“I feel alive when I am riding my bike. There is absolutely nothing that comes close to that feeling,” begins 56-year-old Mini Augustine.
From riding a Luna scooter to moving on to riding a 500-cc Bullet, Mini’s journey has been rather interesting. She recently completed a 2,400 km ride from Delhi to Leh in 18 days.
Speaking to The Better India, she says. “Born in Kerala and brought up in Coimbatore, I grew up in a rather conservative environment. Even then when I would ride my cycle around, which was also looked upon with scepticism.
Being around my brother and neighbours, who were also boys, shaped some of my early choices.”
Visiting Kerala was always fun for Mini, who says that because not too many knew her there, she never bothered about what they thought of her. “I was constantly looking for cycles to ride. I would be bored with people around me and was happiest when I was riding. I would often be booed as well, but I never bothered.”
“In fact,” she says, “Defying the conventional stereotypes became my thing.”
‘Pull me Down and I’ll Climb Right Back’
Finding ways of proving others wrong became something that Mini enjoyed. “Every time I would hear someone say, ‘You are a girl, you cannot do it’, I would ensure I worked doubly hard just to prove them wrong,” she says. By the time Mini was 14 years old she was riding a 50-cc moped, which in those days did not require a license to ride.
“I never thought that I would graduate to a bigger bike, I was happy with the small milestones I was creating for myself,” she says. In 1994, Mini moved to Chennai where she worked with Canara Bank. It was here that her husband [Biju Paul] bought a 350-cc bike and asked Mini if she’d like to ride it. “I remember telling him it was too heavy and I wouldn’t be able to,” she says.
But she recalls his reply and laughs as she says, “He said, ‘I am asking you to ride it, not carry it around. How does its weight matter to you?’ That was perhaps all the motivation I needed. I started with that bike and it was like a dream.” After having ridden the 350-cc bike, Mini says that even looking at other smaller bikes or scooters was impossible.
Bhutan, Leh and Rajasthan
With every journey that Mini undertook she would invariably be the oldest in the group. “Until I completed the ride, those in the group would always wonder if I could do it. I could see the sigh of relief only after the end of the journey. Until then most fellow riders were worried,” she says.
Moving to Kolkata did wonders for her riding and she says, “It opened up so many avenues and I found Bengal Thumpers, a riding group I joined. With them, I started going on small overnight rides. Each of those rides boosted my confidence and pushed me to explore further,”
While most rides were doable, Mini speaks about her trip to Leh in 2017 and recalls how emotional and physically draining it was. Just knowing how demanding it would be, Mini spent close to one year prepping for it.
“I followed a strict regime in that one year. It helped me immensely.”
The 2,400 km ride, which she completed in 18 days riding from Delhi to Leh, changed Mini’s life. “While I was warned about the altitude sickness, even riding on that terrain was very tough. For large stretches, there was no road. We had to deal with landslides between Keylong and Sarchu and had to wait for the road to be cleared before we could proceed.”
Reaching Khardung La pass, which is 5,359m above sea level, and being the oldest woman to get there was a huge achievement for Mini. She says, “I attribute a lot of credit to my husband who, sitting miles away, kept motivating me to go on. Leh was tough on me – I faced altitude sickness and had no emotional anchor in the group as well. I would SMS my husband and his replies were always filled with positivity and motivation. He somehow knew just the right thing to say to me.”
Biju ensured that every morning before Mini left for the day, she read something that was calming and motivating.
“With my mind being in a clear space, everything else just followed,” she says.
At 56, Mini still does not consider herself to be ‘old’ to ride. “Age is just a number and the day I am unable to ride is when I will age,” she says. A role model for her children Kevin and Ann Elizabeth, she says that her immediate family has always been encouraging of her travels.
While Mini is now enjoying some downtime at home, she is looking forward to visiting the North-eastern states along with her husband soon.
(Edited by Yoshita Rao)