Why is this trip different from all of the the other trips you might ask as I sit by the open window of a six story building with a commanding view of rooftops and the sea, almost at the southern most tip of Mumbai, as we are experiencing the spray of rain and the cooling effect that comes with it, which is not only what the locals call a post monsoon rain, supposedly an extremely rare event, but a genuine cyclone named Phyan. Perhaps the main message that is continuously being reinforced for me is that one should always expect the unexpected and as a rule this seems often to be the case and that this is a land of surprises as well as one of constant contrasts.
The “business” portion of our trip ended successfully, early this morning and we can now look forward to shortly, getting on our bikes. But as I look back, I am less clear about the future and how and in what direction our travels will take place, as I am acutely aware of being in India.
As an example of what I am stating think of as Indian influences, is that we left our last meeting in Pune at 4 pm anticipating to arrive in Mumbay, after a 25 minute flight to cover 180 kms around 6:30 pm. Due to a plane missing the end of a runway in Mumbai, caused by heavy rains, in this the dry season, our flight did not land until around midnight, to be then told that there were NO taxis available, because of the rain. As it turns out estimates of the driving time would have been between three to six hours to cover the 180 kms, but in India, in hind sight, our more predictable choice to fly, was clearly the wrong bet. Its also worth noting that on a good, dry, sunny day, on relatively uncongested roads, I might have cycled the distance in the 8 hours it took us to fly.
At this point, why is this trip different than all the other trips, is weighing on my mind. On arrival, in our 5 star hotel, two porters carried our bikes to the baggage area, having been transported in style on arrival by porters who could not be dissuaded and on a minibus for 12 to accommodate four people and the two bikes. On the second day, I checked out the bikes, which were in heavy duty plastic bags, to discover that unlike all the other times when we transported them in this manner, my bikes rear wheel in profile looked like a figure eight.
The concierge called several bicycle shops, the first one did not seem to know about metric wheels sizes, so I chose the second, that seemed to understand that I would in all likelihood require a new rim.
I elected to travel by auto rickshaw, to the dismay of the Marriot taxi pool, to the bike shop. The first few drivers would not take me, even though the destination was nearby and I had written directions. As I discovered on my return trip that I do not have the requisite Mumbai accent, and my presumption that the drivers read, was sadly mistaken.
The bike shop made my heart beat, as it consisted of a very narrow store front, off a long dusty driveway, off the main drag, which displayed a dozen or so heavy duty single speed bikes, with an outdoor repair stand. After “explaining” the obvious, I was assured that a repair will be undertaken in about an hour or so's time.
An hour later, flag down a young fellow on a dashing North American racing bike who I soon discovered was the service manager of the local Trek bicycle dealership. I ask him about the availability of rims for my bike, and he tells me that it would be a special order needing about a week to ten days to arrive. Since he was clearly a bike expert and appreciative of my plight, we went together to the person repairing my wheel and the two agreed that while badly bent, the repair should suffice, and an hour later I am back at the hotel baggage room reassembling my bike and that it will be serviceable for distance ahead. At this point I can only hope that the planets and stars are properly aligned with my spokes and that the wheel will turn in its destined path, for the alternatives are residing on another part of our planet, which perhaps explains why I have yet to see another multi-speed bike in India.
The plan is to retrieve the bikes and bags left at the luxury hotel early Friday morning, camp out somewhere to assemble the bikes and our belong and to take an overnight train to Udaipur later that afternoon. Hopefully by then the seasonal weather will have returned and the only thing to contend with will be what to do with all of our belongings and riding the eight or so kilometers from the hotel to the train station and deal with the usual masses of humanity, check the bikes etc. when we are told can take several hours. Did I mention that the concept of time is also different here?
Unlike all of our other trips, without the benefit of a bent rear wheel, we would assemble the bikes at the airport and ride to the city of our destination. Having had the benefit of traveling with two large suitcases to accommodate not only gifts, people in India love Canadian maple syrup and various papers we were carrying, we also had to have appropriate clothes for our stay, and in the process, we have followed Muphy's Law packed more that we would have otherwise.
With a heavy hearth but a hopefully lighter bike, I will leave behind my suit and dress-shirts, ties, shoes etc. but in the leaving I am feeling an anticipated sense of loss. Yes, some local person who has much less than I will be delighted by the hand-me-downs, but perhaps deep in the psyche there is a realization that perhaps I am not quite Clark Kent to be transformed into Superman but only an actor who was dressed as businessman soon to become one portraying a cyclist, in strange colours carrying his own gear that no self-respecting local person, certainly not one of our means would do in a country where the middle-class is used to having up to five servants, to clean, wash, drive, organize etc. but that and the issue of poverty, which is entirely too evident amongst the obvious wealth here, will require more time and reflection.