A Slow Start

Thanks to my friend jetlag I wake up at 4AM and am ready for the day. I pack my bags and then after a breakfast of upma (delicious porridge) and chutney and a great chat with my host I carry all my things down the stairs. I walk back up the stairs for one last goodbye with my host and then I’m out the door.

I load my bags on my bike, and ride off. And find that the rear tire is flat. It was fine on Tuesday but today not so much. I walk to the bike shop where I bought my bell and find that they’re not open yet. And so I sit down and try to fix it myself.

I open my first tube box and find that the bike shop packed the wrong diametre tube. They’re no good. I have to patch it – something I have done one time in a class. I do a terrible job of patching it, finding two holes and patch one OK, but the second one doesn’t get fixed. Meanwhile I’ve begun to attract an audience. First up is a man who offers to help hold things – I got a weird vibe from him. He talked about how it probably wasn’t good to ride in Delhi and was I traveling alone. I made up some friends who would be meeting me ahead and then changed the subject. Then another man, Anthony arrived. He is excellent – a cyclist as well. We talk about cycling in the area and how much he enjoys riding. I give him my useless tubes and he hangs out with me until the repair person arrives. He takes the tire off, and fixes it in about ten minutes.

My friend who works in a bike shop was cringing watching him use a screwdriver as a tire lever.

Then I am once again on my way – this time with Anthony to guide me. We ride together for about 20 minutes before he needs to go a different direction.

And now I am on my own in Delhi traffic. It sounds terrifying – there are no lanes, lots of horns, and people seem to be coming from every direction. However, after a few minutes I can see what is going on and it makes sense. A horn tells me someone is coming – more insistent and something heavier and more in a hurry needs me to move. Most everyone seems to be paying great attention and so we flow together like a river with little eddies forming and breaking up. At the stop lights all of the two-wheelers filter to the front and start off, myself included.

I’m not the slowest on the road, though. There are cycles carrying everything from auto parts to rebar, others are just riding slowly. Heavy single-speed bikes are the norm here and those go very slowly. As I pass I ring my bell to announce my arrival.

I am surprised to find that I feel more comfortable and safer here than I do on arterial streets in Toronto. I’d almost never ride on a street like Kennedy in Scarborough, but this is fine.

Soon I am out of Delhi and the traffic gets lighter. It also gets faster as this turns in to a divided highway. Most of the time, though, there is a service road. This makes life relatively easy and peaceful. Except when it goes near truckstops and then it gets slow as trucks move in and out and on and off the highway.

In many cycling blogs and books I’ve read about the idea of yielding to the bigger vehicle. Sometimes people would mention that they had to go off the road to let a big truck pass. When I read it it sounded terrifying because I imagined it like I would imagine the situation in North America. You come around a corner and there’s a big truck and your only option is to crash in the bushes. However today, that was far from the case. It did happen a couple of times but it was very simple and even felt planned. One truck was passing another and was in the oncoming lane. They flash their lights or hit the horn and then I move out of the way. No panic, no worries. Just get back on the road and you’re good.

After I left the highway things got even easier. The vehicles changed – fewer big trucks, more farm equipment, often stacked high and wide with stuff. And then there were other things – a herd of goats slowly going down the road taking up an entire lane, or this:

Cows and bulls are everywhere on this trip, often taking up an entire lane of their own, just standing there. I give them a wide berth as I don’t know what they think of cyclists here. And where there’s cows, there’s cow dung. Fortunately, with a little time and some sun, it becomes fuel:

Once I get off the highway in Haryana the area changes a lot. It gets hugely green and lots of space is used for growing food. I wish we had more of this near Toronto – it’s great for food security. As you can see below, mustard is starting to bloom. When it’s fully in bloom the area looks amazing!

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Almost there.

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In the end I even end up staying on a farm. The road to the farm itself looks like where Sage’s mom used to live in Missouri so being here feels dreamlike. Like one of those dreams where you think you are at a famimliar place but instead of it being in Missouri where you expect, you’re in India – it’s that.

All in all, it was an utterly amazing day – and it was just my first. And I haven’t even talked about the people I spent time with. That’s another entry entirely… Watch for that tomorrow.

And now, as someone who woke at 4 and cycled 76 km, I think I’ll end it here and get some sleep.

7 thoughts on “A Slow Start

    1. It may sound strange but it was surprisingly calm despite its outward appearance. You just need to pay attention as you ride. Seriously – I have been more scared on some Toronto streets than I was at any point here.

      What I don’t see here is driver anger. I see people being assertive but not upset. And so we all just work together.

      And once I got out of the city it was easy going.

      1. Todd your being a foreigner also helps as people want to be nicer to you as they should be ! And if you flex your Hindi muscles, you will be treated with an extra dose of love. We don’t have driver anger or road rage in India because we are used to “all” modes of transport 😀. Pedestrians, cyclists, motorcycles, scooters, motorcycles made into something else, trucks, cars, donkeys, horse carts, pushcarts, auto rickshaws, cycle rickshaws .. am exhausted just writing about it 🤣. But amidst all this there is a deep understanding and acceptance that everyone has the right to be the way they want to be – that’s why it feels calmer to you.

      2. Yes, yes, yes! You’ve really articulated it so well, Bindu. I feel that very much. I notice, for example, a very subtle cultural difference in terms of traffic here. If I need to get in to a space or pull out in to traffic, as long as I give enough time for whatever vehicle to easily allow me in, they will let me in. Back home, whatever the vehicle, if someone tries to get in front of another person, they work hard to close that gap. “There’s no way you’re getting in front of me. Who do you think you are?” is the message.

        And as a cyclist that is really the sense. We are interlopers in a space that is designated (in their minds) as cars only – designed to get people to where they’re going as fast as possible. If they have to slow down because I’m there, it makes them angry. This makes traffic really stressful as you can imagine.

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