I still remember the day when my Father gifted me an Atlas Rambler kids bike. I rode indoors for almost a week with the side wheels on, waiting for the weekend to come so that my father could teach me to ride it. Finally, over the weekend my father took me to the playground and off I went without the side wheels for the first time. He had a tough time running with me to keep me from falling. Very soon, I was able to cycle independently. I felt like a free bird who had just completed his flying lessons. I also recollect the first fall I had and the bruises I got on my knees and feet. Reckless, as only a kid can be, my ramblings continued on the Rambler. Since 4th grade, I started cycling to school.
In the break time, I made it a point to visit the parking lot and inspect my bike. When I was in 6th Grade I was gifted a single speed mountain bike Hercules 9000. I was so excited to ride it to school that I once forgot to carry my school bag and instead enjoyed the extended ride back home. Cycling gives me a feeling of freedom, whereas school exams meant staying grounded at home and studying all the time. Once, on the last day of my annual exams, I rode with my friends on our school playground with both hands off the handlebar as if we were flying like free birds, that’s when we realized that we were being watched by our Physical Education Trainer. At first, we thought we were busted but even he empathized with our feelings and spared us the punishment.
As I grew up, my bike enabled me to travel to the other part of town to visit my Aunt. I used to happily run errands on my bike as it made me mobile in the true sense. My parents wasted no time in getting me a Hercules Cannon Barrel MTB when my Hercules 9000 was stolen from the front porch. I converted this one to a 5-speed bike. With this bike I widened my horizon, I started hitting the highway. My first long trip was to an ancient Shankara temple on the highway. Those were the days when we had no mobile phones, reflective vests, portable pumps or head or tail lamps but still we cycled.
Even after graduating college, I continued to cycle through intermittently. Unlike most youngsters, I never had a longing for a motorbike. When I was away for my management studies my Housing society donated all the unused bikes to an NGO. I felt bad but continued to cycle a roadster borrowed from a friend. Though I owned no bike I found myself cycling whenever and wherever the opportunity arose.
Later, when I started earning, I gifted myself a Trek 3700 MTB after going through several online forums for cyclists. The first day I rode to Gateway of India and met other riders with whom I was already connected via the online forums. The newly built online platform by Amit B. played a vital role in uniting like-minded cyclists from Mumbai. That is when I learned about a 200km ride for the first time. I started training with this bunch of riders and successfully completed India’s first Brevet organized by Satish Patki.
I still clearly remember him clapping and greeting every finisher at the finish line. This 200 Brevet induced enough confidence in me to set out on my first self supported tour to Alibaug with my friend Niranjan. I continued to cycle around Mumbai city to explore every possible pocket of the city as well as trails around Gorai, Yeoor, and SGNP. Riding by the queens necklace during midnight with friends is an experience in itself.
Later, I learned about the complete SR series and the Paris Brest Paris event. I kept graduating from 300 to 600 km brevets as I discovered my potential. I became India’s first Super Randonneur and First double Super Randonneur. In December 2010 I rode to Goa with my friend Kevin for the first time and continued this custom for the next 2 years. Eventually, I decided to upgrade to a Road bike which I used for the PBP. Riding in Paris with Randonneurs from across the globe was a unique experience.
I was overwhelmed with the French hospitality towards cyclists. I recollect looking for an emergency blanket in a cycle shop before the event, I was unable to communicate what I was looking for to the local French salesperson. That’s when another customer who understood what I wanted conveyed it to the salesperson in French. The salesperson told me to follow him and took me to a supermarket next door and spoke to the salesperson there. He made sure I got what I was looking for. However, PBP wasn’t a smooth ride all the way as I got hit by a thunderstorm at about 450 km. I had to pull off the road and take shelter with a French family. Every time I made up my mind and tried stepping out, it would start raining more heavily. Finally, an idea struck me. I asked the French lady to bring a plastic bag and we made a rain jacket out of it. Finally, I was out again…
Due to the lost time, I slept for barely 3 hours. When I was at 1009 km, I was told that most of the 15 Indian riders had already abandoned the ride. Shocked by this news, I rode like a mad man for the last 200 km.
Once I reached the finish point, I slept like a log. The next day, I realized that I had actually completed the ride in 75 hours 18 minutes. PBP 2011 was indeed a dream come true for me!
TO BE CONTINUED…
Courtesy: Tracy Alvares