Vignesh VP tells us the story of living his dream as he went cycling from Jammu to Kanyakumari on a single speed cycle, with luck and humanity on his side. He started this ride on the 28th of August in Jammu and ended it on the 22nd of October in Kanyakumari.
Cycling from Jammu to Kanyakumari
Every one of us has dreams. To go somewhere, do something and build memories. Stories which you will reminisce about with your grandchildren (or others’ grandkids if you don’t have your own!) till they get bored of you and run away…
More often than not, work, finances, family and life gets in the way of chasing your dream. It takes a mountain of courage to let go of our insecurities and push in that one direction of desire.
Vignesh VP from Erode, had one such dream, of cycling the length of the country. He talks about the challenges, joys, difficulties and gastronomic disasters as he was cycling from Jammu to Kanyakumari.
Laying the Foundation of Insanity
The cycling bug bites young and it never lets go. Even after decades when someone throws a leg over a cycle, the smile of satisfaction cannot be wiped off their face.
In 2002, Vignesh was enrolled into the ‘school of bike’. He learnt to ride, but for the next 5 years was left despondent as he didn’t have a cycle and his family couldn’t afford one.
The silver lining on this dark cloud were the visits to his grandparents in Krishnagiri, where he would rent a cycle and pedal his heart out.
Back home, as the Beatles’ album Yellow Submarine said, he could get by with a little help of his friends. He borrowed their bikes whenever he could.
On 17th December 2007, a date Vignesh cannot forget, he got his first cycle. It was a gift from his granddad. An Avon Tycoon, a cool looking bike for its day.
But being gifted a bike isn’t the same as buying your own, and in 2015, Vignesh gifted himself a Raleigh for his birthday. He bought an old roadster from a scrap dealer for just 450 rupees. After which he set about stripping it down and then rebuilding the bike to look like new!
Why an old rusted Raleigh we asked? Vignesh was greatly inspired by octogenarian cyclist Dr. Nandakumar, who had a vintage Raleigh. He is indeed inspiring and requires a whole separate article about his fitness, cycling, motorcycling and the mean machines in his garage!
Practice Makes Perfect
To do a ride of this length, one needs to be physically prepared. More importantly the correct temperament is required, without which long distance cycling can get nasty.
Vignesh used his trusty Raleigh to ride from his hometown Erode to Coimbatore and back. Covering 200 km and building his confidence.
Shiny new cycles are always attractive and Vignesh bought a road bike and did the same Coimbatore stretch on it. Unfortunately, the road bike was one size too large for him and he had to sell it off and return to the Raleigh.
Which wasn’t a bad thing, as he used the Raleigh to do his first ‘proper’ ride from Erode to Kanyakumari, soon to be followed up by a ride to Chennai from his hometown.
The two rides giving him the legs and the mental strength to set out on his dream.
Work-Life Balance and All That!
How does one take leave from work for a two month ride? One doesn’t. One throws the job out of the window.
Vignesh worked for a couple of years after college in a finance company and even for 6 odd months in a bank as a business correspondent for a meagre salary.
He didn’t take a high paying job, because once you get into that, it is difficult to quit. What with everyone in our country worried about careers and job security, you get sucked into the rat race.
Inspiration for Cycling from Jammu to Kanyakumari
Vignesh is a motorcyclist and dreamt of riding to Khardung La on his motorcycle like every other Indian biker.
That couldn’t be brought to fruition as it was working out to be too expensive to ride up there on a motorcycle. He had the time to ride, but not the money. A quandary which most of us find ourselves in.
Vignesh had heard of some cyclists from Kerala who were planning rides from Kanyakumari to Kashmir, some in groups, others solo. But all of them on geared cycles.
Which was one of the reasons he wanted to do it on a single speed. Since he was habituated to his Raleigh.
To J or K To K!
Vignesh wanted to ride from Kashmir to Kanyakumari, like everyone else. But with a single speed bike, riding from either Srinagar or Leh, would have been difficult. There would have been very little riding and mostly pushing involved.
He looks at the silver lining. Not having ridden in Kashmir or Ladakh, he has a good reason to go back and finish off what he had started.
Single (and Ready to Mingle) Speed
Jammu to Kanyakumari is an arduous ride on any kind of two wheels. Doing it on a bicycle is a million times more difficult than motorised wheels. And on a single speed is a billion times harder.
Vignesh wanted to go the difficult way. He chose to use a single speed for this ride. Since he believes it is near impossible to go back to a single speed after riding around on a geared cycle.
For his future rides, he will use a geared bike. In Nagpur itself, during this ride, he made the decision as he pedalled his single speed.
Not Ready to Mingle
Riding solo has its charms and challenges and as Vignesh says, “To ride solo, one needs to have a lot of self-confidence. Much more than what you would require while cycling in a group.”
“To ride in a group, you need complete cooperation, understanding and group decisions. Without which, there is disappointment, misunderstanding and arguments.”
Enough reason to ride alone!
A Cyclist Pedals on His Stomach…
Good grub is important, as Vignesh learnt the hard way.
Vignesh had zero experience of surviving on North Indian food. The first couple of days when he started from Jammu were fine, but it was downhill from there.
He suffered from indigestion, fever and dysentery all the way from Punjab to Jhansi. Longing for home food with nothing in sight.
It got so bad in Jhansi, that he considered taking the train from there to Hyderabad. Fortunately he was talked out of this plan by his well meaning friends.
Fortune favours the brave and Vignesh slogged on as the tide turned. He spotted a truck with a Karnataka registration number driven by a Tamilian.
Jawahar, the trucker, cooked rice, rasam and chicken gravy for Vignesh. He went on to take his number and guide him to good places to eat and stay throughout his travel south.
Having learnt an important lesson, Vignesh proceeded to stop and ask for food from all the trucks with a south Indian vehicle registration plate. Giving a whole new meaning to the phrase ‘food truck’!
From thereon at least one meal a day was had with truckers of South India. A set of truckers not only offered him food, but also gave him a lift through thick Madhya Pradesh forests at night. They took his phone number and have promised to take Vignesh along on their next truck journey.
Mind Your Language!
One big deterrent to travel is language.
Even though Vignesh is trilingual and speaks fluent Tamil, Telegu and English, he lacked the one language which would get him by in North India, Hindi.
That barrier didn’t deter him and he learnt along the way. He could have a regular conversation by the time he reached Delhi. Enough to explain his travel to curious bystanders.
The conversation would end with, “Bhaiya mera Hindi thoda thoda maalum“.
After which the questions would stop and the photo sessions would start!
Ups and Downs
No experience is ever complete without a handful of negative experiences.
People you interact with make or break your ride. And Vignesh met one such person in Hyderabad. The person used Vignesh for self-promotion and even caused misunderstandings with other cyclists. After Hyderabad, he was always careful about what he shared with strangers.
Even after this Vignesh believes, “Humanity is there in this world. But 1 out of 100 people will let you down.“
There is a proverb by Thiruvalluvar in Tamil,
Theeyinaar suttapun ullaarum aaraadhae naavinaar sutta vadu
The wound which was burnt by fire may heal, but a wound burnt by the tongue will never heal
A Sea of Support
‘No Man is an Island’ wrote John Donne, what we need is a sea of support.
Support came aplenty for Vignesh to live his dream. From the wonderful folk of ProBikers in Chennai, who sponsored his cycle. To Fantom Cycles which serviced his bike as he was cycling from Jammu to Kanyakumari.
Max Riders, a motorcycling community based in Chennai also unconditionally helped out Vignesh in his endeavours including getting him kitted out for the ride.
Vignesh’s granddad who had got him his first cycle, also pitched in with funds for the ride. Members of the motorcycling and cycling community also pooled in resources in cash and kind to make his ride that much more pleasurable.
During the ride, Vignesh ended up spending less than 12000 rupees to get from Jammu to Kanyakumari in 56 days.
No Records for Touring
Vignesh made a conscious decision of not using any GPS/ phone app for recording his rides.
He was out to travel and record memories, not to cover and count kilometres. Focusing too much on data takes the enjoyment out of life, he believes!
An important lesson which can be implemented in our everyday lives. Far too often we focus on numbers, from our school days to our work. Eventually forgetting to have a good time along the way.
Single Speed Again?
What is the fascination of cycling on a single speed cycle? Why do cyclists make it even more difficult than it already is?
Vignesh enjoyed his time on a single speed. But his future plans involve a few gears!
Successfully finishing off one adventure has only grown his appetite for more. He plans to ride from Khardung La to Kanyakumari via the coastal route the next time around.
He also has plans to ride to Cambodia, Vietnam, Sri Lanka and the Andaman islands.
Why, You Ask?
“We have only one life to live, and we need to live it happily. That is why I call myself OneLifeHappyVignesh…“
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