Wednesday, September 21, 2011

For those who want to know....

Why the Himalayas and what made me try this .....

Considering it was such an exhaustive cycling expedition and i am no cycling expert I was very reluctant initially, to talk the nitty-gritty of it.. True that i like doing so many different things , some of them very enthusiastically but i end up being an average performer. Not that i regret being an average performer, but an average performer is not the best person to tell the stories of how to do things. An average performer can just tell how to plunge into something even when you don't really want to win. How wanting to do something can be a winning feeling. And more than winning the battle or reaching the destination , the journey can be a test of your limits too. Average performers learn to be contented even when they take breaks and are clubbed with the laggards. At the same time you, as an average performer, overcome the odds and 'stay there' even when the difficulties seem to take your spirits off your mind . All said, after seeing so many excellent performers zip zapping past me, i think i can tell what i didn't have. Years of practiced stamina, that tidal volume they had. But still i could cycle , at my own pace and cover unbelievably long distances was not on my mind anyways.

 I knew i had very limited time and still i wanted to give it a chance, that could make it more interesting for the people who want to know how i prepared for an extraordinary cycling expedition like this ...a couch potato sprouting legs to peddle and expanding lungs to inhale....:) It was unbelievable for me too...

There was much more i learnt during this apart from cycling fundas and performance-fitness strategies.....And here i am , a reluctant learner ...sharing my journey with you. I realized that a basic threshold of fitness was required of course, but there was much more to it.....

I would quote a discussion i was having with one of the organizers travelling with us on the expedition . This gentleman was complaining about how the newbies and amateurs are not suitable for this kind of torturous cycling event , he told me he was disappointed and even angry to know that someone has just learned cycling for 15 days and has come for this expedition. I asked him what if the girl in question was fit enough to pull it off as this journey was more than just cycling as i felt. He shrugged and gave a half smile , let's see ...

Needless to say , the lady in question was a 43 year old yoga teacher and she cycled so well till the end. I met another woman who learnt cycling just for this event and did very well with good energy level throughout the expedition. This woman is a doctor and had traversed the same route on a motorbike 4 years back and that time she had learnt to drive a bike just for that . Indicative of the fact that it's not the vehicle you choose to go there , it's your personal grit against adversities and love for nature combined which takes you through the most treacherous roads of the world.

Having said that, almost all the girls i am i touch with, feel that there were times when they thought why did they decide to go for it , The tough uphills , scorching sun and declining pO2 was an extreme concoction.You need to carry your own water with you and many of us didn't have the camelback hydration packs, most of us used to carry 2 liters of water , our bottles tucked into the clamps and yet we needed to refill the bottles a few times. A dry mouth , breathless lungs and oxygen deprived muscles , all of that could be a recipe to disaster. The muscles and joints can get injured very easily if not warmed up properly before starting , can you imagine there was hardly time to warm up before we started our daily spin?

Your muscles need to be warm to perform well and your joints need to be warm too before starting and imagine after a night in the tents , often sleepless , a reluctant visit to the open air or pit toilets , quick brushing and a quicker breakfast ...repacking your bags and loading them into the truck and getting your gear ready for the daily pedaling. This was in such contrast with our daily workouts,with proper warm ups-working out in the luxury of abundant oxygen-proper fluid intake-and then a relaxed cool down session. And REST . There was practically no rest between those long hours of cycling daily.

It was getting more and more difficult daily and as soon as we reached Sarchu , many of us required Oxygen and one of the participant was recorded with a pO2 of 40% ( normal value is 80-100%) A very handsome doctor treated us at Sarchu army hospital BTW... It was so heartening to see the participants getting up and getting ready to cycle again, and no , it was not because of the handsome doctor, it was what they had come for, to challenge their own body and mind. Many participants required the services of the accompanying ambulance and started with the cycles as soon as they felt better. It was the place to see a bundle of highly motivated people.

Was i really ready for such a tough task of my life? Not really . Not when i got to know about it through IHM.I was really very uneasy about my fitness levels and whatever i could do in the two and a half months i got for my preparations for this event. Needless to say, i started spinning on my standing bike the day i decided to go. I was very reluctant because of my long years of being a couch potato when IHM asked me for the first time. It was after a long telephonic chat with her friend Anita Rao, who is also one of the organizers, that i decided i should go. She is one great motivating person and i fell in love with her from day one.

The feeling to challenge myself had awakened . Then came the wanting to get back to my fit days. I had seen many mental challenges during the past years and this time i wanted to challenge myself on a different turf.

Okay , so this old standing bike was dusted and pulled up in the middle of my dining space and thus started my 5-10 minutes of spinning after every hour or so. Being breathless in the first few days and then getting my breath back as the day passed , i started doing my pranayam and yoga stretches too for one and a half hours in the morning. Do i need to say i started feeling a lot better on energy level front. It was not difficult to cycle 50-60 kms a day almost daily, sometimes even more. It was later to be revealed that in the mountains, this much energy was to be exhausted in just 30 kms and we would need to push more every single day.

How fit i was before this expedition?

I used to do an hour of morning walk cum bird watching in the morning earlier , with a good session of gardening (read handling the hoe and repeated squatting , weeding etc. , getting myself dirty in the process) once a week at least. A few yoga stretches now and then and some ten minute sessions of pranayam thrown in time to time. My standing bike was masquerading a hanger in a corner all these years , now it was time to place my butt on it . And what a discovery it was , i never knew cycling for long hours can give you serious butt issues to deal with. I realized i needed some basic equipment for cycling. A gel padded saddle cover and a gel and chamois padded cycling pants were bought and started my cycling practice , mostly within the confines of my home. Delhi roads are scary for a cyclist and i didn't want to buy a cycle till i was sure i would continue cycling , and i am still not sure of it :)

I did cycling on the roads too , some 3-4 days for 2-3 hours each day . It was on a borrowed racing bike which was more than 30 years old and gave me knee pain because of it's chain being faulty and other issues i could not diagnose. Some knee specific stretches were included to protect my precious knees . All of these exercises were self motivated and found on the internet thanks to the age of google. I was not in a mood to go out of my home much and to invest too much into it for some reasons .Somehow i still wanted to be in my comfort zone probably while preparing and yet i had to go out and challenge myself with all my grit i thought i this affinity to my comfort zone was challenged you already know :)

A great deal of online research led to discoveries of good stretching techniques , cycling equipment and packing essentials. It helped a lot. Being a beginner and a first timer i was curious to know more about the other people who were going for this expedition ,i made a facebook group to interact with people who were going on this prestigious expedition. We shared our exercise regimes and lists of packing essentials, tips were exchanged about what kind of padding in the cycling pants were suitable for us. Turned out that the chamois padding is better for long duration cycling expedition like ours. Some home remedies for joint pains and mountain sickness were exchanged and travel plans were finalized. The bus we boarded from Delhi, turned out to be a college excursion like experience as there were 16 cyclists from our group and 3 Australian cyclists who were carrying their own cycles in the boot of the bus. Interestingly those Australian cyclists were planning to cycle from manali to spiti valley and then move on to srinagar but seeing and knowing about our group prompted them to cycle till khardung la , we used to meet them every day. They probably proceeded towards srinagar after that.

The expedition was a huge learning experience, discovering myself a bit more and discovering people around me a little bit more too. Being with the most natural elements of nature comes with a lot of surprises and a lot of spiritual moments , a lot of introspection in a human mind . Feeling like being just a speck of dirt on the face of Earth and still having a place of my own and a consigned work of my own.

On a lighter note , there were many villagers we found till Keylong , who asked where we were going. After knowing we were going to Khardung la , many of the girls were asked why we are going on cycles .....

This kid came to me asking to be photographed and wanted to see how he looks in the camera. His father asked me where we were going and why on bicycles. How some questions are tough to answer and we have to look away with a smile :) 
This cute kid wanted a bicycle and wanted mine , i made a false promise to come back to him.....How we make false promises to kids . I had to say similar things to many kids we found during the Kullu to Solang nala via Manali ride, that was our first day of cycling and we found many slate roof houses and many women and children walking past the roadside , that day was the happiest day of cycling , if i forget making false promises to those innocent kids.

Not for those false promises i made , but i want to go there again for soul is craving for it.... 

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

The Himalayas conspired ....

Home cooked comfort food , lots of sleep and my own comfortable bed with a back support mattress is the ulterior form of luxury i am relishing these days. For the last few days since i returned from the most crazy trip i ever had. Yesterday was the first day when i didn't feel sleepy during the daytime.

I realized i am loving my home all the more after this exhausting detour i took to confirm my sane state of mind.I also realized that i am the mad variety trying to sound saner....and yet i like it when my folks call me mad.This mad woman felt really bad when she had to leave the expedition halfway for someone else's reasons  , found difficult to calm down her spirits and yet knew that when the superior powers conspire we just have to take a back seat.

I was talking about coming home.

Yes, i loved and relished the adventure and loving my home even more now. A mad mad mind trying to sound saner and calmer.... You wouldn't believe i was feeling equally at home in the Himalayas too , till the treeline lasted at around 11000 ft. After that it was a different story . A different planet it looked was magnanimously beautiful but i didn't feel at home. The monochrome of grey and brown was blinding in it's vastness and still there was a feeling of emptiness .

 I felt enamored by  this emptiness experienced in a stone age like civilization where one could see a whole lot of naturally carved stone figurines as if they are waiting for you to come . As if they would come alive any moment and have a chit chat with you , or at least give a glimpse of what they actually are.

As if a story is about to unfold in the silence of a dark theater ...

All of these theatrical appearances were great distractions for a cyclist . A cyclist has to focus on the road , on the uphill and one the rhythm . This rhythm and pace of cycling are a concern if you are a novice like me. I enjoyed cycling in the mountains , although it was tough for a first timer . I liked the way i could cycle long distances in the mountains and still feel fresh most of the days . Altitude sickness took it's toll later on but in the lap of such untouched unspoiled nature it doesn't take long before you feel refreshed again. A nature lover like me was more and more enthralled by the beauty that was waiting for me.

It was awe inspiring to see life springing out in the most harsh conditions , in the most unlikely surfaces. I couldn't stop myself from getting distracted in many places , not worrying about getting late and loosing my rhythm i stopped by many flowers to say hello ...

 A spore born in the lap of sunny florets 
is blown away by chilly winds
to be thrown into the face of intemperate stone
into the deep crevices of weathered rocks
puckered , tunneled , cracked and torn !!!

The spore chooses a niche
and dissolves the hard interiors of the rock
bit by bit , one after another molecule
and then it extends an appendage
to capture the world !!!

It grows and grows into the labyrinths
of the abrasive and scratchy, rocky mountains
takes some time underground , silently
to collect the resources to evoke an inner eye
"inner growth" !!!

And then comes the time to open a window
peep out and say hello to the wind
take the showers and sunshine
sprout the heads ... many heads
and splash the colors !!!

It flourishes , grows out into leaves
and then flowers and then makes more spores
bursting with life , to conquer the world
Then it adorns the window of it's own sweet home
and gets ready to say hello to me when i pass by !!!

I wonder how much time the spore took
inside the dark labyrinthus crevices of the rock
to grow into such a vibrant composition
to sing such a lovely song
to wave such a lively hello for me !!!

More stories of the Himalayas to follow and more smiles to be shared. 
Thank you all who wished me good luck for the expedition.

Be well !!!