Monday, 23 February 2015

Cycling in Kerala - Johnson, so good they named him twice

Easily the most important member of our group to me - a weaker cyclist than my companions - was the only person not on a bike.

When we rode along roads suitable for vehicles, our support vehicle came too. The minibus contained a spare bike, copious quantities of bottled water, a coffee table and an ever changing array of tasty treats. 

Our first full day of cycling began at the end of a long and painful night for me. A migraine had kept me awake and sick, unable even to swallow water. I knew that I would be incapable of riding a full day in the saddle, particularly in the Indian heat. My introduction to the recovery vehicle then, was when I climbed aboard at the end of the early, off-road section of the route. 

I asked the driver his name: "Johnson," he replied. Days later, when other riders had planted a seed of doubt, I asked again "Is your name really Johnson?" He confirmed that it was. "Is that your first name, or your family name?"

"Both."

Johnson Johnson. So good they named him twice. 

We soon grew to eagerly anticipate the Johnson Snacks we would find neatly set out on his coffee table as we rounded a bend in the road. Oranges, bananas, cashew nuts, mango juice and best of all, peanut brittle kept us going when the going got tough and the saddle sore. 
Johnson Snacks, ready and waiting

On long, seemingly endless climbs, the bus would be there, a hand extended out of the window, a thumbs-up. When I could pedal no more, a blissfully soft seat and the cooling balm of air conditioning restored my spirits. 

I have two special Johnson moments. The first came as I approached an insanely busy junction a short distance behind the rest of the group. Four lanes of road producing at least eight lanes of traffic.  Thundering lorries, blaring horns. 

Into the noise I muttered "F**k, what do I do here?" Then the answer appeared: Johnson was standing at the crossroads, a solid, immovable presence. Grinning, he stopped the traffic while I cycled across. 

"If there was a fire, you'd want Johnson to be there to put it out," said Kate. 

My second Johnson moment came on the evening of my birthday. It was the second of three nights on a houseboat and we were enjoying a few beers alongside our bikes on the upper deck of the boat.  Suddenly, Johnson appeared. He was carrying a beautiful garland of flowers, a stunning cake ordered by my wonderful fellow cyclists and a mystery object the cause of much mirth among Johnson and our guides Sanjeev and Ancel. 

The nature of the mystery object was revealed after dinner when all three men, helped by the kitchen team and ultimately by the crew of a neighbouring boat attempted to open it. Finally, a fountain of sparkly paper fired into the air and settled on the table. 

Johnson hadn't been working with us that day and had spent his free time obtaining the cake and driving out to the boat to deliver it in person.  
Johnson (left), with Sanjeev and Ancel

I travelled to Kerala with Pedal Nation and flew with Emirates Airline 








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