The pandemic put all of us through a rigorous test of life, and for some, like Warangal resident Ranjith Kumar, who lost his father to Covid-19 last year, the year 2020 was the hardest. But he decided to turn his pain into inspiration, and pay homage to his father by cycling around the country.
“Dad used to say that once he retires, he’ll travel the world. And then the pandemic happened, and he did not make it. His death was a wake-up call for me. I decided that I would fulfill his dream of travelling, and devote my life to something meaningful,” says Kumar, who returned from a cycling adventure to Leh in September.
But why cycle, we wonder. Kumar says that he used to go to school on a cycle, and paucity of funds made him look to the humble two-wheeler once again, for his job had stopped paying during the lockdown.
A complete amateur, he discussed his ambition to pedal his way around the country to his friends, and with a little help, purchased a cycle and trained for a few days before pushing off on his first expedition to Kanyakumari.
“I started by cycling 5kms on day 1, increasing it gradually, and on the fifth day, left Hyderabad behind for the south,” said the 30-year-old, adding, “When I came back, I was a changed person. I could connect with people, the environment and felt extremely confident and at peace. I covered almost 3,000kms in 38 days, during that trip.”
The cycling bug had bitten him for good. Kumar’s next target was Leh, but bigger adventures meant more money. He invested over a lakh of loaned money into purchasing essentials, such as a GoPro camera, extra carrier for his cycle, a portable solar panel, camping equipment, hiking gear and a new phone. He already had an active social media presence, and regularly published blogs during his journey, amassing incredible following in the process. He also paid a tribute to Sonu Sood for his efforts during the lockdown, by attaching a placard behind his cycle during his ride.
In 53 days, Kumar covered a great distance, starting from Manali in July, and returning home to Hyderabad, touching Rajasthan, Gujarat and Maharashtra on his way. He would cycle 50-60kms a day, lugging 40kgs, finding shelter in his tent, at petrol pumps and occasionally in the houses of kind local people. It was the support of ordinary strangers, Kumar believes, which allowed him to make this arduous journey without too many hiccups. “In Khardungla, I almost froze to death, and couldn’t feel my hands at all. A couple of kind bikers came to my aid and I had to keep my hands on the engine of their vehicle to feel better,” he remembers with gratitude.
But cycling across the country has its own perils too, something Kumar learned during his Kanyakumari trip, when a couple of boys who he had befriended, stole his cycle and other belongings, near Gokarna. “They acted really nicely with me and then just vanished with my cycle. Thankfully, I had noted their car’s number and could report them to the police station, and get my stuff back,” says the cyclist.
He had a close call during his Ladakh tour as well, when he got caught in a landslide. “I had pitched my tent in the dark because the nearest village was a little far and it was already dark. And soon, it started pouring, causing the temperature to dip, followed by a landslide in the night. I thought to myself, this is my last day, and recorded a goodbye message too. Thankfully, survival instincts kicked in, and I lit up the stove to keep myself warm and managed to make it to the morning,” he recalls.
Being on the road has taught him many lessons. And his cycling ambitions are on the rise. For his next trip to Nepal, during which he plans to cover the northeastern states as well, Kumar will be joined by a special friend. “My dog Bagheera will be making the next trip with me. I plan to attach a trailer to my cycle and get it covered. I think it’ll be amazing,” he says with a grin. We completely agree with him.