It was the winter of 2014, I had barely overcome the fact that I could no longer run due to cartilage damage in my knee and was just about coming to terms with cycling as a form of exercise in Mumbai. My 59-year-old work colleague had suggested it was time we moved beyond the dreary circuits of Worli Sea Face and Marine Drive and had us all sign up for The Tour of the Nilgiris, a 900-km ride from Bengaluru to Munnar over 9 days.
Despite our best efforts to follow a training plan, we ended up following only about 60% of it and arrived at the start of the ride with the most “chalta hain” and “ho jayega” attitude. Over the next 9 days, we would do some of our longest rides, steepest climbs and push ourselves like we never had before. Pain would become a constant companion and yet strangely there was a certain sweetness to the pain as we rode through the majestic Nilgiris, stopped by nondescript tea and coffee shops and ended each day amongst our friends and riders from around the country and world laughing over beer, looking forward to the trials of the next days’ ride. The experience changed me forever.
Over the nine days, at times I rode slow and easy as I chatted with some friends and at others I pushed myself hard to try and keep up with the faster groups, realizing the value of riding in the pleasant comfort of the draft of the peloton while doing my time at the front facing the wind. There were times I was exhausted and a pat on the back or a word of encouragement from another rider egged me on and there were other times I felt strong and found myself doing the same for flagging riders by me. There was always something about the experience that came full circle, just like the spinning wheels of the bicycle.
Over the years, we’ve travelled as a group of friends to some of the more interesting parts of the world, including Manali-Leh, one of the highest rides in the world. I’ve rented bicycles on family trips, to escape while everyone sleeps or rests to explore roads at a more leisurely pace. I’ve written to people when travelling who have arranged bicycles for me so we can ride their local routes and soon ten of us will set off on the WOW tour of Iceland, an almost 1,400-km ride around Iceland over the summer solstice.
Bicycle travel is in that perfect zone that is a little bit faster than walking, less noisy than being on a motorcycle and more open than being in a car. Besides, at the end of the day, you know you have earned a hearty meal and the beer just tastes that much better. It’s also a great way for me to meet new people. Not only are cyclists some of the nicest people to know, they always know where the best espresso is available.
For other stories in “The Trip That Changed the Way I Travel” series, click here.