This summer, I got the opportunity to go for an expedition that changed my life-‘The Great American Bicycle Ride,’ writes Adhip Tanwar.

GABR is a journey down the Pacific Coast, which begins in Seattle, Washington (perhaps the first city to even put its cops on bicycles), and ends in San Francisco, California, at the famous Golden Gate Bridge. This camp is organized by one of the world’s best ‘Experiential Learning’ companies called INME, and is led by a group of highly accomplished instructors.

On the west coast of America, there are a lot of campsites available for the people who are travelling. Like hotels offer rooms, these campsites offer pieces of land with a fireplace and a few common washrooms. These campsites are available throughout the west coast and are located on beaches or in the dense forests, providing some of the most breathtaking vistas. We had a great experience of staying in these campsites and our daily ride was from one campsite to another. 

For the first two days in Seattle (before the ride), and the last two days in San Francisco (after the ride), we stayed in youth hostels. These hostels are more or less like hotels, the difference being that they offer a common kitchen and entertainment area where one can cook a meal and enjoy. It was a unique and first time experience for us.

A safety truck, driven by one of our instructors (on rotation), always stayed with us on the road. It carried all our food supplies, tents, medical kits and utensils. However, all personal belongings were supposed to be carried by the children on their bikes.

It has indeed been an enriching and life changing experience for me. There has been tremendous experiential learning’s for me, and I will share some of these here:

  • The first few days of our ride were not very good. We woke up late, we were careless with our bikes, we rode slowly and we did not take proper care of our stuff. This resulted in us reaching late at the campsite and sometimes not even reaching a campsite. Consequently, our confidence went down initially. However, as we got conditioned to all these activities, things began to get better. We realized that the first attempt is never the best but with time, everything gets better.
  • Our group made a lot of mistakes on camp. In fact, we even broke the trust that the instructors had on us. However, the instructors did not scold us every time, nor did they enforce anything upon us. Instead, they made us realize what we did and then allowed us to choose what we wanted and face its consequences. This made us realize that scolding and enforcement might end up hurting an individual. However, having patience and providing positive feedback has a lasting positive effect.
  • Leggett hill is a popular challenge for cyclists from around the world. It has a six mile continuous uphill with 7% gradient (in simple words-long and steep). This hill was a very important part of our ride as well. As I had a considerably higher pace than the others in my group, I reached atop the Leggett hill, around fifteen minutes before my fellow mates. However, instead of feeling happy, I actually felt lonely as there was no one with me. On the other hand, the celebration we had when the entire group reached is something that still gives me joy. It made me introspect and realize that individual achievement means nothing unless there is someone to share that joy with you. Therefore, even if it hurts you to go slow, it is worth the effort to carry everyone along.
  • There were a few major challenges on our ride including the Leggett hill, 11% gradient hill (VERY steep), the Big Climb hill, the 7 Devils hill and many more. All these are challenging for professional cyclists as well. However, after the amount of mental and physical preparation that the instructors conditioned us with, all these challenges seemed much easier.
  • While cycling, when you go downhill, you gain a lot of speed and momentum that helps you reach the top of the upcoming uphill. Similarly, in life, when you are going through a down moment, it provides you the opportunity to learn from your mistakes and that learning is what brings you to your high moment.
  • One of my group mates was going too fast on a downhill one day. After a certain point, she could not stop her bike and fell so badly that she could not ride for the rest of the trip. This experience made us realize that one should always proceed with a moderate pace because true achievement is reaching your destination and not reaching it fast.
  • In the outdoors, your actions and consequences come back to back. If you don’t wake up early then you leave late, if you leave late then you reach late, if you reach late then you are sleep deprived and lazy the next day and then eventually you fail on the third day and your journey is over. We learnt that it is important to be aware of your actions and be wise in choosing them because your actions decide the consequences to be faced in the future.
  • 20 people for a certain work will be more efficient and fast than a single individua

In this way, those 1100 kilometers from Seattle to San Francisco, with a bunch of strangers who are now my best friends and mentors, turned out to be a journey through life for me. I feel that I rode my bike from an old me to a new me. The things that I learnt and discovered ‘in me’ will surely stay with me forever. This experience made me realize the true meaning of the clichéd line-“THE JOURNEY IS THE DESTINATION”.

Adhip Tanwar

Student Reporter