This bike traveller is feeling like a Tribe of One
A little while ago I decided to head out on a Sunday bike exploration. I dressed in a a favourite ensemble that is technically functional but culturally inobtrusive: knee-length baggy polyester shorts, short-sleeved white top, black bike socks, thick-soled Airwalks, and a sun hat. I bought the handmade hat on a solo three-month bike trip in Thailand because it has a wide brim for sun and rain, a chin strap for gusts and downhills, and easily scrunches in a pannier.
I was coasting down a long slope here in Goa along the Porvorim-Calangute road, taking it easy (the linkage brakes system combined with my wheels’ steel rims don’t work so well), when I spotted a person on a cycle who didn’t look like the others.
First it was a she, and you never see women on a bicycle outside the tourist areas. Second, she was actually cycling up the hill when us one-speeders have to walk up it. And third, she wore a Hydrapack and her bike wore panniers. A bike traveller! And a solo female cyclist at that! I checked behind me for traffic and coasted over to her side of the road to meet her.
“Hello!” I called out as she pedalled patiently towards me. “How’s your trip going?!”
“Er, fine,” she huffed and continued pedalling. Silly me – of course she’s not going to stop to chat in the middle of a climb. I should know better.
Tea, stories, adventures!
I stepped on my pedal and stormed up the hill after her. I passed her then pulled over at a flat driveway near the top. I waited and smiled as she drew nearer. I know that when I’m bike touring I’m happy for a break and sip of water at the top of a hill. I hoped she would be too. I wanted to tell her I was one of her – a solo cyclist – and that I could offer her information and encouragement for her onward trip.
My imagination raced. Maybe I could invite her over to the house – we could sit on the verandah and sip tea, sharing stories of bike adventures, destinations, troubles, laughs. If she’s nice, I could even let her stay over a night and take her on a tour of the village roads I’d been exploring. We could have cold coffee and prawn curry at the Andron Restaurant in Nachinola, and fresh coconut water at the Moira turn-off!
She approached the flat area where I waited with my bike. She gave me a look… and kept pedalling. I watched her Hydrapacked back continue up the road and I suddenly felt very sad. Why didn’t she stop? Couldn’t she see, I was like her? Solo female bike travellers (in India!) are so rare, we’re a tribe, we need to stick together!
Any bike traveller will tell you it could have been any number of reasons: she was on a roll and she didn’t want to interrupt her pace; she’d just started her day; she needed to make a connection; she had a hundred kilometres to do that day; she was sick of talking about her trip; she was stressed, grumpy, tired, or menstrual; or she just didn’t like the looks of me.
A Mongoose and a mongrel
I looked at my bike – hers was a kitted up American Mongoose and mine was a dusty Indian mongrel. It didn’t tell her that I was a bike traveller, and I – with my brown skin, sneakers and floppy hat – probably didn’t cue her that we had a lot in common. We were both in a place that was foreign to us and we were both making our through it, one pedal stroke at a time. We’d both felt the smooth roll of pavement under our wheels, the shafts of morning sunlight on our shoulders, and the stares of strangers on our backs.
But where – like many bike travellers – she was going through, I was going around. Using Porvorim as a hub, I was exploring Goa in an ever-widening spiral. One day I’d get only as far as the hilltop moats of Fort Aguada; another day my circle might include Pomburpa’s springs, Aldona’s bridge, and Mapusa’s market with a stop at Anjuna beach for a swim, Rodrigues Restaurant for a meal, and Saligao village for fresh-squeezed cane juice.
Was I seeing less of India than her? Am I being less of a traveller? Have I gone so native that I’ve become unrecognizable to my own tribe?
A few days ago a local freelance writer dropped by the house to interview me on getting around Goa on a bicycle. How much of Goa have you seen, he asked doubtfully. Not much yet, I said: just past Olaulim and through Parra and up the hill to Ribander. Wow, he said of the twenty-kilometre loop through uncharted villages, you’ve seen a lot.
That was nice to hear, and I’m glad I’m being a good traveller. But in my floppy hat, one-speed bike and marked-up maps I’m feeling like a tribe of one right now. I’d like to share my hidden villages with someone, but I guess until then I’ll just keep riding and watching the road for hill-climbing bikes.