“If a man hasn’t travelled in his lifetime, he hasn’t lived”.
Grit, Gravel And Gear is an outstanding non-fiction piece of writing with twenty two gripping stories penned by Dhruv Bogra. The author narrates his cross country epic solo ride from the Artic to the Andes on a touring bicycle spanning over 400 days and 15,000 kilometers.
The book connects well with a reader and talks about the authors exploratory tour across 10 countries which was his dream he could accomplish. He came across some breathtaking views of the open skies and landscapes, the pristine of the sunrise and sundowns, camping by the rivers and streams along the way and halting to admire the wilderness of the environment untouched by the human activities. In the journey, he met people of different countries, cultures, mindsets, age groups, interests and cyclists and with many of whom he pedalled for days and weeks. Most of the people he came across were friendly and he received kindness and love in form of water, food, beer, shared room and good wishes which helped him to sustain and survive the struggle, pain, loneliness in times of difficulties.
The touring cyclists encountered rough weather conditions ranging from subzero to 40 degree celsius. Riding through the highways in company of high speeding vehicles and at times through dense forests holding feelings of fear and distress. Dealing with uncertain weather for days, weeks and months and figuring out ways to keep his body protected from severe cold and heat. He braved fluctuating temperatures and fell ill on several occasions and mostly relied on self-medication and sometimes prayers.
Finding a camp site and pitching tents after daylong challenging rides was a taxing task he had to accomplish. And whenever he found an option to take shelter in a local lodge, dormitory or motel; the choice had to be made within the budget constraints. Determined to move ahead, he kept pedalling for thousands of kilometers on flat stretches, riding uphill, descended at high speeds, cycled on unpaved trails, across desserts, fog and heavy rains, whistling winds and persevered through his journey on Quest carrying weight of 50 kgs. ‘Quest’ was his custom built bike which remained his companion all through his soulful and gruelling journey.
The author flawlessly shares stories of his innumerable planned and unplanned encounters with the natural world including the wildlife – raccoons, bears, wolves, howler monkeys, snakes, sea lions, penguins, alpacas, llamas, vicunas and amazing biodiversity. He once bravely stopped to take photos of a bear as he found him innocent by looking at his eyes but was a risk of life which he later realized. On another instance he was frightened by a hungry bear during midnight searching for food around his tent as he whistled non-stop for an hour only to get relieved after the bears departure from the campsite. When you are out alone on a bicycle you become your own guardian, your own companion and if decisions go wrong your own enemy.
As a solitary cyclist, he was burdened with the task of managing routes, time zones, plan distances to be covered in a day, decide his next site for camping before getting dark, worry about water, food, forecast weather, protect his belongings and manage security checks at borders for visas regardless of his health and mental well-being. His ambitious bicycle tour demanded him to be brave and courageous both mentally and physically and during the course he was able to build his self-confidence in dealing with the unknown.
While crossing the US border and entering Tijuana in Mexico as he entered a store to exchange currency a man asked “You carrying a gun, buddy” to which he responded with a confident smile “I have learnt on this journey that you attract only what you fear and so far I have met only kind and wonderful people and I don’t expect Mexico to be any different”.
Absorbed by the sublime of nature, the author wrote a collection of compelling poems along the route. Established deep connection with what he witnessed by each passing day and silently observed god’s creation with moist eyes and mixed emotions. It was a journey with varied moods of joy, harmony, sorrow and feeling of desolation.
In California, during a conversation the author asked an elderly and I quote “What is the secret of happiness?” and he replied “Son, you got to have a purpose. Find your purpose and you will find happiness”.
Months later at a local town in Mexico, a couple owning a pizzeria after listening to the authors story asked him “Have you found what you were looking for?” The author reflected for a moment and said, “Yes that kindness can save the world and all of us”. His Quest continued until he reached the land which gave birth to his soul.
The author feels privileged about his decisive move to embark on a journey full of discovery, challenges, dare, exploration and finding wisdom. During the course, he was fortunate to visit hundreds of UNESCO world heritage sites, climb through mountains, live in unimaginable surroundings, birds and animals, interact with strangers, taste local drinks and food, understand ethnic practices and make new friends for life. He passed through the Depot Bay – world’s smallest harbour, Bixby Creek bridge the tallest single span concrete bridge in the world, visited museums, local cafes, the tequila refinery, learnt different cultures, art forms and finally climbed the Machu Pichu before concluding his relentless cycling tour in Peru.
From riding through solitary, calm, raw and untouched segments to the bustling urban life in small towns everything coexisted for him. Some soulful and some trivial experiences came along his way. From finding pornographic magazine under his bed while sleeping in a small shed, to hearing noises of couple having sex in the adjacent room in a hotel. And feeling awkward and uneasy after being greeted by provocatively dressed woman staring at him as he rode pass red light areas. A gentleman once openly asked “if he had pornographic content stored in his mobile which he could view”. The innocent cyclist skillfully dodged and avoided many such natural and unnatural uncomfortable moments and stayed focused with Quest.
Aside these funny instances which are well narrated, the author keeps you engaged with his fine expressions of his experience and that makes you feel a part of his journey. The book Grit, Gravel And Gear is recommended for cyclist planning a long tour, preparing for competitions and cyclists in general. It’s engaging for the ones who seek pleasure in reading travel genre, are interested in adventure sports like trekking, camping, road trips and looking to find a purpose.
The book is available online on amazon
Author: Vijay Malhotra, Mumbai