It’s August 2015 and I am on a 4-day road trip along Maharashtra’s “Samundri Rajmarj” (coastal highway) MSH4. There are four of us – me, two friends and the prettiest Labrador in Mumbai. One of my friends is pretending to be sick at work to get days off and thus, we have only 4 days to complete this Mumbai – Malvan – Mumbai road trip. The Konkan coastline is the prettiest I’ve seen in India and I am completely besotted – the green plateaus, sylvan beaches, the seafood, Sol Kadi(!). I tell myself that I will return to this place and explore this bit of paradise at my own pace.
“Sol Kadi is a famous drink from Maharashtra’s Konkan region. It is made from Kokum or Aamsol and coconut milk. Sol kadi cools down the digestive system after eating spicy food. It is a natural digestive. Kokum itself is supposed to be an excellent antidote for acidity.”
I’m lying in the grass on a sunny afternoon in July 2017. I’ve recently completed a long trekking expedition in Uttarakhand and I want to spend the next few days doing nothing. The phone rings! It’s Varun from Fittrip Bikes. He sounds excited and wants to know if I am willing to take their latest fatbike, the “Marine” on a solo expedition. “See what you can do with it and what it will handle”. Sounds good. Very good.
“Marine… hmmm now, where should I take a fatbike with that name? Then the proverbial light bulb lit up over my head. “Why, the Konkan coast of course!” A whoop later, I call Varun and tell him that the Marine is going to the Konkan coast! Lo and behold, I am committed to what would be later christened as the “#100BeachRide”.
My partner and I spend the next week poring over Google Maps and Wikitravel. We add waypoints to a custom Google Map. By the end of the week, our map has exceeded what Google deems to be a reasonable size for a custom map. So we have to break up our research and waypoints into two maps so that they fit. At the end of this protracted research, we have 104 beaches, 20 historical monuments and many other places that we want to visit.
Exhilarated, I share this map with my friend Veer. Veer is the sensible voice who tempers my puppy enthusiasm with sane advice.
Veer: “This looks nice but aren’t you forgetting one teeny tiny detail. Me: “What detail?” Veer – “Something as inconsequential as the monsoons, dimwit!”
For those of you who don’t know – the Monsoon accounts for 80% rainfall in India. The Southwest Monsoon hits the Western Konkan coast in July and continues on to September.
“Last year on June 24, Harnai (a village on my route) had recorded its second highest rainfall in 24 hours at 361.6 mm. The all-time high 24-hour rain was recorded in 1985 at 436.5 mm. Under the weather department’s classification,15.6 mm to 64.4 mm of rain is considered ‘moderate’, 64.5 mm to 115.5 mm is ‘heavy,’ 115.6 mm to 204.4 mm is ‘very heavy’ and more than 204.5 mm is ‘extreme’.” — Hindustan Times
“Well, it’s just rain, how bad can it be?”. This seemingly inconsequential statement will come to bite me in the ass, but more on that later. By mid-July our research is complete and we have a fair idea of what my cycling route looks like. I intend to start in Mumbai, take a ferry to Mandwa (Maharashtra), start my bikepacking adventure and end in Panjim (Goa). Google says this a measly 500+ kilometres if you take the shortest car route. Yet, I do not intend to take the shortest route. What I plan to do instead is: visit the 104 beaches along the way, stop at little known Konkan villages, experience the coastal way of life and taste the legendary seafood from this part of India.
Despite the eminent scare of monsoons, we finalize August 15th as our tour start date. It is India’s Independence Day and it feels right starting on this day to undertake a rolling (pun intended) adventure that promises freedom, wind in my hair, flying salt in the air and a true taste of the salt of the earth. I plan to take a train to Mumbai and reach there on August 1st. I intend to stay with a friend and wait for the bike which will be shipped to Mumbai by the 3rd. For the next 10 days, I will ride around Mumbai, getting used to the bike and fiddling with the setup for the #100BeachRide. The 14th is a designated rest day. Little did I know that fate had other things planned for me and that the best-laid plans often go astray…
More on plans, setbacks and hasty fixes in Part 2.