After her long ride spanning the vertical spine of the country, it was only fair if not obvious, that she undertook an East to West journey on her bicycle. Within less than a year of completing her Kashmir to Kanyakumari ride, she had already planned for another ride – this time from Tezu in Arunachal Pradesh to Koteshwar in Gujarat. But this time her partner was a non-cyclist! Let’s listen to Sayali Maharao how she overcame the challenges for her East to West ride..
We had earned some name after our Kashmir to Kanyakumari ride, and when I announced that I was planning for an East-West venture, a lot of individuals and organisations came forward to offer help. I was in fact overwhelmed by the amount of aid I was receiving. Ozone Venture provided us with the necessary equipment and jerseys and we would be always grateful to them. I am thankful to Suhana and Free Runners for their financial help for this ride and also Inspire Crew for helping us out in our ‘Empowering women’ campaign and Step up Foundation who assisted us in visiting about 10-15 schools on my journey. We took a lot of sessions in these schools with presentations and practical lessons about how to avoid plastic and how to switch to other bio-degradable options.
As this was not my first time of attempting a cross country ride, it was comparatively easier to plan. Yet, some things needed to be taken care of like weather, road conditions and wind speed as we were travelling West to East and normally winds in the Indian peninsula flow in the opposite direction – East to West. Abhijit, my partner in this ride, is a hockey player and he has no relation with cycling at all. But he is a sportsperson and hence could cope up within whatever little time we had for preparation. After all the route mapping and planning was done, we began on 15th December 2018 from Tezu. It was freezing cold in Arunachal Pradesh at that time and almost unbearable until we crossed the borders and arrived in Assam. The roads were in extremely bad condition due to construction work going on all through the route, so much so that we could not recognise ourselves at the end of the day due to the amount of dust that would get accumulated on our faces. For accommodation, we had a lot of help from the Vivekananda Kendra for this ride, almost everywhere we halted in their centres.
The most horrifying part of this ride was when we took a detour to avoid the tribal areas and lost track of our route. We went almost a hundred kilometres in the wrong direction and had to trace back our path again. We did not find a single vehicle for almost spans of as long as forty and fifty kilometres. Winds were blowing with increased intensity and it was frightening as the fog and dust were making it even difficult for our vision and after a while we had started panicking. It was going to be a nightmare had we not figured out way back before dusk. But thanks to our sportsman spirit and previous experience, we managed to grapple ourselves and think clearly. Somehow with the help of some good Samaritans, we got back on track and reached the highway. We met a friend – Harsha on our way and her family welcomed us warmly and offered us food and shelter for the night.
On New Year’s Eve, we were in Varanasi and it was a huge congregation of devotees due to the Kumbh Mela. It was amazing to see people come together in such large numbers without any formal invitations. While we were in Agra, we had to miss out on visiting the Taj as it closed down before we reached, but we did visit the Red fort and screamed ‘Shivaji Maharaj ki Jai’ on the streets. It did gather the local police, but it also felt stress relieving and filled us with new vigour to continue with our ride. During our ride in Uttar Pradesh, some days we could manage to cover only 20-30 km as the winds were too strong and in the opposite direction.
When we reached Ahmedabad, it was already hot and the vast expanse of the Kutch tired us a lot. At a point, I remember, we had to ride for over two hundred kilometres in a day because we had no stay options available. We are very thankful to the Air India Authority for arranging our stay in their guest houses and also to the Border Security Forces for helping us in the remote parts of Kutch. We also stayed in the BSF quarters for a night. But one good thing that happened in all of this was that we did not encounter a single puncture or any technical difficulty with our cycles.
Crossing all the barriers and facing number of difficulties, we finally reached the westernmost tip of India – Koteshwar. A place which registers the last sunset of the country. Standing there watching the ball of fire disappear behind the ocean, I felt a special feeling of content – to have touched all the four corners of India on my bicycle! We had crossed 7 states in 33 days covering a distance of 3920 km without any support vehicle. It was time to celebrate!
What started as a mere fitness routine had grown up so much. I had read somewhere and now I understood the gravity of it – A bicycle ride around the world begins with a single pedal stroke!