It’s been quite a journey. After having enough of falling off cycles, I hopped on to motorbikes (more on that here – https://musingsinlife.com/2017/11/29/a-bikers-musings/). The thought was it should be easier right, no effort of pedalling. But now, two motorbikes, many a trainings from riding gurus and after clocking over 1,00,000kms, I’ve come to realise that I have a lot more to learn. But more on that later.
For now, after learning what not to do from my experiences with my better ‘three-forth’ AKA my small-decision-maker, have listed down top things to do/not do when you go touring, especially if you are going solo.
- KEEP YOUR FAMILY AND FRIENDS INFORMED: Learnt it the real hard way. Once, during one of my initial jaunts, after a long day’s ride, reached Sarchu, a place between Leh and Manali. There’s just no mobile network coverage out there. Yes, I should have called my small-decision maker before starting, maybe I was lazy, maybe I didn’t want to disturb her early in the morning. Anyway, that’s now history, couldn’t update her, and couldn’t reach her till the end of next day when I reached Manali. What happened next is, err, let’s leave it as being understood?
The lesson learnt is that you should call your family and friends and keep them informed daily. Give them a call before you start the ride for the day and tell them where you’re headed. Call them (or text) again to let them know you’re ok after you stop at the end of the day. If you know that over the next few days, you are going to be somewhere remote and telephone/internet connectivity might be a problem, let them know. It is also a good idea to let a friend know as well – preferably one of your regular riding buddies. A simple text updating your ride status 2-3 times a day should do. In case of an untoward incident or a mishap, a family is bound to get panicky. But a rider friend is likely to keep a cool head and will use his instincts to help you get out of the mess, and keep your family posted.
- INSPECT YOUR BIKE EVERY MORNING: I’m infamous for seeming to love my bike too much. Be it lubing the chain, checking the tyres or going through T-CLOCS checklist (https://www.msf-usa.org/downloads/t-clocs_inspection_checklist.pdf). But I strongly believe that a happy bike ensures a happy ride. Nothing can be worse than something going wrong in the middle of a ride, especially something that could have been taken care of before starting, that too with some support around. In the middle of the road you have no tools, no support, no spare parts. Biggest telltale sign of an unhappy bike is oil stains on the ground where you parked. Also, when you start, instead of gunning right away, go easy for a few km, letting both your body and bike to warm up while paying attention to anything unusual in the bike’s performance.
- PACK LIGHT: This is something everyone says, and no one follows, that is until they
experience it themselves. The first time I went on a long one, I thought I had to be well prepared, planned for contingencies and back-up for contingencies. But the way things panned out, I didn’t need any of what I thought I needed, let alone the contingency or its back up. Worse still, the ones that I actually needed were buried under the contingencies and couldn’t be easily accessed. Lesson learnt – most of the day you will be riding, and your gear is good enough to last you through the day. The only additional clothes you will need is a pair for use while retiring for the day, and a couple of undergarments. Have multiple smaller bags inside one large one while packing, one for tools, one for clothes, one for eats, one for accessories for you camera, one for extra gear like raincoats/thermals et al. This helps you get to what you are looking for easily. Travelling light makes it so much easier to pack and unpack. The best way I’ve realised over the years is to keep all the things that I want to pack and then fight with myself to categorise them as a need or a want. I then ditch all the wants and half of the needs and I’m good to go.
- HAVE A PLAN, BUT BE WILLING TO DEVIATE: This is akin to “trust in god, but lock
your bike”. Having a plan is critical, but flexibility to change it is paramount. Plan helps you with point 1 above. While in unfamiliar territory, knowing where the next fuel spot is or good place to halt is critical. Also, to know what distance you can cover in a difficult terrain, a simple rule of thumb is to plan for 20-25kmph or approximately 25-30% of the distance you cover in good roads. The same 200km you cover in under 3hours in the plains can take well over 10 hours in the hill, maybe more in case of landslides or roadblocks. Tiredness will set in easily. And trust me, after riding a long patch of pathetically bumpy roads, more so in the rain and cold, when you get off your saddle, every part of you will be totally numb. Having a day or two as contingency or a zero day would be a life saver. If your body and/or bike is tired, call it off for the day. Relax and start afresh the next day.
- EAT AND DRINK RIGHT: If you are like me, who enjoys exploring new cuisines, new menu, then this is not for you. But for some, eating alone while travelling can be boring affair. To some, breaking the momentum by pulling over for lunch or snack seems to be a drag. But skipping meals is not a great idea. Just like you do at home, setting regular times to eat is a good idea. Be flexible, if you find a good spot to eat, ±30 minutes from the planned time, go for it. For one thing, you may not find the next good spot very soon. It would be a good idea to avoid anything heavy or anything that feels you drowsy. Fresh fruits or salads, energy bars and chocolates can act as that meal between meals. And most importantly, drink lots of water throughout your ride. You can get dehydrated very soon, without even realising it.
- WHEN TO START IS THE KEY MANTRA: I usually start late in the night or wee hours in the morning when near metros. The main reasons include, beating the heat and traffic. Usually there is an embargo for heavy vehicles in the day and they usually start at 9:00PM, best to avoid that time, especially near the outskirts of any city. It can be particularly unnerving to see a heavy vehicle going at 40kmph overtaking another going at 39kmph, blocking the entire road. In the hills however, I start early, as soon as there is a hint of sunlight and finish early. Many reasons to this, the flow of nallahs (water from glaciers flowing on the road) is much lesser thanks to it freezing over the night, you are better prepared for unexpected events like a flat, a roadblock, a landslide or simply bad weather. Best part is that the photos that you capture at sunrise are simply priceless. Also, nothing can be worse than trying to look for a place to sack out after sundown, given the fact that life almost comes to a standstill in the hills after dark. And when all goes well, you end up having time to spare for a little walk around or take in the sights.
- CONTROL YOUR TEMPER: There will always be jokers on the roads, people in cages
overtaking in blind curves, yet others getting irked at a puny two-wheeler overtaking them, or some moron busy on phone and not spotting you. It is very easy to get irked, get into an altercation or at the very least show them the finger. Have been there many a times. Well, don’t. It’s just not worth it. He is not worth it. For one think, as sure as hell, within a few minutes, you too will mess up, karma of sorts, and you will be at the receiving end. No, I’m not superstitious, but with the incident on top of your head and/or you looking over your shoulder while riding will for sure get you into a spot, sooner than later. Instead, just ignore the joker and go ahead with what you are there for, enjoy the vistas and the ride, let the morons be. Worst case, take break, click a picture, a smoke or what ever that calms your nerves before you move on.
- ID AND IN CASE OF EMERGENCY (ICE) DETAILS: Always keep an ID with you and a list of ICE numbers. Your driving license should serve you well for the ID purpose. Keep another form of ID if you can as a precautionary measure. Have a list of In Case of Emergency details with you. Mention your address, phone numbers, blood group, contact numbers of at least 3 individuals who should be contacted in case of an emergency. Keep this on you all the time. Another important but oft ignored fact is that we don’t remember phone numbers anymore. The mobile phones have killed that capability of ours. When your phone runs out of battery or worse, losing or killing it (by accidentally dropping it into water for instance), you are completely done for. Have a small piece of paper in your wallet with details of your important contacts. same goes with spare keys to your bike, for sure dent keep them locked inside your panniers, you’ll need your keys to access the keys.
- GET FRIENDLY WITH THE LOCALS: I just can’t emphasise this enough, the
number of times the locals have helped me, be it about road conditions, or a local delicacy or information on a place that’s not mapped, or a great place to stay, or relatively inane thing like how old the road is, more scenic detours that are available, well I could go on and on. It is a lot easier when you are solo, people tend to be intimidated interacting with a group. People themselves will approach you to talk to you when you are solo. Get friendly, click a few pictures with them and share the same with them.
Do let me know your views in the comments below.
About the author:
A biker | A blogger | An adventure junky | Animal lover
Tries to fit all of the above whilst working as a brand marketing professional. His blog is a product of contemplations, reflections and an unquenchable thirst for self-deprecating humour. It is the world as seen through the eyeballs of a salt-and-pepper *sixteen year-old* fighting off #MidLifeCrisis. No doubt perspectives will be different when seen by others and those are equally welcome in the comments section.
- This is written with a sole intention of laughing at and with the author, no offence meant to anyone else.
- No bikes or animals or bystanders were harmed while writing this.