Naresh Kumar isn’t your extraordinary worldwide touring bike owner. Initially, he’s not European or American. Kumar, 37, clawed his means out of India’s decrease center class to land a candy gig in Silicon Valley, then gave all of it up for a vagabond life-style punctuated by ultramarathons, cross-country path runs, and intercontinental bike rides.
Second, and by far, probably the most fascinating—he usually travels solo on a tandem bicycle, inviting folks he meets alongside the best way to climb aboard and share their tales. The bike is a pure dialog starter, and with no brakes or steering, the again seat is an effective metaphor for the sense of powerlessness felt by victims of human traffickers.
5 years in the past in Nepal, a person tried to promote a younger lady to Kumar for intercourse. Kumar quickly discovered that greater than 40 million folks worldwide are held in bondage, a lot of them youngsters trafficked for intercourse or compelled labor. The expertise gave goal to his wandering, and Kumar has since raised about $130,000 for anti-slavery causes by way of a collection of trail-running and biking expeditions. “All of the funds that come by way of assist to present somebody not meals, garments or shelter,” he says, “however probably the most treasured factor of all: the liberty that each human being deserves.”
Kumar ran New Zealand top-to-bottom on the 1,900-mile Te Araroa Path—in sandals—then traversed the nation once more on his tandem bicycle, the primary of his Freedom Seat expeditions. When a nonstop bike race throughout Australia was canceled in 2018 following the loss of life of a competitor the earlier yr, Kumar rode the route anyway, elevating funds to finish slavery. And for 87 days in 2019, Kumar rode his tandem some 5,500 miles from his hometown of Chennai, India, to Germany. The route crossed two continents and 13 international locations, and, as Kumar tells Journey Journal, it renewed his religion in humanity.
AJ: You had been born in India, the Kiwis declare you as certainly one of their very own, and as we converse you’re in California. Assist me unravel your man-of-mystery persona.
NK: I used to be born in Chennai, India, and got here to the U.S. once I was 27 to work as a marketing consultant. So the U.S. was residence for seven years, after which at some point I stop all the pieces and simply left, not understanding what to do. Since then I’ve by no means been in a single place longer than 4 months. Now I’ve been to 32 international locations, and 80 % of these international locations I toured human-powered from one finish to a different. They name me a Kiwi as a result of I ran the size of New Zealand on the Te Araroa Path in winter, sporting only a pair of sandals. The Indian hobbit in Center Earth.
I grew up in a really poor neighborhood, nearly a slum. While you’re treading simply to maintain your head above water, it’s onerous to consider what you need. You must focus in your wants. While you’re being humiliated, insulted, and your dad and mom are being made enjoyable of—individuals are saying ‘Why don’t you ship them to a manufacturing facility to field some stuff? Why are you even sending them to highschool?’ However my dad knew schooling is a passport to flee poverty, so I went to a missionary college. I labored actually onerous, bought a scholarship, and have become an engineer.
Is that what introduced you to the U.S.?
Sure. I labored in India as a programmer with Dell Computer systems and a number of software program firms. There have been 400 folks on my crew, and the final word purpose for everybody is attending to the U.S. It’s like profitable an Oscar or a Nobel Prize and also you’re working 24 hours a day to get there. I used to get up at three:00 within the morning to answer to my shoppers’ e mail from the U.S., in order that when my boss wakes up within the morning he’ll see all this e-mail and the shopper ends it by saying, ‘Hey, man, thanks for fixing it. We don’t know what we’d have performed if not to your assist.’ Time to return to sleep. You go to mattress by four:00 within the morning, and also you’re again at work at 7:00. So when a place opened within the U.S. the boss didn’t even consider the opposite 399 folks. I bought my dream job, and thought I’d develop into a CEO with a seaside home in California. However life had different plans for me.
You discovered one other calling?
I spotted I used to be sitting in entrance of the pc and typing my life away. I needed to do one thing better and regardless that I didn’t know what it was, it was like a volcano. It was constructing till at one level it simply blew off the lid. I stop my job, which implies I wouldn’t have a piece visa to return again to the U.S. So this was actually pulling the plug. It was the most important leap of religion I’ve ever taken.
Your first cease was Nepal. Inform me what occurred there.
Once I got here to the States in 2007 I fell in love with trail-running, and that’s how I discovered I had a present for long-distance endurance. I did a number of marathons and ultramarathons, and certainly one of my bucket-list objectives was to run the Annapurna Circuit. So I booked a one-way ticket to Nepal and ran the circuit, then took just a few weeks to see the nation.
That’s when a person solicited me for intercourse with a minor. I stored saying, no, no, no, and he simply stored upping his deal, saying he had some very younger women. Taking a look at me with different foreigners, he mentioned ‘When you don’t wish to spend an excessive amount of cash, you’ll be able to simply take one lady and share with everybody. And once you’re performed, simply give me a name. I’ll decide her up.’ I couldn’t consider it. A susceptible human life that’s being offered and thrown away. That have opened up my coronary heart. It made a deep affect, and combating modern-day slavery grew to become my trigger.
How did you mix your advocacy together with your love of path working and biking?
After Nepal I went to New Zealand for my first anti-slavery fund-raising expedition. I landed on the airport and hitchhiked all the best way from Auckland airport to Cape Reinga, the northernmost level of New Zealand, and just about ran and hiked the entire size of Te Araroa sporting only a pair of sandals.
Wait, what? The place did you get the thought to run three,000 kilometers in sandals?
Once I first got here to the U.S., I ran one marathon in sneakers and it was type of a painful expertise. I used to be additionally studying the e-book Born to Run by Christopher McDougall, concerning the Tarahumara Indians and the way they’re working lengthy stretches simply sporting a chunk of a tire tied to their toes. And so I simply needed to discover that choice. At first I used to be working in Vibram 5 Fingers and my longest run at the moment was throughout the size of Tennessee in a 314-mile race referred to as the Vol State Highway Race. They drop you in Missouri and also you run throughout the state of Tennessee nearly diagonally, and also you end in Georgia.
There are two classes. One is known as crewed—the place you have got mates following you in a automobile, providing you with meals or no matter—and the opposite is known as screwed. I ran that race in Vibram 5 Fingers within the screwed class, however it felt so bizarre as a result of my toes had been confined, and naturally I misplaced all my toenails. In order that’s once I made my change to Bedrock Sandals. [Ed. Note, Kumar is a brand ambassador for Bedrock.] After that I ran so many 100-milers sporting simply sandals.
Te Araroa is a good bit longer than 100 miles. You will need to have been on the highway for a few months.
Eighty-seven days, 21 hours, 28 minutes, 56 seconds. It was a tremendous expertise. It was life-changing. One, the Kiwi hospitality simply blows your thoughts, particularly coming from the US and India, the place there’s extra of a me-first perspective. However then you might be traversing the size of New Zealand solo and unsupported, and the hospitality and the kindness of individuals simply blew my thoughts. Even the highway sections, it’s a must to cross 10 or 15 kilometers on the roads. There are such a lot of automobiles that pulled over, asking ‘Are you okay?’ Individuals supply to present you a trip, even when it’s out of their means. They go forward, purchase some meals, come again and provides it to you. Open their doorways, treating you want household. And I’m nobody to them.
With the present of storytelling and these excessive adventures, I get the chance to inform folks why I’m doing what I’m doing. First folks ask what are you doing, and finally they’ll ask you why. As a result of the why is so vital—that defines your what, when, how. So I’d be invited into faculties, libraries, and so many locations simply to talk and share the story.
So you have got a trigger that issues and a love affair with New Zealand. The place does the tandem bike match into the image?
A couple of years in the past I met an individual at a pal’s wedding ceremony, and he instructed me about his journey on a tandem bike. He mentioned he would decide up random folks alongside the best way and speak to them, and report all this and put out some small bits on YouTube. I discovered the thought really fascinating, but additionally I used to be interested in tandems. I do know what it’s like to take a seat within the entrance. I needed to take a seat within the again seat and see what that have looks like. And it seems that it’s terrifying.
It’s scary as a result of swiftly you might be sitting on this machine however you have got completely no management. The primary time I used to be on a tandem, I may see this pothole and I’m making an attempt to push the bike. However the man is like, ‘You aren’t a very good stoker. You simply should bend and flow.’ I used to be like, ‘Man, it’s simple for you, however with no management—no brakes and no steering—it’s onerous.’ And I believe that was the voilà second—certainly one of my first experiences of dropping full management over my freedom.
I spotted the tandem is a pleasant metaphor to clarify to folks what it’s to not have freedom, besides that it’s 1,000,000 instances worse for people who find themselves exploited and trafficked. So with that concept, I went again to New Zealand. I teamed up with a charity that I used to be elevating cash for and instructed them I’m going again to Cape Reinga with a tandem. I’m going to trip this lovely size of New Zealand and I’m going to select up random folks. And everybody laughed.
However you probably did it.
I went again to the identical place the place I began my run and stood there with a tandem bike, hoping that somebody will be part of me on that expedition. There was a British couple there taking footage of the lighthouse, and after they noticed me ready with an enormous tandem bike absolutely loaded with panniers, and nobody with me, the man got here to me. He’s like, ‘It seems to be like you might be on an enormous journey, however when you don’t thoughts me asking, the place’s your pal?’
I mentioned, ‘I don’t have a pal, however I’m going three,000 kilometers that means. I’ll inform all about it, however would you wish to be the primary passenger?’ And to my shock, he offers the automobile keys to his spouse and says, ‘Babe, go 40 kilometers from right here. There’s a restaurant, anticipate us there as a result of I want to actually see what this man is as much as.’ And he simply jumped on the bike. I felt so sorry for him, as a result of he’s on this cotton shirt and cargo pants and it’s a fairly hilly part. However he simply powered by way of and it gave me the possibility to clarify to him why I’m doing this factor.
It sounds just like the bike is a superb dialog starter.
It’s a great technique to join with folks. I’m very interested in speaking to folks, and ever since my New Zealand run I found that simply asking folks easy questions like ‘Who’re you?’ and ‘What’s your story?’ simply will get folks speaking. They make themselves so susceptible, attending to the roots of who they’re. Nobody offers you their resume. They go to the deep core of who they’re as an individual, they usually share their deep secrets and techniques.
So the British man, he was terrified sitting within the again, and I used to be in a position to inform him how freedom is the best type of residing and that 40 million folks don’t have it. We rode like 26 miles, and on the café he and his spouse crammed up my backpack with meals and water. We hugged and he took off, and inside 10 minutes, my telephone buzzes with a notification from GoFundMe. My first donation, about 500 Nice Britain Kilos, nearly 700 U.S. .
The precise trigger was for rescuing women in Thailand from brothels and my purpose was to boost 20,000 New Zealand (about $13,000 U.S.) on this expedition. We ended up elevating $60,000 in 30 days. 100 and forty folks joined me on that expedition. The youngest was 5 years, and the oldest was about 82 years outdated.
So then you definitely took the thought to the following stage this yr, going from India to Germany on the tandem. How was that journey totally different than the New Zealand trip?
The most important problem was language, simply because in New Zealand I had the present of storytelling. Individuals had been actually welcoming as a result of I used to be in a position to inform them a narrative as to why I’m doing what I’m doing. That type of opened up their hearts. However now right here I’m crossing by way of 13 international locations, solely two of which converse English. In all my earlier adventures, I discovered that vulnerability was the important thing to human connection. And on this expedition the most important lesson I discovered was language is just not a barrier, as a result of vulnerability has no language. It exhibits in your physique. Individuals can odor it miles away.
That’s fascinating, since you’d assume anybody who cycles 5,500 miles by way of 13 international locations have to be fearless.
My dad and mom thought I used to be going to get beheaded. However going by way of Iran was one of the best 18 days of my life, driving 2,200 kilometers throughout that nation, with the Iranian hospitality and kindness. It taught me what it’s to be a human once more. I imply, I’m a Christian and we preach on a regular basis, ‘Love thy neighbor.’ However how many people even know what which means?
Then I’m driving in the midst of nowhere in Turkey, it’s snowing all over the place and I cease underneath an deserted gasoline station considering what am I doing with my life, and a random individual simply exhibits up and takes me residence. There’s no reception for Google translate, so I can’t even clarify what I’m doing. However this man takes me in and treats me like household. This 84-year-old man gave up his mattress, took only one blanket and put it on the ground. And actually the one factor he didn’t do is tuck me into mattress and kiss me goodnight. He simply stored bringing tea, bringing meals. And once I wakened the following morning all my stuff in my backpack, my garments, had been lacking.
That man wakened as quickly because the solar was up and hand-washed all my soiled garments. He was ready on the carpet outdoors, simply ready to prepare dinner me breakfast. There was this silence, however it wasn’t awkward. There was this very comfy silence with this random stranger who was so invested in ensuring this unusual Indian boy who was biking the world over was as comfy as attainable.
Did you expertise that type of hospitality all over the place?
In every single place. Each single day I used to be proven nothing however the purest type of hospitality and kindness. It was the identical in 13 international locations, even in Europe. In every single place I went, a number of the poorest folks had been probably the most beneficiant.
And then you definitely go to the richest peoples’ homes. Electronics and iPads mendacity round. They simply provide the keys and say, ‘Make your self comfy.’ It simply blows your thoughts. And I believe it comes again to vulnerability. They will see that you just belief them since you are so susceptible, and they also prolong that belief to you. They usually see that I’ve nothing. As a result of if stealing was my motive, I wouldn’t be driving this tandem bike midway the world over.
Has that generosity prolonged to your fundraising efforts?
Sure. To date, all my expeditions collectively have raised about 200,000 New Zealand (US$ 130,000) for causes associated to trafficking and modern-day slavery. The funds that we raised from the India to Germany journey might be used to construct a shelter in South India for folks rescued from bonded labor slavery.
What’s subsequent for you?
The subsequent yr’s Rotary Convention Conference is going on in Honolulu. It’ll be superior if we are able to trip throughout America, East Coast to West Coast, or the opposite means, after which fly to Honolulu to talk on the massive convention there. The Rotary’s most important venture was to eradicate polio from the face of the planet, which is just about performed aside from a only a few scattered instances. So I’m actually making an attempt to get them to take up ending slavery as the following mission.
Doing one thing like this within the U.S., is a little bit of an costly deal as a result of I can’t simply sleep wherever I need. Even when you pitch a tent within the state park, it prices like $15. So I’m simply elevating some funds simply to satisfy the expedition value, and can hopefully begin the mission in April and end by June, in time to current to the convention.
Implausible. Save a seat for us.