The first Hindi children’s book I was ever able to read, albeit with the help of my teacher at first, was Ek Anokha Safar – A Unique Journey.
In it, a man who works behind a desk in the post office in Mangalore dreams of taking his cycle on a long trip through the countryside until one day he decides to take a vacation and gets on his bike. He knows the trip will be long and difficult but he has faith in himself that he can do it. While he’s on the trip he is so happy, enjoying nature, the hills and trees and the freedom he feels while riding. One day, he’s riding down a big bumpy hill and suddenly gets a tire puncture. He realizes he left his puncture kit at home and can’t fix the tire himself. As he pushes his bike through the jungle, he feels completely alone. There are only fruit trees on all sides with monkeys jumping from one to the other. Then it starts to not just rain but pour. Luckily he hears a small voice of a little boy calling out from a hut in the village. He runs inside and the family tells him to stay with them until his bike is fixed and the weather improves.
While he is inside the boy is fascinated by the idea of cycling long distances but his mom won’t get him a cycle because he’s too small – and besides, he doesn’t know how. The man says that when the weather clears he will teach him to ride and the boy, so excited to learn, runs in circles in the room, pretending to ride his bike. The man sees a familiar light in the boy’s eyes – a shared interest in cycling.
The next day the weather clears, his tire is fixed and he teaches the boy to ride – he learns so fast! A day later the man knows it’s time to go home to his old life. He takes the boy out for one last ride around the neighbourhood. And then, realizing what needed to happen, he decides to leave his bike with the boy and take the bus home.
Jerry’s family have been asking me to stay longer but I do have a lot of kilometres to cover before meeting my other friends in Jaipur. It will take two long days for me to reach Jaipur if I go directly, longer if I take one of the other route options I have planned. There just is no time.
But then in Jhunjhunun I remember that book and think just how much of it has already happened to me. I am the guy sitting at the desk dreaming of travel. I’m the guy who enjoyed the freedom and beauty of cycling alone through India. I’m also the guy who had a puncture (albeit at the start) and then was invited to stay with a young man and his family in a village. If the book is to end properly, there’s one thing I need to do. When I see Jerry next I tell him my idea.
Jerry knows how to ride a bike, and in fact, inspired the route I had taken so far with his great series of videos on cycling from Delhi to Rajasthan:
Before leaving I watched them all several times and eventually wrote him to ask for tips and route advice. He offered great advice, we met in Delhi and were now hanging out with his family.
But he has bigger dreams. He wants to ride from Kashmir to Kanyakumari – almost the northern tip of India to the southern. To do that he wants to have a hybrid bicycle as the route is not so rough as some of the roads in rural Rajasthan. A bike with a rack and bags would be perfect.
And so I tell Jerry that I would like him to have my bike, panniers and the tools I brought with me. I am lucky enough to have a bike at home and this one would only spend time in Jaipur waiting for me to hopefully come back and ride some more. Rather than wait for a trip that hopefully happens, it’s better to pass it on to my friend to let him also chase his dreams – and make wonderful videos to take us all along with.
This bike has brought so much happiness to me, taking me on my very first tour – a charity ride with the Toronto People with AIDS foundation from Toronto to Montreal that lit the spark of bicycle touring in me. It took me to Quebec City for the same charity ride the following year. And then, my son Daegan used it to tour along with me in Ontario, Quebec, and Vermont. And finally, it took me on my own dream trip in India. There is magic in that bike, I’m pretty sure, as everywhere it goes it brings its rider joy, happiness and unites them with kind, interesting, and helpful people. This is a bike that takes its rider to chase their dreams. It’s not one that sits in a closet waiting. It has work to do.
Now, with the cycling portion of my trip ended, I can stay a day or two longer in the village. And then, like the character in the book, smile as I ride the bus to Jaipur.