Musings on self-supported cycle travel

I like the idea of self-supported cycle travel. It gives you a feeling of freedom, almost liberation from the constraints of ‘tourism’. Or at least that is what I thought. To put it to test, the first order of business was to acquire pannier bags (the bags that hang on the sides of the cycle). And then a pannier rack, on which the bags are attached. Once I had mounted the bags and done a couple of short local test rides, I felt I was ready for a real test ride in the mountains.

On a test ride with pannier bags

Map and elevation profile of the cycle ride (click to enlarge)

I started riding from Ranikhet (Uttarakhand) and the plan was to ride up to Gwaldam and then turn back. Four or five days would be a long enough to give me a sense of how it really feels. It turns out that just one day was enough. There was much to learn about self-supported cycle travel. And I am sure I still have much to learn, but here is a sampler:

  1. Carry less weight: No matter how strong a rider you are, carry as little weight as you can get away with. Critically evaluate every little thing in your luggage and then ask yourself again, can I do without it? Carry the smallest possible tooth paste, better still carry one that is almost ready to be thrown. If you can get something in a sachet buy it. If you can transfer it into a zip-lock, do it. I can tell you that on steep climbs you seriously start thinking about opening your bags and start throwing out all but absolute necessities. I was carrying over 30 kilos and I really had to pay for it.
  2. Carry a small tent: Yes, I know, I just said carry less weight. But it appears to me that you can not really be liberated from ‘tourism’ unless you can pitch your own camp. Also see the net point.
  3. Don’t try to set a scorching pace: If it is a race you like then find one. But if you think of yourself as a traveler then take it easy. Enjoy the sight and the sounds. And the smells too… When you are on a cycle, you are natural magnet and local people want to know more about you and what your are up to. It is a great opportunity to make some friends and get to know the local culture. Don’t rush. Trouble is that you are bound to be a little anxious if you have to get to a hotel 30 kms further and you are already tired and know that it may get dark before you reach. Unless of course if you have a tent.
  4. Start very early and plan to finish you cycling by early afternoon: If you start early and finish early you have all the time ion the world to find a good camp site — or hotel, if you really want one, and some times you will. The other advantage of starting early is that even if you get waylaid by local sights and sounds or by mechanical trouble, or in numerous things that can and will go wrong, you will have some buffer time.
  5. Plan the route and time of the year carefully: Keep in mind that in the mountains you may have to come down to a low valley before you start to climb again. In summers you often end up staying high so you climb down in the morning, and it is early afternoon by the time you are ready to cycle out of the low valley. You can’t. Or at least I couldn’t. It was way too hot, so I had to wait for the sun to start dipping. And then it was a race against time to climb out of the valley and reach the hotel on top. This may be a lesser problem if you are at very high altitudes ? for instance in Ladakh or Spiti.

Well that is what I have for now. I am sure there is much more to learn ’till then’

Slightly bemused by my adventure

Looking down at the fields

Farms at eye level

The farm at eye level

Play of light

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