From Alaska to Peru: Cycling 15,000km in 400 days across 10 countries
An adventure and endurance cyclist, Dhruv Bogra is the first Indian citizen to cycle solo and unsupported from Deadhorse in Alaska to Panama in Central America. Penning his adventure in ‘Grit, Gravel and Gear’, Bogra says that there is no age or gender for adventure — just mental strength.
It’s not easy to get sponsors to fund adventures. What are your suggestions for those aspiring to embark on such a long and adventurous trip?
One of the biggest challenges to embarking on a long adventure is the capacity to fund it on your own. I did not have any sponsorships but 25% of the total costs of the journey were enabled by two amazing individuals — CK Venkatraman, CEO of Tanishq, and Navnit Singh, Chairman of Korn Ferry International. The balance 75%, I funded from my own savings and funds that I had parked for my pension. In fact, most of the funds came from a very last minute source — my annual performance bonus at Adidas India. Until three months before the journey I did not have funds to last me for more than three months on the road, so I almost did not go. I chose not to seek crowd-funding because I feel it is not fair to seek help from people to fund your adventure. Their funds can be channelized to individuals needing organizations that truly need to help individuals and NGOs to alleviate serious issues facing their family or the world.
Now that I am working again, the funding that I accepted from my benefactors is being systematically and frequently ploughed back into various animal welfare projects. Secondly, all my earnings from the book go to the adityamehtaorganisation.org , a fantastic NGO that is training and rehabilitating paraplegics to become world class athletes in India.
What are the major things that you need to keep in mind in relation to paperwork and logistics?
A journey of this magnitude requires tremendous and dedicated preparation and discipline of detailing. There are numerous factors to be kept in mind:
- sourcing of the maps
- drawing up the route
- assessing the terrain
- plotting weather and temperature charts across seasons and countries
- the visa process
- camping and clothing gear
- choosing the bicycle and its parts
- learning bike maintenance
- food and survival kits
- wilderness survival knowledge
- above all, creating a positive force of mind to build mental strength to endure the hardship and struggle as a way of life.
Training with 40kg of gear on a bicycle in a simulated environment in the Himalayas was the inevitable part of the preparation.
Can you suggest ways in which a novice without a strong budget can begin the preparation?
If you are new to cycling, start around your neighborhood first, preferably early in the morning between 5–6 am as it is quiet and you can focus on yourself without worrying about traffic. Also, join a local cycling club and make some buddies with whom you can ride and slowly gain the confidence to ride longer and build strength from mutual support.
Elevate this experience to the next level after a few months and choose to cycle longer distances out of your town or locality depending on your stamina and fitness. For most cyclists their first 50km is a huge milestone followed by the century.
As you begin to gain strength and self confidence, challenge yourself to enroll for a mountain or road biking adventure with an established tour operator. There are many good ones around the country now and they take cyclists for 5–7 days. They have a support vehicle and staff. This will give an evolving cyclist their first brush with adventure but in a safer environment though any adventure always carries an element of some risk.
From here, I would strongly recommend experimenting with self supported bicycle touring with a companion or friend within India.
We have so many beautiful routes in India. Choose one that is close to your level of strength and aptitude. All the gear is now available in India and there are some companies like Happy Earth in Bengaluru that will enable you to equip you with the right touring bicycle and gear.
Would you like to take group expeditions across India?
I would love to do that. I have often considered starting my own touring company.
I would look at the Nilgiris, Konkan and East Coast routes and the lower Himalayas. There could be tougher routes such as the ones in Ladakh and Sikkim. These tours would have support vehicles, a travelling kitchen, tents and a mechanic to take care of breakdowns.
Is there any age for adventure? Have you decided on any new journey in the near future?
There is no age or gender for adventure. Some of my best friends are men and women in their late 50s and 60s, and pushing the boundaries of what is possible in the sphere of raw adventure.
In fact, research shows that as men and women age, their ability to take on strenuous adventure actually increases. A lot of it is mental toughness. If you have it figured in your mind, then any one can do it.
In the current times, what is the best way to chronicle your experience — video or book or both?
Both are relevant as they reach a larger audience especially for this genre as it has a wide appeal. Everyone loves a good adventure story. I have written a 400-page book with 22 stories, poems and filled with maps and pictures. I also took over 100 hours of video footage that I had on my camera and GoPro and had a production house convert it into a 6-minute film. For me, it was a very natural journey to write a book.
About Dhruv Bogra
Born in 1968 in Shimla, Bogra’s father was an officer in the Kumaon Regiment of the Indian Army. Growing up amid the structured life of the cantonment, he calls his schooling at Sherwood College in Nainital a turning point. The boarding school life ignited a love for the mountains and nature. He went on to complete schooling from the Army Public School in Delhi and graduated in History Honors from the University of Delhi. He is an alumni of the International Management Institute, New Delhi.
Bogra has cycled extensively in the Himalayas and Western Ghats on his mountain bike. He has spent the last 30 years working at leading multinationals and large Indian corporates, holding many senior leadership roles in the retail industry in companies such as Titan Industries, Bestseller Retail and Adidas. He is currently the Country Manager for the fashion brand ‘Forever New’ in India.