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My 25-mile Cycling Trip in the USA at 76

June 3, 2024 | By

On World Bicycle Day 2024, LnC presents a delightful memoir by NS Rajan about his days with the bicycle — from his youth days to being a septuagenarian on two wheels. With pictures by the author.

I woke up today and was hopping from website to website when I stumbled upon “World Bicycle day’ which is being celebrated today, the 3rd of June all over. This day was dedicated to the humble Bicycle by the United Nations In April 2018, when the United Nations General Assembly declared June 3 as ‘World Bicycle Day’.

The page took me back to my school days in the late 1940s. The Bicycle was then only a means of transport from point to point and has since evolved both as a Sporting and Racing equipment. It has developed unimaginable capabilities since its early ‘strictly utilitarian’ role demanded of it.

The explosive market in cars and automated two wheelers and the ease with which they are now available has practically pushed the bicycle into an object of curiosity, although several countries such as Denmark, Japan, China can claim credit for making the Bicycle the principal means of transport having regard to Traffic issues and the vexatious problems caused by air pollution.

My own experiences with the Bicycle were very pleasant and I took to it at an early age. When I was in school in Hyderabad in the 1940s we went on cycling drives to the sylvan and vast Gandipet Lake, 24 Kms away from the city.

Gandipet’ is the local name for ‘Osmansagar’, the official name, after the last Nizam Of Hyderabad, Mir Osman Ali Khan Bahadur. The lake was formed by damming the Musi river to prevent its annual flooding of the city and also to function as a water resource for the city. It was designed and executed by Sir M. Viswesvarayya, who had served as the Diwan of Mysore. There are landscaped gardens and a heritage building, used as a Summer resort by the Nizam then on the Lakeshore.

After school and college I continued to use the Bicycle until I acquired a Vespa Scooter. This was more a measure of convenience and completely lacked the pleasure of riding a Bicycle.

———

Here’s an excerpt from my book Go West Odyssey: How I Saw America in 19 Days – my love for cycling got an adventurous boost in the USA.

 

25-mile cycling trip

The 25-mile cycling trip along the slightly downhill road on the right bank of the Lehigh River in the Pocono Mountains, Pennsylvania

We also went on a 25- mile cycling trip along the slightly downhill road on the right bank of the Lehigh River in the Pocono Mountains, Pennsylvania. Ravi and my daughter-in- law had selected and hired bicycles at the town of Jim Thorpe, a beautiful town that looks and feels like it had decided to relocate from Switzerland.

The town has been called the “Switzerland of America” due to the picturesque scenery, mountainous location and architecture and is also known as the Gateway to the Poconos. It was originally founded in 1818 and named Mauch Chunk (Bear Place) by the Munsee-Lenape Native American tribes who lived here. Jim Thorpe was an American legend as a renowned athlete and Olympics medal winner. The town renamed itself as Jim Thorpe in 1954 when his mortal remains were buried here.

All this part of Eastern Pennsylvania has vast deposits of Anthracite buried underneath and most towns here began as coal mining towns. The county is itself named ‘Carbon County.’ I urge you to Google the ghost town Centralia, which has a coal mine fire burning under it since 1962. The entire town has long been evacuated and all houses demolished. Fires are still burning and emitting gas. An acrid white smoke is active all over where the town was. According to a report by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), there is so much Anthracite under the town that the fires can burn for another century if left uncontrolled! Despite its hazards, Centralia is now a ‘curiosity tourist spot’ and the state is taking active steps to discourage visitors.

The quaint “Penny Farthing” cycle at Jim Thorpe. This cycle with a large front wheel and a much smaller rear wheel was popular in the 1880s

It is highly intriguing that the charming town of Jim Thorpe, the ‘Switzerland of America’, is just 32 miles away from Centralia. If you want to witness two completely and diametrically opposite spectacles of nature, one spectacularly pleasing and beautiful and the other dreadfully scary, visit these two towns, so different but so close.

We had hired bicycles at the intriguingly named “Hazard Square” at the center of the Jim Thorpe town (its original name ‘Mauch Chunk’ means Bear Place). We were conveyed by a Shuttle Bus to White Haven, the starting point of the ride, high in the mountains. Our bicycles accompanied us on a trailer attached to the bus and were duly restored to us at White Haven. We mounted our bicycles and cycled 25 miles on a gentle, woody, picturesque gradient all along the banks of the serpentine Lehigh River lying in the Lehigh Gorge.

Several stretches of the Lehigh River have rapids. White Water Rafting enthusiasts were having a roaring time. Many of the rafts were full of fellow Indians. We returned to Jim Thorpe at 5.30 pm after over 5 hours of cycling with occasional stops for admiring the scenery, several waterfalls, taking pictures, refreshments, etc., but thoroughly satisfied with our activity.

I had not done so much cycling at one go since the time I was a student (I have mentioned my escapades with the cycle as a student above). No hectic effort nor strain was involved as it was mostly a gentle downward gradient for nearly half the way and my satisfaction (or smugness?) lay more in having done it at all, despite a badly strained back and the natural handicap of my age (76).

 

If you are a travel enthusiast, check out the author NS Rajan’s illustrated travel book

Available on Amazon | Flipkart | Blue Pencil and Bookstores – Kunzum, Midlands, Bahrisons, UN Dhur and more…

NS Rajan is a retired senior IRS Officer. He is an avid reader and a sports lover, particularly cricket, having watched many greats in action from the late 1940s (he has played cricket at a fairly competitive level). He loves listening to music of all genres, is fascinated by Hindi film music of the ‘golden era’ and has written many essays on composers, lyricists and singers. Rajan loves to sing and spends some of his time singing on his karaoke system. He likes to write and has contributed articles, short stories and letters to newspapers and magazines, some of which have been published in Silhouette Magazine and LnC. Rajan is very fond of travelling and learning about new and fascinating places and is a keen observer of all that he sees, hears and observes during his travels. Travel and photography usually always go together and Rajan has been interested in photography from his teens, weaned on a German Zeiss Ikon. His abiding love for travel and photography inspired him to write an illustrated book on his trip to the USA, Go West Odyssey: How I Saw America in 19 Days, including in it a number of pictures taken by him during the trip. He works actively to keep himself engaged in some mental pursuit or the other and to keep himself mentally and physically fit at the ripe old age of 87.
All Posts of NS Rajan

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2 thoughts on “My 25-mile Cycling Trip in the USA at 76

  • Rachna Rajesh

    The fact that you cycled 25 miles at the age of 76 for 5 hours straight, with occasional stops, is the most fascinating part in this excerpt from your fascinating travelogue, Go West Odyssey. The burning coal under centralia is one of the many absorbing stories that I have learnt .
    Coming back to the bicycle , it was a most precious belonging for most of us in my generation as well. I dont remember feeling the kind of emotional attachment I had to my bicycle , to anything else that I owned later :).

  • N.S.Rajan

    Thank you, Rachna.
    To young people of those days, a cycle was the most precious gift and possession of one was a matter of pride and pleasure. Perhaps, these days youngsters seek that pride in the owning and possession of a ‘Smartphone’. 🙂

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