It has been a strange few days as I prepare for this trip. I am used to having a long packing list, a big suitcase and a hassle as I make sure I have everything I need.
This time, though, it’s different. I had my bicycle professionally packed and it is in a box with my helmet, a few spare tubes, and all of my maps and directions I compiled.
Other than that I have three small pieces of luggage: Two panniers (stored inside a larger duffel so they’re a single piece of luggage instead of two), and a small carryon backpack. Everything I am bringing now I has to be able to be carried on a bicycle. Whatever I bring must be worth expending energy to carry 70-120 km per day.
I packed the first pannier – with cycling related things last weekend. And yesterday, after doing the laundry, I packed my second pannier with things I need when I’m not on my bike. In the end it looks like this:
What’s inside? The bag on the right has three pairs of bike shorts liners along with three long bike shorts. Wearing short pants is bold enough, I think wearing form-fitting lycra shorts in rural India might just be a bit too much! I also have four short sleeve jerseys, three pairs of cycling socks (pretty much regular socks but with bold colours for fun and visibility), a fluorescent yellow rain jacket that will also be good in the cool morning hours (mornings will be around 11C / 52F). If I need longer pants to start I’ve got some baggy sweatpants to wear over my shorts that can be removed easily on the road leaving me in shorts. I also have a few tools – a patch kit, tire levers, multitool, chamois cream (to prevent chafing against the saddle), sunscreen, and bug spray. In the bike box I have a couple of tubes, a long cable to use with my u-lock to lock the bike to larger things like a telephone pole, and a tire pump. I also brought very bright USB-chargeable front and rear lights. I don’t intend to ride at night but sometimes due to delays it can be possible as Daegan and I found out. For hydration I have a big box of electrolyte tablets – not enough for every day but enough that I can have them until I find another source of salt – I’m thinking namkeen and chaat may take this place. I have three water bottles also. Two are regular squeeze bottles that most cyclists use. The third is a special one with a hollow fiber anti-microbial water filter in it. I’ve never had a problem finding bottled or filtered water in India before, and that can go in the regular bottles. However, in more remote areas I may have to drink what I can get. I can put that in the filter bottle and be sure to be safe.
In the other bag I have a pair of jeans, a few shirts, and other street clothes. The usual toiletries are in this bag also.
In the carryon bag I have a ruggedized Chromebook advertised as being great for elementary school students. It’s been drop tested, tested with water and found to stand up to the task. I don’t plan on treating it poorly but I also don’t want to bring something fragile. It’s also one of the cheapest computers you can get so if, god forbid I do break or lose it it’s no great loss. I packed my Kindle so that I have something to read on the 15 hour flight there as well as when I am relaxing.
This morning Daegan and I had breakfast at home together and then he rode with me to the airport and helped me with my bags. With a big duffel bag and a big bike box I have a bit extra to carry. Checkin went so smoothly and I was excited to find out that though both bits of luggage are considered oversized, there was no extra charge.
Practical considerations aside, the lead-up to this trip has been a bit of an emotional roller coaster. This is the trip of a lifetime for me – something I’ve dreamed about doing, the kind of trip I read books about. But it’s also completely unknown territory for me. I’ll be riding in a new “traffic culture”, on a different side of the road, in a country I know very few people and relatively little about. When I ride a bike to Montreal, I know the route, and I have friends along the way. I know that there’s really only one big hill on the whole trip and it’s not even that bad. I have no idea what’s ahead of me. What will I find to eat? Will people be nice to me?
There’s also a big mix of reactions to the idea. Nearly everyone is excited and interested, but a good third are vocally worried about me. I get it, I’m going off in to the unknown and will be a bit more vulnerable than usual. That said, the vulnerability that makes people worried for me also makes me approachable and open to interesting experiences. This is true no matter where you ride your bike and gives a distinctly different experience to traveling by air conditioned tour bus, train, and especially airplane.
The result of that mix of reactions is a bit of a roller coaster. Mostly I feel great but then every once in a while, as I did when hugging Daegan goodbye at the airport, I realized: I’m going out on my own. This is really happening and my stomach lurches like when your car goes quickly over a small hill.
As unpleasant as that might sound to some, it is precisely this cocktail of anticipation, nervousness, excitement and even a little fear that feels so good and makes me feel like this: