On 8th September 2019, Sunday I completed a BRM race of 200 kilometers cycling, from Nehru Stadium, Guwahati to Darrangiri, in Goalpara district and back to Nehru Stadium in 13 hours and 20 minutes. It is a feat that I myself did not believe I could really achieve. Till the race actually began I was thinking that I shall quit whenever I feel that it’s an impossible task. In fact a few of us had registered for the event in a manner of jest, just to give company to the serious randonneurs of our cycling group called ‘Tilinga’.
We the newcomers had discussed that at a common point we will have a hearty meal and then ride back home. And since the Guwahati-Goalpara highway is familiar to me being my work place route I even picked the dhaba where we shall have our meaty lunch, even informed the dhaba owner that a horde of hungry cyclists might descend upon him during the day. In the morning of 8th September, when I saw the line up at Nehru Stadium I again began to wonder what made me enroll for this madness. Half of the contenders were holding SR titles (Super Randoneur: Completing 200, 300, 400, 600 kilometres BRM within one BRM season) I was out of practice the whole of August month due to the demise of my father. Regular college and other household duties hardly left me with any spare time for the sort of training that long distance, endurance cycling required. BRM is all about patience, tenacity, mental courage and proper planning.
I had started amateur cycling hardly three months back in June with a single speed bicycle. At the end of June I enrolled for a 100 k.m. BP (Brevet Populaire) to Chandubi in Palashbari, Kamrup. In that event I could not reach the halfway mark within the specified time. I was totally fatigued and feeling heartbroken when I learned that I missed the cut off time at the Control Point (CP). Moreover I felt angry and foolish due to my ignorance about technicalities and my own poor performance. The organizers took pity on me and gave me a lift back to the city (which is much against their policies).
After this debacle I concentrated upon technicalities about BRM and also started training myself for the next BRM event to be held in Guwahati. BRM stands for Brevets de Randoneurs Mondiaux and it entails long distance endurance cycling of 200, 300, 400, 600, 1000 kms and Audax Club Parisiene (ACP) is the International governing body for randoneuring that administers and overseas the conduct of BRM’s worldwide. This style of riding is non-competitive, and a friendly comradely feeling is paramount amongst randonneurs right from the early periods of this sport of cycling in France and Italy. BRMs came to the North-East after the Guwahati Randonneurs, a sports club was started in 2018 by Suppuraj Gogoi a pioneer of endurance cycling in the North-East.
In the month of July which happens to be my summer vacation I decided to get myself a good professional bicycle that would give me good
riding advantage to undertake longer and more arduous rides. The very next day after purchasing it I went out to Meghalaya, Byrnihat and then onwards to the Umtru Dam with a team of 5-6 riders. I was trailing behind them all along the way but I did not give up even once. During this ride I could gather that to gain strength and increase stamina it is essential to keep riding uphill. So, throughout the month of my vacation I rode uphill on all the hills and hillocks around Guwahati like Kamakhya hill, GMCH hill, Maligaon hillside, Basistha, Chandrapur, etc. I didn’t waste a single day of July and kept training restlessly. It was as if I found a new reason to live and the two wheeled machine had become my steady companion to challenge my limits.
At that time there was talk in the cycling circle about the upcoming 150 km BRM on 3rd August. I was mentally preparing myself for this event but just before that my father was hospitalized and he breathed his last on 1st August. It was my father who had always encouraged me to go forward for every physical activity on the same terms as men and never step back because I was a woman. I was determined to go for 200 kms BRM to be held the next month in September. Though riding 200 kms in half a day seemed like a crazy idea to me at that time. I went ahead and got myself registered for the event. The longest I ever rode till then was a 100 kms solo ride to Pobitora on my single speed bicycle on 23rd June, 2019. Still I was determined to go ahead. One positive aspect in my favour was the route which happened to be my regular work route which houses my college.
Before the day of the race other riders gave me tips and encouraged me no end. Everyone was very helpful. BRM is all about camaraderie and cheering each other, I realized. On the day of the ride, my fellow riders were my Tilinga Sports Club members Rupam, Nitam, Dhruba, Koncheng and Mukta. In spite of everyone of them being seasoned cyclists they never left my side and kept encouraging me all the way to Darrangiri (the half-way point). They never let me give up in my worst moments of weakness, and I would forever be grateful to this band of brothers for whom I am ‘Ratna ba’. There was also Ripunjay, a superb rider and a great human being who made himself my buddy rider and almost prodded me along most of the way. It’s no mean feat I would say for someone like me who had been leading a nearly idle life, the last 20 or so years away from intense physical activity to suddenly sit on a saddle and pedal for 13 hours at a stretch, in the sultry heat, with temperatures touching 37 and 39 degrees. But I did it. And as I wheeled into the stadium the whole team assembled there cheered for me. I felt on top of the world. My son was also there amongst the cheering group of faces. This gave me immense joy as I felt that somehow I have proven myself to everyone. One of my friends, Pratibhu who is a well known cyclist kept telling me that it all a ‘mind game’ and the mind can be convinced to perform unbelievable acts. That day I had also done the undoable.
When I took up cycling I did not think beyond pedaling a bit here and there just for fun. But I must say that now I am hooked! There will be no looking back now. Cycling has given me a lot of self confidence And positivity. One can take up cycling at any age, as I have found out. For youngsters who are already cycling, the good news is that a lot of improvement has taken place in the cycling scenario .Various opportunities are available in professional and amateur cycling nowadays. Regular cycling would improve mobility of a person’s limbs, improve cardio vascular health, makes the muscles strong and flexible, reduce stress and improve coordination as well as provide good posture, decrease body fat and prevent diseases. Cycling gives pleasure to the mind. One can go to remote places where there is no access to other vehicles. It gives great joy to the mind when after arduous pedaling one arrives at a pristine location. At that moment the feeling is such that cannot be expressed in mere words. Every cycling trip is an adventure and a learning experience. For me it’s just the beginning of a whole new world. Out there, is a whole universe to be explored .......
Associate Professor, Dept. of English
Jawaharlal Nehru College, Boko