A few months into the lockdown, three friends started their bicycle journey from Mumbai armed with a laptop, hotspot & one bag. They passed Pune, Satara, Kolhapur, Belgaum, Hubli, Davanagere, Bengaluru, Salem, Madhuri and Tirunelveli before stopping in Kanyakumari.
Bakcen George, Allwyn Joseph and Ratish Bhalerao are cycling through Tamil Nadu’s Muppandal region when they decide to halt at a random spot.
Ignoring the scenic view, Bakcen George hurriedly opens his laptop, combs his hair and sets up his work station. Despite the strong howling winds, he gives his brief and submits the reports for the day.
Only after the call does the 31-year-old notice something different about the breezy village. He sees a barrage of windmills, stationed at almost every kilometre. A quick Google search tells him they had entered Asia’s largest windmills cluster – with more than 3000 windmills.
This incident from December last year pretty much summarises the expedition of those three friends, who fondly labelled their trip as ‘work from the cycle’, a pleasant spin to the culture of ‘Work From Home’ (WFH).
The Mumbai-based trio left their homes on November 21 and peddled their way to Kanyakumari in 24 days. They covered a distance of 1687 kilometre without missing even a single day of work. They cycled an average of 80 kilometres every day, starting at 4 am. By 11 they would stop and set up their makeshift workspace wherever they were – mountain, highways or farms.
But why would anyone cycle for 24 days during a global pandemic without applying for any leaves?
“We were bored and frustrated with working from home in the pandemic,” Bakcen tells The Better India, “After a few months, we had adjusted to this norm so we were confident we could work from anywhere without compromising our jobs. Our offices were kind enough to trust us, and we respected it throughout our expedition.”
Bakcen and Allwyn work in a digital media firm and a logistics company respectively, and Ratish is a freelancer. They share the challenges, accidental discoveries, and handling of their backpacks and gadgets on their excruciating yet beautiful journey.
‘All You Need Is A Basic Cycle & Mindset’
Ambarnath-based Bakcen has been on a couple of cycle expeditions before this. Being an avid cyclist, he always wanted to peddle his way to India’s southernmost point. He saw the pandemic-induced WFH as an opportunity to tick one his ‘Bucket List’ points. Just two days before his trip, he asked Ratish and Allwyn if they wanted to tag along.
“Ratish and I neither had a cycle nor an experience of a cycle expedition. The only motivation was breaking away from our dull routine, exploring new places and having a good time. This was also an opportunity to figure out if balancing work on a trip is possible,” says Allwyn. With no prior training, the duo trusted Bakcen, purchased new cycles and left from Kalyan.
In a small backpack, each carried 4-5 pairs of clothing, a repair kit, and gadgets like their laptop and chargers.
Balancing the Act
Keeping in mind office timings, the plan was to cycle daily between 4-11 am, set up a makeshift workplace and check into the nearest hotel in the evening. Initially, they were to take the coastal route, but Ratish’s cycle broke down by the time they reached Nerul, so they had to reroute, purchase a new cycle and take National Highway 44.
The first couple of days were not easy. They made errors in distance judgments and even slowed down due to body pain. But neither of them complained nor contemplated aborting the mission.
From dhabas to small eateries, tapris to restaurants, and even open farm fields – the trio worked in varying places. Due to the lockdown, they found most places empty, and the owners were welcoming enough. They would charge their devices, make video calls and even take power naps in the afternoon. Post 5 pm, they would hop onto their cycles and head for their hotels.
“We worked in harmony with each other’s work schedules. If someone had more work, we would spend extra time sitting at a dhaba. Or stop midway for urgent calls or to reply to emails. Our priority was work,” says Bakcen
Thrills and Spills
When asked if the hours of cycling made them tired, Bakcen jumps in and says, “On the contrary, it made us energetic. Every day we looked forward to exploring a new place, and that motivated us to work harder and quicker.”
The biggest challenge was finding budget-friendly and decent clean hotels daily. Changing hotels was worth the thrill of meeting locals and tasting varied cuisines.
“The first ray of sun at the break of dawn, pleasant weather and scenic views were very rewarding. We crossed cities and towns like Pune, Satara, Kolhapur, Belgaum, Hubli, Davanagere, Bengaluru, Salem, Madhuri and Tirunelveli. The food and culture of each of these places further enriched our experience,” says Ratish.
Their experiences included eating dosas made on coal for the first time, a small eatery in Hubli that served the most delicious biryani and a few words from local dialects. Of course, the highlight of the trip was discovering the windmill town.
Upon reaching Kanyakumari, their final destination, they completed the day’s work and then went for local sightseeing. They returned home via train. The entire trip was completed at Rs 25,000 per head, making it budget-friendly.
Bakcen says long-distance cycling is more of a mental game than physical, so anyone irrespective of their exercise regime can go on the expedition.
“Your body will ache and break you; challenges will come your way, but a strong mind and right attitude will help in dealing with them. Go out and start cycling, without waiting for the right time, a perfect cycle, friends, accessories etc. All you need is a basic cycle and the right mindset to complete this kind of trip,” he says.
(Edited by Vinayak Hegde)