Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Weekend Rides

Between career, family and responsibilities, I really didn’t get into motorcycling till my forties. As I head into the big 5-oh territory next year, I realise that at this age I owe a lot of my sense of adventure to the Royal Enfield motorcycles that I ride. Because I ride motorcycles, I've interacted with a gamut of people who share the same passion: from paupers to millionaires, from rich industrialists to bakers, from young to old. A mystical force draws us together to kick tires, swap lies, talk shop, build relationships and find that one epic ride.
For me, the epic ride has always been the annual ride to Ladakh and even as I write there’s a humming in my chest, a frisson of excitement that tingles the soul. Every road has its own personality, but the one to Ladakh changes every year. What was a dirt track ascending to Baralacha La last year is a smooth bit of tarmac this year swooping up to 16,000 feet. Over the crest heading down the north-facing descent the tarmac becomes a distant memory, the road tortured into revealing its sinister nature by the grinding snow, ice and a cutting wind that snatches your breath away. The variations themselves are a treat, delighting me with the twisting, turning, unexpected moves I must make to overcome the next obstacle. Here in Ladakh, the immediate future lies just after the next bend in the road or over the next crest, a mystery to unfold; and every year I try to push the envelope of my riding skills to deal with it better than before.
I have measured all rides against Ladakh, perhaps unfairly so. To ride in Ladakh means a commitment of time and money, something that may be in short supply in these times. Till recently, I didn’t realise that I could have an excellent adventure riding in my backyard, figuratively speaking. Often, while on a descent to Mumbai airport, I could see lonely skeins of roads from above and wondered where they led to, a patchwork quilt of possibility in the routes I might take. I did ride these roads on the way to the Royal Enfield Rider Mania this year, as documented in this blog in November, and it gave me a new appreciation for this sublime weekend ritual and an impetus to find more such roads. Our route, casually mapped out in our heads as we rode along was based on hearsay, had but a single commandment: make it as circuitous and remote as possible. Easily done over the weekend, this kind of ride is something we can do regardless of economics — a 400km motorcycle ride represents a cost-effective escape from reality. For the cost of a few litres of fuel and a few roadside meals, you can extract yourself from the chaos of modern life for a few hours. Until someone finds a way to charge for breathtaking views, fun roads or fresh air, a good day's ride is about the cheapest entertainment you'll find. Now I have to find those back roads from Mumbai to Nashik for the Sulafest in Feb 2011. Or, do the Mumbai to Goa ride on the coastal roads without touching NH17… I’m spoilt for choices.