Astride his motorcycle, Jay Kannaiyan's journey from Chicago to Delhi comes alive in his new book

In 2010, Jay Kannaiyan quit a stable corporate job to tread a path that would lead him into the unknown. Keeping him company was his trusted steed, sanDRina — a robust Suzuki DR650 bike. Kannaiyan's book, Riding Towards Me: A Thousand-day journey from Chicago to Delhi, captures his unique adventures that unfurled over the course of three years.

Shail Desai November 11, 2019 10:30:18 IST
Astride his motorcycle, Jay Kannaiyan's journey from Chicago to Delhi comes alive in his new book
  • Jay Kannaiyan vividly captures his adventures in the book, Riding Towards Me: A Thousand-day Journey from Chicago to Delhi.

  • In 2010, Kannaiyan quit a stable corporate job to tread a path that would lead him into the unknown.

  • All along the way, Kannaiyan reached out to locals through biking and couch-surfing communities, and staying and interacting with them gave him a good insight into the many cultures and cuisines of the local folks.

There are those who are hopeful of living the 'American Dream' some day. And then there are folks like Jay Kannaiyan, who choose to walk — or, to be more precise in his case, ride away from it.

In 2010, Kannaiyan quit a stable corporate job to tread a path that would lead him into the unknown. Keeping him company was his trusted steed, sanDRina — a robust Suzuki DR650, which was readied for the demands of motorcycle touring. Over the next three years or so, the two shared adventures on a route starting in Chicago, and ending half way across the world in New Delhi. It’s a journey that he vividly captures in the book, Riding Towards Me: A Thousand-day Journey from Chicago to Delhi, published by HarperCollins India.

Jay Kannaiyan is no stranger to motorcycle rides, having ridden along the Californian coast during his college days, besides Mexico and Alaska, while also having journeyed down the Continental Divide along the entire length of the Rockies in preparation for his longest ride yet. This time around though, there was no deadline in mind. Besides, he was also up against the uncertainty of life, not knowing how it would all pan out in the months to come, when he would have to largely rely on his life savings and the kindness of strangers along the way.

Astride his motorcycle Jay Kannaiyans journey from Chicago to Delhi comes alive in his new book

Riding Towards Me by Jay Kannaiyan

It took him a while to attain clarity on his intentions, but once resolute about the reasons for the adventure, Kannaiyan started out by selling off all his belongings, besides what was essential and could also be tucked away in the panniers of his motorcycle. This was akin to buying a one-way ticket from a country that he had called home for a decade, only this time, there would be multiple stopovers along the way. And it all got very real, once he hit that ‘send’ button at the end of his resignation email.

The last evening was spent on the carpet of his almost barren bedroom, with all kinds of thoughts flooding his mind. The secure life he had led until then was a thing of the past; he now looked forward to an epic journey astride sanDRina, who sat pretty in the garage after days of fine-tuning, ready to share the highs and lows of the road with Kannaiyan.

It all went wrong for Kannaiyan a few weeks into the start, when he experienced his first malfunction in California. Luckily for him, he was still in his comfort zone, bailed out by a mate after days of tinkering, to eventually set out for his first border crossing in Mexico. He soon learned to take these mechanical failures in his stride, though nothing quite prepared him for the uncertainty of awaiting fuel trucks in a remote town of Bolivia, or being held hostage by a scorpion in Namibia.

All along the way, Kannaiyan reached out to locals through biking and couch-surfing communities, and staying and interacting with them gave him a good insight into the many cultures and cuisines of the local folks. In turn, he would whip up some delectable chicken curry and feed anyone he met en route, reinstating his belief in eudaimonia — the feeling of blessedness — through the most unlikely of sources.

In places where he could camp, Kannaiyan had the opportunity to appreciate the stunning locales surrounding him, such as the base of the Brandberg Massif in Namibia, or the hot springs of Salar de Chalviri in Bolivia. There were setbacks and doubts that would creep in time and again, but his reasons for hitting the road would soon take over, fuelling him with boundless thrills. Even on the few occasions when he had to set sail with sanDRina by his side, he made the most of these opportunities to continue his adventure — whether as a deckhand while getting across the Darien Gap, or crossing the Atlantic on a cargo ship.

Astride his motorcycle Jay Kannaiyans journey from Chicago to Delhi comes alive in his new book

Author Jay Kannaiyan.

Motorcycle journeys come with their fair share of dangers, and there was no escaping a few close shaves for Kannaiyan either. A nerve-wracking incident while leaving La Paz in Bolivia certainly pushed him over the edge, but he reassembled his wits to see what the road ahead had in store for him. At the same time, there was the unparalleled thrill of navigating routes that few had dared to take on, such as the TransAmazonica Highway that cuts through the Amazon rainforest, or the Lake Turkana route from Ethiopia to Kenya. Or while hopping across borders divided by rivers and lakes, besides high mountain roads, with each one presenting its own set of challenges that he chose to deal with wearing a smile, most of the times.

Having grown up in Zambia, Kannaiyan also had the opportunity to go back to the home where he had grown up. To his surprise, it had now been converted into a guesthouse, and he could revel in the nostalgia by renting a room that he had once shared with his sister. Once back at his family home in Chennai, he spent a few days with his relieved parents, before setting out yet again on an adventure through India that eventually led him to the high mountains of Ladakh and Kashmir. He finally drew the curtain on his journey in Delhi.

The book starts slow — almost tentative — much like the start of any long ride. The flow though gets better as the miles kick in. For those who’ve read other motorcycle travelogues, the book could be a let down at times as it lacks the punch that comes with solo adventures into unchartered territory. But by the time sanDRina crawls to a halt, Kannaiyan has lived a ride that anyone with a hint of adventure in them would envy.

And like most riders, he would have certainly agreed that it was just a matter of time before the call of the winding road beckoned yet again.

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