There's a streak of masochism in cycle tourists. At least, that's the outside view. I sometimes feel as though I'm constantly fielding questions from curious, if doubting, passers-by. Why are you doing that, why don't you take a flight, or a bus, or take a car? Why do you go to Scotland in winter, or ride through Iran? I was in cold, soğuk, eastern Turkey at the start of last winter, and when I stayed with Ercan in Sivas he and his friends tried to stop me from going east across the icy passes and up to the Erzurum plateau, and Ercan firmly believed that no more cyclists would be passing his way that winter. But while I was there he was contacted by a couple of British cyclists who were also heading east, and still they came. It was cold, but the mountains were beautiful, and possibly the hardest part was fending off kind-hearted truckers who wanted to give me a lift into Iran.
Still, there is some truth in the stereotype. I left Delhi about a week ago, and it has been some of the most unpleasant cycling I've ever experienced, for three reasons. First, I've been suffering from an underbubble of mild illness. Second, it's damn hot, and with me being a late riser, I don't often take advantage of the cool early mornings - the one time I had an early start was when a cockroach landing on my pillow woke me at 4.45, so I have to do most of my cycling in the hottest part of the day. Third, the plains are flat, and tedious. With all due respect to Panipat and Saharanpur and Kashipur, it's been a tour of shit towns. Panipat's defining feature was the concrete flyover of the Grand Trunk Road grumbling through the centre of town, and the only thing I remember about Saharanpur is that it had a very busy interchange near the railway station. Oh, and the roads around it were in an awful state. Loose hardcore and rocks embedded into concrete do not a happy cycling surface make. And the heat just saps my strength. I thought I was going to get a good ducking when I saw storm clouds on the horizon as I was riding towards Kashipur, and I would have been glad of a bit of rain to cool me off, but I missed the rain, and I only caught the winds at the edge of the storm system, which whipped the dust off the fields and sand-blasted my face and arms.
I'm sick of flat riding. I'm sick of pedalling all the time. I'm sick of seeing nothing on the horizon. Even my plan to get into the mountains for my route to Ramnagar was kiboshed by road closures, so after a day and a half in the Himalayan foothills around Dehra Dun and Rishikesh, enjoying the views and the cool air, I was sucked back into the clammy, smoggy, congested plains.
I should have just ridden straight to Ramnagar from Delhi, really. I never once considered taking a bus or a train, however, and not only because I get seriously travel sick on buses (especially the way they're driven here) and because I couldn't face once again the trauma of trying to navigate the administration requirements involved in getting a bike on a train in India. I set out to cycle, so cycle I shall. It isn't one of those times when I've fought my way through hardships to get to my destination and arrived with the glow of achievement, of a challenge overcome. It's just been bloody hard.
But, when I look back at this from happier days in cooler climes, these will be the times I've paid the price for the happy cycling. As I say, there is some truth in the stereotype. We push ourselves through the crap times, knowing or hoping that there are better roads and places over the next horizon, and that every day of shit roads and shit towns brings you closer to that.
Still. I need some inspiration, and I'll be immensely relieved when I leave behind the humidity, and the heat, and the plains.