Almost five years on the road so far, 50,000 km on all tours, over 20 million pedal strokes and countless hurdles along the way.
Did I just start pedalling and made it to the end with sheer will power? Or, was I as vulnerable as anyone else?
20 Jan 2016. I was barely one week into my 33,000 km trip from Ushuaia to Alaska. Cycling Tierra del Fuego, crushed by fierce Patagonian winds during the day, one evening I took shelter in an abandoned cabin in the Pampas. I spent two nights there praying for the wind to stop. It didn’t. Before leaving, I left my signatures on the wall “Ushuaia —Alaska?” The question mark at the end signified how unsure I was about this travel.
So what kept me going? I had no money, big corporate sponsorships, athletic ability, or a cause to motivate myself. Was it the faith in my abilities?
Or was it the faith in the unknown which told me that I will be fine?
Before I embarked on tour I wanted to experience freedom, explore exotic cultures, make friends everywhere and get lost in the beauty of the wilderness. But I also knew there would be harsh weather, desolate deserts, tough mountains, neverending roads, infinite traffic, unforeseen challenges, and unknown people along the way. But how could I let the fear get in my way because then I wouldn’t have left my home? So I rather put faith in the unknown.
Now that I have just finished the bicycle tour through the Americas and type these lines from a hilltop house in LA at midnight, I see twinkling city lights through the window while trying to reflect on how I was able to do it. I take a deep breath and close my eyes for a minute. It becomes all dark. Slowly the faces of hundreds of people fade in and out from the darkness with my eyes.
I am cycling near the border between Chile and Bolivia. I meet a nomad family. The skin of their faces is rough due to the cold. They shelter me in their shack for a night. Next morning, their young boy gathers snow from outside and melts it on fire so I can fill up my water bottles before leaving. In Bolivian Altiplano, cold wind pierces my skin into the bones on the coldest day of my journey. I am pushing the bike with my head down when I hear a voice, “bravo!” A whiff of warm air hits me. I lift my head and see a beautiful young lady with a smile on her face, holding a lollypop in her right hand extending towards to me. The strawberry flavour lollypop fuels new energy in me for the rest of the day. On my first day in Ecuador, I find myself exhausted pushing the bike on the steepest road, someone stops right in front of me and the door opens. For a second, I think I am about to get robbed, but a bulky man steps out of the car with a bottle of Monster drink for me. In Peruvian Highland, the Los Israelites fill my bowl with pieces of meat whereas they have very little to eat for themselves. Before leaving while I am thinking whether I should donate money to those poor people, a man hands me a 10 Soles note for my travels, thus beating me in kindness.
Cycling down the Trampoline of Death road in Colombia, when it has become all dark and I can barely keep my eyes open due to exhaustion, I see a little boy sitting outside his house. I look at him for a couple of seconds without saying a word. He instantly recognises my pain and calls his parents who take me into their home for the night.
I see the faces of countless people who feed me, wash my clothes and share everything they have. In Calgary, Mississauga, and LA, people host me at their place not for days, but weeks and even months.
I meet travellers on the road and come to know about their inspirational journeys. Every encounter turns out to be a gift. Every person I meet on the road teaches me something about life, through a story or an act of kindness.
In Alaska, a professional bicycle mechanic spends half of the day with me on fixing my bicycle but refuses to charge anything. He wants me to save money for the last leg of the journey. People at Stevens Bikes, Pinion, Gates Carbon and Ortlieb, whom I haven’t even met, believe in my travel even before I do.
When I need to catch a flight but don’t have the budget for it, friends call and send help. I go through my luggage and it seems nothing belongs to me. Almost everything is given to me by someone else.
People on social media write messages of love and connect me with their friends and families who support me on the road. Friends help with translations, content editing, and cheer for me.
I run out of money in the first two months of my travel, take loans and keep pedalling. Somehow, I make it to the end of South America. When I believe I can no longer continue without funds, people start contributing money. “You are living our dream!” they write as a note. They become the real force whereas I am merely a pedaler out there, living a dream which is not only mine but also theirs.
You can imagine over the last five years, how many times I found myself in a vulnerable situation, but help came from unknown sources even before I asked for it. One door opened after another as if a divine power wanted me to take on this journey. Before leaving on this tour, I probably knew one or two people along the entire route, but now I feel a personal connection with every place because I know people living there. Albeit I lost the sense of strong attachment to the home, I gained a sense of attachment with the rest of the world as my new home.
The biggest outcome of this journey is that the world is indeed a beautiful place; pristine mountains, vast deserts, magnificent lakes, mighty rivers; but what makes it even more amazing is the beauty of human kindness. This beauty is no less than that of Patagonia or the Canadian Rockies. And this human kindness is not tied to a particular region, religion or culture but a common trait among all human beings. My journey is a testimony of human kindness.
I have experienced it first hand every day on the road. It is because of the human kindness I have been able to cycle so far, and it is because of the love from strangers, I’ve always felt at home.
To everyone kind to me—for helping me live this dream for myself and others—I bow my head and say,“Thank You!”