Of the many skills that are considered integral to “growing-up”, cycling would definitely rank amongst the top few. What starts as a past-time or a toy eventually becomes a necessity and life-skill. I still remember the school days, when anyone who would cycle to school was considered mature ,responsible and “grown-up” and how eagerly I waited for the day when I could cycle to school !! My association with the bicycle would continue slightly longer than my school-friends, as the bicycle accompanied me to the military school. Looking back, I realize it was in fact there that the bond with the bicycle became stronger – all thanks to the various cycle hikes. From the one to the Ellora caves, which I had the fortune to lead, to the one that was called-off as a punishment for us – every cycle hike was an amazing life lesson – lessons that are relevant even today.
The Longest Cycle Hike :
Thanks to those amazing cycle hikes, we continued to remain attached to cycling even after. And so, a couple of years after completing military school, a few of us chalked out a plan for – what remains as the longest cycle hike till date I been part of. Since the core planners and organizers were from Sangamner – a town which all of us identified as “tree-village“, it was chosen as the starting as well as the finishing point !! The route that covered approximately 1200 kms. was something as follows :
Sangamner – Pune – Satara – Kolhapur – Sangli – Ahmednagar – Sangamner.
The route was broken down into stages / legs of around 100 kms. each day. It was definitely daunting even on paper, but it was probably the best shot we had for doing something of this scale. In fact we were so gripped by this plan that I, somehow, got convinced to go to Sangamner for the start and then cycle down 120 kms. back to Pune !!
It was the toughest leg of our hike and I still remember being absolutely livid on why we chose such a long and difficult route for Day 1. I had almost decided to quit while we were still in Pune but in my mind, I was also pulled apart with the need to redeem myself from the reputation of giving up on things mid-way!! Fortunately for me, the second day was a lot calmer and shorter with a very special ending. As a consequence of quite a few things, we made an unscheduled halt for the night – in the open, besides a small temple. It was a wild and risky plan but we were equally eager to do something really adventurous.
It was decided that all 5 of us would take turns to keep vigil throughout the night. But as expected only the first few did the job while the latter ones slept away to glory !! Fortunately nothing untoward happened and now its a very, very special memory.
By the third day, we were all in the groove – well coordinated and aligned to our objective of completing the route as per plan. Our stay-overs also got a lot more comfortable and that helped bigtime in relieving the everyday fatigue. Reaching Kolhapur as planned was a very big relief, especially for me who had serious thoughts of giving up on the first day itself. I was in fact now looking forward to the return leg.
One of the very special memories of the return leg would be the delicious, sumptuous lunch in Sangli at Sanket’s Sir place. The other special memory being about the huge moral dilemma we faced when we were left 70kms. adrift from our daily target and had to decide if we should take a lift or not. There was nobody monitoring us and as such we were not really answerable to anybody and yet here was a group of young lads who felt absolutely committed to the cause. It was an intriguing and enlightening debate right in the middle of nowhere, a life-lesson on leadership skills, team-work and co-ordination. Finally we did decide to hop on a truck and reach Ahmednagar as we were also advised by locals about the area being dominated by bandits and robbers.
We finally reached back to Sangamner the next day thus completing a 10-day long adventure which remains unique and exclusive till date.
Eventually, as I completed graduation and got employed, I was obviously attracted to riding motorcycles and driving the 4-wheeler. And so cycling did get side-lined for quite some time until we visited Hampi. Back then, we were hooked onto the idea of slow travel and this time we decided to explore Hampi on the cycle.
Needless to say, cycling and slow travel are the best combinations. Add to it the soothing and gorgeous location of Hampi and you have another incomparable travelling experience.
The First Lonavla Return Hike:
It was in one of the Bangalore (it wasn’t renamed to Bengaluru then) visits, that we had a serious discussion about introducing cycling into our daily activities. It was there that I visited Decathalon for the first time and fell completely in love with those light-weight bicycles. I guess I immediately bought one on returning home. Incidentally, Dad too liked the cycle very much and it was he who started cycling more than me. Finally, it was in the monsoons of 2015 that Sagar and me finally decided to do a one-day cycling hike. As the most sought-after one-day travelling destination, Lonavala always tops the list. However, doing a one-day return “cycle-hike” to Lonavala was unprecedented for us till then. But as with the Sangamner – Kolhapur hike, we were sold into the adrenaline of “doing something for the first time”.
I was completely aware of the fact that one of most painful parts was going to be cycling alone at the start and end of the hike since Sagar had about 20 kms. less to travel. The onwards distance always gets covered in the flow of adrenaline so I didn’t feel much initially. It was a largely over-cast day so pretty much ideal cycling conditions.
Of course the route is also on the tougher side with almost continuous up and down slopes. There was a minor technical issue with my bicycle as well which made the final leg slightly more tiring, but once that was resolved, I was desperate to hit the zero mile location. Reaching the destination in relatively good shape and no major issues, gave an amazing sense of relief and satisfaction. I also considered it as an indicator of my physical fitness – which seemed satisfactory.
Of course the major challenge lay ahead in the return journey. The start was uneventful and smooth. But that was until I had Sagar’s company. Once Sagar left, I was alone, tired and desperate to reach home. It was beyond dusk and I still had about 90 mins of cycling left in the city traffic. What made it more painful was the reminder that this same distance was worth 20 mins on the motorcycle. When you are tired, exhausted and alone, such thoughts are extremely draining. In my mind, I was literally kicking myself for choosing Lonavala as the destination over something that would have been closer to my home in the return journey. I did take a few breaks to give a pep-talk to myself and finally reached home around 2130 hrs. It was immensely satisfying to reach home, in more than one ways. I was happy I had not given into the pain and torture and completed the route as per plan. I could sleep peacefully.
The First SOLO Cycle Hike:
Since that hike in 2015, cycling again took a back seat as I chose the gym and football for fitness and Bhutan, Ladakh and the likes as travel destinations. All that changed with the pandemic. No gym, no travelling and football reduced to once a week and that too only in the “unlock” phases. It wasn’t until April 2021 that I started noticing a drop in my fitness levels and the need to do something about it. And its in times like these that “good friends” come to the rescue. Asim, my school friend, pulled me out of the bed one fine morning for a round of cycling. It was like a blast-from-the-past as it was Asim, myself and a whole bunch of us school friends, who used to cycle to school and had some very fond memories of those times. It was that morning that re-ignited the spark and we started cycling every weekend.
I , of course, didn’t shy away from “flauting” our early morning rides on whatsapp. And soon enough we had a few more joining in. One such special ride was the one with Palkar Sir when I managed to complete a 50 kms. circuit since restarting cycling. That gave me a lot of confidence and I started looking forward to a day long hike, especially since the monsoon weather was suited perfectly.
Before I knew it, I had picked Lonavala once again. I was pretty sure I would have company in either Palkar Sir or Asim or both of them. But when I disclosed the plan to them, they unfortunately expressed their inability to join due to prior commitments. I was somehow so enthused with the idea that I decided I will go SOLO !!
The plan was put into serious jeopardy due to torrential rains just a couple of days before. The rains had caused extensive flooding in most areas and the prediction wasn’t very encouraging for the next few days. I prepared myself mentally for giving up on the plan that I was so excited about.
I had great difficulty falling asleep the night before and somehow managed to get just about enough rest. It was a heavy drizzle early in the morning and my folks were hoping against hope that I would NOT go. I assured them I would return the moment things didn’t look good. This time around I had a better (geared) cycle and an extra rush of adrenaline of doing something SOLO again (after Goa in 2018). I covered the first 20-25 kms. pretty fast and soon I was beyond the city limits. That’s when I was lashed with the first heavy downpour. I actually enjoyed cycling in that heavy rain since I couldn’t remember the last time I did that. The rains were gone in about in 20 mins and I was now midway. It was still pretty overcast and I could see thick black clouds over Lonavala. I decided to continue as long as I could reminding myself that this adventure could anytime turn into a mis-adventure !!!
My pace was pretty good and there was very little fatigue. So I continued non-stop for close to 40 kms. The other thing on my mind was to reach Lonavala as early as possible before the weather could play spolit-sport. Moreover I knew I could complete the return journey any how. For some reason I also got a feeling that I may not be able redo this soon if I left it unfinished this time. So basically I had more than one reasons to continue non-stop and so I did.
An exclusive experience with this hike was that there were a lot of other cyclists as well doing the same route. There were quite a few who were already returning from Lonavala and would wave at me as we crossed. That was such an amazing feeling to say the least. For more than 2 hrs. since starting from home, I was all alone, just talking to myself and all of a sudden these random, unfamiliar cyclists made me feel part of a large community. Until then I had only read in self-help articles and social media forwards about how smiling at strangers works as therapy for both us and them. But after this first-hand experience, I am totally convinced of the therapeutic powers of this seemingly small action. The other pleasing experience was of few fellow tourists, also en-route to Lonavala, who stopped by to ask my well-being and wished me luck to complete the route. From that point onwards I never felt I was doing this hike solo !!
Of course, the side-effect of this adrenaline boosting experience was that I continued almost non-stop and so about 10 kms. out of Lonavala, my thighs gave in completely. There was absolutely no strength left in them. To make matters even more challenging, there was a very strong head-wind in this patch. I was almost cycling on the same spot. Suddenly I was getting extremely desperate to reach the zero mile landmark and the more desperate I got, the farther it felt.
It was another tough mental and physical battle that I just about managed to conquer !!
A group of cyclists had just conquered their mental and physical battle and were celebrating the achievement at the same spot. They were quick to acknowledge my presence and even made me part of their celebrations. They were particularly surprised that I was gonna cycle back and so wished me luck before parting ways. This was probably the best “small-talk” experience I’ve ever had !!
As I sat down to recharge myself with some glucose and water, I just went through the entire experience. It was an amazingly pure sense of achievement and satisfaction, something I should be feeding myself with more and more !! After about an hour’s rest, I started on the way back – which I knew was going to be long. But I wasn’t too worried as I was sorted mentally. It was only about staying physically fit and completing the route. I took regular breaks on the way back to ensure my thighs don’t give way again.
As I moved farther away from Lonavala and towards Pune, the rain had vanished and so there was no pressure whatsoever of a mis-adventure !! Of course I’ll be honest, I was desperate to reach home and it seemed farther away in the closing stages but I was prepared for it and took my time. I eventually made it home in good shape and finally dropped myself on the bed relishing and cherishing a day spent well !!
To think of it, it’s really interesting to see how life comes a full circle – from learning to cycle in the childhood to moving onto bikes, cars and then celebrating coming back to the cycle. For a minimalist like me, I guess its even more special !! Looking forward to some more cycling adventures !!!