The Human-Powered Adventurer
Ultra-runner turned ultra-cyclist Naresh Kumar believes that when it comes to human powered adventures, it’s the people you meet that always matter most.
‘Journeys aren’t just about getting from point A to point B,’ says Naresh Kumar, an athlete, traveler, IT technician, and long-distance journey enthusiast. ‘It’s about the uncertainties, appreciation, self-discovery and the chance meetings you have along the way.’
At no time could these experiences have been more focused for Naresh than earlier this year, when he was one of several to ride 5,450 km across Australia in the Indian Pacific Wheel Race. It was his first experience of ultra-distance riding across a continent, but – like many others who are making a similar transition from running to cycling – it was not his first ultra.
Best foot forward
Naresh comes from an ultra-distance trail running background, but found himself edging towards two wheels after completing the 500km Last Vol State ultra-running race.
‘A challenge cannot be a real challenge unless there is a possibility of failure, and if that’s true then that one was a real challenge,’ Naresh recalls. ‘Battling extreme heat and humidity, along with the challenge of finding water and food, I was pushing my absolute limits. I ate what I could find, spent a few hours sleeping in cemeteries or parking lots – and ran.’
After a monumental effort, Naresh won the solo and unsupported category, but the effort required to do so was enough to put him off running – at least temporarily. In the weeks and months after the race, as he was slowly recovering from the effort, a friend told Naresh about ultra-distance cycling, and an event called the Paris-Brest-Paris. Sick of running for the time being, but still full of enthusiasm for travel, distance, and adventure, Naresh bought his bike without hesitation.
Human powered journeys force me to make myself vulnerable, adaptable and open to new experiences
‘I assumed that I would find cycling comparatively easier, because I was an ultra-distance mountain runner, but I was wrong,’ he explains. ‘I had to train a lot to learn the best techniques for riding fast, safely and efficiently. Getting used to clip-in pedals was another issue at first, but the distances and pace I was able to sustain on the bike was phenomenal compared to running. I was hooked. Eventually, a long time after the 500km ultra trail race, my desire to run did return, but by that point I’d also fallen in love with cycling.’
Open to anything
‘Human powered journeys force me to make myself vulnerable, adaptable and open to new experiences,’ says Naresh of his experiences on both foot and on bike. ‘I like having the freedom to choose my own path, without being answerable to anyone; to step into the uncertainty of not knowing where the path may lead – or who you are going to meet along the way.’
At no point in Naresh’s varied experiences of overland travel was this truer than in ‘Freedom Seat’, a 3,000km bicycle journey across New Zealand he made in 2017. The ‘seat’ in question was a spare saddle on a tandem that he rode from one tip of the country to the other, while the ‘freedom’ came from the fact that the seat was filled by 140 different strangers during the 35-day ride.
In time, after first fulfilling his original goal of riding Paris-Brest-Paris, Naresh turned his attention to the Indian Pacific Wheel Race, then one of a new breed of ultra-cycling events to have sprung up in the wake of The Transcontinental Race.
‘The Indi-Pac sounded like a race that represented my life journey,’ Naresh says. ‘At the time I was an Indian, living in the Pacific in New Zealand, and about to embark on a grand wheel race. I’d always wanted to visit Australia too, so to do it on this long-distance mission sounded perfect.’
Whether it’s my legs or my bike that are carrying me - on the open road, life becomes simple
The human touch
‘The Indi-Pac was one of the toughest challenges I have ever attempted,’ says Naresh, a few months after completing the 5,450 km ride. ‘Heat, humidity, third degree sun burn, the terrain, the road trains, flies, spider bites, kangaroos; they each put me to the absolute test. It was a true challenge, in which the possibility of failure was very real, but also one of the most beautiful experiences I’ve ever had.’
‘Whether it’s my legs or my bike that are carrying me – on the open road, life becomes simple,’ Naresh says. And as well as the nature of the challenge itself, there is one more similarity between his ultra-distance journeys that continue to stoke Naresh’s desire to do them: human interaction.
‘The unexpected kindness showed by random strangers along the way was truly mind boggling, and it was these road angels that were the real reason I was able to find the strength to complete the Indi-Pac. For me, these chance encounters with other people are the biggest attraction with long distance, overland journeys. The relationships you form inspire you to live for something bigger than yourself.’