My first single gear cycle in the school days was a humble possession I adored the most. This first two wheeler was my companion when I commuted to school, ran errands and visit nearby places in Udaipur – my homeland. Life moved on and this pedaled two wheeler was peddled for a motor two wheeler and then the car. That I would, after decades, fall in love with the bicycle once again and make it my companion on much longer distances was not something I envisaged then.
My love for being close to nature turned me into a hard core trekker more than a decade ago and cycling tickled my comfort zone much later till just two years ago. It turned into a passion and I bought myself a bicycle – a much complicated one than what I used when I was a kid. I myself don’t know when my occasional cycling turned into a passion. This affection to cycling dug in gradually, as I cycled around Mumbai on pristine mornings and breathed in the beauty of the metropolis in a far more satisfying manner than I did after I made Mumbai my home 25 years ago. All I knew was every weekend I have to go to Mount Mary or NCPA. I feel that the beauty of exploration on foot was complemented by the charm of odysseys on a bicycle.
It was during my shorter rides over each weekend, that I began nurturing the craving for cycling to Goa one day. Initially I wanted to go solo but my apprehensions built a mental block around attempting solo.
In mid November this year, I learnt about a Mumbai to Goa cycling expedition. Without giving a second thought I enrolled myself and set a target of 20 days practice and ride 400 kms in tranches to prepare myself for destination Goa.
On 14 Dec I started my journey to Goa with a group of 15 riders from various parts of the country. The First day was from Mandwa jetty to Murud . Since I had done this stretch before I was confident of riding through without much of a dent on my endurance.
It was the second day’s ride from Murud to Harihareshwar where the ride became challenging. It was pitch dark during the last one hour of our ride in the countless ghats1of the Konkan region. This is where the mind started playing games and I began to think that I have signed up for something I am not made for. I told my partner Dr. Sachin that I may not be able to cycle on ghats; it is not my cup of tea and that I am a city road rider. Sachin told me to take it easy. Our group had champion riders and I was lagging behind with my slow tortoise-like speed on the ghats.
Sachin motivated me, but the terrain challenged me. Day 3 onwards the ride became more and more challenging with uphills across more ghats – so many that I stopped counting how many of them came my way. Sometime then, I stopped looking at the road ahead and started praying to God for a flatter stretch or a downhill terrain. I constantly used to speak with my team leader Akhshay and he motivated me…he said “you are doing fine...keep your own pace “
Nilesh Bhai, Mangal Bhai, Siddhesh, Sachin and Seema were champion riders and always in the lead. Then we had Ratre, Zammer, Ritesh, Kunal and Mahesh Sir who were in the middle formation and then Sree Madam, Bandary, Amit and lastly yours faithfully.
The difficulty level enhanced on Day 4 but the mind and body were now getting used to the longer rides, ghats and uphills. Negative thoughts and fear of climbing ghats did challenge the mind time and again, but I told myself that I had already maneuvered across the last three days and this is what I need to do all along for the next 5 days. I had decided - however slow it may be but I won’t use the support vehicle. Sree Madam inspired me, her words “Mubs your peddling and pace is amazing” were the words, which kept me going.
The aspiration of cycling to Goa with my team mates built up the tempo of enthusiasm in me and helped me overcoming the fear of climbing ghats and uphill. I stopped asking Akhsay how is the terrain today. I was now ready to take on any form of terrain. I was sure I am going to make it – it reminded me of my treks to the Himalayas. My only prayer was for my cycle and that it should not encounter any trouble.
There were two occasions – day 5 & 6, where my rear tyre braved punctures. Siddesh - what a team mate he is… stayed behind with me and inflated my tyre thrice on the ghats till the time the support vehicle came and resolved the issue. I owe him big time.
Nilesh bhai is one of Mumbai’s champion riders. He used to keep pushing me. His words were “Mubarak come on..you are doing good”. Bhanushali bhai used to crack jokes and make me smile during those strenuous ghat climbs while Sachin used to remind me that the evenings will be ours.
During my practice in Mumbai I was unable to climb Mount Mary one day. I was demoralized because earlier I had ridden the same elevation more than 20 times. I anyways decided to keep Mount Mary climb as the last practice ride before the expedition and I was able to climb it effortlessly.
Whenever during these 8 long days I had a fear, I always looked back at that 120 meters patch of Mount Mary climb to overcome my fear and mental block. I knew I have the blessing of Basillica with me everytime.
Our day started at 5am and rides used to start with cold mornings with the breeze flowing in across the coast and the pristine clear waters of the Arabian Sea beating on the coast which were adorned with beautiful small villages. Crossing ferries and riding in small lanes of villages and paddy fields was something out of a fairy tale.
Day 8 from Malvan to Arombol I was talking to myself – that I am a day away from achieving a dream. I had nurtured the dream of cycling to Goa and I know that victories don’t come easy. I knew the last day’s terrain because I have covered that stretch in a car several times. I knew the ghats on the last day will test the body and mind to its extreme. Feeling of summit day during my hiking days were all over my mind. I was waiting for the moment of glory . It was post lunch that the real difficult patch of the ride started. I was enjoying the ride. I knew the patches where I have used first gear of my Innova during my previous Goa trips. This time it was my two wheeled Kawasaki’s turn and my pedaling which will cruise me through to Terekhol Bridge and around 4pm I crossed Maharashtra border and entered Goa. Emotions were high and I had made it to Goa!!!
I am lucky I have new set of friends. I learnt so much about riding and how to keep doing and riding long distances. I am thankful to the entire team - Akhshay and most importantly Zameer who captured all beautiful moments on his Drone. Last but not the least Santosh “Baap” our backup vehicle. He was there to support us everytime whether it is to refill water or help us load unload our stuff and was always there when needed.
8 days, 550Kms , 29 Ghats and countless small uphill and gravel paths later, our team rode hand-in-hand for a victory lap. This moment in life shall remain forever.
Fear, mental blocks, body pain, thoughts of not making it and leaving half way….it all become history. It is not every day that one chases such dreams. As a weekend rider if I can do it then anyone can do it. It is just overcoming Fear.