My anxiety and anticipation mounted just as we reached the end.
When I first started to ride, I never imagined making it from Kaza to Manali. And just when I got lost in the happiness of finishing the ride and escaped into my world of thoughts, my cycle tilted to the left and then to the right, until I lost control and tumbled onto the ground. Puffs of dust rose from the ground and settled onto my face. I let out a cry in frustration and anguish. My efforts seemed like they were all for nothing and the end felt further than the sun. I thought in silence, “maybe everything happens for a reason, maybe I was only meant to make it this far.”
It was 10 a.m. when we sat on our cycles, not knowing what the journey ahead had in store for us. We set off on this adventurous journey with our innocence protecting us from the reality we would soon have to face. So, we began pedaling, with our hopes high and oxygen levels low.
The first two hours of the ride were probably the toughest because we set off as riders who believed we could accomplish anything, however, our weak bodies couldn’t comply with those demands. Nevertheless, we pushed on.
By the end of the day, I had used up every ounce of energy my body could produce, my legs felt numb and reaching the campsite felt unattainable.
Every two hours, the bhaiya jis would tell us that we only had 20 minutes to go but by the time we arrived at the campsite, beads of sweat were dripping down our foreheads. We were famished, fatigued, and determined to not cycle the next day because we were certain that our legs would fall off.
Each day got physically harder than the other and giving up was a thought that popped in my head every five seconds.
I found myself gasping for air every time we cycled uphill. We had our ups and our downs, literally and metaphorically, but at the end of the day, there was nothing more satisfying than parking our bikes at a campsite and drinking hot chai that warmed our frozen palms. The only thing that felt better than drinking the tea, was eating the warm, delicious food that was cooked for us by the bhaiya jis.
After three days, I assumed I would have adapted to residing in a sleeping bag in subzero temperatures, however, I think it’s safe to say that no amount of days made it easier. With my back taut from sleeping on the rigid ground and legs sore from the previous days of riding, I began the final day of biking.
The sun rose in a pool of crimson and gold, spilling light all over the land and the fluffy white clouds. From a freezing night, it turned into a scorching day as the sun climbed towards its zenith. For some odd reason, the ride seemed effortless that day. As the sun set, the few thin strips of clouds on the horizon turned shimmering gold. Maybe the ride was truly easier that day or maybe it was something in the air that turned my pain into pleasure. Whatever it may have been, I felt unstoppable. I felt invincible and indestructible as the gusts of wind struck my face.
Caught up in the moment, I lost control of my cycle, lurched and fell to the ground.
All the ache and pain in my body told me to give up. A voice in my head said, “You had a good run, but now it’s time to let go” but another voice in my head said, “You worked too hard to give up now.” I decided to listen to the latter. I stood up, shrugged off the dust from my body, tightened my helmet and began pedaling.
The light at the end of the tunnel was brighter than ever and I rode towards it, one pedal at a time.
Maithili Jogani is a staff reporter
Photos by Maithili Jogani
Edited by Archita Aggarwal