There's a theory called the six degrees of separation. If you took all your friends and acquaintances, and then all their friends and acquaintances, and then all their friends and acquaintances, and so on six times, you would know everyone in the whole world. That's how tiny and connected our world is! Amazing huh? Well, my adventure cycling across India has pushed the limits of this theory. Buckle up, and read about the miracle than happened in North India.
Throughout my trip I have been giving talks to schools, businesses, sports clubs... anyone that will listen to me jabber on really. In Mumbai I spoke to two cycling clubs and a running club.
“This is amazing! We love what you're doing.” three guys came to tell me afterwards. “We'd love to help you.”
They formed a Whatsapp chat group, and began adding family, friends and distant acquaintances who happened to live en route. “My brother lives there. You can stay with him.” said one, very matter-of-fact. “And I have friends 100 kilometres further” another chimed in, volunteering their friends apartment. Their dream was to connect me with as many people as possible further ahead who could help me out.
I had been sceptical, but by the time it came to leave Mumbai, incredibly, I had strangers anticipating my arrival, looking forward to hosting me for the first 700 kilometres (7 nights). I cycled away amidst a flurry of selfies. 20 people had turned out at 6am to cycle the first 10 kilometres with me, the newspapers were there and someone called Vish who I hadn't even met had volunteered to drive all my bags to that evening's location, a 260 kilometres round trip. I felt at the centre of a movement; all these people had been inspired by meeting me and wanted to help me out. Little did I know this was just the beginning...
The first night I stayed with the Marathe family, relatives of the wife of Jayant, a kindly man I had met in Mumbai. I was welcomed with generous portions of food and treated like family. I slept well, had a large breakfast and set off with a packed lunch, and people awaiting me further down the road.
The second night, I partied with Akshay and his wife, friends of Nikhil.
Third night I stayed with Jay and Kethki, family of Vaishal.
The list goes on.
These days were pure, care-free joy. I was mocked by my bike touring friends (they were just jealous!) who couldn't believe how easy and vanilla my trip had become... and I wasn't even going to argue with them, they were correct! I had a shower every day, instant noodles were a thing of the past, and my clothes always smelt fresh. Best of all, I cycled knowing each evening I had new people to meet and hang out with.
The Whatsapp group continued to grow. From its humble beginnings of a handful of guys, it had grown beyond what any of us could have envisaged; Offers poured in from as far away as Malaysia and Australia. Accomodation was arranged every night for the remaining three weeks in India. Where no tenuous link could be found, my friends in Mumbai contacted cycling clubs, somehow persuading these complete strangers to host me. Where no cycling clubs could be found, they had amazingly convinced hotels (and I'm talking fancy hotels... sometimes royal palaces) to offer me a complimentary stay. I was in India ten weeks. Only three nights I had to camp and once I had to pay for a hotel.
One night I was having dinner with a family who had offered to host me, but I already had an arrangement elsewhere. As I left they handed me an envelope, wishing me a safe journey. Later, alone, I opened it to discover 5,000 rupees ($75 /£60) inside. I fell down and began to cry, paralysed and overwhelmed by this remarkable display of generosity from people I had scarcely known a few hours. I couldn't hold back the tears. Nor could I understand why I was actually crying.
Only now do I realise it was love. Teardrops of love.
What I experienced in India was pure altruism. All these people went above and beyond to help me, expecting nothing in return. Their acts were simply the most genuine and authentic display of support for my undertaking. They believed what I was doing was important, and they wanted to play their role in that.
People often look to me as a hero, telling me how amazing my cycling adventure is. But I can unabashedly say that it is these people who are the real heroes.
To everyone I met..,
Thank You. A million times.