I am sharing this for the uninitiated. Experienced touring cyclists who have been riding for years, may just roll up their eyes when they read this article, but touring in India is so nascent that I think this will be a good perspective!
Training for a tour of this magnitude, doesn’t start the day you took the decision. The seeds of the journey have already long been sowed months or years in advance and experienced cyclists will tell you that subconsciously they are already training their minds and bodies for long distance riding, be it a road biker who zips to a 1000 kms in 48 hours or a mountain biker who climbs mountains and steep roads over many days or a touring cyclist who may explore the roads for weeks. They all have one thing in common, an unquenchable thirst to achieve more each time, experience freedom on the bike, better their performance and do the new every single day of their lives because they are not operating from their minds but from the soul and their hearts, creating happiness and positive energy.
The decision to finally embark on a tour having been taken, the important thing was to assess which route to adopt. Many beginner touring cyclists, begin their first tours in their own backyards or continents, and of these the most scenic and easy to tour (and also relatively more expensive) is Europe. The other famous routes are the Trans-Siberian, East Asia and Mongolia, the Old Silk Route via Central Asia from China and the pan American highway, which is the longest autonomous highway in the world. All these places fascinate me, but the one that was closest to me was historically and culturally rich and naturally vibrant, South America, and the rugged, remote and beautiful terrain of Alaska and Canada. And this is the route I have chosen for my first biking tour.
I was asked by a renowned expedition film maker, how does even one begin to train for a 30,000 km journey? I didn’t have an elaborate answer. You just ride. And ride. Every week and focus on the goal. You train your body for hardship, systematically expose it to the elements ranging from below freezing temperatures to above normal heat. In the process, the mind becomes tougher, its resolve hardens and the journey ahead assumes a spiritual meaning as well. I am training myself to repair a bike, cook food on a multi fuel stove and cycle with a 40 kg plus weight (25 kgs in the panniers and 17 kgs cycle weight) in temperatures ranging from 30 – 40 deg C. I reckon if I can ride 50-100 kms a day in this heat, I can ride in any condition.
Tent in my Own House, my Own Room?
Yup, you read that right!
For the past 2 months I have been sleeping in a one-man tent which I have pitched in my room to get myself used to the floor. I am also living out of 3 -4 tee shirts to get used to living out of a limited wardrobe!
The Secret Ex-Super Hero Life!
It is very difficult to train when you are holding a senior management position as I was, in a leading global MNC. The high level of stress, long work hours and the exacting commute, create additional fatigue in a work day lasting 12 hours.
Burning a candle at both ends, I would also train three times a week, waking up at 4 am / 5 am and riding for some hours, depriving myself of rest and blissful sleep. I have not known a lazy weekend for years now with no regrets. The passion to be on the bike is the driving factor!
Training would sometimes take me to the mountains, on any long weekend, whether it was Himachal or to our cottage in Ranikhet. There I would ride all day, loving the fresh air and the tough climbs. It would also have me exploring new places such as Pauri, Bir, Sikkim, and the interior countryside of the Western Ghats.
The Strict Diet
My diet consists mainly of chicken, brown rice, lentils, fresh vegetables, multi grain bread, lots of honey, extra dark chocolate and various types of pastas and dry fruits like almonds, walnuts and figs. After a ride, I always drink a protein shake which has no carbohydrates, is gluten and lactose free. ( I am lactose intolerant). Before a ride I have a banana, some almonds, and multi grain toasted bread with lots of honey and during a ride, I usually drink a mix between regular water and Electrolytes water and eat a banana / energy bar. Post ride, I have an oats porridge and eggs again with some toast. I gave up alcohol at company parties and most social gatherings, as I could not train and work at the same time as the alcohol would just slow me down and impact my decision making capabilities at work. Alcohol kills brain cells. Simple. I drink lots of Green tea and one cup of black coffee. Coffee is excellent for cyclists but within limits.
Training for a multi continental tour is not just about the ability to ride long distances. It entails developing a host of multiple skills. Determining and building the gear needed including the right bicycle is a herculean task, finding and reading the right books, websites and blogs, creating routes over thousands of kilometers, sourcing maps, reading maps, learning a new language (essential, and in my case, Spanish), researching visa requirements and applying for multiple countries and planning for health/ medical insurance, contingencies and communication devices, is a time consuming process, requiring constant follow up and attention. Each detail counts.
To every situation, a decision needs to be taken. For example,
- What’s the terrain like
- What kind of tyres should I get and what’s Plan B?
- What kind of weather and temperatures are going to be faced?
- Whats the Aviation Policy on carrying empty fuel bottles?
- How do I operate a satellite messenger?
- What kind of food should one carry and where are the sources of water and how do I filter it?
- How do you help another cyclist with a broken bone?
- How do you pack food to make it bear resistant and how do you deal with a bear?
The list is very comprehensive. Many cyclists would say over planning is not required and actually goes against the grain of touring and I find myself believing that too, but when it comes to safety, one should take all necessary steps. In addition, I find myself downloading phone based applications that help determining the bird species through the bird calls, animals, tree and plant life along the way. I am also carrying photographic equipment and acquainting myself with some photography techniques.
This is not intended to be an exhaustive training guide and if you do have any further questions, please feel free to write to me to at firstname.lastname@example.org