Patnitop to Banihal, 83km
“What’s a shooting stone?” the crew photographer asked as he was hanging off the side – by this point in the journey, hanging off the side of the car felt as natural as sitting on the front porch.
The driver screamed at him to get back into the vehicle in broken English; a few days ago when they were on a normal highway, it was fine for him to be out there. However, now they were on a narrow mountain road with no safety railing and a two hundred metre drop.
“Shooting stone means falling rocks, get back in the car!” one of the film crew members yelled.
Everyone was in their vehicles, but Pat was running out in the open. His sponsor hat was unlikely to prevent a skull fracture in the event of a boulder rolling down the mountain on top of him.
That morning, the crew had lost Pat for a good 30 minutes; a mudslide had caused a massive traffic jam and grounded the cars behind him. It took an entire construction crew and a lot of people power to pull the car out and get it to the side of the road. When the vehicles finally caught up again, Pat was running by himself down a mountain.
It was uphill practically the entire way, but the endurance runner loved it – it certainly beat a flat road on a dusty highway and the view was outstanding. We were over 2000m above sea level and between the valley and mountains; it truly felt like running through paradise.
In the last 8km and another rockslide caused traffic to be at a standstill again on a narrow mountain road with no safety guard.
The last leg through the traffic felt like Pat was running a gauntlet. The narrow spaces between the cars, trucks and buses where difficult enough to navigate with the threat of more falling rocks and now the roads had become slightly flooded and the incline steadily increased. The feathers and fluff from trucks full of caged chickens caused us to hold our breaths as we ran through – the doctor was paranoid about bird flu, but the smell alone was enough for us to cover our mouth and nose as we zipped by. Just when we thought the chickens and shooting stones were the biggest problems, a swarm of bees which had broken loose from another truck blocked the only way forward.
A man, likely the owner of said bees, stood in the middle of the swarm motioning us to run by. At least we suspected he was the owner. We couldn’t imagine any reason a person would volunteer to be the designated bee supervisor.
“No issue, no issue,” he said as if we were the odd ones for feeling apprehensive about running through hundreds of bees in the middle of a mountain road. We managed to avoid being stung and eventually climbed over the rocks blocking the way through. They were being cleared by a small crane which was throwing the stones off the side of the mountain and into the river below. One by one we all slipped off the muddy rocks and persevered forward.
The day finished in a guest house in the town of Banihal. It was decided that evening that we’d cut the run a day early. If the roads continued to be this treacherous, Pat would be moving forward before anyone could stop him.