The Birth of Brownie

I have christened my bike Brownie. I thought of Brown Man initially. But riding a Brown Man did not sound quite right. This is how I found Brownie.

I was in New York when I felt the Force (not the one in Star Wars) pulling me towards it yet again. (The Force exists somewhere in Latin America. I have been feeling the Force for several years now. Whenever I was feeling burnt out at work, it's this Force that kept me going to earn more and save more. Maybe it's just a figment of my imagination.)

I checked the cheapest flight tickets from New York to Texas. Texas would have been the best state in the US to start biking towards Mexico. The cheapest ones were for Dallas. But Dallas was on tornado alert. Austin and Houston were more expensive. I had to wait only for a few more days. Finally, I bought the ticket to Dallas for January 5th. $68 only (and $25 for check-in luggage). 

I looked for hosts in Dallas. Sent two requests. Was about to send more but the first person accepted. His name's Ben. I was hoping that he would accept because he had done a biking tour in Europe. I was also hoping to buy a new bike in Dallas and start biking by January 10. But on my first day in Dallas, I found out that I could not afford a new bike in the US.

I ended up staying at Ben's place the entire time I was in Dallas. He, his roommate, Adam, and Adam's band member, Spencer, helped me in so many different ways. Ben spoke to his friends and family to help me find a bike. One of his friends, the owner of a bike shop in Arlington, had a good second hand bike. We went to check it out. Unfortunately, something was wrong with its handlebar. Also, it wasn't a 26 incher. The shop owner felt bad and gifted me some flat tyre patches, chamoix cream for my butt and glowlight stickers for riding in the dark.

At Ben and Adam's place
I tried to make Shahi Paneer for them. Ended up making something completely different. I now call it Texan Paneer Curry.
Meanwhile, Ben's mom told him about the Yellow Bike Project. It's a social enterprise dedicated to bikes. They had a learn-by-doing program wherein one could go there to refurbish a donated bike. Do that for 24 hours and earn a bike! I decided to go to Austin and bought the cheapest bus ticket.

A couple of days before I was supposed to leave, Adam's band Trai Bo were playing a gig. (They are one of the best indie rock bands I have heard. Check them out here!) Adam tagged my picture on facebook and invited people to give me advice about my trip at the gig. Someone I met there added me to a facebook group of Dallas biking enthusiasts where people posted second hand stuff for sale or exchange. A day before I was supposed to leave for Austin, somebody posted the picture of a bike- a Giant 90s steel frame, redone in 2006, with front and back racks, four panniers, handpump, rear view mirror, some other spare parts. All of it for $200. I was a tiny bit skeptical: in India, I could easily get a new bike for that price! Adam advised that it was a great deal by US standards. He drove me to Fortsworth, where the seller lived. When I test rode the bike, I knew it was I had found my bike! However, I, being an Indian, obviously could not have bought without some haggling. I quoted $180. The seller agreed! And just like that I had my bike for my long haul trip to Argentina!

What Brownie looked like when I bought it
I ended up going to Austin anyway. Ben and a few others strongly insisted that I learn some basic repair work before commencing my trip. Ben even arranged for me to stay at his parents' for the first two nights!

There was one glitch- I could not take the bike with me on Megabus. Ben, the Batman, offered to bring the bike by car the following weekend!

I went to Yellow Bike on my first day in Austin. I met John at the reception. I told him my story and why I wanted to volunteer at Yellow Bike. (By the way, John, very surprisingly, knew about my namesake. He even said to me, "You have big shoes to fill in." That made me so happy.)

He suggested that I start learning how to fix flat tyres. He took me to the puncture desk and introduced me to Pete, who was working there. He was taking tyres off the rims. Since that would be the first step to fix a flat tube, he asked me to learn that. We started talking. John had already told him my story. But Pete wanted to know why I was doing it. I told him about my dream and how I got my bike. He was amazed at how the bike managed to find me and came with everything I needed. He asked me where I was staying. I told him how I had a place for two nights at Ben's parents' and three nights at another host's place but was having difficulty finding more hosts. He immediately offered his place to me. Everybody at Yellow Bike was excited about my trip. Pete said, "Don't worry, we'll set you up and get you ready for your trip!" It was decided that it would make sense for me to bring my bike and start working on it. 

Yellow Bike Project's Entrance

Ben got the bike on Friday to my host's place- at Jordan's. But he had had to disassemble it to fit inside the car. On Saturday, I could not find a way to get the bike in that state to Yellow Bike. Surya, Jordan's roommate, offered to take the bike in his car on Sunday. But Yellow Bike was shut on Sunday and Monday. Surya found a spare screw that I needed to attach the front wheel. It was not in the condition to ride. But I could take it to Yellow Bike by bus on Tuesday. Pete was there. He requested one of his colleagues, another John, to guide me. I got the front wheel and the handlebar fixed. Then somebody taught me how to fix flat tyres. It wasn't that difficult. I even taught two girls how to do it.

I stayed at Pete's from Tuesday night onwards. Pete and Sarah gave me an entire room! I guess as bike tourists, they knew it would be hard for me to find comfort again. Over the next six days, they offered all kinds of advice- everything I needed to know about travelling by bike. They taught me so much and gave me so much that I could not fathom why. Pete said, "I like to be a part of dreams such as yours." I was planning to leave Austin on January 25th. On the 24th, they took me out for dinner to an Indian restaurant. Pete said that he did not want me to feel any pangs for Indian food on my way. We went to a nifty one called Nasha. I ordered a chicken biryani. It was so spicy that I definitely won't feel the urge for Indian for a long time now.

I learnt a lot from Sarah and Pete about bike touring and life. 

Sarah and Pete with their dog, Laika
At some point I started thinking about what to call my bike. I somehow knew that it must be customary to name one's bike in the world of bike travellers. It makes sense too to treat it like a person and care for it. I decided to call it Brownie simply because it's brown in colour. On the eve of the Big Day, Pete happened to ask me if I had thought of a name for my bike. Hah, I already had!

Pete, Sarah, and I just before I said goodbye
Anyway, that's the story of the beginning of Brownie's story. I hope she will not give up before getting to Ushuaia.

When I left home for this trip, I had no idea how I was going to find my bike. I knew nothing about repairing a bike. All I had, and I quote from one of my instagram posts, was my willingness to subject myself to the tyranny of chance and rejoice in it. 

I owe these people so much that I will never be able to pay them back enough. Thank you, Ben, Adam, Paula and Bob, Pete, and Sarah! Without y'all, Brownie and I would not have got on the Road.

(I could not leave on the Big Day. I'll explain why in another post and introduce you to my friend, César.)


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