Wednesday, December 03, 2008
I can hear the bells
When Polly Evans said “It’s not about the tapas”, I took it to mean that it was about cycling through the Pyrenees. I felt again, vividly, the burning in the calves on the climb, the fearful joy of the descent, the open air, the unshadowed sun.
Then, an old cycling companion met the bug again and turned into the grown-up version, startling rattlesnakes regularly in California complete with helmet and puncture kit. His enthusiasms tend to drag me along for the ride, so I was fascinated to find that cycling had gotten a lot more… well, complicated, for lack of a better word.
Then came the day when I wheeled another friend’s bicycle out of the garage (rescued it, really, from a dried-bougainvillea grave; the owner hadn’t touched it for a year). The familiar tick-whir, tick-whir touched off a thrumming that came clear and sweet across the fifteen years it had been since I last rode.
“Ride out to find out what it is to be free. New times, new feelings, discovery”. It’s the oldest jingle I remember, for a motorcycle whose name I’ve forgotten – Discovery, perhaps – and it was a war cry, an ache, the anthem to which I learned how to ride. It’s true that my bike facilitated a certain amount of truancy and lawlessness that would have been impossible otherwise, but it was always about the open road, the unique pleasure of cycling.
And that, in the final analysis, is what the Tour of Nilgiris is really about. It’s a seven-day bicycle ride across the misty green Blue Mountains, starting out on Christmas Day and ending 919 km later where the New Year begins. The personal quest of a small group has grown into a 40-member tour, with a list of sponsors (including, quite appropriately, Nilgiris Supermarket) and a medical team that almost rival the Cricket World Cup, but the fundamental heart remains in the right place.
Also, it’s not enough anymore to say: “I want to ride up yonder mountain… coming?”. There needs to be a reason, a rationale, a message. It’s a practical necessity. If Edmund Hillary had been talking to corporate sponsors he could hardly have left it at “Because it’s there”. Why, that’s not even enough for one slide! So TFN is alright because a) the heart, as I said, is fine and b) their “go green” message is sincere, and who better to preach than those who practice it?
The idea is not startlingly new, just a good one, slightly forgotten.
In the beginning, there was no TV. Before God said “Let there be multiplexes”, there were wooded trails, muddy ponds and bicycles. Whitefield was less than a suburb and India was not even an emerging market (I hear we’ve fully emerged now; if we were a baby turtle, we’d have just begun the perilous journey to the sea), so we spent our time outdoors. Apart from cycling for the sake of it, we also cycled to school, to the shops, to the club, to each other’s houses… so why not to work?
TFN’s view on the subject is “If a bunch of ordinary cyclists of differing age groups can do 919 km over rugged terrain, surely anyone can cycle 10 km to office and back each day?”
Not everyone will do the entire 919 km. Riders can join in and drop out at any stage of the tour. Unsurprisingly, they got a huge response and had to make a “next time” list. There’re probably enough participants for two "next times". Everybody wants to do a tour of the Nilgiris, and since cycling takes you so close to your surroundings, the romance of the ride fits perfectly with the charm of the old colonial hill stations, the sheer beauty of those hills.
I remember several childhood holidays there, blowing my breath out into clouds and thinking to myself that the quality of the cold was different. Just strolling along the edge of the golf course in Wellington was exhilarating, imagine cycling through the hills.
I can feel the pressure of the handle bars beneath my hands and the texture of the road rushing beneath the tyres, as the bike coasts round curves in a land where you seem to breathe in the endorphins directly from the air.
The thing about cycling is – once you know, you never forget. That's a quality the Nilgiris share.
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