling) into a major human-elephant conflict in Sri Lanka. In the first half of 2021 in Sri Lanka an elephant killed a person on average every three days.

I wish I had known this before. I saw the elephant from far enough away that I could have turned around. When I got too close (I guess), the elephant turned toward me and immediately started quickly walking directly at me. It was unprovoked (by me) aggression that I never saw in Africa. I have learned since that it’s not unusual in India as well.

The incident happened very fast. I guess I just dropped my bike. The elephant came toward me two or three times in total. It stomped on my bicycle, tore off the bags, threw them around. My beefy Tubus rear rack was split into two pieces like it was made of toothpicks not steel.

The elephant came direcly at me.  It proceeded to destory my bicycle.  It was deliberately aggressive, not surprised. by bryandkeith on flickr

I was on a two lane paved highway. People came from both sides quickly but were too scared to come close until the elephant calmed down. An empty pickup arrived. My stuff was thrown in. I got in back, and we sped off. 4km later we were at the Bakamuna Police Station.

I am physically fine. It’s been ten days since the attack, and it still makes me tremble and feel nauseous when I think about it.

The police were helpful. I was in shock. They took me around town, and I bought a new bicycle. Mine was almost completely destroyed — frame bent in multiple places, all four brakes and brake levers broken, the rear derailleur was flattened. I salvaged a surprisingly small bag of parts.

I actually rode the next day to Polonnaruwa, and I put off a rest day for ten days, until today (Christmas Day), because I figured I just needed to keep going. I’m lucky to be alive. Scared too.

When my bicycle was stolen nine years ago, I wrote a nice tribute to that bicycle and the places it had taken me. The similarities in these two events ends with a lost bicycle. I’ll replace the bike — that’s the easy part. Now I’m working on recovering mentally, learning something (I hope), and being thankful to be alive and uninjured. In that vein here are a bunch of photos that hopefully show what’s good about Sri Lanka.

IMG_20211212_063607 by bryandkeith on flickr
IMG_20211212_133009 by bryandkeith on flickr
clockwise from bottom left: gotukola mellum, dhal, dried fish curry, mango curry, kiri kos (mature jackfruit) curry
rambutan by bryandkeith on flickr
IMG_20211212_093444 by bryandkeith on flickr
IMG_20211213_162823 by bryandkeith on flickr
wholesale fruit and vegetable distribution center in Dambulla
IMG_20211216_073733 by bryandkeith on flickr
IMG_20211213_074622 by bryandkeith on flickr
kottu by bryandkeith on flickr
IMG_20211215_061917 by bryandkeith on flickr
These six cobras protect Buddha -- at least that's my understanding. by bryandkeith on flickr
kola henda (herbal porridge, lavariya, papaya by bryandkeith on flickr
kola kenda (herbal porridge), lavariya, papaya
papadam, dried fish curry, pol sambol, green bean curry, del (breadfruit) curry, ambarella curry by bryandkeith on flickr
papadam, dried fish curry, pol sambol, green bean curry, del (breadfruit) curry, ambarella curry
IMG_20211216_073439_42 by bryandkeith on flickr
My new (very temporary) rig.  On the slightest uphill I have to use the lowest gear.  Basically I can't go into the mountains at all.  Also it's a little too small for me, and the grip shifters and kick stand are horrible.  Oh, it's pretty wobbly even wit by bryandkeith on flickr
my new bike — not a replacement for my LHT, but hopefully enough to finish my tour here
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14 Responses to it’s just a bike, redux

  1. Curt Bradner says:

    I’m glad it was only the bike and not you!
    That has to rate as one of the freakiest things that’s ever happened to you, and you’ve had some freaky experiences……….
    It doesn’t look like you could even salvage your old seat – but you did manage to get away with your front bag and camera – that’s something at least – great photo of the elephant stomping on your bike.

    • Bryan Keith says:

      My seat was in two pieces, but I still have the seat post. An amazing thing about that photo is that it’s the only one I took (or even tried to take apparently), and it turned out to be pretty good. If you zoom in on that photo, you can see my handlebar bag under the bicycle. Somehow that bag hardly got damaged. It was full of dirt/mud, and my sunglasses were broken, but my laptop and important documents were ok.

      I use my phone as a camera. I replaced the screen in Polonnaruwa, and it’s still working fine as well as it ever did.

      Oh, I’m much better mentally now than when I wrote that entry. It’s been over a month. I am still wary of wildlife.

  2. Doug says:

    I am soo glad that you are uninjured, and grateful that you have this moment in your rear view mirror. Keep it there.

  3. Jennifer & Derek Werner says:

    So thankful you didn’t end up like your bike–that is really some story. Hang in there.

  4. Jennifer Werner says:

    So glad you didn’t end up like your bike! Yikes! Crummy having to replace so much, but your strong spirit will keep you going–hang in there and keep enjoying that beautiful place (just keep your distance from the not-so-gentle giants!)

  5. jeffrey anderson says:

    Holy crap!

    Sorry to hear about this incident Bryan. Glad that you are physically ok.

    If you make a trip to BoCo, I have a black, 56, LHT in great shape that I’d make you a great deal on…just saying!

    Best wishes putting this behind you.

  6. Mike Painter says:

    Wow! Glad you’re OK. Life is an adventure (more for some than for others, I guess 😉 ).

    All the best,

  7. Mustafa Karanfil says:

    I am sorry to see your bicycle like that Bryan 🙁 At least nothing happened to your health 🙁 Geçmiş olsun 🙁

  8. Marie Z. says:

    What a harrowing experience. Needless to say, we’re thankful you escaped unscathed, at least physically.
    I remember when your other bike was stolen…can’t believe that was nine years ago.
    I wonder what an elephant expert would cite as the possible reason for this attack and for the apparent temperamental difference between Asia and African elephants.

  9. kerem kocak says:

    Çok geçmiş olsun abi :/

  10. Karl Thompson says:

    Whoa bro

  11. Zane Selvans says:

    Holy crap! Wow. Was that the black LHT that I built at Masala?

    • Bryan Keith says:

      Yep, Zane, that was the bike. There were still a lot of original parts left like the dynamo, the front derailleur, brakes, brake levers, shifters. I’m using the shifters and front derailleur on my new LHT build — this time with disc brakes and 700c wheels and one (or 1.5?) lower gear. I haven’t it ridden it uphill yet so I can’t quite be sure about the gearing yet. The new bike is *almost* ready to tour.

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