Riding on the national highways and through deserted tracks of Haryana, Punjab and Rajasthan, Pratibha Dhakane, a Pimpri resident, is trying to spread the message - ‘Respect the Cyclist’.
Dhakane, who took up the daunting task of riding solo from Jammu to Kanyakumari, with no back-up support, in the last week of February, is now focusing on the second leg of her rally. “On February 24, I left for Jammu by train. On reaching Jammu, I was felicitated by Jammu Cyclists Club, who rode along for 22 km with me, to see me off on my journey. So far, it has been an incredible tour. I have been meeting fellow cyclists, chatting with motorists and townfolk. Mostly, I have fetched ‘surprise’ reactions from bystanders,” says Dhakane, who was in Pune for a day on Friday.
This 33-year-old microwave oven chef has been travelling across the state to talk about the advantages of microwave cooking which have helped her prepare for her solo cycling expeditions. “I toured the state on my own, going to far-off places. I have also done a mountaineering course, so I am ready for a challenge,” she adds.
And challenge it was, for sure. Finances were hard to come by, Dhakane’s sponsors backed out last minute, and she didn’t have enough time to prepare for the cycle rally because she had fractured her hand.
“I covered the Ashtavinayak route (the famous eight Ganesha temples in and around Pune) on my cycle last year. But I couldn’t practise further because I fractured my hand. Just a week before this cycle rally, I went on a 52 km ride,” adds Dhakane.
Despite her lack of preparation, Dhakane covered approximately 150 km each day during her ride from Jammu to Pune. “I used to set off at 6 am and call it a day around 7.30 in the evening. I had to take a three-hour break or sometimes more in the afternoon when it was impossible to cycle in the searing heat. If there was a dhaba around, I would rest on the charpoy, or rest under a tree or whatever shelter I came across. I had a tough time along the Jaipur stretch, where the temperatures soared,” she explains.
Besides the heat, her companions were the local people, with whom she engaged in conversations on the importance of cycling and taking up sports as a career. “They were very warm and welcoming, and offered me food, water, even clicked photographs with me. The local cycling groups too extended a helping hand. I was also invited to speak at colleges where I encouraged students, especially girls, to take up sports. I also talked about my experiences on the road, where cyclists are often intimidated, knowingly and unknowingly, by motorists and heavy vehicles. In India, we need to educate people that cyclists too have a right on the road,” adds Dhakane.
So far the cyclist has clocked 1,700 km in her Jammu-Pune ride, and the remaining 1,955 km pose a challenge before her. One that Dhakane would surely accomplish.