Cycling for a Cause: 2,500 Kilometers Across India to Support Children’s Education

Follow the journey of Ramesh Jayaram, who cycled 2,500 kilometers across India in 24 days to support the education of rural children with Isha Vidhya. Along the way, he experienced the kindness of strangers and was able to achieve his personal goal of reconciliation. An inspiring story of passion, humanity, and resilience!

It is one thing to do 100 kilometers in a practice ride and get back home, but it is a different thing to commit yourself to cycling 100+ kilometers every day for 24–25 days. What had I been thinking when I began the solo ride? My mind was racing with these thoughts as I was making my way back from Coimbatore to Gurgaon in my support car, during what seemed to be a never-ending return journey. It was only then that the distance I had cycled slowly began to sink in.

The Genesis of the 2,500-Kilometer Journey

I was carrying a deep-seated angst about one of my fallen heroes – Lance Armstrong – a cancer survivor and a 7-time Tour de France[1] champion who was stripped of his titles after overwhelming evidence of doping. His confession shortly after came to me as a rude shock, as he had always denied taking banned substances and relentlessly attacked all those who questioned him about the drug abuse allegations. I had followed each of his 7 Tour victories over the 23 days every summer as the Tour went through France.

As an ardent fan, I was shattered to see my hero fall like a mere mortal. It was then, I guess, that the seeds of my own long-distance cycling journey were planted. By cycling over 23 days, the same duration of the Tour de France, I would own my accomplishment and be able to reconcile with the hurtful memories of my fallen hero. Hence the journey from Gurgaon to Coimbatore.

[1] Annual bicycle race that covers over 3,600 km

Beyond the Personal Calling

It was a personal journey, to begin with; but the question was, could it become larger? I knew of Isha Vidhya, and, having dabbled with education myself as a film teacher and understanding the importance of quality education, I decided to support rural child education by raising awareness and funds for it. With a target of raising rupees 33 lakhs for Isha Vidhya, I would begin the journey.

I gathered a group of volunteers to help with fundraising, contacted potential donors, and tied up with the crowdfunding platform Fuel a Dream. The folks at Spero, the cycle that I would be using during the journey, were more than happy to support me with technical assistance throughout my 2,500-km expedition. I hired Jaipal Singh to drive my car as a support vehicle for the journey. Everything was in place for D-day, 29 December 2022.

The Journey Begins…

The first week was about acclimatizing to what was happening with me and with my body. Each night, I had to go to a new destination, stop there, and try to find accommodation. While I went through my paces, I did enjoy some parts of it. But mostly it was about preparing the body and getting those kilometers under my belt. From the second week onward, it was fantastic! I began to enjoy my cycling. I passed through 5 states – Haryana, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, and Karnataka – before finally entering Tamil Nadu.

Each of these states has its own unique flavor to offer – the sounds, sights, and smells – it’s amazing. Journeying through this country in an open vehicle is very different from sitting in a car and traveling. The slow pace of the cycle allows you to appreciate and take in what the countryside has to offer. I have a strong sense of smell, so I was able to enjoy the aroma of saunf fields in Madhya Pradesh or the strong smell of freshly dried red chili peppers being loaded onto a tractor in Karnataka.

One thing l would like to mention is my tryst with the pole star. Every evening, as I rode into the sunset, I would see the Pole Star at the same place. It was a source of assurance to me that told me, “I am solid and will see you through to the end of your journey!” And, of course, to be able to witness sunset after sunset for 24 days straight was truly a gift for someone who lives in the NCR.

Meeting Humans of India

Throughout the length of my journey, I experienced the kindness of various strangers, for which I can only feel gratitude and say, “Thank You!” Without those little acts of kindness from those people, I would have never been able to finish this journey on time.

Right from a puncture in my cycle tire, which no one else would touch because it was a sophisticated kind of vehicle, but Arif, a roadside mechanic bravely took the task and fixed it, to a crew of painters driving 25 km to return the cycling glasses that I had misplaced while clicking photos on a bridge over the river Narmada, whose railings they were painting.

These little acts of kindness make you believe in humanity. Without the cycling glasses, I wouldn’t have been able to ride through the night. And probably without the puncture being fixed, I would have lost a day because the next option was to load it onto a vehicle and take it to the nearest city. Small things made a huge difference in the end, and it’s all about humanity! This is what I experienced throughout this journey.

Signing Off…

Did I have an off day? Yes, on the 18th day, my body gave up, and I had to take a whole day of rest, and I am glad I did. That break rejuvenated my body and spirit, allowing me to reach Coimbatore without any further issues. As I write this piece, we have raised 31 lakhs for Isha Vidhya! I am humbled by how an idea of a journey got converted into reality with the help of so many people. I bow in gratitude to each of them for having made this possible. Namaskaram!

—Ramesh Jayaram, Isha volunteer, Gurugram