Growing up in India, the road trips my family most often took would start from our home in Bombay (it hadn’t discovered its schizophrenic brother Mumbai yet) to go to, a sleepy army garrison town (circa mid 80’s and early 90’s), Pune. My maternal grandparents stayed in Pune, which is also the home of some of my fondest childhood memories. The journey, albeit just 170 kms, would sometimes take in excess of 6-7 hours; my dad would stick to the highway for most of the trip but would occasionally take pit stops and detours on the whims and fancies of our hunger pangs and/or the holding capacity of the smallest bladder in the car.
Sometimes a few hours were added due to the yearly monsoons that would leave the single lane roads resembling the face of a hormonal teenager with an unfortunate case of severe acne. There would be a rare punctured tire that would further lengthen our journey by an hour or so. The steep hills (ghats) would invariably overwhelm our 800 CC (0.8 liter) Maruti 800 (the awkward offspring of a lawn mower and a golf cart) and force the fattest kid (yours truly) off the car. Me being a lousy pedestrian, especially up a knoll, would add more precious time to our ever lengthening trip.
So even though the short trip was never planned, we knew the start; the many hurdles we’d face in-between and the arrival time. All of the above were estimates, but we knew we’d eventually get there no matter how bad the traffic or how many ever times I had to pee in between.
Our current venture, Lil Helper– a small company (small in numbers, not ambition or dreams) that makes cloth diapers, which happens to be both Nader and mine’s first business adventure “road trip” resembles the vacations of my wonder years in far too many ways.
We started by having myself on the driver’s seat, picked up Nader and another buddy on the way- knowing that a journey however long or short is best spent with close friends. Our buddy drove with us for a little while but decided that this wasn’t for him- he needed an itinerary and we weren’t even sure if our vehicle was roadworthy. Nader & I shared driving time, alternating with ease- both of us became better at things we were not previously proficient at. Nader would hand signal directions to me when I was on the wheel while I would elbow him each time he veered us off the road. Now, if I have the wheel he can be changing the gears and accelerating the car- we could easily be a circus act.
Half way through we realized the reason for our turtle like pace- we were trying to do everything on our own. Thus, we picked up a few passengers- most of them stayed in the backseat- some left hastily, some signed on for the entire ride, while some only slept. Each and every new passenger taught us a thing or two, gave us tips on how to navigate rocky terrains and where to buy cheap gas.
Mark Suarez our amazingly talented and creative graphic designer has injected our trip with ideas and energy; he is the guy who made our vehicle look great and showed us how to operate the sunroof to let in some extra light. Even though we might have arrived at our destination without him, our vehicle wouldn’t have looked half as good.
Sophia (my wife), my dad, Husein (my brother) have helped us a lot- their presence has been irreplaceable and thanks to them we are not lost in the woods. Each time we’d need an oil change or a desperate battery boost, they were the people we’d look for help (with puppy eyes, obviously). My dad was my personal guide through our detour in China and helped us immensely. Actually help is an understatement- he basically held my hand and imparted on to me each and everything he had learnt on his own Chinese adventure over the last decade. Husein has been our CAA (AAA), helping us with a spare tire each time we ran across a bed of nails.
The road hasn’t been smooth- the bad economy dug trenches in the middle of free flowing highways, forcing us to take diversions. We had to slow down a lot, but we carried on- more out of stubbornness then resilience.
A few of our friends had started on their own excursions. Almost all of them passed our slow moving hybrid at some point, waving at us as they left us in a trail of dust. They’d tell us of how great the next town looks and which dodgy diner to avoid. Some of them stopped halfway, while some got to their destination and found out they wanted to come back. Although scared to carry on, by this time we had more than our pride on the line.
And as if things weren’t interesting enough already, we also had to make wiggle room for my daughter Zara. Anybody could come and go, but our tiny passenger wasn’t going anywhere.
We know that our destination is getting closer, but we are still not there- yet. We are more confident then we have ever been of our products and our enthusiasm has only increased with time. We are moving at a brisk pace now and we want you all to be at the finish line when we finally reach our destination; proving to ourselves, our friends and naysayers that we weren’t chasing a mirage.
Those long drawn out trips my family partook, taught me to be patient, good-natured to the other passengers and enjoy the scenery. Most importantly, even if your supposed short expedition is prolonged a bit, always remember that there is a delicious meal and a warm bed at the end of it all.