Lavanya Pant got me laughing from the start. Her application was full of comedy and heart, adventurous exploits and profound insight. And then I saw her photography. She’s talented, she’s young and she’s committed to bicycle adventure. I see her as capable of uplifting others— inspiring people to try new things, to follow their hearts and be kind to one another. In a word, I fell in love with Lavanya Pant and I think you will too. Please donate to the community-supported travel grant that we have established for Lavanya on Generosity.com.
Lavanya Pant is 26 years old. This is her story, in her words.
I was born in India and lived there till I was 13. For 3 years my family lived in the remote towns and settlements of Bikaner and Barmer in the Thar Desert in Rajasthan where heat and power outages often forced us to sleep outside and I first developed an affinity for doing so. I taught myself to ride on my neighbor’s bicycle in New Delhi when I was 10. In exchange, I’d ‘let her play’ with my well-liked and not manipulative little sister. My parents migrated to Australia in 2003. Retrospectively, I am very grateful. I don’t think I would be riding around the world if we hadn’t. At the age of 13, in Australia I got my first bike. I rode to school everyday.
My first solo travel experience was when I turned 19. I saved up to go to Cuba, Mexico and the US for 2 months. In Isla Mujeres, I gave my neighbors 250 pesos to borrow their daughter’s bike for a day. I rode the 13km perimeter of the island four times. I saw baby turtles, swam in pristine waters, and was joined on one leg by seventy-something Vietnam vet Jerry or ‘Captain Bananas’ from Florida who showed me Mayan ruins I thought had only existed on the mainland. I spoke to so many locals and had the time of my life. On returning from this trip, I took out an academic loan for a study tour to South Africa and Rwanda for 4 weeks. We met many genocide survivors, heard their heartbreaking stories and were amazed at how Rwandans couldn’t stop beaming with huge smiles and warm hearts despite their recent history. I hope to revisit Cuba, Mexico, Rwanda and USA on my bike one day.
My partner Alistair and his friends got me into riding longer distances. In 2012, Al lent me his 3-speed Raleigh Twenty and I did my first overnight and off road ride on the Warrnambool-Port Fairy rail trail on the Victorian coast. I loved every bit of it, even my rattly Raleigh. The following year, we built a Surly Disc Trucker. I was suddenly so much faster and capable of riding dirt! But still unable to keep up with Al and his friends. Frustrated but inspired, I started a girls riding group called The Winona Riders. I was surprised at how many women were interested in riding and traveling by bike. Al and I held a bicycle mechanics workshop and ten Winonas did our first dirt overnighter in January 2014 – 45kms into the Warburton ranges. We squeezed ten people into four small tents by the river, ate kangaroo burgers, giggled hysterically. Our title offset any danger of getting down or taking things seriously.
In the 2014-15 holiday period, me and 8 friends (including two Winonas), slow rolled through dirt roads and fire trails cutting through the middle of Tasmania. It was hard, hilly, remote and so much fun! We had a 3-day stretch with no resupply. One memorable day was when the Winona Riders beat all the boys to the top of the biggest climb of the route owing to good navigation and stocking up lots of Tasmanian cheese.
In July 2015, Al and I quit our jobs and bought a one-way ticket to Denmark. We rode dirt and pavement from Copenhagen to Athens. I got a real taste for riding dirt in France, Montenegro and Albania and want to progress to riding desert roads and more technical trails. This was my first experience travelling internationally by bike. The gradual process of breaking down physical and mental barriers between my environment and me was invigorating. Some things I learnt – people and animals are not scary, rain and snow is not bad and often fun, cleanliness and smelling good is not essential to making great friends, language barriers inspire creative interaction and can fasten ties better than strings of familiar words, gracefully accepting relentless hospitality is an important skill to hone, and caring for my body and things I own is essential but worrying about them unnecessary. Also, not to fall for government travel advisories and political hearsay about how dangerous the world is. And definitely not to believe self-imposed advisories on what I can and can’t do. Bike touring is one of few ways of travelling where I am constantly reminded of these facts. The more openly I interact with the people and places around me, the better I feel about the world and myself in it.
Now, I live and work in Tokyo and commute as much as possible and ride into the mountains on weekends. I did my first solo overnighter into the Okutama mountains from Tokyo in July. At the local izakaya, the other patrons bought me a round of beer and pickled plums (for ‘fatigue recovery’) when they heard I rode out there alone. This winter I plan to get to Shikoku or Okinawa islands and do a longer solo bike tour.
I have native proficiency in Hindi, Urdu and English. Recently, I started learning the Urdu script for a gateway to Arabic and Farsi. In the last 7 months in Japan I have gained intermediate proficiency in speaking Japanese and can orient myself in many situations. I can read the phonic scripts and love deciphering the forever evasive Kanji, which are hieroglyphics, that I don’t think I will ever master. In Montenegro last year, 15yo Selma from Berane taught me some of her favourite songs in Serbski. These songs are great lightweight souvenirs and ever since I have collected them in Hindi, Marwari and Japanese.
For the last 6 months I have been working in Tokyo and saving to buy a hardtail with plus size tires and bikepacking gear so I can travel through the Mongolian desert next year and hopefully meet Kazakh eagle hunters! The latter I have fantasised about since I was 16. I want to roll over sand and riverbeds and it seems like this is a necessary step in my riding evolution. I pay student loans in Australia and am enrolled in a mandatory Japanese pension scheme so currently I couldn’t have made it to Baja this year without the scholarship.
It is a thrill to feel supported and rewarded for adventure. Earlier this year I was in India, where some people did not approve of my bike travels. It was seen as irresponsible and rebellious. These attitudes are not surprising but hurtful and discouraging nonetheless. My younger female cousins were most supportive and I feel grateful for them….
A scholarship that supports women in doing what they love and giving them a platform to share those experiences will have a domino effect in inspiring courage and creativity in more women and potentially changing the attitudes of others.
Lavanya will ride the Baja Divide this February and March with Alistair and any Winona Riders and friends that can join. She will ride an extra small Advocate Cycles Seldom Seen with Revelate Designs luggage, and will also be awarded with additional new equipment and support from Big Agnes, Specialized, and Adventure Cycling Association. I really hope I get to meet her.