Alaska Firefighter Finds His Groove Cycling From Pondicherry to Kochi


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Thomas Preston Firefighter Alaska United States of AmericaThomas Preston, age 61, a retired firefighter with the Anchorage Fire Department, has lived with his family in Alaska for 40 years. He served his community for 36 long years and is now enjoying his retirement period. While most people would think of retirement as a phase when you put up your feet and take a break, for Tom retirement only means the beginning of a new adventure. He says, “It is a time when you stop living at work and start working at living. And I am excited to be doing that!”

He now loves spending most of his time on the saddle and circling destinations on the world map that he would like to explore on the two-wheels of his bicycle. Tom was introduced to cycling about 12 years back when he took a ride from Vientiane to Luang Prabang, Laos and since then there has been no backpedaling!
I recently had the pleasure to interview Tom about his cycling holiday experience in India. He took the Ride of Pi journey with us in the start of 2017 with 9 other cyclists from around the globe. And this was his second visit to the country over 12 years.

 

Thomas Preston Firefighter Alaska Cycling Bike Street Boys

Q1: Tom, let me begin by asking what brought you back for a second time to India?

India is so vast and has such a rich ancient history and deep cultural roots that one visit to this incredible nation can never be enough to know it completely, in fact not even in a dozen visits. The people here are so accommodating and friendly that every interaction with them gets etched in your memory. Both my visits have been unique with one thing in common – each time I left the country, I had lovely new people added to my friends list.

I don’t think I could ever tire of India, and plan to return many times.

Q2: You said, both your visits have been unique. How exactly, can you elaborate?

Sure. So, the first time I visited India was back in 1990s. At that time, I was new to the world of foreign travel. I visited Varanasi in the northern part of India which is more of a spiritual destination. It brought me up close to the Indian traditions, religious beliefs and culture. Back then, India’s infrastructure was in an emerging phase too, the roads, houses, people were not urbanized yet compared to its other Asian counterparts. But today, some parts of the country are as metropolitan as any other city in the developed world. India has matured and come a long way but at the same time, some parts of it have still retained their roots deep in culture and tradition, which is the most fantastic part about India.

And another major difference is that I got to explore India on a bicycle this time. Thanks to Bike Street Boys! Last time my visit was to the Taj Mahal and other touristy places while this time I got to see the real India which is more remote and non-touristy.

Q3: How was your experience riding with Bike Street Boys?

The team at Bike Street Boys took care of us end-to-end. Although this was my second visit, I was still quite apprehensive about riding on Indian traffic roads. But Bike Street Boys had been thoughtful enough to select countryside roads, which not only took us away from pollution and traffic but also gave us an opportunity to see the other side of India. I enjoyed the scenic routes, pollution free climate apt for cycling, and the local experience along our way.

Q4: What was your most memorable experience from Ride of Pi journey?

Thomas Preston Alaska FirefighterCelebrating Pongal in a village with some local families was the most amazing part of my journey. India is a land of festivals and we were very fortunate to be able to witness one of them. There was dance, music, food and so much joy. One family that we met, comprised of parents and their five children living in a small hut in the center of their small village. Even with such limited material wealth, they were still such a warm and welcoming family. They offered us local delicacies made from their first harvest, of course, after it was first offered as gratitude to their deity, a beautiful custom of expressing gratitude for the bountiful harvest.

Another highlight of the trip was the lake side resort in Dindigul where we could spend an evening relaxing amidst spectacular views and a glowing sunset over the lake, followed by a peaceful sleep after a full day of cycling through the beautiful countryside.

Really, the entire Ride of Pi itinerary is perfect! The first few days included warm-up rides on flat terrain until we get to climb the mountains to reach Kodaikanal to experience its cooler temperatures and panoramic views. The 4-hour nature hike in Kodaikanal was very informative too as Mr. Vijay Kumar, our guide and hiking expert was a well-read man himself, showing and explaining the flora and fauna of the region.

At Munnar, we stayed among sprawling tea plantations, and before the trip's end in Kochi we stayed on a houseboat in the peaceful Kerala backwaters where we spent a well-earned leisurely afternoon, followed by a relaxing dinner.

Overall, the trip was very well planned and thought out to be a perfect cycling holiday.

Q5. As a parting thought, any feedback or suggestions for improving our future rides?

As I've now been so fortunate to have experienced over 15 cycling trips around the world using many companies, I can say from experience that Bike Street Boys successfully integrates the joy of cycling through this spectacular country with the experience of sharing local culture, customs, food and friends in a way that makes you feel like you're a part of India, instead of just passing through it. I hope you continue to expand your routes in India as I will surely ride with Bike Street Boys again!
Old Bicycle
I thank Tom for taking the time to share his thoughts with us. The pleasure has been mutual and I look forward to an opportunity to ride with you once again in yet another unique corner of this incredible country, India.
I also thank and congratulate Mr. Vijay Kumar for his well-established trekking outfit in Kodaikanal that offers the opportunity to see nature at its best. Mr. Vijay has been in the tourism business since 1986 and is an expert in providing nature walks, nature drives and nature-overnights, amidst the local flora and fauna. His work has found a mention in the French guide book, Guide de Routard and also on Lonely Planet.

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