Cycling through snow in the dead of the night, Preeti Maske made it through one of the highest mountain passes in the Himalayas to earn her world record.
BY ARIA BHAMBERE
What began accidentally as a way to recover from a severe illness is now a passion and a way of life for the 45-year-old cyclist from Pune, who just last month became the first woman ever to cycle solo from Leh to Manali in less than 60 hours. Preeti Maske covered the 430 km distance in a little over two days, braving the terrain, temperatures and altitude.
“From 2015 to early 2017 I was extremely unfit. I had many health issues including PCOD, hormonal imbalance, low haemoglobin and B12 levels, low blood pressure, severe anaemia. I was frequently hospitalized and had regular IV appointments and nothing seemed to work,” Maske told. It is from here that Maske began her journey that has now fetched her a spot on the Guinness Book of World Records as the first woman to cycle solo from Leh to Manali in 55 hours and 13 minutes.
Maske’s record-breaking three-day expedition began on 22 June at 6am from Leh. “I would start cycling at around 5-6am and end my day at around 1-2am.”
She was followed by two cars, one with three of her crew members carrying oxygen cylinders, basic medical supplies and other essentials and the second car with three officials from the World Ultra cycling Association, who were there to audit the record attempt. “The Guinness World Records Association had given me a time of 60 hours to finish the trip. I made it in 55 hours.”
Maske faced her first challenge while crossing the Baralacha La pass at an altitude of 4,850m in the Zanskar range along the Leh-Manali highway. It was around 1am and snowing quite heavily. Fatigue was taking a toll on the cyclist. She was drowsy–her eyes were drooping. “My crew was right behind me. They were honking continuously and shouting my name so I wouldn’t fall asleep. The road was quite slippery under the snow and if I were to fall, it could have been fatal. They were asking me to descend and resume the next morning. But that would mean that the trip won’t be complete in record time. So I pushed myself.”
Each time Maske had to cross a mountain pass, the temperature dropped and she had to wear layers upon layers to protect herself from the cold. “To keep paddling in the freezing cold with 3-4 layers of clothes was a bit of a challenge as well. But I was mentally prepared for all of this, so I enjoyed myself a lot,” she explains. Eventually, she made it, in 55 hours and 13 minutes, breaking the record by nearly four hours.
Happens for a reason, she says. At the Tanglang La pass, the team had decided not to stop for long since the temperatures dropped and there was a high chance of getting mountain sickness. But Maske was a little breathless so she had to breathe from the oxygen cylinder. They ended up waiting there for half an hour, which wasn’t the plan. “This actually proved useful for a tourist who had fallen unconscious. I had extra oxygen cylinders, which saved that person’s life. This strengthened my belief that everyone is at a certain place at a particular time for a purpose and everybody has a specific role to play in your life.”
She proudly tells us that her family has always supported at every step of the way. “They accompanied me on this trip as well. In case any crew member got sick, my daughter was ready to step in their place.” Her husband is also very supportive of her. “Whenever I come up with a new milestone that I want to achieve, he says, ‘I’m sure you’ll do it’.”
Also helping her along on the trip was the Border Roads Organization (BRO). “The BRO covered most of the expenses including the accommodation, support vehicles, doctors, oxygen cylinders and meals which was around Rs4-5 lakh. The only expense I had to bear was the travel and food expenses for my crew.”
Maske juggles multiple roles: as a mother, homemaker and entrepreneur. She is a partner and R&D expert in two businesses–Bamboosh Cycles Pvt. Ltd and Top Speed Cycles Pvt. Ltd. While the former manufactures bamboo cycle frames, the latter produces skid and non-geared cycles. Maske has also started a cycling adventure and tourism company called World on Wheels, which sets up ultra-cycling expeditions.
She has some experience in that department, apart from the Leh-Manali ultra cycling, Maske holds several long distance cycling records. In December 2019, she pedaled 3,773km from Kashmir to Kanyakumari in 17 days and 17 hours. She is also the quickest female cyclist ever to complete the Golden Quadrilateral, a 6,000km long course from Pune to Bengaluru to Delhi and back.
So what’s next? “I am doing the Leh-Manali run next month, which is even more challenging than riding on a bike.” The plan is to complete the journey on the occasion of the 76th Independence Day on 15 August in Manali. And what after that? Cycling east to west from Arunachal Pradesh to Gujarat, cycling through all the passes in India and finally, the Ironman triathlon. “Fingers crossed.”
Courtesy: CN Traveller