Dr. Aarti is an Anaesthesiologist and a cyclist. (She is the first women Medico and only the second women SR of Central India)
"Never let your fear decide your future !!"
"Stop being afraid of what could go wrong and start being excited about what could go right."
These two quotes constantly kept inspiring and guiding me while accepting the challenge I threw to myself. This write up is to share my story (specially with women friends) of an interesting and exciting cycling journey right from my childhood days to the day I became a Super Randonneuse, which has filled me with immense joy and happiness and sense of achievement.
Most of us learn cycling in our childhood but then graduate from cycle to Luna to Scooty to kinetic to car ....and cycle is forgotten. Same happened with me too.
I learned to cycle on a gent's Atlas cycle, my height was so small that I barely reached the seat and hanged on to the horizontal bar (Top Tube) while paddling!! Feels like your own story?? I remember having lost my balance while cycling and falling in a rose bush with thorns all over my frock. Learnt a lesson of life... only those who dare to walk /move/ or ride will fall, but getting up is more important. Though the fall and thorns punctured and bent my cycle but the episode neither punctured nor bent my enthusiasm to cycle.
I took to cycling again just three years back. We bought a cycle for my son on his birthday and as part of exercise my medico husband Dr. Abhay Kelkar started going to hospital in the morning for his rounds on the cycle which would be around 10 km cycling every day. Lot of appreciation from his friends and patients came his way, inspiring people.
Then we happened to know from a doctor friend Dr Kishor Deshpande that a cycling expedition was being organised from Guhaghar to Goa in December. The idea was conceived in March and the expedition was in December, so that gave us full nine months for carrying the idea to "Full term". I and one more friend couple Dr Swati and Ajay joined the idea but question was how to go about it??
A big obstacle in anybody's life is his or her own mind block. This is a very very relevant and most important obstacle in a female rider’s life too because entertaining a thought of getting up early morning and hitting the road alone, looks like an impossible thing. Even before she considers the thought of paddling, the myriad of disaster hit her like a bolt out of the blue. She imagines herself on the cycle and the next thing she imagines is the chaos at Home - no water in kitchen, kids sleeping blissfully, the missed school bus, the eagerly waiting husband for tea, the dissatisfied "in laws" and finally the good news of Bai (maid) not coming. All these imaginations (which could be real too) apply a big break to the cycle even before its put into the gear. We two women riders were determined to overcome the practical problems of practice rides as the Mission Konkan looked very exciting.
We started practice rides in a group of five. We two female riders had the issue of Dabba (Tiffin) for kids before they leave for school which was taken care by getting up early, planning and preparation of tiffin and breakfast menu the previous night. that gave us time to paddle for one and half hours from 5.30 to 7 AM. We could manage 3-4 rides together in a week and planned longer duration and distance ride on weekends. We were expected to ride hundred kilometres every day in the konkan ghats for the proposed expedition.
That expedition went very well and fortunately cycling didn’t stop even after the expedition. Dr Swati and Dr Ajay took to a Cycling event called Brevet which was a 200 KM ride to be completed within 13 and half hours. They became the first couple to do so in central India. After that there was more and more cycling and cycles. We purchased still better cycles and we as a group did a Night brevet too. After that I slowed down my cycling spree due to my son's 12th standard but didn’t apply breaks to my morning practice ride. It was only after my son got admission in college in August that the thought of brevet hit me again. I realised that I had only three months left of a Brevet cycling calendar year which is (Nov to Oct) just in case I wanted to become an SR. An SR (Super Randonneur) is a cyclist who completes brevet of 200 km, 300 km, 400 km and 600 km in one cycling calendar year.
One fine day I got up and decided that I wanted to complete all the cycling events required to become an SR in this calendar year only. I wanted to gift my self an SR ship on my birthday in October. The time for preparation was short and I decided to take the things and the events as they came. After all what would I lose in giving a sincere try ??
So first 200 happened — I had done 200 before also and so was confident that I will be able to do it but never thought there could be other challenges too.The bike had a very small puncture so neither it was completely flat nor the bike ride was smooth due to low pressure. I struggled with the Tyre assuming it to be a valve leak and covered last 80 kms by stopping every 10-15 km to fill air !!! Learnt a lesson!! Learn to change your own tube.
Next, 400 km happened which was completed within the time limit of 27 hrs. We were three female riders and a great bunch of energetic, enthusiastic supportive fellow riders.
Next in pipeline was 600 km to be completed in 40 hrs. Luckily for me most of the 400 fellow riders accompanied me to 600 brevet at Vijaywada which was an amazing experience. First time traveled in the train with cycles packed in a suitcase.
And the last event was 300 to be completed in 20 hrs. Every successful event led to another and SR ship happened. Looking back I realised that certain things are more difficult for females as compared to males but also realised that technique is more important than mere physical strength. Safety issue is foremost in Indian scenario. I have not encountered any unpleasant or bad experience, thanks to a my fellow riders but The curious by passers do stop to question the Riders "kahan se aa rahe? Race hai kya? Aap to bahut peeche aur akele rah gayee, Kyon Kar rahi Ho? kitne kilometres hai? Cycle mehangi hai kya ?" Some are just curious but some could be troublemakers!!!
Few things which could be done to get better results in long distance cycling particularly brevet, or long distance expedition or even fun ride of more than 50-100 km are thought aloud here. Work on paddles to self satisfaction, joy, confidence and along the journey, discover a new You in You. I would mention certain issues relevant to female cyclists for the long rides like brevet:
Start Early - this is the best time to start in Nagpur for daily practice from weather point of view ,freshness wise and traffic wise.
Manage Tiffins and breakfast by proper planning and preparation a day prior.
Riding in group is very encouraging and enjoyable experience but don’t wait to create a group to start cycling. Start cycling and you will create group over a period of time. Till then enjoy your ‘ME TIME’.
Safety first- Insure proper helmet. Reflector waist, front and back light for early morning rides and don’t forget to order Pepper spray “on line”. keep it handy.
Wearing proper attire helps in comfortable cycling. Good padded shorts should be worn directly without any undergarments specially for long distance rides or routine ride above 25 km. Generous application of boroplus or other cream available to protect perineal skin. Wear hand gloves to prevent nerve compression.
Periods??- yes a thing of concern but should you postpone it or not for the event is entirely your choice! Try tampons or menstrual cup but yes it is troublesome doing long ride with periods and increases the risk of bum sore many times
Toilet Issues - this is a sorry state of affairs in India. Public Toilets are in mess. I would recommend open field to a dirty public toilet. Organisers can be requested to keep check points at a place where clean toilet facility is available but till then manage roadside. Boro plus application each time you visit washroom is helpful.
Not all girls and women would be as lucky as me to get an instant "Go For It" response and permission from family. Few female riders may have to face the additional challenge of "manaoing the gharwale" who would obviously not be wrong in their place considering the safety issues specially for 300 km and above brevet!! But bat karne se hi bat banegi so keep trying.
Other important tips common for all riders:
Nutrition - Don’t ever neglect the importance of diet! Protein and carb rich diet needs to be planned before event. Calcium and magnesium are two important minerals which prevent the athletes' nightmare ie cramps. Proper hydration is essential. We lose much more water than we can imagine.
Keep handy first aid kit, Electrol, high energy bar, dry fruits etc with you!
Let’s play safe and not venture out to ride alone in the night. I would not recommend it to any rider, be it a male or female but definitely and surely no, a big no to a female rider! Always ride in the company of 2 to 3 people. Riding in group not only enhances safety but also reduces the chances of sleep boredom and loneliness. Little talking helps fight all this. Please stop if you are sleepy, hungry or cramping .
Don’t tax tired muscles to an extent that they refuse to work. Stretching break helps the muscles. Dictum is to sleep when you are sleepy and eat and drink regularly even when you are not hungry and thirsty. In order to achieve time target we overlook all these small things which are very very important.
Set small goals, study the route thoroughly, learn about the road condition, the uphill and downhill roads, the villages, checkpoints en route while doing brevet and plan a "time versus distance" goal accordingly. Working around that plan would guide you towards your goal. Keep plan B ready if plan A fails and plan C ready if A and B don’t work. And if something happens which is way beyond expected issues then take things as they come (this is also a part of the plan - to take things as they come.)
Being technically right - Cycling is not about speed alone. Stamina matters! Females are as good as males. It’s only a matter of practice and learning the right set of technique. Learn proper use of gears. Take technical help in choosing the right cycle, it’s frame, seat height and handle adjustment.
Learn to fix your own bike. Spend some time in puncture shop take a hands on lesson from the puncture Wala and repair and change your own tube .Be prepared for a puncture anytime. It could happen just 5 km from finish line also.
Quitting is part of brevet because not every time everything will happen according to your wishes. There is always another day another chance but remember pain is temporary but quitting lasts forever. Cycling is a mental game if you think you can do it you are right, if you think you can’t do it you are right.