Why do I travel on my bicycle?
Last November, when I took my bike around Sri Lanka, an arduous journey that left me with serious mental and physical bruises, there was one question I was frequently asked – why are you doing this? Shopkeepers, home stay owners, the friends I made, even cops. It’s the same back home, no doubt. Often, I give the same answer – mazze ke liye, I do this for fun, or tweak it bit to yeh mera junoon hai, this is my passion. The bike would be adored, I’d win a few hearts, and soon it would be time to find the next set of admirers.
Though my answer is convincing, there’s more to the story than just junoon. Why do I travel on my bike? Here’s why –
In 20I0, my parents invested in two cycles and I noticed how drastically their lives changed. Unlike the other cyclists in town, they took to bicycle touring. Each time they returned from a tour, there’d be a gleam on their faces, and a sure shot burst of energy and happiness. It took them about five years to convince me to start riding, but when it finally did happen, I took to cycling like a duck to water.
Over time cycling became an everyday activity and in less than a year I’d gone on three tours across the country. Hell yes, it was fun. It was tiring, I lost all my energy once I returned home, but the desire to get back out there only increased.
I’ve backpacked a few times. But nothing comes close to exploring new terrains and cultures on a bike. Every pedal stroke is a new frame to admire. The sweet realisation that I’ve scaled mountain passes, overcome exhaustive weather conditions, or fought through uninhabited roads that made me feel really lonely was surreal. While travelling, I carry my load in panniers attached to my rear wheel. To carry my home with me isn’t something I can do in the city. The sense of achievement coupled with witnessing the unknown every second of the day – nothing can beat that.
When I’m asked what my tour was like, it’s seldom easy to answer in a few sentences. There’s so much I saw, so many problems I faced, and so many conversations I had. In a small village called Komari in south east Sri Lanka, the only hotel/home stay out here had only one guest. I struck a chord with Oliver, the 82 year old Canadian, and I ended up spending an extra day in this village so he could take me to the inauguration of the local church in the village. I would never have met Oliver had I not been cycling. A bus would never have stopped in Komari.
A National Geographic documentary on bicycle touring taught me that it’s important to break away from a routine. Life in the city gets you hooked to a schedule and one needs to step away from time to time. A routine is the enemy of time. It makes it fly by. When you’re a child, everything is new. As an adult, you’ve figured out the pattern of how the world works – college, money, rent, family. The fascination with how things work vanishes. The easiest way to get that fascination back is to get out there and take a break from your routine. A bikepacker has a routine each day of the tour. Kilometers to cover per hour, per day, per week. It can get tiresome. So it’s not that I’m running away from a routine – I’m just on the lookout for new ones. I promised myself I would do something radically different, and to see if that changed my brain chemistry. Cycling makes your brain grow. It’s a scientific fact that aerobic exercise can create new brain cells and, as all cyclists know, the most enjoyable way to achieve sustained aerobic exercise is by riding your bicycle. A simple addition was to travel on it.
A lyric from Liam Gallagher’s new release really aspired me – ‘God told me, live a life of luxury.’ To be able to bike tour from time to time is the luxury I seek. Not money, not expensive liquor, not new clothes. Jo Skeats, a friend from England, is currently cycling around the world. He started from the UK and has managed to reach Jakarta so far. He’s not going to stop till he reaches the Australian east coast. The two years it took him to make this journey, most of my friends would acknowledge as a Master’s degree or a slow climb up the corporate ladder. On the flip side, some of my friends are spending these years backpacking, diving, breaking Guinness records, or learning how to sail. There’s just a few of us with these interests, and I don’t expect the community to build too soon. I’m just trying to make the reader realise that there’s far more out there than you think. The money will come and so will the success. I’m not a lost soul; I have a career path figured out for myself, and that ship will sail soon.
Travelling on my bike gives me a sense of freedom. I’m not answerable to anyone. I have no bus or train to catch. I pitch a tent, find a cheap place to stay, or bank on the kindness of the locals. So stopovers never bother me. There’s no fixed route I’m supposed to take. To have nothing around me, except two tires on the road and the rotation of my legs – that sets something free. It’s hard to explain, but there are times when I look back at some of my experiences and marvel at the pure absurdity of those situations. Maybe I’m a bit of a hippy, but I’d say its love.
On average, we all have eighty years on this planet. I want my 80 to feel like 800. I don’t want my days to control me. I want Mondays to be awesome, just like any other day. Yes, I too want to look forward to a Sunday. I want that rest day to wash my clothes, drink copious amounts of beer, and just laze around. I don’t want to restrict myself to a calendar. I want a mind and soul that are wide awake. I want to be free. To feel free.
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