The journey of Amit Samarth, the first Indian to complete the Trans-Siberian Extreme


AUGUST 27, 2018

Amit Samarth on how he spent 25 sleepless days cycling along the midlands of Russia

It’s the nights that are the most difficult. “When I was cycling through the forests of Siberia after sundown, the loneliness struck even harder. I called it ghostriding because at that point of time, I was convinced I was a ghost,” says Amit Samarth, the 38-year-old from Nagpur, who created history by becoming the first Indian to complete the Red Bull Trans-Siberian Extreme, an ultra-stage bicycle race.

The 9,100-km bicycle race — the longest in the world — is known to test the limits of human endurance. “We cycled from Moscow to Vladivostok in 15 stages, over the course of 25 days, passing along Mongolia and China’s borders,” he says. “Most of the race was set in the midlands, so we were either cycling up hills or rolling down them for hours. There was a time when I cycled for 58 hours at a stretch.”

The race format is such that “there is no rhythm you can follow”; the stages vary from 400 kilometres to 1,300. After every stage, there would be a break of eight to 14 hours — depending on how arduous the journey was — at a hotel room, where he would catch up on his sleep.

Amit crossed seven different time zones in the process and experienced climate changes. “Summer in Russia is not that bad, but it could go down to zero degrees at night. So while I would be sweating it out on the highways during the day, I would be freezing on the seat at night,” he says. “By the time we reached the 10th stage, it had started to rain — ice-cold rain.” For those wondering, even the pee breaks had to be quick ones on the side; there wasn’t a minute to waste.

Despite the physical exertion, Amit believes it’s the mind that underwent the most stress; riding alone on highways of a foreign land for most part of the month is not easy. “The further east I went, the more sparse it got.” That was despite having a physio, medical and catering crew driving behind him.

He did occasionally admire the beauty in the barren. “In stage 12, I cycled along Lake Baikal, the largest and deepest freshwater, for 250 km. It was like I entered a magical world,” he says, appreciative of the sunsets and sunrises he was witness to. “On Independence Day, I just got off the bike on a highway for five minutes, and sang the national anthem.”

His followers — the cycling and running community (Amit had primarily been a marathon runner before taking up ultra cycling) — back in India were what kept him going. “Every time I felt like it was pointless, I would look at the GPS tracker on me, and be reminded of all the people following the race,” he says. In fact, a couple from Nagpur even came to Russia for the last five days to make sure he had Indian food. “Our diet was heavy on carbs and fats. We had to eat almost 12,000 calories per day, so as to not lose muscle weight or strength!” he says. However, the food provided to them was mostly meat-rich, such as sausages and meatballs, more raw and bland than he was used to. “I like a little more gravy and curry to go with the meat,” he laughs.

Even back home, when he started practising for this race in January this year, his community in Nagpur was like a pillar of support, as was his wife. “I would cycle through the night, in and around Nagpur, as the days were too hot, and my wife would be driving behind me,” he says.

Over the phone, Amit’s voice sounds a bit drowsy. “I have not had enough sleep still. My sleep pattern has changed. Before the race, I had trained myself to go sleepless,” he says. Just back home, he still wakes up after every few hours, wondering how many kilometres are left to cover — a price to pay for creating history.

Courtesy: The Hindu