In a frivolous way (but noteworthy) I was reminded of the difference between adequate needs and lifestyle needs from the condition of my cycle. It is an eight-speed road bike with two front gears and eight at the rear. After a crash a couple of weeks back, and with Shimano’s parts supply being disrupted, there was no hope of replacing the broken gear shifter and brake lever. It is now a single speed bike, with the rear gear manually set (and fixed) to sixth. This is the gear for all gradients and all terrains now. Only on a steep climb, there is an option of shifting down the front gear one step down to a lower cog. It is practically a single speed bike. Our morning rides are about 30 km in distance with at least 100 m elevation gain. I now do this on a fixed gear. This has helped in realizing that there does exist an option of doing things with less, of adapting to changed conditions and even building on one’s abilities. It is not always apparent. When it is, we may not always choose it. Another version of me would have sat in, waiting for the parts and not used the bike. It is easy to do so. I would have surely done that.
It was the Manali – Leh ride in 2017 that brought a change in attitude. Tipping over the summit of Rohtang Pass, on an unpaved, slushy and rocky road, the rain was incessant with gusts of wind worsening the wind chill factor. As I rolled down to the valley on the other side, negotiating an oncoming truck, the MTB I was riding got stuck on the edge towards the mountain side and a rock rolling down hit the front derailleur, immobilizing the bike completely. It took a lot of effort to squat down in the rain and mud there, pull out a multitool set and screw back the derailleur clamp back in place, while checking its alignment with the drivetrain. There were 400 kilometers ahead to do with a fixed front gear and four high passes to cycle over. With the money I had and the desperate need to complete that ride, moving ahead to Leh felt important and appeared to be the only option. I rode the remaining route with a severely limited gear set. Of course, the rear set was fine and this was also an eight-speed bike, but to have the front gears fixed is to immediately multiply the endurance effort that is required on a route with 5000 m high passes. Cycling the Manali-Leh route that year changed me.
As I rode this morning, thoughts were back to the options that we see and the options we have when life’s events limit us. Not that this clarity stays with a person all through, once apparent. It is a constant struggle to remember and keep going.
Later in the day, I read Shashi Deshpande’s hopeful piece on the pandemic, mortality, new words and changes that it continues to bring to our lives. She is reminded of a one of her stories as she begins thinking of ageing –
There is however one story of mine of which I can trace, if not very clearly, a trail that could, perhaps, lead to its source. A story written at a very bleak time in my life. When grief had made me numb and writing had deserted me. A time when my age seemed a burden impossible for me to bear. I had thought, if and when I thought of it at all, that I would live up to seventy. Seventy-five, perhaps. But there I was, eighty and still living.
It is reassuring to read her. It is also comforting to see this perspective from a person who has seen more difficult decades than the ones I have lived as of now.
Meanwhile, we continue to cycle to the ridge beyond the farm every morning and scout for view points to sit and enjoy the flask of coffee we bring along. Early hours in the region have been fascinating. It feels fortunate to be able to get here and flow through these landscapes even as a lot many friends and family members struggle with restrictions and months of locked down living.