Once Shammi Sethi gets on his bike, it’s tough to get him off. The 43 year-old is passionate about cycling and is happiest when he’s riding. So when we got him onto his bike, helmet on his head, wearing his cycling shorts, and made him pose for a photograph on a rainy Tuesday afternoon, he threatened to ditch us and take off for a ride instead. And this, after he had just returned from a cycling trip to Goa that morning.
“I like to keep stretching my limits. I love endurance rides. Riding to Goa had always been a dream,” explains the real estate consultant. When no one replied to his Facebook post about undertaking the arduous trip mid-June, he decided to take off by himself. Fortunately, he found a fitting companion in 28 year-old Rachel Cumella, who responded with an enthusiastic ‘yes’ just last week.
In India, to film cyclist-adventurer Sean Conway as he cycled 18,000 miles on his bicycle in 150 days to raise money for charity, Cumella had been following Conway around in a car while he cycled across the country. “All the while, I wished I could hop onto a bicycle as well,” she recalls. When she met Sethi and his biker buddies, she got to do just that. “Shammi lent me an old bicycle, another friend gave me his helmet, yet another gave me a headlight for my bike. And I bought this,” she beams, pointing to her cycle bell.
Dying to visit Goa before she flew back home to London, Cumella decided to join Sethi on his cycling trip. He had to alter his plans a bit, but the company was worth it. “She was short on time, so we decided to take the bus halfway,” he explains. If they were to ride all the way to Goa, it would have left Cumella with no time to see the place itself. Besides, the point of their trip was to ride for leisure. “We wanted to take our time. We stopped every time we saw something beautiful, we weren’t trying to break a record,” smiles Sethi.
The journey begins
The first 10 hours of their journey were spent in a Volvo bus, their bikes stowed safely with their luggage. They got off at Kankavli, which is halfway to Goa, and biked to Tarkali and then to the Sindhudurg fort. After spending the night there, they continued the journey to Goa.
“The most beautiful sight we saw on the way was that of paddy fields. There’s nothing more beautiful than the lush green of the paddy fields dotted with the bright colours of women’s saris while they’re sowing seeds. Against the backdrop of the brown hills and grey skies, it’s phenomenal,” exclaims Cumella. Most people would be put off by the thought of riding in the monsoon, but not these two. “The monsoon is the best time to ride,” says Sethi, “It’s absolutely wonderful to feel the rain beating down on you while you ride. And it’s not particularly unsafe.”
The duo was keen on interacting with the locals, and made sure they stopped at a village before they reached Goa. “When we reached Chowke, we were greeted very warmly. They told me they’d never had a foreigner visit their village before,” says Cumella. Sethi adds, amused, “The sarpanch even presented us with a flower each!”
They didn’t have the luxury of carrying any luggage. They had two sets of clothes each, tied at the back of Sethi’s cycle. “He was carrying all the weight,” says Cumella sheepishly, “Because my bike didn’t have the provision for it.” They stopped wherever they could to grab a bite, so carrying food wasn’t necessary either. Sethi couldn’t afford any more extra weight; it was hard enough as it was,” he admits.
The ups and downs
The cyclists had a mostly uphill stretch to ride. Even so, Mumbai’s traffic was the biggest hurdle for Cumella. “Strangely enough, the most difficult bit for me was just getting to Sion, to catch the bus out of the city. The only time I had an accident was right here in the city. I fell off the bike,” she says, examining her scraped knee. “I think it’s the traffic that stops people from cycling more often,” she adds, as an afterthought.
Sethi never allows the traffic to bog him down, however. He rides his bicycle every day. He is part of several groups on Facebook which organise group bicycle rides often. One such group he’s part of is the Everyday Short Rides. These guys usually ride around Carter Road at nights. He even organises the Independence Day rides on August 15 — where cyclists meet up at Prabhadevi, head to Worli Sea Face and end the ride at Bandra. “I’ve been riding to Ganeshpuri, which is about 70 km away, off and on. My longest ride, apart from this one, was a 20-hour ride to Pune and back,” he says. On that ride, he got no sleep, made only one stop and lived on dates.
The idea of riding all the way to Goa stemmed from his desire to take on longer rides and to push himself. “I also want to promote cycling for tourism, and for fitness,” he reveals, “In India, people mainly cycle for livelihood, like the dabbawalas do.”
“This trip was only a recce,” says Sethi, “I’m definitely going to ride again. If no one else wants to join me, I will go alone. This time I will cycle all the way to Goa.” Teases Cumella, “He’s a loner, he loves to ride alone.” But Sethi insists he’s happy to have company along the way. “But it’s important to get along with your companion. If I didn’t get along with her and if she wasn’t using my bike,” he says pointing at Cumella, “I’d have left her behind in some village.”
“You don’t need to be a pro. If you’re a medium rider, you will be able to do it,” he feels. According to him, a ‘medium rider’ should be able to do 100 kms in a day. “If you can do 100, you can do 200 kms in day,” he says. Cumella disagrees, “I ride a measly two hours a week! I never thought I could cover such a distance. And if I can do it, others can too.”