Friday, February 08, 2008


February 8, 2007 - from Kosi to New Delhi

FINAL DAY IN THE SADDLE. This day last year was our final day of a 2,000-mile bicycle ride from the southern tip of India to New Delhi. It would prove to be both a frightening and fulfilling day. But it’s not likely any difficulty could have dimmed our spirits or deterred us from making the last day of our cycling journey a bright one.

DANGEROUS FOG. We rode north out of Kosi in a serious fog. Visibility was extremely low. Objects were not visible until about 30 feet in front of you. It was eerie and dangerous. Vehicles were driving too fast to see us and we were forced off the road several times. We thought the fog would lift soon, but it persisted most of the way to Delhi. The moisture soaked our clothing and the spray covered our bikes.

INTO DELHI. The sun finally burned the fog away by the time we reached the outskirts of Delhi after noon. We plowed our bikes through the capitol's thick traffic. Our experience of pedaling through Bangalore, Hyderabad and Nagpur served us well. We were tired from the day’s harrowing 75-mile / 120-kilometer ride, but we were psyched as we rode into the heart of Delhi. We’d studied the map of the city enough to know where we wanted to go.

CELEBRATING AT INDIA GATE. We headed straight for the India Gate in old Delhi as our “finish line.” The India Gate is a massive arch, memorializing all India’s war dead. It stands at one end of a grand boulevard on the scale of the National Mall in Washington, D.C. At the opposite end of Rajpath Marg are the Presidential buildings and India’s Parliament (we also visited these sites). Once we reached the India Gate, we lifted our bikes over our heads and celebrated the completion of the cycling portion of our journey. We’d ridden over 2,000 miles / 3,200 kilometers since starting in Nagercoil on December 30. We had much for which to be grateful.

Thursday, February 07, 2008


February 7, 2007 - from Agra to Kosi

TAJ MAHAL. Our little bicycle entourage arrived in Agra on February 5, 2007, and visited the Taj Mahal the next day. The world's most awesome mausoleum was simply grand. It's reflection of the hues of the sky at various times of day was beautiful. The sheer size and intricate detail of the edifice, as well as its elegant endurance over centuries, seem to make it worthy of its reputation as a man-made wonder. Indians are rightfully proud of this expression of art, ingenuity and hard labor.

FIRST RAIN. We had opportunity to use our rain gear for the first time on February 7, after a thunderstorm passed through Agra in the middle of the night. O, what a gloriously muddy mess we and our bikes were in by mid-morning of our ride out of Agra. But the rain stopped, the clouds cleared, and by midday the sun had dried the roadway.

DAY FOR FLATS. It was our day for flat tires, too. I punctured and repaired quickly. Joe hit a piece of glass that cut his tire, which took a bit more time to repair. Then, my back tire went down...again. We found the culprit: the same tiny shard of glass imbedded in the tire surface. Three flats in a day after only two punctures in over 1,900 miles…interesting. Cross-country cycling requires readiness to quickly repair flat tires and access extra tires and supplies.

NEXT TO LAST DAY OF RIDING. We pedaled 108 kilometers / 66 miles to a little town on National Highway 2 called Kosi on what was our next to last day of cycling in India. The roads had become familiar to us. We became quite adept at the Indian “rules of the road.” We were accustomed to the diverse activity on the roadsides. We felt like we are part of it and it is a part of us. There were hardly any more unique visuals that we hadn’t already captured on photo or video clips. Still, the thought that we will not be riding these roads—Seals and Crofts’ song “We May Never Pass this Way Again” came to mind—put us in a wistful but grateful frame of mind.

Monday, February 04, 2008


February 4, 2007 - transition day in Gwalior

GETTING READY FOR OUR LAST LEG. This day one year ago was a Sunday and a transition day into our last week and sixth team of Indian riders for the 2,000-mile bicycle ride from the southern tip of India to New Delhi. The last leg of our journey would take us to Agra, where we would spend a day touring the Taj Mahal and Red Fort, and then two days of riding on to New Delhi. We would pass through territory where the "Bandit Queen" (India's version of Robin Hood) would run raids on freight trucks. We would enjoy the company of a hearty team of riders from Mumbai (formerly Bombay). We would encounter frighteningly thick fog on the ride toward New Delhi. And we would finally celebrate in the heart of India's incredible capitol.

POWER OF COWPIES. All along our journey, we had to swerve to avoid cowpies. Cattle, sacred in Hindu religion, roam freely or are harnessed for work. They are also the source of India's milk. Cow and water buffalo manure is collected, shaped into saucer-like pies, dried in the sun, and artfully stacked for later use in cooking or heating (as in the photo). Cowpies are also used as plaster to reinforce huts and serve doubly to keep insects away. Of course, the smell of burning cowpies serves up a distinct aroma wherever it is being burned. But it IS a biofuel...and cheap. No doubt, more uses of animal waste for energy will figure significantly in the future of energy-hungry, green-sensitive economies.

Sunday, February 03, 2008


February 3, 2007 - from Jhansi to Gwalior

MEETING SEBASTIEN. Our 100-kilometer / 62-mile ride north from Jhansi to Gwalior on this day last year was smooth, but not uneventful. Riding through a small town, a young man on a bike rode up beside me. Not unusual. What was unusual was that he was on a mountain bike and that he was white. As he rode along beside me, I discovered that his name was Sabastien and he was from Lausanne, Switzerland. I invited him to ride with us and join us for lunch. We learned that he had ridden alone from Katmandu, Nepal and was touring India, eventually intending to ride to Kolkata.

GREAT SAVE. After lunch, Sabastien left us, riding on ahead. But we came across him in about an hour. His bike had broken down, apparently irrepairably. We hoisted his bike on the trailer and took him on in to Gwalior. Bob Yardy spent the next three hours taking apart and repairing his back wheel hub and gear assembly. With Bob's know-how and parts cobbled together from local shops, the bike was nearly good as new and Sebastien was able to continue his trek.

Saturday, February 02, 2008


February 2, 2007 - from Lalitpur to Jhansi

COLD START, WARM FINISH. On this day last year, we were thankful to bicycle on a smooth road for the first time in many days. And, for the only time on the 6-week, 2,000-mile journey, we were cold. When we began at 6:45 am, the temperature was 52 degrees Fahrenheit. Our fingers were numb and we were chilled. But by 9:00 am, the temperatured had climbed to 70. By noon it was over 80 degrees. Yep, an American Midwestern September day! When we arrived in Jhansi, we stayed in the guest house of the Maria Ackerman Hoyt Memorial Hospital.

JHANSI KEE RANI. We arrived in Jhansi, our day’s destination, early in the afternoon. Our hosts told us that Jhansi was the beginning point of India’s freedom movement against Great Britain in 1857. The story goes that a 22-year old woman named Lackshmi Bai, the recent widow of the area’s Maharaja (territorial prince), rallied the town to fight the British when they tried to seize control of the area after her husband’s death. Agreements between the Maharajas and the British stated that Indians would maintain control of an area as long as there was an heir. Lackshmi Bai was childless, but she and her husband had adopted a son. Upon the Maharaja’s death, the British refused to recognize the child as the next prince and moved to take control. Rallying the town to resist the British and fight for their freedom, the people occupied the local hillside fort. A traitor in their midst opened the gates and British forces flooded in. Lackshmi Bai, with her child on her back and a horse under her, leaped from the high fort wall and escaped to continue the freedom challenge. She is revered as Jhansi kee Rani…the Queen of Jhansi.

Friday, February 01, 2008


February 1, 2007 - from Sagar to Lalitpur

FROM SAGAR TO LALITPUR. We rode 116 kilometers / 70.5 miles on on very rough roads the first day of February 2007. The trek from Sagar to Lalitpur didn't have so many potholes as uneven and patched tarmac. Our new team of Indian riders got an immediate baptism in riding such a distance in a day. Yogish, a young man from Nagpur, experienced only our second tire puncture in over 2,400 km. We left the state of Madhya Pradesh and entered the state of Uttar Pradesh, inching us nearer to New Delhi.

HARRIET BENSON MEMORIAL HOSPITAL. In Lalitpur, we were privileged to be hosted in the guest house of the Harriet Benson Memorial Hospital. This was our second evening to be guests of Christian hospitals (other than Umri Christian Hospital) initiated by missionaries external to India and now led by Indian medical and operations staff. These hospitals have an important medical mission in serving the poorest of the poor with caring and quality medical care. In addition to hospital guest houses, we were invited to stay overnight in churches, a school for deaf young people, homes, and training facilities.

Thursday, January 31, 2008


January 31, 2007 - somewhere in northern Uttar Pradesh

While India seems incredibly ancient, there are signs everywhere of its emergence in the 21st century as a modern nation. While traditional ways prevail in villages and small towns, even there it is in the faces and lives of children and youth that a very different future can be seen taking shape. Children on the move to schools and into higher levels of technical training were a constant reality throughout our 2,000-mile bicycle tour from Nagercoil in Tamil Nadu to the government center in New Delhi one year ago. It remains to be seen what shape India's future will take; it is a work in progress being formed by many different and competing forces. This dynamic makes it one of the most fascinating cultures and nations to observe over a lifetime.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008


January 30, 2007 - from Lakhnadon to Sagar

JOLTED AND JARRED. Our bicycle entourage veered off National Highway 7 and continued to travel a "short cut" to Sagar on this day last year. The road turned out to be the roughest section we would ride in the 2,000-mile journey. We were jolted and jarred. The going was slow. A few times, we almost decided to put the bikes on the trailer. But, we made it. Even for the really bad parts, there were a few segments that were good as well as hilly. Bob Yardy and I had fun sailing down a few of the hills, as this photo taken by Joe James indicates.

DO I KNOW HOW TO RIDE? I had a gnarly mountain bike crash in June 2007 and landed in the hospital with 17 fractures. Joe had this photo enlarged to poster size and framed. He brought it to my hospital room and said he just wanted everyone to know that I really do know how to ride a bike! This photo now hangs in my office for all to see.

RIDING ON. I'm back on my bike and feeling no pain. In fact, the very bike in this photo--an old Cannondale touring bike I bought used a few years ago--is what I'm riding outside through the winter. My newer Cannondale (all of 1991 "new") is on a Cyclops trainer in our basement--for use when it's just too cold outside. Today it is about 10 degrees Fahrenheit in Indianapolis, so I'll be riding inside! I'm way behind in my effort to pedal 1,000-miles (half the distance we rode in India) between December 30 and February 8 of this year, but I'm still pedaling whenever I can. -- John Hay, Jr.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008


January 29, 2007 - north of Lahknadon

LOCAL FOOD. During our 2,000-mile bicycle ride up through the middle of India at this time last year, we ate local food for all meals. From south to north, we ate whatever was available at the dhabas and restaurants. Without exception, it agreed with us and we agreed with it. We had to get used to the spices and chilies, sometimes asking that the food preparer go light on the chilies. Aside from that, Indian food set well with us all.

WHAT WE ATE. At the roadside dhabas that we stopped at each day, we'd have (and please pardon some of my spelling) edly, dall, roti, dosa, samosas, toasted bread, and/or an omelet for breakfast. Sometimes, Sanju and other members of our group helped cook at the dhabas (as in the photo below). After 60 kilometers of pedaling, we stop at a dirt-floor, tin-roof, open-air restaurant for a modest lunch of rice, chapatis, vegetable, chicken or mutton curry, and fruit. Each evening we reload our depleted energy with the same, or some soup and fried rice, at a local eatery.

AQUAFINA, GATORADE & BANANAS. Our essential nutrition mix focused on carbs and protein, with simple sugars for immediate energy. On the road during the daily ride, we ate bananas and whatever fresh fruit Sanju selected from roadside markets. As we were riding in 85-100 degree Fahrenheit temps, each of us took in about 6 liters of bottled water or Gatorade during the course of a day.

MANGO TREATS. One occasional indulgence (okay, constant obsession) was to comb a village or town in an evening for mango jam or mango ice cream. It was almost as good as Indian chai. Almost.

Monday, January 28, 2008


January 28, 2007 - somewhere in Uttar Pradesh, India

NOWHERE, MOVING QUICKLY. The land steadily rose and became more forested, the villages few and far between the further we moved north of Nagpur. Still, we saw signs of development even when it seemed we were in the middle of nowhere. We traveled on National Highway 7 for about 85% of our bicycle ride from the southern tip of India to New Delhi. All along the 2,000-mile ride, construction on the roadway was nearly constant. The road was being upgraded and widened from south to north. We felt that India, ancient at one level, was developing rapidly and on the move at another level.

MOVING TO THE CITIES. This family was waiting for a bus to transport one or all of them to New Delhi. Movement away from villages to urban areas is steady. This is part of a complex, multi-faceted pattern that is dynamically changing the cultural and economic realities of India. One wonders if India as it is now known will be recognizable in ten years. Note the warm clothing being warn by this family: it was a "cool" 72 degrees when this photo was taken. That's about 15-20 degrees below normal for a January day in the middle of India.

Sunday, January 27, 2008


January 27, 2007 - heading north from Nagpur

URBAN SCENE AND VILLAGE LIFE. This day one year ago we were one day into the 5th leg of our journey from the southern tip of India to New Delhi. We started the morning with a team of fresh Indian riders from Maharashtra Village Ministries, riding thru the city of Nagpur (population approximately 2 million) before traffic became heavy. As interesting as passing village life is, a bike ride through an urban area is overwhelming. We’ve ridden through a thousand villages and only a handful of large cities, but because the city scene is so concentrated and intense, its impact lingers long on our senses.

INTO FORESTED HEIGHTS. We continued north on NH 7 for 138 kilometers / 85.5 miles. This was 24 km / 15 mi further than we planned. But, after making the longest ascent of the tour (rising nearly 1,700 feet in a 10 km / 6.2 mi climb), the town we hoped to stay in overnight turned out to be a small village without lodging. Already tired from the tedious climb, our only recourse was to pedal another 24 km / 15 mi to a town called Seoni. We arrived safely, though weary.

Saturday, January 26, 2008


January 26, 2007 - from Sevagram to Nagpur

GROUND ZERO FOR INDIAN INDEPENDENCE. One year ago today, we awoke at the home of Indian independence--Gandhi's ashram at Sevagram. Not long into our day's ride north to Nagpur, we realized it would be no ordinary day. It was Republic Day in India. Unlike anything we'd experienced in America on July 4, Indians came out into the streets in a proud demonstration of their nation's democratic freedoms.

CELEBRATING IN EVERY TOWN. Every town and village we rode through on our way to Nagpur was having a parade or celebrating. India gained its independence non-violently from England on August 15, 1947. But it was three years later--on January 26, 1950--that India formally became a republic, adopting its constitution and installing a democratically-elected government.

WORLD'S LARGEST DEMOCRACY. The democracy is still young--just 57 years old--and quite dynamic. One gets the sense that the nation is still coming into its own. India is now the world’s largest democracy, at nearly 1.2 billion citizens.

"MY INDIA." Indians are very proud of their country and its growing place among nations. It was written on their faces and in the intensity of their patriotism on this day. It was affectionately spoken: "My India!" We celebrated, too, flying the India flag on our bicycles from this day forward--all the way into New Delhi.

THE ARGUMENTATIVE INDIAN. While in India, I picked up a book by one of India's Nobel laureates. The book is titled The Argumentative Indian. The author makes the point that democracy will likely have its fullest expression in this nation because of the will and ability of Indians to express their views and concerns vociferously and to organize and take to the streets for the sake of their voices being heard. May it be so.

Friday, January 25, 2008


January 25, 2007 - from Yavatmal to Sevagram

FROM YAVATMAL TO WARDHA. Early in the morning on this day one year ago, our bicycle entourage was sent off by staff and students of Yavatmal College for Leadership Training. Five Indian riders from the school would accompany us to Nagpur. The more the merrier! We passed through Wardha, a major intra-India train exchange depot. We then rode on to a little place called Sevagram.

AT GANDHI’S HOME. Sevagram became the rural home of Mahatma Gandhi in 1936. From this quiet place Gandhi not only practiced the simple, powerful principles of his convictions, but led India in a non-violent march to independence until England finally "quit India" in 1947. Gandhi guided India to independence without military force, but with the force of non-violent spirit and actions of civil disobedience.

REPUBLIC DAY: JANUARY 26. Three years after English rule ended, the Indian democracy was established on January 26, 1950. Republic Day is commemorated across India with great affection. We spent the night in guest huts at Gandhi's ashram in Sevagram. It seemed fitting that we should begin Republic Day from the birthplace of Indian independence. Visiting Sevagram was a deeply moving experience for us.

ASHRAM OBSERVANCES. At the Sevagram ashram (retreat center), I read the sign posting the "Seven Deadly Social Sins" that Gandhi defined and which I have frequently contemplated. I was also interested in the 11 Ashram Observances and have contemplated the impact of the power of the use and abandonment of these practices both in India and among American Christians. Here are the 11 Ashram Observances at Sevagram:
1. Truth
2. Non-violence
3. Chastity
4. Non-possession
5. Non-stealing
6. Bread-Labor
7. Control of palate
8. Fearlessness
9. Equality of religions
10. Swadeshi (Gandhi's description: "a call to the consumer to be aware of the violence he is causing by supporting those industries that result in poverty, harm to workers and to humans and other creatures")
11. Removal of untouchability

-- John Hay, Jr.

Thursday, January 24, 2008


January 24, 2007 - visiting in Yavatmal, Maharashtra, India

This day one year ago, our 2,000-mile bicycle ride was idle in Yavatmal. Joe had a series of meetings, so John and Bob walked through the marketplace, caught up on news, and basically went wherever Gope wanted to take us in his homeown. We were welcomed into his home and enjoyed wonderful cooking and discussion.

The photo is a tribal dance that welcomed us when we arrived in Yavatmal. The dancers are outreach workers of Maharashtra Village Ministries, young men from villages throughout Maharashtra. I captured the dance on video and will post it here soon.