We are halfway through this trip. 2000 kilometers ridden out of 4000 planned and one month in country.
In many ways that seems impossible – and I can’t believe I’ve been here this long. But then when I think about this trip in terms of experiences it feels quite different, like I’ve already packed a year’s worth of intense experience into an amazingly compact time.
Wonder. Excitement. Fear. Anxiety. Frustration. Freedom. Curiosity. Fatigue. Acknowledging the humbleness that comes when assumptions you didn’t even know you made go out the window. The addiction of intense mental stimulation – being “on” for hours and navigating one situation after another that is so different and challenging. Reminding myself how much I don’t know and soaking in as much as I’m capable of before retreating.
This first month has been about being mentally and – to a lesser extent – physically challenged. To me, this trip is not that physically difficult so far compared to other bike rides I’ve done. On those trips – the physical challenge of getting up day after day and riding 100 miles and climbing thousands of feet provide their own kind stimulation and goal. This is not a traditional cycle tour or event where the measure of the day’s success is calculating elevation gained and average speeds and talking about that great double pace line.
The cycling challenges here so far have been navigating rough roads and learning to deal with traffic that physically leaves you beaten and mentally exhausted because you have to be so alert and focused for hours – you do not want to make a mistake here and the conditions make it easier to seriously crash on these roads than anywhere else I’ve ever ridden.
The mental challenge is re-calibrating my internal alarms to recognize curiosity and openness rather than assuming predatory intentions when approached. To allow myself to be literally physically surrounded and be open to that. To understand that an invitation is just that with no hidden agendas. To recognize that it’s not just about me and my experience – the quality of my interaction with everyone I’ve met impacts their life and views of the world, too, and I have a responsibility to make that as positive as possible for them. All this mental adjustment really isn’t about India; it reflects our Western – or possibly just the American view – that we live in a dangerous environment and you must be on guard at all times, whether walking in your neighborhood or traveling overseas.
It’s also been coping with illness, and the group dynamics that generates – not just mine but everyone. A large group traveling in difficult conditions is like living in a petri dish… illnesses get passed around and most of us at this point have been ill more than once with something. Most handle it with grace. Some blame spicy food though honestly I think we’re passing germs around like crazy and I think it has less to do with food and more to do with hygiene … particularly around the lunch truck and other group meals … despite hand washing and sanitizer there are still a lot of people handling food and utensils and it’s just bound to spread germs.
But group dynamics are overall very good – a terrific group of people are on this trip – but the stresses of illness make everyone have their bad moments and it impacts us all. Most of us understand it in its context and move forward. Most go out of their way to stay positive, counteract complaining and keep things in perspective. And there is an interesting kind of group behavioral policing going on … where if someone complains there is an immediate pointing out of the positive… it’s an interesting little mini-culture that’s developed.
So reflecting on the first half of the trip…. It’s been more than I hoped for and I’m finding it stimulating and challenging and am getting more than I dreamed from it. But I’m finding that I’m also compromising more and risking more, too. There is a price for this intensity level of travel.