Meet Satish, Arun and Stanley (SAS). Three supercharged adventurers, on two hardy Yezdis, dared to ride the American dream, from sea to shining sea. Come along and read their story.
These Yezdi petrol heads, listened to their inner call, went there, did it, and returned to recount the tale; with humility, passion and pride; of how men and machines together emerged victoriously. Meeting the three of them on a sultry summer Saturday, in suburban Mumbai, took our mind off the blazing sun, searing heat and the need for constantly replenishing our quickly depleting body water stores.
Blessed by then Mumbai Sheriff, Nana Chudasama, and officially flagged off on July 21st, 1990 the three members of the Tata Electric Adventurers Club, zoomed off on their American adventure aboard official sponsor Air India, on tickets that were 50% off. If that doesn't actually whack you off the ballpark, try doing a 90-day tour of the US of A, riding 18,200kms, traversing 37 states, on a shoestring budget of just $500, for the entire trip. That was precisely what Government regulation allowed each of them to carry, in them days.
"Do the impossible. Achieve the invincible, while propagating peace and goodwill"SATISH, ARUN AND STANLEY
After dreaming the impossible dream, planning the impossible plan was next on the agenda. Comforting to the SAS was the fact that they all belonged to the Tata Adventurers Cub, whose members climb steep mountains, ride kayaks across rapids, trek roads less travelled and things of that ilk, when not working in Tata Electric. So dealing with the unknown was the oxygen they thrived on. Here, the unknowns were legion. Right from travel permissions, to visas, to sponsorships, to shipping of motorcycles, to meeting pollution criteria in the USA, to route planning, to board and lodge, to budget management, to weather patterns, to forecasting the unforecastable.
As the Tao saying goes, When you take a leap of faith, even the universe collaborates; and for our winsome threesome, collaborate it did indeed, and more! Amongst the sponsors were: Tata Electric, Air India, Giants International, Hoegh Lines, Shipping Corporation of India, MRF Tires, Photophone Industries, Raj Travels and Chaggan Mitha, Chembur, underwriting the spares.
The motorcycles, the motorcycles, it’s all about the motorcycles; and of course the passion of their riders. The two motorcycles they took along for the rides were Satish Ganapathy’s 16-year old Yezdi 250cc Roadking, and Stanley’s 1978 Yezdi 250cc, bought second hand in Mumbai. While Satish’s motorcycle was serviced and made virtually new by the Ideal Jawa factory in Mysore, Stanley’s motorcycle was serviced by his favourite mechanic, near Mumbai’s Mahalakshmi race course.
Satish Ganapathy is a veteran Yezdi enthusiast, having ridden motorcycles since he was a boy. An avid adventure seeker, Ganapathy has participated in two 580-mile Himalayan rallies through rugged Indian terrain, been surrounded by 100s of hyperactive reindeer in Norway, that surged through a damaged fence. I found myself in the middle of them, and with all those antlers, it was not what you would call a happy Christmas story. Fortunately, he did not get hurt. Having ridden bikes since he was a boy, Satish has now ridden his trusted Yezdi 250cc Roadking over 35,000kms across every continent, except New Zealand; which he finally covered, on four wheels in April 2017. Before taking up motorcycle riding as a passion, Satish was a glider pilot, who has completed 52 successful touchdowns.
The Mumbai-London leg of the journey was part-spent relaxing from the strenuous organising that had to be done. The London-New York flight was spent in the impending excitement of what lay ahead, coupled with the apprehension of clearing their motorcycles and equipment from the NY dockland in roadworthy shape. Fortunately for them, Brian Stabler, SCI’s General Manager, was a man with connections in high places and a great penchant for making friends. The minute their container was opened, viola, the motorcycles that were tightly secured in Mumbai, hadn’t budged an inch. Everything was intact, including the one litre of petrol in the tank that was needed to start the motorcycle. Recounting their relief, Arun Khadse reminisces that he could have almost kissed the ground of the New York container yard that morning.
A bigger miracle than this was the problem-free ride the trio had, right through the 18,200kms across the USA. The only problem that manifested was an accelerator cable snap, which was quickly rectified. Indeed a tribute to performance of the forever value motorcycle.
As they say in downtown Alabama, Many good things begin with a mistake, that’s how the good times they roll. So did the attempt to take off from New York Harbour, the day the motorcycles were cleared. First mistake. Instead of going west, the riders roared East, and went around in circles, in an attempt to get off Long Island for over 3 hrs. Says a smiling Arun, We didn’t have any route numbers in India; just signboards pointing the way. They finally managed to exit, acting on advice from a kindly gasoline station attendant, and headed straight past the New Jersey Turnpike, to the American Automobile Association office, for state road maps.
As they set off on pristine highways, burly trucks thundered past them at speeds of 180kmph, causing their Yezdi’s to wobble and often compelling them to stop for convoys. In a land where 1200cc motorcycles were the norm, seeing people riding 250cc vintage motorcycles was indeed a rarity. Not surprisingly this was a great ice breaker, where many friends were made across the country. Some even offered to buy the motorcycles on the spot at fancy prices. But who was selling, eh? Considering the weight of the camping gear and spares being carried and the power of the motorcycles, average speeds rarely crossed 45kmph. But as the high-powered motorcycles and cars passed by, their riders and occupants would wave in greeting to the three men on their fascinating machines.
Come nightfall and the trio slept under starry skies, often setting up their tents on campgrounds. Most often, this was the best part of the day, where fellow campers shared their food and invited their Indian guests to sing and dance around barbecue pits or campfires. There was even a full-tilt rock concert one night. Another morning at the Niagara Camp Grounds, they chanced upon a gang of Hells Angels on their super powered Harleys. So enthralled were the Angels to meet fellow bikers from another country, that they were invited to ride with them right into the next state.
"To be on the road is a very American experience. You have to drive through America to understand how enormous it is. Their highways are the best in the world and Americans are so polite on the road."
There was much learning from this experience for Arun. Riding on freeways and expressway requires some adjustments in our riding habits. Seat sores, sudden animal crossings and swarms of cornfield insects, are some of the problems we had to face through the entire journey. But these were small challenges for the Mumbai-based trio. As they were nearing Cleveland, the rain lashed down and beat on them terribly. It was a harrowing experience, confesses Arun, as we thought the Mumbai monsoons were as bad as it could get. Nonetheless, they made it to Cleveland before nightfall and freeloaded with a friend from India and sat down to a meal of some great Indian Tandoori chicken in a long time. After a two-day stopover, the now refreshed travellers left for Detroit.
All across Ohio and Illinois, the riders faced high velocity, chilly winds and sometimes tornadoes and hurricanes, followed by sudden floods. As if that was not all, en-route to Lima in Ohio, a thunderstorm caused lightning to hit and electric pole, the induction current of which hit all three, riders. Arun and pillion Stanley were thrown to the ground with the impact. Miraculously, nothing serious happened to both riders and the motorcycles. Taking shelter in a motel that night, they were given a transistor by the owner, who cautioned him to listen to local weather reports before setting out. Later that day they heard the news that six people had died in a flash flood nearby. Indeed a second lease of life to the riders.
Survival on a shoestring budget stirred the creative instinct and curbed the drive towards indulgence. Surviving on Big Macs and Pizza Hut fare, enjoying the hospitality meted out by the Salvation Army and Gurudwara langars, especially in Phoenix, Arizona, staying at the homes of friends and well-wishers, sleeping on campgrounds and staying at low-cost motels, were amongst the most valuable lessons learned. What was particularly endearing to experience, was the warmth of fellow-Indians, throughout the ride.
Meticulous planning for the next day was part of every pre-bedtime agenda.
"If you make a mistake you may lose approximately 40 miles on a long stretch of highway; which is a colossal waste of time, money and energy"
The natural beauty of the vast American continent proffered breathtaking rides through remarkable experiences. Shenandoah National Park, Blue Ridge Mountains, of the Appalachian Trail, Rocky Mountains, Colorado, crossing the 10 km Muffet Tunnel near the Great Continental Divide in Colorado, Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona state, Smoky Mountains, Tennessee and the Pacific Coast route, via Vancouver, Canada. Not to miss the familiar landmarks that the riders saw in person - the Statue of Liberty, World Trade Centre, Henry Ford Museum, Disneyland, Disney World, Hershey’s Chocolate Factory, Pennsylvania; only picture postcards of which were seen before, being hawked off Mumbai streets. Of course, each city, prairie, desert highway and town, offered experiences all of their own.
Despite heart-stopping moments, and astute planning, when the budget threatened to go abysmally low, due to the Gulf crisis that raised the prices of gasoline, there were a few heart-warming human encounter stories worth recounting, that saved the day.
At the highest level of the echelon was Abid Hussein, India’s Ambassador to the US, who welcomed the riders warmly in Washington DC, extended his hospitality and presented them with a gift of $300, which made a huge difference to their finances. Speaking engagements before clubs like Lions International and Jaycees brought in many a listening ear, and significant donations from attendees, that were considered a blessing from God. Dr. Ali, a prominent and affluent Indian, not only welcomed them to his fabulous home but even took them on a tour of Detroit city, in his private aircraft, personally piloted by himself.
Then there was the police who once stopped them and warned them to pull off the road. Fearing they had committed a breach of traffic rules, the officer smiled politely and took them to a highway stop for coffee; all the while asking details about Indian and parts of the US they had visited. It turned out that most Americans don’t even see the next town during their working lives, as they get very few annual holidays.
On October 15th, 1990, the riders touched down in Mumbai, poorer by a few dollars in savings, but immensely rich in experience. The publicity this experience generated in the local US press and TV stations was tremendous. There were three TV interviews and frequent newspaper mentions, all along the route they travelled.
"Satish, Arun & Stanley the adventurers moving on a huge chessboard that is America have proved that man’s thirst for challenge and excitement lives on"
"Why do you ride cross country on a motorcycle, hazarding the risks abroad, when trucking is big business and accident rates high?" was a question Satish Ganapathy was asked by a reporter in the US. "We do it for adventure and personal satisfaction; that’s all that matters" was his honest reply.
In conclusion, an inspirational Goethe quote that’s oft used by Ganapathy goes "Daring ideas are like chessmen moving forward. They may be beaten, but they may also start a winning game."