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I began cycling just to give my son and husband company, but with their encouragement, I went on to cycling 100 kms in a Mumbai Ahmedabad event.
‘Dream so passionately and persistently that the dream has no option but to turn into a reality!’
When childhood fantasies come true around midlife, you feel you have earned the right to belt out sayings like these, sound like a sage, and tell tales!
As a child, I secretly dreamt of sprinting across finishing-lines into the arms of cheering peers, standing on podiums, kissing trophies and posing to a battery of photographers clicking away! Ironically, the only races I managed to finish were the tricycle race in kindergarten and some three-legged races in primary classes where your one leg is tied to a partner’s. Often, I had a partner who would drag me well past the finishing line.
As many other accolades compensated well for these unfulfilled aspirations, they were left to fend for themselves. But unbridled fantasies revisit you in the most improbable of ways.
Around four years ago my husband declared that he was going to start cycling regularly. At the altar of midlife there is no better way or safer exercise than that! This was where it all started. As if that wasn’t enough, my podgy boy only 12 then, joined him on his rides.
As the boys bonded over bikes, this mother went berserk with emotions after every century they wheeled and endured together. I was more than happy shoving energy bars into their tiny pouches, filling bottles in the wee hours of weekends, and looking for the best padded shorts for my son to protect his bums. Eventually, the temptation of being on the wheels was hard to resist and I soon joined them for baby-rides which I would finish leisurely at my own pace. While they competed, and paced for better timings, I rode along in a trance.
Riding a bike for me was soothing, unwinding and liberating at the same time. I loved the whiffs of the morning breeze kissing my face, the warm rays flirting with me as the sun rose above the humble lakes around me. Trees rushing past seemingly nudged me for conversations while I smiled at them, as if promising to be back with little more leisure at hand. Cycling made me wake up to hitherto unexplored parts of my own self and of the tarmacs as I wheeled on their elevations, coasted on descents and took the rough with the smooth. My perspectives were changing with every mile I added. How many I kept adding were never counted. The moments made were beyond any count!
First half century
Barely a year into it and the boys nudged me to register for a half century ride in an event where both were to ride a 100 kms for the umpteenth time. In the past I had come close to riding this distance leisurely and that, if planned and executed methodically it would be more like a breeze. That was the story sold!
So I went ahead and finished my first fifty strong. It wasn’t anywhere close to being breezy given the heat and cut-off timing. That said, the feeling of being a half-centurion was beyond compare. It was like riding from Chandigarh to Ambala on a cycle! The medals and kudos from fellow riders were addictive and here I was – secretly harboring greater ambitions.
Success like a very few other things is an exception to the law of Diminishing Marginal Returns! The more the merrier!
Less than four months after nailing my maiden 50 kms solo, there was this follow up Big Century ride on the Mumbai Ahmedabad highway. Sonny declared teasingly, “I’m doing it if Mommy too is!”
At the outset, I resorted to a feminist discourse to my boys on not being pushed, and to carry on with their fun on wheels. The father having known me for a few years more than the son played safe. All he murmured naughtily was, “This could be the first time an entire family made it together.” Moments are my biggest undoing and I jump headlong to make them. It sparked an instant and unthought-of “YES!”
Smarter still he added, “I promise to be your Pacer if that helps. But be sure you want to do it.” (Pacer is someone experienced having tons of miles under his/her belt and is appointed to ride along novice participants).
That worked more than anything else could. I jumped into it fully aware of my shortcomings and fitness levels. It was time to work on them or to brace them all up perhaps.
Two weeks prior to the event, as I trained for smaller distances as part of my preparation regime, there was so much else that went on in my mind. It was almost as unnerving as the week that preceded my son’s birth, years back. There was nothing that I didn’t lap up and read about long distance cycling. I woke up each morning either with the nightmare of giving up at some point or a firm faith that somehow I will whizz past the finishing line. Maybe the same way I fantasized in my childhood?
I threw umpteen tantrums on unrelated issues out of sheer anxiety as the D day inched closer. The boys bore it all and only exchanged glances giving each other high fives behind my back. If cycling together had made them buddies, my initiation had turned them into conspirators.
Mathematically and mentally in the week prior to the event I did that Century ride many times over only to wake up to the fact that the sun, the steed and the body follow no calculations and spring up surprises galore.
At the maiden ton
The D day was here and how! Once flagged off, the first 20 were as beautiful as any courtship is. You tend to fall more and more in love and are ready to put in anything that makes the journey better and beautiful. Beyond 20 isn’t bad either. The feeling is of a newlywed. You are loving it and at the same time waking up to some ground realities. The body and mind seem to be teasingly nudging and asking, “Did you foresee this?” You pedal on thinking you didn’t but shall nevertheless make it work beautifully. It’s love in marriage. Its passion on the steed. Or passion in both if I may say so!
My younger boy rode ahead wanting to better his timings. The man stuck around as vowed. As we calculated the timings and he kept me upbeat, the least he deserved was a flat tyre at 41 kms. With mercury hovering around the same temperature in the April heat, he egged me to keep riding while he fixed the puncture. That meant that for the next 22 kms I was riding alone through the dry ravines of the Manor area in Palghar district on the Mumbai-Ahmedabad highway, with only the elevations and descents to converse with.
The blazing sun was unleashing its wrath more and more with every passing mile. Just when my spirits started dipping a bit, my man caught up with me from behind with a loud cheer. This was around the 62nd km.
At around 70 kms what is teasingly known as ‘fun between legs’ was turning out to be a ‘nightmare between and for the legs’. The gluteals, the hamstrings, the calves were almost screaming. My bums were numb and seemed to be in a state of shock, unable to fathom what they had done to deserve this. Normal Sunday mornings, they were used to the cushioned couch that they graced while the hot masala tea warmed my body. I started getting flashbacks of not finishing races back in school. The mind had reached the point where the more my co-rider tried to cheer up my spirits the more I wanted to kill him.
Beyond 70kms every mile was springing up surprises and evoking a drama. I suddenly sighted a countryside liquor shop and there was a brainwave of something our bare-feet coach always told us but I rarely practiced. Dire situations warrant dire actions. I ran towards the shop with my man aghast at what I was upto and ordered 2 chilled ones. Opened the caps and started pouring the ice-cold mineral water on my hamstrings and calves. Trust me mineral water only it was! Where ice wasn’t available, ice cold water might work. It did and I was back on my steed.
Having iced water on the way
At 80 kms as we stopped near a sugarcane juice vendor for a five minutes pit-stop, I declared, ‘That’s it! 80 is good enough to keep celebrating for life. I’ll prefer not being on the finisher’s podium than getting finished.’ Over-reaction thy name is Your’s truly!
Knowing well that any pep talk or argument would invite nothing but wrath, my co-rider chose to look the other way and answer the son’s missed call. Having finished strong and with amazing timing, our boy had called to inform and perhaps also to check with the father how Mother India was faring.
Papa congratulated him and broke the news that Mom had finished 80 and isn’t budging any further. That’s when the phone was handed over to me. There on the other side was an order, “Ma you aren’t quitting just 20 kms away and with so much time at hand. I’m waiting here to see you finishing on the bike and not carrying it in any damn 4-wheeler.”
This was one moment that I would want to freeze for life. Karma dancing and I getting back what I had often done to him in much worse tones. Lectures on not giving up! The next minute I sighted a parked long dumper trailer a few steps away. Crawled under it and lay all stretched-out on the dirtiest of roads. It was a different state of mind. My co-rider had made up his mind not to question and let me figure out my own way. All I wanted was to stretch my limbs as much as I could under the only shade I could find, to be able to mount my steed again. The defiant wife was being an obedient mother in that moment and the man standing next to me was secretly deriving pleasure out of it.
Stretching to survive the last leg of the Century
In the last 20 kms, the only image I allowed to rule my mind was that of my son waiting at the finishing line. The best 20 kms of my ride where I remembered my all-time favourite Wordsworth. In whatever context he might have said “Child is the father of man”, mine became one for me that day!
As my husband (who normally nails it within 4 hours)) and I finished that day in over 5 hours, showing all the patience he had in his kitty, all that was tickling me was Ann Strong’s famous 1895 saying. I had wickedly grinned and relished it just a week back: “The bicycle is just as good company as most husbands and when it gets old and shabby, a woman can dispose of it and get a new one without shocking the entire community.” In that moment, all I knew was that I wasn’t giving up on either of the two. Neither this husband nor this bike for anything ever in life.
Thereon, I graduated to doing solo rides. My dear pacer and father (or son) wait at finishing lines. I haven’t repeated the 100 kms feat still but have won many smaller distance cycling races kissing trophies and cutting across finishing lines to land into the arms of my husband and son. Other arms have been welcome too.
The smaller sprints
I still dream. I still fantasize! About what? Ssh I’m not revealing! Till I live them all!