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Arctic to the Andes: A 15,000-km bicycle ride

By Amrita Singh
September 25, 2019 22:01 IST
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Riding solo from the Arctic to the Andes exposed him to a variety of people and cultures while allowing him to connect with himself, Dhruv Bogra tells Amrita Singh.

IMAGE: Dhruv Bogra with his touring bike at Deadhorse, Alaska. All Photographs: Kind courtesy, Dhruv Bogra/Facebook

There comes a time in most people's lives when childhood interests take a back seat to careers and familial responsibilities.

In fewer words: one grows up. And the very thought of living out those passions or hobbies seems like an impossible task to many.

But Dhruv Bogra, a 51-year-old cycling enthusiast, managed to rekindle his love for cycling in 2011, some 26 years after he stopped riding his bike to school and college.

Bogra is now fairly well-known for his feat of cycling for a total of 15,000 km, a journey that had him riding on lonely roads through deserts, grasslands and mountains over 14 months.

His cycling journey took all the way from Deadhorse in Alaska, situated 400 km north of the Arctic Circle, down to Urubamba in Peru in 2017.

 

IMAGE: Dhruv Bogra in Canada's Yukon.

The lead-up to this journey entailed a six-month-long training period and, of course, stoking his passion for cycling.

"Cycling was a big part of my life," says Bogra.

As a student in the third standard, the son of an army officer cycled in and around the army cantonment in Mathura and other cities.

Somewhere along his journey to adulthood and into the rut of corporate life -- he is currently country head of fashion brand Forever New -- his childhood love fell off the tracks, so to speak.

IMAGE: Dhruv Bogra at Dalton Highway, Alaska. It's one of the most remote and dangerous roads in the world.

Back in 2011, when he was working with Jack & Jones and Vero Moda in Mumbai, Bogra got the opportunity to begin cycling again.

That's all he needed to get going. Sometimes he went cycling all on his own and other times with friends.

He would wake up at four in the morning, four to five days a week, to cycle around the city. He would cover at least 30 km every day.

Later, while training for his arduous yet exciting journey through the Americas, he would cover 150 km a day.

He also made sure to cycle on the roads of the Western Ghats, which aided his training process.

Riding on city roads was also a great way to build stamina and higher resistance.

"I used to ride in all sorts of weather, irrespective of how hot, humid or rainy it was," he recalls.

Ironically enough, the urban air pollution might have helped build his resistance as well, since higher altitudes call for better lung capacity.

"I first went backpacking and cycling in Alaska in 2015. It was a short trip, but I was inspired to go on a longer trip after reading multiple blogs and magazine articles by cyclists in other parts of the world," says Bogra.

He had always been active, making time for hiking and trekking despite a hectic corporate schedule.

But what really fuelled his desire to ride from the Arctic to the Andes was a cycling trip he went on from Manali to Khardung La, a classic trip on what is the world's highest motorable road.

Having completed this journey successfully, he next eyed the Pan American Highway, which the Guinness World Records touts as the world's longest motorable road.

The scenic highway, which starts in Alaska, passes through 14 countries and major climate zones, along with varied landscapes including the arctic tundra, boreal forest, mountains, prairies, arid deserts and tropical jungles.

For the first 662 km, the route follows the Dalton Highway (which has, incidentally, featured on BBC's World's Most Dangerous Roads).

Covering this highway is a challenge as there are no services of any kind for almost 384 km at a stretch.

Growing up, Bogra had been fascinated with stories of the Mayans, the Aztecs and the Incas, the three most advanced ancient civilisations in the Americas.

This made South America the end-point of a 14-month-long journey even more exciting for him.

Armed with 40 kg of travel material that included a tent, cooking utensils, stove, food, fuel for the stove, a titanium coffee mug, and minimal clothing (a couple of t-shirts, shorts and undergarments), Bogra set out on his journey.

Nothing more than these essentials, apart from his trusty touring bike -- a Surly Troll.

Based on the terrain, the gradient of the road and the distance between reliable pit-stops, there were days that he travelled 100 km per day.

But when he reached the Andes and was at an altitude of 70,000 feet, he managed only about 30 km a day.

"I would set up camp by 4 pm, right before sunset, without fail, and doze off by 7 pm," he says.

The first two weeks of the bicycle journey were the hardest, as Bogra feels no kind of training really and truly prepares one for a journey like this.

"There were days I didn't see people or settlements for days, especially in Alaska and Canada," he says.

The remoteness of the areas, coupled with low temperatures and unfamiliar terrain made for a difficult but often exhilarating journey.

The wilderness seemed to suit Bogra. When he reached civilisation, in the form of Mexico, he came down with typhoid and bronchitis.

He also developed a food allergy. But he continued his journey with off-the-shelf medication, not giving himself time off to recuperate.

For Bogra, this journey centered around his passion for cycling and led him to a certain enlightenment, one that helped him understand the power of nature and develop a deeper respect for it.

Riding solo from the Arctic to the Andes exposed him to a variety of people and cultures while allowing him to connect with himself too.

Today, he feels mentally and physically stronger than he did before, simply because of this attempt to reconnect with his lost roots.

His biggest tip for aspiring adventure cyclists: Train every single day.

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Amrita Singh
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