Cycling

The first woman cyclist to conquer the North East

When she had bought a Firefox cycle instead of an Activa two years ago, little did Pinal know that this decision was going to lead her to the top of the world. A random thought of trying out a cycle for commute instead of a moped, took her to the heights of success and she eventually went on to become the first Indian woman to cover a staggering 2104.5 km through the treacherous and unforgiving mountains of North East India. Of course, it did not happen overnight! That was a result of immense passion, dedication and hard work. But above all, the courage to dare. Let’s hear it from her directly –

The dream of going close towards nature was slowly taking root in my mind since the moment I did my first Himalayan trek. At that time, it was just to break the monotony of my desk job and explore something different, but as I started venturing more and more into the secrets of nature, I started getting the feeling that this is where I belong!

Originally hailing from Vadodara, I always felt that there was a lack of adventure sport culture in Gujarat. I always wanted to do something that would put Gujarat on the Adventure tourism map of India. I have been trekking and cycling for a couple of years and had earlier cycled through the Dandi route of about 400 km in three days. Later, one of my mentors suggested me to attempt the seven sisters cycling mission as there was no one who had completed this track and it could be one of a kind. Needless to say, I was very excited and albeit not having the slightest idea what this mission would take, I decided to go for it!

The planning had started three months prior to the departure, and included route mapping, contacting local cyclists for guidance, selecting the appropriate gear and preparing myself physically as well as mentally. The plains of Gujarat were no match to the precarious terrains of the unexplored beauty of North East India. People hardly think of traveling to those regions and it’s like they are completely disconnected from the rest of the country. A lot of people do not even know that there is so much of rich beauty and culture hidden in those winsome mountains. That was another reason why I chose to travel in that part of the country – I wanted to create awareness about them.

As it was a completely self-sponsored project, it was all the more challenging to execute. Not that we did not try for sponsorship, but we received rejections all the way. Cycle companies did not respond to our appeals and the government said that they cannot sponsor it beforehand, they might think of it after we have completed the mission! Well, if that deters you from your mission, then you should not have attempted it in the first place. Similar was our case, we were in no mood of looking back whether we receive any assistance or not. Our families and friends were in full support and that was all that mattered.

And so, one fine day in December, the epic journey started from Guwahati tracing the capitals of all the seven states anticlockwise starting from the south. We were a team of four cyclists and I was the only girl in them. We had a support vehicle in case of emergency. And a hurdle struck on the very second day of our journey – one of our team members got injured. This episode was demotivating not only for that fellow but also the rest of us as it does affect your psyche. But somehow we managed to cure his injuries in time as they were not very deep and the team was up and running. I think the biggest challenge we faced, apart from maintaining our health right, was with the unavailability of service centres for our cycles in interiors of these states. So the only option left to us was to learn the craft ourselves. Being an engineer worked in my favour here as I learnt how to service my bicycle and do minor repairs in it. Another challenge was the lack of proper accommodation facilities. This again worked in our favour as it meant that we had to, or shall I say we got to, stay with local families and eat local food. Experiencing their lifestyle first hand was a feeling I cannot express in words. Celebrating Christmas at a local household in Mizoram has been one of the most beautiful memories of my life.

I also got a chance of meeting two extremely inspiring individuals – Binay Kumar Sahu and Father Francis, both differently abled but sharing a common passion for cycling. The encounter with these gems is forever going to be in my memory pensieve and my mood lifter whenever I feel low. Cycling happily along the mountains, just when I had started believing that everything was so perfect, the fateful day arrived which seemingly looked like a point of no return. About four days to completion, I had to separate from the team due to some unavoidable reasons. What began as a small misunderstanding about the route swelled into a heated argument which in turn escalated to a point I could not take. Reluctantly, I had to put my foot down on my values and decided to call it quits with them. But what was worse, they even took away my cycle and the support vehicle. I was totally shattered and not sure what to do next. I badly wanted to finish what I had started. That’s when one of my friends came to my rescue. He found a Firefox showroom in Dimapur and arranged the same model for me in no time so that I could complete the journey. And thus, through a lot of ups and downs, I completed my dream journey alone for the last three days.

I am often asked what made me quit my secure job and take up a path less travelled. The answer lies in the question itself – I was compelled to take that path because it was less travelled! I was never a regular nine-to-fiver by heart. Even while working in the corporate industry, my soul yearned for the mystique nature and finally that is where I have landed today – in the lap of nature. Today, while working in the mountains doing what I like, I seek challenges every day. Something I missed in my corporate life. I have gained confidence in myself and clarity in my thoughts. I feel stronger. I feel I can make better decisions now. I feel I can take on life head first without being pressurised by trivial things. And all of this has surreptitiously integrated in my personal growth.

“When the spirits are low, when the day appears dark, when work becomes monotonous, when hope hardly seems worth having, just mount a bicycle and go out for a spin down the road, without thought on anything but the ride you are taking.” – Arthur Conan Doyle

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