When 43-year-old Sundaram Narayanan, who works at the Manipal Hospital in Goa, left for the United States on May 27, 2023, all that he could think of was his 2018 accident in the US before the Race Across America (RAAM) that saw him return home disappointed.
But that disappointment turned to joy when he crossed the finish line of the self-supported Trans Am Bike Race (TABR) on June 29, 2023, after traversing 25 days, 15 hours and 4 minutes to complete 6,800 kilometres of this gruelling race.
In the process, Sundaram became the 4th Indian finisher of TABR, which is one of the longest ultra-distance bike races in the world. Also, he finished 11th among the 40-plus riders that started the race in Astoria, Oregon, on June 4, 2023.
Traversing the USA from Astoria, Oregon, to Yorktown, Virginia, the TABR route covers the Rockies, the plains of the Mid-West, and the Appalachians, on its cross-continental path. It is a true test of one's stamina and endurance.
And this chief medical physicist from Manipal Hospital Goa put in all his endurance cycling training and experience to test and braved rains, thunder, hailstorms, sleep deprivation and above all, loneliness, to become the fastest Indian finisher of this race.
In 2022, Suman Baddam finished this race in 32 days and earlier in 2016 Thoudam Opendro Singh of Manipur completed it in 27 days. Thoudam is the first rider from India to have complete TABR. In 2018, Bengaluru-based cyclist, Nishanth Iyengar, persevered to touch the finish line in 56 days.
What made TABR a challenge for Sundaram is finding his way to the finish line in a foreign land. At times he had difficulty finding food and water for miles and miles. He slept for 4 to 6 hours a day and sometimes less.
Talking to Gomantak Times digital from the US, Sundaram described this race as the most difficult one so far. "Earlier, I have done rides lasting 3 to 4 days, but this one brought in loneliness and at times even food was difficult to find," he described.
He recalled a day in Kansas where he had to face heavy rain and lightning. "It was around 10.30 pm in the night and I could not find a place to stay. Finally, I managed to get shelter in a hospital emergency waiting room," he said.
A ride like this is never without mechanical failures, and Sundaram too, had his share. "At one point in time, I could not handle a mechanical failure myself and needed outside support. That is the time a stranger came to my rescue," he narrated and added, "A race like this teaches you to be grateful to people and at the same time humble in the face of elements."
Sundaram is also grateful to his cycling community friends in Goa who pitched in with the funds to make this trip and the race possible. "I owe this trip to the great cycling spirit back home and all the people who motivated and backed me," he said.
What's next for this spirited rider? "I am planning to do Race Across America," said Sundaram and added, "Unlike TABR which has no time limit for completion, RAAM has a cut-off time of 12 days to complete 3000 miles."
There are very few Indians who have finished RAAM. For Sundaram, RAAM is unfinished business and backed by his TABR experience, he is determined to go for it again.
Meanwhile, some of the cycling community members are elated to giveSundaram a hero's welcome in the wee hours of July 6, when he lands in Goa as the torchbearer of Goan cycling.