The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.
– Mahatma Gandhi
Riding a bicycle around in unknown territory for months on end is a challenging task, to say the least — and one that Matt Brice, founder of Cycle for Brighter Futures, is definitely up to meeting. He’s currently conquering India by bicycle, raising money for underprivileged Indian children from the slums in order to help further their education. Yesterday, we learned about his motivation behind this inspirational undertaking; today, Matt gives us some insight into his favorite moments along his journey — and his most challenging ones, too.
K: How has the trip been so far? Where have you been, and where are you still going to go?
MB: The trip has been quite challenging so far! Especially because it’s very humid and hot in the south. The first couple of weeks were quite hilly, so I really noticed how unfit I was. Now that I’ve been on the road for over a month, coming up to 1000km, I’m feeling fitter and stronger. I am loving being back in India — it feels like home to me.
I am almost a quarter way into my journey. I have already cycled from Goa along to coast through Karnataka, northern Kerala and currently in Kochi, Kerala. I still have to cycle to India’s southern tip, Kanyakumari, then up the east coast to Kolkata, and then to Varanasi.
K: What has been your favorite moment and most challenging time? Since I know you’re a foodie, I imagine that culinary moments in India rank high on your list!
MB: Every day continues to outdo the next, as every day I fall more in love with India and its people. My favorite moments are the moments spent hanging out with strangers drinking chai; being invited into their homes for breakfast and lunch; all the warm smiles and waves I constantly receive on the road; the amazing daily food moments, experiencing wonderful local delicacies, and trying different masalas; and learning new cooking methods and new ingredients.
The most challenging moment was on my first journey: I was south of Mumbai, in a place known as the western Ghats, a mountainous and hilly coastal area. It was summer, very hot, and I had to cycle up and down hills all day long. To make the ride more comfortable, I started thinking about ways to reduce my luggage weight. So, on one large hill I pulled over, and started unloading my bags — just chucking whatever I hadn’t used, or no longer needed. Some of these items included a bottle of petrol that I had brought for cooking, but never used; and 12V battery that I charged with my solar panel, but no longer worked.
Little did I know that the place where I’d discarded these things just happened to be where the 2008 bomb attacks on the Taj Hotel in Mumbai had been traced to.
To my surprise, I arrived in the next town greeted by the local police! They asked me to follow them to the station for questioning, concerned that I was carrying suspicious equipment. The next few hours were spent answering questions, talking my way out of the mess I had unintentionally gotten myself into.
K: Do you think a woman could safely do what you’re doing?
MB: I would love to say yes, but I really don’t think so. I am so often in isolated places where, as a woman, I really don’t think you could guarantee your safety. I asked the director of my charity this question and he replied: “bluntly speaking, a woman can’t dare do this.”
K: Have you gained any knowledge about water issues there? Or, experienced affects of the water crisis? I’m interested in how water shortages, or sanitation issues, are affecting people there.
MB: 80% of diseases are waterborne; lack of water supply is the biggest problem in the slum area. 31% of Delhi’s slum dwellers have no access to sanitation, and 75% suffer from diarrhea, with approximately 1000 people dying of disease every day. Due to poor sanitation, most people in slum communities suffer from some form of skin disease.
In the slums, there are generally no free flowing taps: water comes in the morning and evening, with long queues to collect it. Because of this, people store water at home — but they have no knowledge of how to keep the water safely, or hygienically. This contaminated water is then either used for drinking water, or used in cooking, and is the root causes of one of the biggest problems affecting children – malnutrition.
Personally, since I’m travelling on a bicycle, my water intake is high! As I have a problem with the plastic waste created by drinking bottled water, I have brought my own solution: every day I filter tap water with a glass/carbon filter then, and treat it with a UV sterilization pen before drinking. This is a daily reminder of at least some of the water issues here in India.
K: What is the most important thing that you have you learned at this point?
MB: Things on the road cycling can always get a lot better — and they can always get a lot worse! For example, changes in road conditions, getting picked up by the police, and so on.
Matt also suggests using the holiday season to donate our time, or money to a positive organization, or help others in some way:
“I really have a problem with the money wasted during Christmas. I think people should think of the less fortunate at this time of the year, and find a way that they can help.”
Let’s use this special time of year to reflect on our own lives, feel empathy and compassion for other people, and spread our own positive energy outwards. Happy holidays!
To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.
– Ralph Waldo Emerson