Society

Bicycle tales

More than a year on his bicycle, Josiah Skeats has pedalled a long way from London traversing 23 countries and still counting

India was never on Josiah Skeats’s mind when he planned his cycling tour around the world. It never figured in his elaborate plan, one that he had meticulously created. But once out of Europe, the realisation struck that the plan was not going to take him anywhere. He dumped it keeping only the order of the countries he had listed to cross and the main route.

Surviving the treacherous Pamir Highway that traversed the Pamir Mountains, Josiah pedalled through Afgahnistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and reached Bishek, the capital of Kyrgyzstan. This was to be the last lap on this stretch of his journey. China was to be his next stop.

“There was this change in policy regarding my China visa. I could not apply from Kyrgyztan or Kazakhstan. I had to send my passport home, apply from London, and have it posted it back to me. This meant a much longer wait than planned at Bishek. I tried to find a part-time job teaching in the schools but it did not work. I got a call from my mum one day telling me that my visa was denied. It hit me hard,” says Josiah who stopped over in Kochi after he had biked down to Kanyakumari from Thiruvananthapuram and was making his way up to Mumbai.

This meant Josiah had to redraw his whole schedule. He felt that the chain of over 14,000 kilometres he had travelled was about to be snapped. “That’s when I thought of India. I applied and got a visa for three months. Here was I who knew nothing about India getting ready to cycle across the country. I knew it was going to be another level, a new lap in my adventure.”

Josiah had begun began his journey from London in May 2015, soon after he graduated in Law. “The seed for this journey was sown when in my first year at the University. The usual way was getting a job, which somehow did not entice me at all. Around That’s the same time when I chanced upon an online article about on someone who had cycled around the world. That was amazing and I knew what I was going to do though hardly anyone really believed it.”

Adventures were not new to Josiah who had worked as a cowboy in Upstate New York, worked during a ski season in the French Alps spending weeks climbing and kayaking. He wanted to try something new. Josiah decided to try cycling across the world before he started work as a lawyer.

Josiah has travelled to 23 countries so far on his 27-speed Ghyllside cycle and brought him in into contact with people of whom he has so many stories tales and memories. “This is the best part of cycling. It’s so people-centric. A passing car beeps it’s horn for support, encouraging my weary legs to carry on for the last part of the mountain pass; an old man and a young boy come out of their hut to marvel at the strange person who’s just stumbled into their small, unchanging world, while three kids push my cycle up a slope even as I try and get them on video.”

If he feared that this long journey was going to be lonely it wasn’t. was not to be. “I left loneliness behind in Europe. I think that’s where one can feel lonely even in in the centre square. Central Asia and India were was so full of warmth. I sought the help of the website couchsurfing.com and found so many friends on the way willing to be of help.”

Travelling on a daily budget of a maximum of three dollars, Josiah has spent only a few days in hostels, hotels or camped outside. He has been mostly hosted by friends he was meeting for the first time, in their homes. “This friend was there at the Thiruvananthapuram railway station to welcome me. He took me to his apartment and said he had rush to work leaving the whole place at my disposal. I was stunned by this implicit trust belief in a stranger. In Kochi, I stayed with a member of a cycling club. I spent an evening with the members of the club and then cycled with them to some of the landmarks in the city. There are countless incredible people I’ve met and the thought of losing contact with them is going to be tough.”

Josiah will cycle from Mumbai to Delhi and then to Varanasi on his way to Nepal. “I will re-apply for my Indian visa from Nepal and then travel to the North East. From here I plan to cross to Myanmar moving to Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia, Singapore and end this leg in Australia.”

Reaching Australia for Josiah is only one of his targets, the other being having an adventure and seeing the world. “When I stand in Australia the choice will be between returning home or continuing my journey. Most probably I’ll head to another part of this lovely world. If there is one thing I have learned from this trip is that there’s still hope in humanity,” says Josiah.

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Printable version | Jul 2, 2020 2:39:53 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/society/Bicycle-tales/article16072085.ece

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